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Music Industry

Volume 829: debated on Monday 17 April 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the health of the music industry in England.

In begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interest as chairman of the Royal College of Music.

My Lords, the music industry is a key national asset, contributing £4 billion to our economy in 2021, fuelling tens of thousands of jobs and projecting our soft power on the global stage. We are working with the industry to respond to the difficulties that some aspects of the sector continue to face following the pandemic, including rising energy costs, with which we have supported businesses through the £18 billion energy bill relief scheme. We will continue to work closely with the industry to understand emerging challenges and identify ways we can support it.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but is the grim reality not that music faces an existential crisis? The ENO and Britten Sinfonia are in huge difficulties following Arts Council England’s cuts, and BBC orchestras are under long-term threat. GCSE music entry is in free fall and music A-level is now the preserve of well-off and independent schools. One grass-roots music venue is closing each week and the number of music hubs is to be cut by 50%. There is an astonishing failure to recruit enough music teachers and, most cruelly of all, EU touring is now torturously difficult, with bookings for hard-pressed UK musicians in EU festivals down a staggering 45% since the disaster of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. My question is simple: why do the Government seem so determined to destroy classical music in the UK?

I must disagree with my noble friend. The Arts Council’s portfolio, which has now begun, includes around £21 million per annum of investment in music. That is £2 million more than in the previous round. Nearly 80% of the Arts Council’s investment in music is in classical music and nearly 40% is in opera. My noble friend mentioned a number of things that time does not allow me to touch on, but I welcome the BBC’s announcement that it will review its decision in relation to the BBC Singers and the BBC orchestras. He may have seen the announcement from the Arts Council and English National Opera that they have agreed £11.46 million of funding for the first year, and the Arts Council has set a budget of £24 million of investment for the second two years, inviting the company to make an application to it for that amount. The Foreign Secretary raised touring at the EU-UK Partnership Council, as we continue to raise this at the highest levels with the EU.

First, does the Minister understand the concern of the music industry, in that in state schools, for example, there are no peripatetic music teachers? That means that poor pupils do not get music lessons, which become the preserve of the rich. There is a follow-on from this: our orchestras will not be replenished by young people—young students. Secondly, on the problems with touring in Europe, Boris Johnson assured us that such problems would not happen. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, has admitted that the Government got it wrong, not just with visas but where cabotage comes in: you might get a visa but arrive with no instruments. When will the Government get it right?

I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of ensuring that pupils in the state sector have opportunities. I myself benefited from a peripatetic music teacher at school. Our national plan for music education is ensuring that high-quality music education is available everywhere. We are working with the Department for Education on the cultural education plan; the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, is very kindly helping to ensure that we cast the net as widely as possible to capture best practice and are ambitious. On the creative industries sector vision, we are working to ensure that the talent pipelines are there so that we can continue to have a globally competitive music industry of which we can be proud; it enriches our lives in so many ways. I have pointed to the work that the Foreign Secretary has taken forward with the EU-UK Partnership Council in relation to touring.

My Lords, are the Government are going to do some work on making touring easier in Europe? I have heard there is also a threat that touring will become more difficult in the States. When can we expect some positive results from these talks and efforts?

My Lords, 23 of the 27 member states of the EU already offer visa- and work permit-free routes for touring artists from the UK. We have seen progress on portable musical instruments being transported cost-free without an ATA carnet and have had confirmation that splitter vans are not subject to the TCA limits on cabotage and cross trade. We continue to speak to the four remaining member states and encourage them to have the same generous rules that we have in the UK to welcome musicians from all over the world. As I have said, the Foreign Secretary continues to raise this at the highest level.

My Lords, the Minister referenced high energy costs. The noble Lord, Lord Black, spoke more widely of some of the threats to the music industry. Grass-roots music venues are closing at the rate of one a week, as the noble Lord rightly said. Without these venues, emerging artists will struggle to showcase their talents and grow the fanbase required to move to bigger venues. The Minister will know that many sports governing bodies prioritise grass-roots investment, while non-music performing arts enjoy various forms of public subsidy. Some theatres are able to charge a small restoration levy. Music is so important to our personal, communal and national shared experience. What other, more imaginative options than the Minister has given us today are his department exploring to ensure that smaller venues can flourish instead of being lost for good?

The noble Lord is right to raise this. I have pointed to the £18 billion energy bill relief scheme and the energy bill discount scheme, which has succeeded it. The Music Venue Trust has been raising the issue of small grass-roots venues. The Creative Industries Minister, Julia Lopez, met the trust last month to discuss its proposals for a levy such as the noble Lord outlined. I am also happy to say that on the trust’s other initiative, Own Our Venues, the Arts Council has contributed £500,000 of public funding towards this community project to purchase at-risk venues and rent them back to the owners as benevolent landlords. We look to creative solutions to these problems.

My Lords, I commend the national plan for music education produced by my noble friend Lady Fleet. It truly was a very important intervention for music education in schools. With the Prime Minister talking today about the importance of arts education, it occurred to me: what on earth happened to the arts premium that was promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto?

My noble friend is right to point to the brilliant work of our noble friend Lady Fleet on the national plan for music education. She and many others remind us that the arts premium was a commitment in our manifesto. Of course, the pandemic has meant that schools and teachers have had to focus on the lost teaching hours that inevitably occurred, but I continue to make representations to the Department for Education that we should be returning to that commitment as soon as possible, not least through our work on the cultural education plan, which is looking at opportunities in education all round.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Brexit problems facing musicians are not just about British musicians touring but about musicians from Europe coming into the UK? Music agents say that musicians are being turned away at the border on a regular basis, the latest casualty being the German band Trigger Cut, which tried to use the PPE route, which, with a letter of introduction, should have been straightforward. Will the Minister look at this and other such incidents, which can only damage our reputation as a welcoming country for artists, both in Europe and worldwide?

The permitted paid engagement exemption route allows artists to tour the UK for up to a month without a visa, but only if they do not undertake paid work that is unrelated to their main overseas job or area of expertise. Obviously, all visa policy is a matter for the Home Office, but I regularly take up cases on behalf of the sector with colleagues at the Home Office, and I am always happy to hear of more examples that I can follow up on.

Is it not the case that the creative industries are withering on the vine under this Government? We need the Government to set up a body with the Treasury, the department of trade and the culture department to come up with a package that can support the creative industries, which are one of the most successful industries in this country.

Indeed they are, and that is why colleagues in the Treasury have identified the creative industries as one of five key growth areas for our economy. The creative industries were growing twice as quickly as the rest of the economy pre pandemic and we want to support their further growth. That is why the work that we are taking forward with the creative industries sector vision is so important to set them up for the future and why the tax relief extension for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries that was announced in the Budget is just one example of the way in which we continue to support them now.

My Lords, one had only to watch BBC Four last night to realise that the BBC depends for quality programmes as much on music as music depends upon the BBC. Will the Minister please speak to the governors of the BBC and say that the reprieve for the BBC Singers was very welcome, but it is not a reprieve that we want, it is their permanence?

While my noble friend was watching BBC Four, I was listening to Radio 2, where one of the BBC orchestras was playing from Great Yarmouth—most enjoyably. Of course, the BBC is operationally independent from the Government. It is up to it to decide, but we welcome the decision to look at this again. It, like us, will have heard the strong views from licence fee payers across the country. The BBC has a clear mission set out in the royal charter to deliver for licence fee payers and we look forward to it doing that.