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Music and Performing Arts Students: Visas and Work Permits

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 11 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the visa and work permit requirements for touring in the European Union on music and performing arts students in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of international touring for UK cultural and creative practitioners. British music and performing arts students seeking to tour within the EU are now required to check domestic immigration and visitor rules for individual member states. The DCMS-led working group on creative and cultural touring, involving sector representatives and other key government departments, is working to assess the impacts and ensure that the sector gets the clarity and support it needs.

My Lords, we are all aware of the damage to the creative economy from the new visa and work permit requirements for EU touring, with jobs lost and tours cancelled, but perhaps hardest hit are students in music and the performing arts. Does my noble friend acknowledge that students need to perform in Europe to progress their careers and enrich their education, but now cannot because the cost of work permits and the bureaucracy of multiple visa applications are prohibitive? It is essential we reach bilateral agreements on work permits with member states urgently if we are not to blight a generation of students, so can my noble friend tell the House what progress has been made on that front?

The Government absolutely agree with my noble friend about the importance of touring for students, both within the EU and more broadly around the world. He will be aware that our rules for touring creative professionals are more generous than those of many EU member states. The working group to which I referred met for the first time on 5 February to try to get clarity on the issues impacting creative professionals and how best to support them. I reassure my noble friend that we are working across government to address the important issues he raises.

I strongly support my noble friend Lord Black. This could and should have been resolved by now, for it is self-evidently in the interests of all concerned that frictionless visa-free arrangements—[Connection lost.]

My noble friend kindly shared his question with me ahead of time so, despite the technological glitches, I will endeavour to answer. First, we remain disappointed that the deal we proposed in this area, which met the needs of our extraordinary creative industries, was not agreed by the EU. We understand the concerns of the sector and we are working at pace to address them so that touring can resume as soon as it is safe.

My Lords, there are a number of testimonies from musicians who are already losing work in Europe because it is no longer financially viable to tour. EU promoters and venues are no longer hiring UK passport holders. While the proposal for a cultural export office is welcome as a long-term measure, what are the Government doing right now to unravel the huge bureaucratic and regulatory challenges facing touring musicians?

We are talking to the sector about an export office, as the noble Baroness mentioned, but the real focus of the working group to which I referred is getting as much evidence as possible of the impact on the sector, some of which the noble Baroness referred to, providing clarity about the steps needed to tour more seamlessly and exploring with the sector the options to support our wonderful practitioners.

My Lords, the Minister talked about the Government’s offer during the Brexit negotiations to incorporate the music industry into short-term business agreements, but this had precious little chance of success given the WTO most favoured nation rules. UK musicians now face not just inconvenience but an impossible and overwhelming array of obstacles. Have the Government ruled out what the vast majority of people in the music industry consider the only sustainable solution—a visa waiver agreement covering our world-leading musical and creative sector?

As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the issue is more complex than simply visas; work permits also play an important part. As I mentioned, our original offer worked for our creative professionals and we will continue to try to streamline their ability to tour.

My Lords, post-Brexit mobility regulations are a problem not just for students but for those who teach them, many of whom come from the EU. What is being done to make teaching in the UK cost effective for them, and less of an administrative and financial burden for British institutions? Without access to such culturally diverse teachers and training, our future talent pipeline will be seriously disadvantaged.

The noble Baroness asks a very specific question. As I mentioned, our rules around visiting this country for creative professionals, which would include teachers, are more generous than in the vast majority of EU member states. If there is further to add on that, I will write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, before this year, music and performing arts students participated in study or cultural exchanges under Erasmus. This allowed them to develop the skills and build the networks that bring success in the creative industries sector. Published details of the Government’s Turing replacement scheme suggest no tuition fee support and significantly lower cost of living grants. Does the Minister believe that this meets the test of rewarding raw talent rather than financial background, and will she agree to talk to her DfE counterparts and discuss the double whammy these proposals represent as a barrier to UK cultural engagement in Europe?

I am more than happy to talk to my DfE counterparts. I do not think we accept the suggestion that the noble Lord makes. The Turing scheme is going to be open to about 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to allow them to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting this September. He is right that we will also seek to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am sure he agrees with me that that is also an important priority.

My Lords,

“I learned by touring Europe in the 60s. Young artists need the same chance”.

Those are the words of Elton John. Would my noble friend agree that the Rocket Man is right? We need a long-term, sustainable solution, but we also need a short-term fix. Would the Minister agree that the department could put in place such a short-term fix, particularly when it comes to legals and logistics, to help all musicians? Otherwise, it will just be a guttering candle in the wind.

I thought for a second that my noble friend had a previous musical touring career he had not told us about. We are working closely with those in the sector on exactly the sort of practical issues my noble friend refers to in terms of legals and logistics, to make sure that everything works for them once they can start touring again safely.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned work permits, but work permits and visas are two very different things. As the noble Lord, Lord Wood, said, the performing arts are as one in asking for a bespoke visa waiver agreement as a matter of urgency—this can be an agreement that does not cross the Government’s red lines on free movement. As such, will the Government and department have discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Frost, about this, and does the Minister know what plans there might be to talk to Maroš Šefčovič on this matter in the future?

I cannot speculate about the future, but I can reassure the noble Lord that we work closely with both the FCDO and the Cabinet Office on these issues.

My Lords, is it not clear that the Government’s EU deal has severely penalised one of the most successful parts of our economy, putting it at a huge competitive disadvantage? On 20 January, my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara asked about publishing

“all correspondence between the EU and UK on this issue”.—[Official Report, 20/1/21; col. 1166.]

Has this correspondence now been published in the House of Lords Library? If not, is it intended that it will be?

In relation to the publication of that documentation, my understanding is that it was legal text that was shared in confidence and that there are no current plans to publish it further.