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Craftspeople: European Union Travel and Trade

Volume 838: debated on Monday 13 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the challenges for craftspeople in (1) travelling to and from, and (2) trading with, the European Union.

The Government recognise the value of the crafts sector, which contributed £400 million gross value added to the UK economy in 2022, as well as the importance of trade between the UK and the EU. We acknowledge that UK crafts exporters may face challenges regarding export requirements, visas and work permits. To help businesses navigate those challenges, including the visa and work permit rules of EU member states, the Government have published detailed guidance on GOV.UK.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, official advice about trading with the EU is not really tailored to self-employed craftspeople, nor to crafts microbusinesses, and in some cases it has simply been wrong. In addition, makers exhibiting or selling their crafts have to pay considerable sums for their own work to be imported back to the UK from the EU. As a result of all this, and various other challenges, the easy movement of those wishing to learn, teach and train in craft from and to the UK and the EU has now virtually ceased. Bearing in mind the contribution made by crafts that the Minister has underlined, would he consider going further than he suggested and agreeing to look at existing short-term routes to exempt the immigration skills charge, in line with the sciences; reducing the cost of the certificate of sponsorship, in line with sports; and an immigration health surcharge, based on shorter work durations?

I thank the noble Baroness. I recognise her detailed involvement in this sector, which is part of the creative industries sector—one of the five identified by the Chancellor that will power our economy in the 21st century. It is a small part, run and characterised by microbusinesses, which no doubt have more difficult travel arrangements than they had before. The Government are working to support the creative sector. We see good growth in the creative sector—higher growth than in many others. We are working with the EU on a state-by-state basis and 23 of 27 countries now have bespoke arrangements and rules for travel for crafts folk, as well as, for example, our musicians. We will continue to encourage that bilateral.

My Lords, the problems the Question alludes to are undoubtedly mutual; they are problems for British craftsmen trying to go to Europe and the other way around. The trade and co-operation agreement produced 24 committees to look at issues between Britain and the EU. Could the Minister tell us which committee is charged with looking at this issue? Can he assure us that that committee does have this on its agenda?

I thank the noble Earl. I am well aware that there is a large number of committees. In DBT we are trying our best to remove barriers to trade and perhaps reduce the number of committees. In this case, I will need to go and ask the question to find out which committee is looking after craftspeople.

My Lords, crippling restrictions on working in Europe are blighting the lives of 2 million people employed in our creative industries. This is because the Government completely omitted our largest sector after financial services from the Brexit trade deal, and then spent four years failing to fix their blunder. Will the Minister take this opportunity to apologise to those who previously had a career in music, dance, theatre or fashion but are now having to drive taxis or flip burgers?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. We have a trade and co-operation agreement. In fact, our Brexit deal was one of the most progressive trade deals we had at the time of Brexit, which has been capitalised upon now, to 73 countries comprising 60% of global trade. Therefore, we have no tariffs and quotas for UK-EU goods trade. The Government’s aim is to maximise and make the best of that. The British people voted for Brexit to release the benefits of Brexit, which are increasingly coming through in our economy and trade. There are some costs to be borne along the way.

My Lords, could the Minister explain to the House how it is that you do a deal with the EU on a state-by-state basis?

I refer the noble Lord to my colleague in the other place, Greg Hands MP, who is the Minister for Europe. He is spending an increasing amount of time in European capitals. We also have 300 embassy staff working in the EU on deal-by-deal arrangements with countries to help, for example, our musicians and crafts folk. It is working very well.

My Lords, craftspeople, like all other travellers to the EU from the UK, face increasing delays again in the autumn when new strictures come in, with new requirements for fingerprinting, et cetera. Can the Minister bring the House up to date with what is happening on that front? Will there be yet more postponements?

I thank the noble Baroness for that. The craft sector is being supported. My own department, DBT, is delivering a programme of trade promotion activity in Europe and elsewhere. We also have a new means of trade, by way of digital, as well as by having to go there. Perhaps our carbon footprint has been reduced by making fewer trips to some of those shows. For example, we will be doing one in Dubai in July, for Middle East design and hospitality week. We are taking a group of craftspeople to sell their wares.

My Lords, one of the other great issues facing the skilled craft industry today is that 98% of skilled practitioners are solo traders or microbusinesses, as we have heard. That means that without effective apprenticeship schemes, their skills and knowledge will retire with them— knowledge and skills such as clock-making, Scottish carpentry, paper marbling, tinsmithing and cricket ball making. Despite this, apprenticeship starts have fallen by a third over the past decade, and £1 billion raised by the apprenticeship levy goes unspent each year. What steps are the Government taking to address this decline and to save some of those 150 varieties of craft apprenticeships or craft businesses?

I thank the noble Lord for that. He is basically describing the characteristics of this sector, which is populated by a large number of small, individual microbusinesses, quite often sole traders, all of whom are passionate about what they do and many of whom come to this as a second or third career. Therefore, it is a difficult sector to organise with a top-down approach from government. There is no question that many schemes are available to help and encourage people, not least in the charitable sector. I was a trustee of DofE, which does a lot around the crafts sector, and we know what the King does in terms of his programme at Dumfries House. We see how popular “The Repair Shop” is on television; the most popular charity in my town of Greenock is called the men’s shed.

My Lords, when Henry III ordered the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey a mere 750 years ago, there were craftsmen from Italy, France, Germany and the Low Countries working on it. Many of the English masons and others had also worked on cathedrals in France, the Low Countries and elsewhere. Now it seems much more difficult to get that sort of easy exchange between highly skilled craftsmen. Have we gone backwards?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. We should get a report on the rebuilding of Notre Dame Cathedral and work out exactly where the tradesmen and craftsmen have come from. I think we will find that the French are very keen to promote that as an opportunity for their own craftspeople, not necessarily for the wider community.

My Lords, I treat scientific research as a craft. Will the Minister, either now or later in writing, give us the numbers of PhD students studying scientific research coming from Europe to the United Kingdom and flowing in the other direction, from the UK to other European countries in the European Union?