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EU: Musicians

Volume 809: debated on Thursday 28 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the United Kingdom-European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement on musicians and musical enterprises seeking to work and tour in the European Union.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of international touring for UK cultural and creative practitioners. Leaving the EU has always meant that there would be changes to how practitioners operate in the EU. The DCMS has engaged with the sector extensively throughout negotiations and since the announcement of the trade and co-operation agreement. The Secretary of State has agreed to create a DCMS-led working group to work closely with the sector’s representative organisations and other key government departments to assist businesses and individuals as far as possible to work confidently in the EU.

My Lords, I set aside for the moment the ping-pong on who is to blame for what has happened, and remember the anxiety and anguish faced by many of the top musicians in the UK. The Minister told the House last week that

“Our door absolutely remains open”—[Official Report, 19/1/21, col. 1085.]

to dialogue with the EU on this matter. Open doors mean that people can go through them without hindrance. Has an open-door invitation been made to the European Union, and if not why not?

As the noble Lord knows, it takes two people to meet though an open door. I was also very clear in my answers last week that our priority was working with the sector to understand its needs and working bilaterally with individual countries. But we still believe that our original suggestion would have benefited all parties.

Clearly, this Brexit situation is unsatisfactory for all those involved. The Secretary of State for the arts, Oliver Dowden, calls the arts sector one of our greatest calling cards. It is indeed soft power with diplomatic significance. Musicians from both pop and classical sides of the profession tell me that cultural attachés in embassies across London are concerned about this situation. Setting aside the blame game, can the Government reopen negotiations and go through this open door, as it concerns an industry worth four times the fishing industry to this country?

The Government are also concerned to make sure that our critical and creative sector—and within that, musicians—continue to thrive, which is why we are working closely with the sector to achieve that.

My Lords, in addition to problems with work permits, carnets and CITES certificates, there is another. Prior to Brexit, when UK orchestras toured Europe, they often visited several venues in multiple countries. Their own or rented specialist vehicles would move instruments and equipment from venue to venue. Can the Minister confirm that under the new post-Brexit cabotage rules this will no longer be possible unless UK orchestras stop using UK vehicles and rely on EU ones? Is this another example of taking back control?

The noble Lord is right that there are changes to the cabotage arrangements going forward. UK operators can perform some additional movements within another nation’s territory, but they are more limited than previously. Our colleagues in the Department for Transport are, we know, working hard to address these issues.

My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-president of the European Union Youth Orchestra. The outcome of Brexit was that the EUYO had to move to Bolzano and Grafenegg. As it tours constantly, can HMG make certain that the British players, who already have difficulties, can have multiple visas without too much trouble and expense? This is understandably more complicated with the Covid-19 pestilence.

My noble friend raises an important point. As she knows, during the transition period, UK players were guaranteed their membership of the EUYO, and have been reinvited during 2021. As I said, we continue to engage closely with representatives from all parts of the music sector to provide the support that musicians, including the EUYO’s members, need to navigate the requirements that result from the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

My Lords, 76% of musicians in a recent survey by Encore Musicians said that Brexit restrictions would stop them performing again in Europe. In the light of this, and in the apparent absence of any movement through the open door, will the Minister say what specific help the Government might offer to musicians to help them cope with the new challenges that they face in order to tour in the EU, including administrative support with obtaining work permits, carnets and other requirements, and financial support to offset some of the extra costs involved?

The noble Lord makes a serious point. In relation to the first part of his question, he will be aware that the arrangements are different in different countries. For example, the requirements to tour France are much more straightforward than some other countries. Obviously, musicians may choose to adjust to that. I cannot give him the detail of what will be proposed. What I can say is that the round table that the Secretary of State held with the industry on the 20th of this month was extremely constructive in tone in addressing all those points.

My Lords, going back to the answer given just a few moments ago to the noble Lord, Lord German, will the Minister confirm that the plan seems to be that since the Home Office will not provide reciprocal arrangements on the basis that the EU has proposed, we are talking about bilateral deals right across Europe, and that a working group has been formed which is meeting to draw up plans? Is that where we have got to?

I think where we have got to is that we have secured a deal with the European Union extremely recently. The agreement cannot be renegotiated. It needs now to be implemented. We aim to do that in collaboration with the sector to make sure that it can thrive in future.

My Lords, a year ago the Government told the Commons that free movement for musicians post 2020 was “essential”, but then left them out of the trade agreement. Will the Government now come clean with the touring musicians and crews they have betrayed and say to them, “We’re sorry. We screwed up the trade negotiation and came back with absolutely nothing for you, having promised you everything. We’ll go back to Brussels immediately and sort it out”?

I absolutely reject any suggestion that this Government have betrayed the sector. We continue to support it. We have championed it with a £1.57 billion culture recovery package and we continue to work in a very constructive tone with it.

If this situation is not resolved, our world-leading jazz sector will start to lose its world-leading reputation. Will the Government guarantee to carry on meeting regularly with the Musicians’ Union until this problem is resolved?

The Government meet regularly with the Musicians’ Union and find it an extremely valuable stakeholder in this discussion.

My Lords, the UK has benefited from and supported greatly the European Union Youth Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Will my noble friend look favourably on exchanges such as that developed bilaterally between the UK and Denmark, Praktik i udlandet, where business students on both sides can benefit from business placements? If we are going down the bilateral route, can we proceed as positively and as swiftly as possible?

I cannot comment on the specific that my noble friend cites as an example but, as I have said, the spirit of this is working with the sector to understand what it needs, and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, for the purposes of clarity, I ask: does this situation not mean that instead of our musicians bringing several billion pounds into the UK economy, we will be in a negative position? If Oliver Dowden manages to find funds to help us, it will be money going out of the UK coffers to support an industry that normally helps the UK economy by £5.8 billion?

Those export earnings are extremely important but, as the noble Lord understands very well, the ecosystem of the music sector is very broad. There will be larger groups that will be less impacted directly by some of these changes, but our creative and cultural sector is made up of a multiplicity of talented smaller groups of musicians who we absolutely see as critical and want to support.