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European Union Touring Visas

Volume 814: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their announcement on 4 August that United Kingdom musicians and performers will not need visas or work permits for short-term tours in 19 European Union countries, what plans they have to seek similar arrangements for (1) mountain guiding professionals, and (2) other service providers whose livelihood depends on touring in European Union countries.

The Government are committed to supporting individuals and businesses to adjust to our new relationship with the European Union. The types of activity that UK service providers can undertake without visas or work permits vary by country. We have published detailed guidance on GOV.UK to help business travellers navigate these rules. We engage regularly with our embassies and welcome the opportunity to speak with member states to improve mutual understanding of our respective systems.

My Lords, many UK providers of specialist services across European borders—in sport, travel, events, cultural and creative industries and numerous other sectors—are deeply concerned at the risk of losing their businesses because of the omission of such services from the trade and co-operation agreement, and feel a growing sense of abandonment by Her Majesty’s Government. Many, such as mountain guides, hold advanced UK qualifications. What are the Government doing to accelerate the process for achieving the mutual recognition of such qualifications? What practical, immediate support will they offer to those service providers who can no longer operate under the terms of the TCA or within the multiplicity of different requirements for working in individual member states—including those under which the Government claim that visa-free and permit-free touring are possible?

The noble Lord asks a number of questions. This is a complicated area. Of course, the requirements differ by member state, and different qualifications and regimes are applicable in each member state. We are engaging with all member states through our embassies and contacts in the EU to try to improve the situation and provide advice, encouragement and support for them to liberalise their regimes and provide the service providers mentioned by the noble Lord with the appropriate support.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of the International Guild of Battlefield Guides. The guild’s UK members fall exactly within the description in the second part of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Will the Minister support the restoration of a level playing field so that guild members may continue to provide guiding services in EU and EEA countries on the same basis as that on which guides from those countries are able to operate in the United Kingdom? Will he also support the guild in achieving recognition by EU/EEA nations of UK tour guide qualifications in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare?

We will certainly support the guild and its professional qualification associations in achieving mutual recognition. If battlefield guides come under the responsibility of tour guides, which we think they do, that is a regulated profession in 14 EU member states.

My Lords, following the Government’s announcement on 4 August, I wrote to DCMS asking what, if anything, had changed for performers wanting to perform in Europe. Last week, I received a long reply from the Secretary of State that said nothing to justify the claims in the August announcement. Can the Minister comment on the industry’s view that the August announcement contained nothing new and was a “cruel hoax” on struggling performers and their crews?

I do not agree with the noble Lord. The Government have established that many touring activities, such as taking part in music festivals, are possible in at least 19 out of 27 EU member states, including France, Germany and the Netherlands. We were clarifying the law and the rules in those countries for the benefit of travelling musicians.

My Lords, I know that various government departments, particularly DCMS, are working hard to get bilateral agreements, which are certainly better than nothing. Can the Minister confirm that Spain will be top of the priorities? Secondly, have the Government made any assessment of the ETIAS regulations that Europe will implement in 2022? Will they help or just act as another burden of red tape and bureaucracy?

As I said, we are working closely with the various professional associations and seeking to clarify the law in existing member states through our embassies, with which we are working closely. We want to provide as much clarity as possible. I am afraid that I do not have information on whether the ETIAS regime will change the situation, but I would be happy to write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is asking whether the Government might seek similar arrangements with 19 EU countries to end the visa and work permit requirements for those providing short-term tours and mountain guides. I wish the negotiators good luck, but I suspect that the European Union, especially France, might take a more protectionist view, especially where ski guides and instructors have had to be fully French-trained.

My noble friend might be right. If noble Lords cast their minds back even to when we were part of the free-movement regime, it was already difficult in some member states, particularly France—which is particularly awkward about these matters—for ski instructors and others to practise their professions. That was true under the old EU arrangements, so I suspect it would be similarly difficult now.

My Lords, whether it is performers, their back-up teams, interpreters, ski instructors or battlefield guides, the Government simply forgot about citizens when they negotiated the Brexit deal. Indeed, had they negotiated a Brexit deal rather than an “exit at any price” deal and put citizens at the heart of it, these difficulties might never have happened. Can the Minister assure the House that real priority and urgency will be behind their efforts to put the future of these professionals at the heart of what they now do?

I am afraid that the noble Baroness is simply wrong in the first part of her question. We tried to negotiate an ambitious deal on recognition of different qualifications and movement with the European Union, and it rejected our proposals. On the second part of her question, I agree with her and we will now try to work with all the associations and individuals to improve the situation.

My Lords, it is clear that the Government have actually added bureaucracy for anybody who is taking a small band across Europe, for example, and wants to play in more than three or four countries. Given that, will the Government give some form of assistance to ensure that people have enough clerical support and knowledge to actually fill in all the forms they are now presented with?

We are attempting to provide as much clarity as possible. It is difficult because, of course, the regimes are different in every member state. They have different immigration regimes and different enforcement regimes, but we are endeavouring to provide as much clarity as possible and we are publishing that information on GOV.UK.

My Lords, given that these impacts were known and understood during the Brexit negotiations, has the pandemic had any particular effect on this problem? What measures did the Government intend to introduce alongside the trade and co-operation agreement to protect and support these citizens?

It is difficult to disaggregate the effects of the pandemic from those caused by EU exit. We will see the full effects in the fullness of time, but we are certainly endeavouring to provide as much support to individuals as possible. As I said in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, we tried to negotiate these provisions as part of the TCA, but the EU rejected it.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the big problem for the creative and service industries is being able to move easily across borders without red tape or incurring extra cost. For the music industry, the key problem in this regard is cabotage. When will the Government respond to the summer consultation on this, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, referred in answer to a question last week, bearing in mind that the industry is asking for an exemption from cabotage and cross-trade laws for vehicles carrying passengers and equipment, as the rules agreed through the TCA are prohibitive?

The Department for Transport has been working closely with the industry to see what unilateral measures the Government could take to support the industry. We are currently considering the evidence that we gathered from the call for evidence that was taken, as the noble Lord says, over the summer. We will endeavour to update the sector on our approach later this year.

My Lords, pursuant to the commitments given in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, and the offers of assistance to the British Association of Snowsport Instructors by government on behalf of members of the Alpine Sports Group, does the Minister agree that it is absolutely imperative that the Government redouble their efforts to remove employment restrictions on British nationals working as mountain guides, ski instructors and employees of ski holiday companies in order to counter the negative impact of Brexit on British winter sports tourism and UK snowsport professionals?

First, I wish my noble friend a happy birthday which, I understand, was yesterday. It was a shame that he had to spend it voting on the Environment Bill in the House, but I am sure that he enjoyed himself anyway. We recognise how important it is for UK businesses, including those in the winter sports industry, to be able to send their employees across borders quickly and easily. As I said in an earlier answer, EU member states are principally responsible for deciding the rules governing what work UK visitors can undertake in their own countries. However, we met in July with representatives of the UK snowsports organisations to try better to understand the constraints placed on them and to work with them to alleviate those concerns.