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Music Sector: Working in Europe

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to support the music sector with (1) touring, and (2) other work, in Europe.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of international touring for the whole range of UK cultural and creative practitioners. The Secretary of State has committed to creating 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. That group met for the first time on 20 January.

My Lords, does the Minister find it acceptable that artists from countries across the globe, such as Colombia and the United Arab Emirates, have through the standard visa waiver agreement potentially better access to the EU than ourselves, the EU’s next-door neighbour? What steps are the Government taking to proactively engage with the EU to find a solution to touring arrangements in Europe? Having to deal individually with 27 EU countries and even, as in Belgium and Germany, regions within countries does not cut it. It is the last thing that the music sector wants.

The noble Earl is right to highlight some of the challenges that now face our brilliant musicians and creative artists. As he knows, in the UK-EU trade negotiations the EU tabled a proposal for a permanent waiver for short stays covering UK and EU citizens that drew on agreements such as those with Colombia and the UAE. However, this offer would not have met the needs of touring musicians in the round, nor was it compatible with our manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders. Therefore, our starting point is to listen to and work with those in the sector to make sure that they have the information that they need, in a clear and accessible way, so that they can continue their valuable work once Covid restrictions are lifted.

My Lords, the countries cited by my friend the noble Earl have unilateral agreements with the EU, which makes these relationships possible. Will the Government now seek their own new bilateral agreements with the EU and EU member states, separate from the trade agreement, so that they can exempt touring performers and creative people from the visa and work permit regulations?

As the noble Baroness has heard me say at the Dispatch Box on several occasions, we are exploring individual options to try to ease the process for our musicians and creative artists, but there are no current plans such as the one that she suggests.

My Lords, I welcome the dialogue between the Minister’s department and the industry. Not just musicians but professionals from other creative industries rely on touring and now face this extra bureaucracy when moving between the EU and the UK. Can the Minister say whether moving equipment—whether musical instruments, scenery, merchandise or artefacts—by truck or cargo will require carnets between Great Britain and Northern Ireland? The Northern Ireland protocol makes no mention of temporary import/export.

Given the sensitivities around arrangements with Northern Ireland at the moment, if I may, I will double-check and confirm to the noble Baroness. My understanding is that artists and organisations based in Northern Ireland will not be required to obtain ATA carnets or musical instrument certificates when touring in the EU, because the protocol means that Northern Ireland is part of that regulatory environment.

My Lords, half our musicians earn half their income in the European Union. Echoing the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, I add that Tonga and St Lucia also have visa waiver agreements with the European Union. Is the Government’s position that Tonga and St Lucia do not have control over their borders and therefore should now turn their backs on their visa waiver schemes, or will the Government see sense and pursue a bilateral agreement for a visa waiver scheme for our musicians?

This Government are not responsible for any of the visa arrangements for the countries to which my noble friend referred. We recognise that additional requirements will need to be met for our cultural professionals to tour and work in the EU. Some member states allow touring without a permit and others require a pre-approved visa and/or work permit. We are undertaking an extensive programme of engagement with our sectors to find the best way through.

My Lords, the deal presents challenges across all art forms. The 10-person dance-circus company Motionhouse exemplifies this. It is currently negotiating a 56-show tour at 20 venues in 11 EU countries. The additional costs of carnets, permits and visas rise to £37,000, on top of new administrative costs and in-country taxes. Is the Minister aware that the company will also need to monitor any holidays that its dancers take in the Schengen area? If it pushes any one of them over the 90 days allowed, it could be forced to cancel or refuse bookings. What advice can she offer this company and many like it, so that it can continue to promote UK creativity to the world, as it has done for 33 years?

I congratulate the company on what it has achieved over the last 33 years. We in this House are all proud of the work of our creative colleagues. I advise them to work through their industry bodies to make sure that the department hears of the issues that they face and can feed them into the solutions that we are trying to find.

My Lords, listening to the noble Baroness’s answers today, I have the uncomfortable feeling that we have gone backwards from where we were a couple of weeks ago, when she last answered a Question on this subject in the House. Is she saying that the Government now have no intention of further engagement with the EU or EU member states to try to get a better outcome for the many performers and performing arts organisations that are faced with these new restrictions? If so, is that not a counsel of despair?

I hope that it is not a counsel of despair. As I have said before in the House, there is scope to return to this issue in the future, should the EU change its mind. We were clear on what we tried to achieve. That ambitious request was based on advice that we received from musicians and the creative industries more broadly. We cannot go back from what they have told us that they need. The Government are looking at whether we can work with our partners in EU member states to find ways to make life easier for them in the meantime.

A year ago, the Creative Industries Minister told the Commons that music tours are

“the lifeblood of the industry”.

He said:

“It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/1/20; cols. 56-57WH.]

Those are fine words, but what is the reality? The creative arts were completely ignored in the EU trade deal. One of our stellar export industries has been butchered by this botched negotiation. Why have the Government not gone back to Brussels to fix this mess?

I cannot accept the noble Lord’s assertion that these industries were ignored. Our negotiators worked extremely hard to try to put forward a proposal that would have benefited both the EU and the UK creative sectors and we are disappointed that it was not accepted.

This issue is much wider than just musicians, although that is clearly extraordinarily important. I am amazed we were only having discussions with the industry on 20 January, because this issue has been around for a long time. On 20 December, the noble Lord, Lord True, told me that the more ambitious agreement on movement was rejected by the EU. However, in March last year the Home Office told me:

“These arrangements are not dependent on whether or not the Government concludes a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU.”

On 5 May, I was told that it depended on both. My question, which I raised in the debate on 8 January was: does this have to be negotiated with the EU or the individual states? If it is the latter, how many of the 27 have we approached and how many are we engaged with in negotiations?

To clarify for my noble friend, our work with the industry did not start on 20 January, and I am sorry if I was not clear on that point. The Secretary of State established a new round-table group which has met for the first time, but all our work in this area has been informed by feedback from the sector. In relation to my noble friend’s wider points, I will respond in writing if I may.