[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: e-petition 563294, Seek Europe-wide Visa-free work permit for Touring professionals and Artists; Oral evidence taken before the Petitions Committee on 4 February and 8 February 2021, on Arrangements for touring professionals and artists in the EU, HC 1116; Correspondence with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, relating to Arrangements for touring professionals and artists in the EU, reported to the House on 20 January and 9 March 2021, HC 1116; Summary of public engagement by the Petitions Committee on Arrangements for touring professionals and artists in the EU, reported to the House on 3 February 2021, HC 1116.]
Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if they are coming on to the parliamentary estate. This can be done either at the testing centre downstairs or at home. Finally, please give each other, and members of staff, space when you are seated and when entering or leaving the Chamber.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered enabling visa- and permit-free working for musicians in the EU.
It is a great pleasure, Dr Huq, to see you in the Chair for this debate, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the application for this debate from myself and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music. That application had the backing of the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), and numerous MPs from all parties, from Scotland, Wales and every region in England. The concern is cross-party; the demand for Government action is UK-wide.
The music sector is important to the UK, both culturally and economically. It accounts for nearly 200,000 jobs and, at least before covid, it was worth £5.8 billion, £2.9 billion of which was generated in export revenue, with the EU being by far the biggest market. The finances of the sector—both of individuals and organisations—depend for a significant section of income on touring in the EU, with a survey conducted just before covid showing that 44% of musicians received up to half their earnings in the EU. Our music sector financially depends on touring in the EU.
Of course, we do not just look at this issue in economic terms. We have to recognise the role that music plays in the very quality of our lives, in the definition of our communities, and in our ability to engage with our emotions, and to understand ourselves and each other. Our music is precious and our musicians should be celebrated, protected and supported in their art. However, they face a great problem that is not of their making, which is the post-Brexit obstacle to touring in the EU.
A tour of Europe often needs to involve more than one country to be viable and sometimes many countries. The problem is that for British musicians to tour in Europe now there are 27 different work permit regimes, 27 different visa regimes and 27 different requirements for proof of the work that is going to be undertaken. That means hours spent on forms and certificates, downloading bank statements and acquiring certification and statements about the nature of the work; days spent travelling to and sitting in consulates; weeks spent waiting for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to process A1 forms to provide to employers in Europe; fees for applications; and further expense and time to obtain musical instrument certificates with expert verification that the instrument does not consist of endangered wood or ivory, with the risk of the instrument being confiscated if the paperwork is not in order.
Does the right hon. and learned Lady believe that specialised visa renewals for touring groups, which would streamline the time and the cost for visa applications for working musicians, would be a step in the right direction, and if so would the Minister consider that suggestion?
We need to take all the steps in the right direction that we can, and we look forward to hearing from the Minister. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to the debate today.
There is time and cost involved. I recommend to the Minister that she download and look at some of the forms that are required. I have only four of them here, but they are of mind-boggling complexity, and they are all different—that is the point. People cannot just get the hang of doing one of them and then do it again; they have to be done differently for every country, every time. That means plans being curtailed and opportunities being lost, and that is without even mentioning the dreaded cabotage rules that prevent a lorry needed to carry instruments or equipment from making more than three stops before returning back to the UK. That does not fit with how touring bands or orchestras work in just one country, let alone if they are touring a number of countries.
Some 85% of the European concert trucking industry is based here in the UK. Those firms will be put out of business or have to relocate to Europe unless this matter is sorted.
The industry was based in the UK, but, according to the information that I have, a lot of it has already gone to Holland. Although touring is not taking place at scale, the planning that goes into touring is taking place right now. It is necessary to get the rules changed now, and not when we discover we do not have an industry left.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Time is not on our side. We all recognise this is an immensely skilled and professional industry that we should protect, and it should not have to move. Our musicians and those who work to support them are highly committed, resourceful and skilled. They say there is a problem that they cannot solve and they need Government action. The Government must reach agreements with all EU countries for consistent regimes so that our musicians can once again tour freely in the EU. As the hon. Gentleman said, they should do it quickly. Plans are being made in the EU that leave out our sector.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for securing this debate. I declare my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on opera. She has referred to touring bands and orchestras, but there is also a real issue for singers and freelancers. For an individual singer, especially a young singer, trying to negotiate the forms is nigh on impossible. A production of “Peter Grimes”, the great Benjamin Britten opera, which requires an English-speaking cast at the Teatro Real in Madrid, was in jeopardy for months before eventually a workaround was achieved. Even though the situation in Spain has improved, in many places it is very difficult for British singers, and they are not getting the bookings. Bookings for opera companies are made years in advance, which is why we need certainty now.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about that. Plans are being made, and if the Government do not move quickly some organisations will become unviable. Some musicians at the top of their career will feel their best option is to relocate to Europe, and we do not want them to have to do that. Many of the next generation of musicians will never have the opportunity to get into the profession, and to develop their careers, without the financial and artistically important benefits of working in Europe. Whether it is established artists or those just starting out, big organisations or freelancers, our music sector needs the cultural creativity that they get from working in Europe. We do not want to become a musical Galápagos with our musicians locked out of the cultural partnership that is so important for creative development.
I hope the Minister will recognise the weight of opinion, which includes Sir Elton John, Sir Simon Rattle, Howard Goodall, Sting, Judith Weir, Nicola Benedetti, Ed Sheeran, the Sex Pistols, Roger Daltrey, Bob Geldof, Brian May and many more. I pay tribute to the work done by the organisations demanding Government action: the Musicians’ Union, UK Music, the Association of British Orchestras, BECTU, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and Carry on Touring, to name just a few. They all call for a concerted response from the Government to support the sector while matters are being sorted out.
The Prime Minister has said that there is a problem and he promised to fix it. I have talked to the new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. She knows about this and I know she wants to sort it. We are genuinely not looking for a political row. We only want a solution, but we need absolute clarity and honesty from the Government. There is no point in telling the sector that the problem is solved if it clearly is not. There is no point in the Government just issuing more guidance. Those involved in the music sector do not need to be told what the problem is. They know only too well and they need the Government to sort it.
Like others, I congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on securing this debate. I agree with everything that she has said, but there is an aspect that she has not touched on—the festivals around the country. In Orkney we have the world-famous St Magnus festival in June, which was founded by the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. In Shetland, we have the Shetland folk festival. Those are community-enterprises, albeit highly professional ones. The administrative burden for them from having to deal with visas of the sort that the right hon. and learned Lady has already pointed out will be phenomenal. That cultural growth would be an enormous loss for our communities.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s point. We have to think of the impact of those coming into this country: we need them to be part of our music sector here.
I welcome the Minister to her place and I wish her well in her work. If she wants any help to get this sorted, we are all here to help and do whatever we can to back her up on this. I look forward to hearing from her this afternoon that she acknowledges the scale and nature of the problem, and that she will deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise. I know she will have to work with many other Departments. No pressure, but we are looking to her to deliver. We want to hear from her what progress she has already made, and what further progress she anticipates the Government will make in respect of which countries and by when.
This is a very popular debate. In fact, my name is on the original list of people speaking in it. To allow the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), time to wind up, the first Front-Bench spokesperson will start at 3.58 pm. If everyone can keep within a five-minute time limit, everyone will get in.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr Huq, and it is a pleasure to follow the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). I congratulate her on her words, on her continuing efforts in this area and on securing this important debate.
We should not be having this debate. It is endlessly amazing to me that the public consciousness, the media and the press can, day after day, follow the intricacies of fisheries and the arguments over the European Union and fishing rights, for example, but the music industry, which employs more people than the fishing and steel industries combined, hardly gets a look in.
We ought not to be having this debate because this should have been wrapped up long ago, but, on leaving the EU, the trade and co-operation agreement very much focused itself on goods rather than services, so cultural touring was left a little behind. I know the Prime Minister has openly committed to working flat out to solve the problem, and progress has been made, particularly this week with Spain, but we have a long way to go. The problem is not only the practicalities of UK musicians, artists, crew and creatives from other sectors touring the EU, but the perception that this is a niche, side issue and not one that we need to firmly address.
Looking at the facts, employment in the music sector has dropped by 35%, with revenues almost halving in the last year. We were riding high before the pandemic. The sector grew by 11% in 2019, far beyond the rest of the economy, not only dragging the rest of the economy behind it, but flying the flag as well, by demonstrating the creative skill of the UK.
The EU is our most vital market. The European Commission itself said that UK acts “dominated the European panorama”, and that must continue. In order for it to continue, the uncertainties around cabotage, carnets, visas and work permits need to be resolved, not only in a purely logistical sense but because without the certainty, as we have heard, that comes from knowing that artists, orchestras, musicians and all their retinue can travel freely and work, it is impossible for them to book ahead and have the confidence to look forward.
Any work in any EU member state is still restricted. Although we have had good news and there may be only six EU member states with which we now need to organise work permits, we are still restricted to 90 in 180 days over all member states. For example, Austria allows only four weeks of permit-free working and Poland allows only 30 days for every 12 months. There are other restrictions. Any musician playing in France must be employed by a registered venue, and might be required to register in the host state.
The costs are also prohibitive. The cost of a Greek visa is £68 per person, and then there is the £300 cost of a carnet for an unaccompanied instrument. We are talking about hundreds or even thousands of pounds once there are a significant number of musicians to get on the road.
Then there is the cabotage. UK trucks are allowed to make only three stops, which is logically impossible and ridiculous. As we have heard, we are losing jobs as hauliers move from the UK to the EU. We have no carnet waiver agreement with the EU—which we need. Musicians need to source carnets well in advance of travel and get them physically signed off by border officials. EU musicians do not have to face that on entering the UK. That means that, while established artists or large orchestras can probably manage the mountain of paperwork, tick all the boxes and get on the road, artists who are starting out, new or breaking new ground really do not stand a chance. That means that we will see a further decline in the future dominance of UK culture; our future will not be as successful as our past.
I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music, and next week we are beginning an inquiry into these very issues, taking evidence from every part of the industry and, I hope, getting some pretty major stars as well—to sparkle the thing up. I know that conversations have been had and I understand the difficulties of negotiating with 27 member states, but we have to have clarity, fairness and equity for cabotage, cultural waivers and visas. If we do not solve the issues that the industry is experiencing, we will not only harm ourselves and the industry through even more unnecessary stress and job losses to the EU, but we will lose talent, lose our influence, lose our upper hand and—importantly—lose our leadership on the international stage.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq, particularly on a topic that quite clearly means so much to Members and their constituents across the country. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) on securing this very important debate. I have said it a number of times—colleagues across the border may refute my claims—but music really is such a unique part of Welsh culture and identity. We have obviously seen some fantastic musicians from across Wales have great success across Europe and the world over the years, too. Indeed, it is about time that we recognise both the cultural and economic benefits that musicians and their craft bring to our nation. While I am hesitant to make reference to the undisputed king of Wales, Sir Tom Jones, this early on in a debate—it’s not unusual—it would be remiss of me to ignore the incredible influence he has had on so many artists, big and small, in Wales and beyond.
When we speak about musicians touring in the EU, we must also be clear to establish that there are also artists at the very start of their careers hoping to catch a big break overseas. As we have heard, there are the further complications when considering the needs of orchestras, or brass bands, such as the incredible Cory Band based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who travel with large instruments or require advanced technical support. The vast majority of brass bands are led by volunteers who have day jobs; they are unable to navigate and circumvent the necessary paperwork and arbitrary requirements needed to travel to all these countries.
The success of our music industry has been well documented in this place, but it really is remarkable that the UK—as small as we physically are—is currently the second biggest exporter of music in the world. It comes as no surprise to learn that Europe is our industry’s closest and most important international market. Put simply, it is not a market we should be seeking to cut off. We all know that European touring has become more expensive, more complicated and more difficult to execute. What is even more frustrating is that the confusion, lack of clarity and co-ordination over the requirements of the 27 EU member states for touring musicians was clearly an oversight by the UK Government during the negotiation period. The UK’s live music industry is completely reliant on low-friction barriers to entry and movement, allowing tours to move through countries seamlessly and quickly. However, as the world slowly begins to unlock from the restrictions that coronavirus has placed on us all, I fear that our creative sector will continue to pay the price for this ignorance and inaction.
As it stands, UK musicians and their teams are not able to tour around a fifth of Europe—six out of 27 member states—without obtaining certain visas and work permits far in advance. In an industry where last minute changes to tour itineraries are particularly frequent, how on earth can we expect that to be viable, particularly for smaller artists and groups whose income is solely reliant on revenue generated from their live music performances? Once again, the Government are widely missing the mark, especially given their recent celebration of the fact that 21 EU member states do not require visas or work permits.
The industry has known about these restrictions for some time now and have been leading on the campaign to increase visa free access across the EU. I must take the opportunity to congratulate the sector, and in particular the Association of British Orchestras and LIVE on their recent success in Spain. Instead of seeing meaningful policy developments from the UK Government to help the industry back on its feet, we see them disingenuously taking credit for the actions of the sector. Touring in the EU is a critical way for new and emerging artists of all genres to gain valuable experience, build their fan base and secure an income, but the artists are now being blocked due to financial barriers and a lack of information and support to navigate the process.
To conclude, sadly the points raised today are not particularly new—many of them have been repeatedly raised by colleagues across the House time and again. Musicians really want to get back out there, and I know, from the popularity of today's debate, that most colleagues across the political divide want to support the industry. Now really is the time for the Minister’s Department to act, particularly as the Government have dragged their heels on this issue for too long. I sincerely hope the Minister will take our pleas seriously, and I look forward to hearing her plans to tackle this worrying problem, which is impacting musicians up and down the country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I congratulate the Mother of the House—the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman)—and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) on securing the debate, although it is regrettable that we are here at all.
Years ago, in 2016, just after the Brexit referendum, I used to joke that this place should be renamed Brexit Minister Hall, because we spent so much time debating the ins and outs of the Brexit negotiating process, and here we are again. Despite all the assurances that we received in those days, it is plain that if Brexit had not happened, we simply would not be having this debate.
The difficulties that our musicians and performing artists are experiencing, the damage it is doing to their careers, the talent that is being wasted and the economic opportunities that are being missed are all because of Brexit—particularly the desperately hard Brexit driven through by this Government with a flagrant disregard for anyone who might be harmed by it or disagree with that approach. The problems that everyone has spoken about, and that we will continue to hear about, simply did not exist before the end of January 2020. I am sorry to drift slightly from the consensual tone with which the Mother of the House opened this debate, but I think that has to be said. This mess is entirely of the Government’s making, so the responsibility for resolving it lies entirely with them.
We have heard about the industry’s value to the country as a whole; it employs more people than the steel and fisheries industries combined but, perhaps because it is not as concentrated—or not as concentrated in Conservative marginal seats—we are not hearing quite so much interest or action. Where is the summoning of the ambassadors, which we have seen recently to resolve certain disputes in the fishing industry?
I have a huge concentration—a massive wealth—of talent, and indeed of economic wealth, for at least some of the music industry, in Glasgow North. It is home to some of the finest venues and most famous artists in Scotland, but also to some of the smaller venues—an incubator for real future talents. The European tour is a hugely important part of the nurturing of that future talent and, as we have heard, the opportunities are simply drying up.
I have been wearing the mask of the Kinnaris Quintet, some of whom are based in my constituency—five of the finest young Scotswomen traditional music performers in the country—and their experiences are sadly being replicated all over the country. Jenn Butterworth, one of my constituents, said,
“as a musician I feel pretty let down by the government as I heard there was a possibility we could have been allowed visa free travel and it was denied by our own govt in the negotiations”.
“we’re totally in limbo with lots of things in the diary... we’re losing any prospect of reaching audiences in Europe.... One production was a main source of income and now the costs, hurdles to climb, uncertainties were just too much of a headache for the French promoters, so they decided to sack all the participants who didn’t hold European passports.”
I heard of their desperate search for Irish ancestry, or some other European connection, because there is now a distinct advantage to having dual citizenship for people in this country. Musicians without that are increasingly finding it difficult, with stories of agents simply passing by artists who do not have straightforward visa access to Europe.
On fees and taxes, one of the bands that I spoke to said that if they want to go to Germany, they have to pay a 19% tax on any goods brought into the country. That means all their merchandise—they do not know whether they will sell it or not, but they have to pay that tax upfront. Those sales would have covered some of their living costs, accommodation and food while they were on the road, and all of that is thrown into complete uncertainty.
We have already heard about the challenge of acquiring carnets, and all the costs that go with that. It is a particular problem—again, as we have heard—for orchestras or other large bands or ensembles. Previous models, based on freedom of movement, are simply unviable now.
There are solutions if the Government are willing to work for them, such as the 10-point plan circulated by the office of the Mother of the House, which I fully endorse. The Government should meet industry bodies, such as the Association of British Orchestras, UK Music, the Musicians’ Union, LIVE, the Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Scots music forums, get them all round the table and hear from them first hand.
A benefit of Brexit was supposed to be global opportunities, but I do not see easyJet flights to Australia appearing anytime soon. I am not sure how anyone is supposed to go on the road to the end of the Earth to promote their talent, so that argument falls flat on its face. It is not immediately impossible to undo Brexit, but there is a reason why support for independence is growing in Scotland, not least among our cultural and music sectors. It is our route back in—our lifeboat, literally and metaphorically—to get back across the channel and thrive in the way that we ought to be able to.
I will luxuriate in my seven minutes. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. It does not seem long ago that we came into this place and swore oaths next to each other. Here we are, only a few years later, two old lags—if I may be so bold.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), for securing the debate. I concur entirely with her speech, which was conciliatory and thoughtful. I hope that the Minister takes that tone away from the debate: it is not a party political matter, but a matter of looking after our constituents, our wider cultural impact and, frankly, global Britain. Without these industries, we are not global Britain anymore.
I will make some brief observations. We have heard about the enormous flurry of paperwork and the unworkable and patchwork system that is in place. The Select Committee has been aware of the issue for a long time. We invited Lord Frost to appear before us at the start of the year, but he refused. It was only after pinning the Prime Minister down in the Liaison Committee on 24 March that he said Lord Frost will appear and we will get this sorted. Lord Frost eventually appeared in June or July after avoiding the Committee for a long time, but in that whole time, there have been only four official bilateral meetings, one of which was on the morning of his appearance by some strange coincidence—that is one every two months.
I know that conversations have taken place, however, and that the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), was, after initially trying to get her head around the issue, committed to it. She told us some good stories about how she would track people down at conference and try to have conversations, but there was always a feeling that there was a road block in the shape of Lord Frost.
It seemed that the issue was being drawn into the general feeling of antagonism between us and the EU, which was unnecessary. This is not a confected row to bring about a Jim Hacker sausage moment in politics in terms of the Northern Ireland protocol. That should have nothing to do with this issue, which is about people’s livelihoods and our place in the world.
It is utterly farcical that we are 20 miles away from Europe and yet, in the case of at least six nations, we have the same rights of travel and access for brilliant creatives—not just musicians but whole swathes of people across industries—as people coming from the Cook Islands on the other side of the world. That is a ridiculous situation.
I say to the Minister that she is pushing at an open door. Provided that we keep the issue out of the mess that is going on with Northern Ireland, which I believe we can, there is an enormous willingness across the EU to talk to us bilaterally, because they also want our talent there—they miss it. We have such a fantastic reservoir of talent. They want people to be there and to enjoy that cultural exchange. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) spoke about opera. I was talking to a lady who is one of the world’s leading lights at the Vienna opera house. She is struggling to get work there. This is a person of such huge, global talent that she is called upon everywhere.
My hon. Friend makes such an important point. We forget just how significant the status of British artists is in the opera field—not only the leading stars, such as he refers to, but the young singers who cut their teeth in the repertoire houses in Germany and the festivals in Europe. They are losing out because of an inflexibility and a lack of joined-up Government between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Cabinet Office, and that has to change.
My hon. Friend is singing from the same song sheet as I am. There is perhaps a misperception—we often talk about this on the Select Committee—of the importance of DCMS to our economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome referenced it, but to put it into real figures the DCMS sector is worth 23% of the economy. The Government are around 40% to 45% of the economy—it depends on where one is in the United Kingdom. DCMS is 0.5% of Government spending. When it has a few million quid, it has to go the Treasury—it is in the same building—and say, “Please can we do this?”
There is an idea within Government, and has been, I would say, for many years, that these industries are mendicants, always asking for hand-outs. That may be true of the Royal Opera House, but our creative sectors are the model of leanness and competitiveness. They have learned to survive without hand-outs over a long period. My view—this may be where I depart from Opposition Members—is that that has been of enormous benefit to their long-term health and robustness, but they cannot deal with the red tape and the lack of access and ability to work. I am a free-marketarian. This is not a free market because of circumstance and perhaps a lack of focus and will in certain parts of Government, though not within DCMS.
We have allowed a situation to occur where we are helping to damage industries in which we have a competitive advantage. There is an economic law of competitive cost advantage. The reason why we are really good is because we have the English language and a great history of creativity. We should invest in areas where we have a competitive cost advantage. We no longer have one in many industries, but we do in this one. Without the music industry and film production, the UK economy, pre pandemic, would have been in recession for four of the previous six years. That is why it is vital that we get this moving, because we will discover the damage that has been done only when it is too late.
There also may be a bit of sniffiness about the industry. We all remember during the pandemic the quickly withdrawn advert showing a ballerina whose next job was as an IT consultant. I am not dissing IT consultants, but being a ballerina is fantastic, top of the tree, and something that we should be proud of in this country. There are Members in the Chamber who really want to work with the Minister and see this happen, because we care about our constituents and our country, and we know that these are areas in which we can have genuine advantage and push ourselves forward. We have effectively given them a no-deal Brexit. We now need to mend that by dealing with the cabotage through the EU and having bilaterals to get this sorted.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr Huq, although it is a shame that you are not contributing to the debate because I know what a music fan you are. I do not think that I have to declare my membership of the Musicians’ Union but I will, although, as I always say on such occasions, I have no musical talent whatsoever, unlike some of my colleagues who are speaking in the debate.
The fact that we are here in November 2021—well over five years since the UK voted to leave the European Union—is a damning indictment of the Government’s failure to prepare for the consequences of Brexit. I think that is, in part, political. The Government just did not want to concede that there could be negative consequences to no longer having freedom of movement and to leaving the market. I have seen that in other sectors, too—the labour shortages in food and farming, for example—and the ostrich approach of burying our head in the sand has had real consequences for the people who are affected.
That approach has included ignoring the warnings from the industry. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said, so many people from across the industry—not just performers, but road crew, lighting engineers, truck drivers and so on—have come forward to try to tell the Government that action is needed, but there has been a refusal to host anything by way of meaningful discussions. An EU official told The Guardian in January that when the EU proposed a standard range of travel exemptions,
“the UK refused to engage in our discussions at all”.
I know there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and trying to blame one another for that, but according the EU sources, by June, the UK had still made no approach to remove travel barriers for creative workers.
As well as being political, I think there is an element of incompetence to the Government’s approach. Quite frankly, that is a hallmark of this Government. It is also another sign of the Government’s failure to acknowledge the importance of our creative industries. We have heard about the statistics and the pound signs attached to those industries: we are the world’s second-biggest exporter of music, with an export revenue of £2.9 billion. The value of music, as others have said, is far greater than that. We not only have some of the biggest-selling music artists in the world, but some of the best—those are not necessarily the same thing.
I remember, when I was a student in what was then Leningrad, in the summer of 1984, being besieged by young Russians who were just absolutely desperate to find out more about UK music, which was a lifeline to them and their connection to the west. I remember being asked, on the beach on the bank of the Neva river, how many children Paul McCartney had. I must admit, I did not know, and it was before the internet, but that just shows the soft power connected to our worldwide reputation for music.
We also know that the sector has been incredibly hard hit by covid, which is all the more reason why the Government should pull out all the stops to get it back on its feet. To an extent, the Government have been saved by covid, because people being unable to tour has masked the impact of Brexit on the live music sector. Now that we have, I hope, emerged from the worst of the pandemic, it is absolutely vital that the Government step up the pace on progress.
I am pleased that we have made some progress on visas, although I think it is a bit audacious for the Secretary of State to try to claim credit for that. We need agreements with the remaining six member states, and we also need bilateral discussions, because at the moment, any work is still restricted over all member states to a total of up to 90 days in any 180 days. As we have heard, there is still so much bureaucracy around that.
I will mention carnets and merchandise briefly. We have heard about the costs of taking unaccompanied instruments across borders—those costs are just for the paperwork. We know that smaller and up-and-coming bands in particular do not have lawyers, agents and managers to do all that for them; they have to deal with it themselves, and it is a real deterrent. Tim Burgess from the Charlatans tweeted earlier this week that the band was unable to sell any merchandise during its recent Dublin gig. We know that so many bands rely on merchandise to make a living because of streaming and everything else.
I will finish by talking about cabotage, as I know that that is what is expected of me as a member of the shadow Transport team. UK tour trucks made up close to 80% of the EU market prior to 2016 and Brexit. The three-stop rule for UK trucks forces them to re-route back to the UK, which is incredibly costly and time-consuming if they bother to do so, but most do not, making UK-led tours impossible. The band Public Service Broadcasting recently had to book a German bus for their European tour—something that they described as maddeningly stupid and self-harming. Big US acts have traditionally started their EU tours in the UK, so they fly into Heathrow, pick up the trucks, road crew, sound, lighting, caterers—everything—here. Why would they do that now? They are just going to go to Germany or somewhere else.
We have seen limited progress. The small splitter trucks have been ruled exempt from cabotage rules, and cabotage easement has seen inbound rules suspended on EU-flagged trucks to help the HGV crisis here, but that makes things even worse for UK music hauliers, as it is not reciprocal. UK hauliers have had no Government support to relocate to the EU either—I do not want them to relocate to the EU, but that proposal was put forward by the Government as an answer to the problems back in the earliest stage of the negotiations—so they cannot get around the restrictions that way. The music industry is part of what makes this country great. Why would we want to throw out an integral part of that, and tell it to go and set up shop in France, Germany or Portugal?
UK Music is calling for a derogation from cabotage for all trucks used for cultural events, so I conclude by asking the Minister whether there are active discussions in her Department and the Department for Transport about this issue. When I have tried to talk to the DFT, it has told me that it is a matter for her Department, but when I have tried to talk to her Department, it has told me that it is a matter for the DFT. I rather feel that that has left a big, gaping void in which there are no discussions at all.
That is very kind, Dr Huq. I have yet to receive an invitation to tour Europe with the album, but who knows after today? Given that I am entitled to an Irish passport because of my father’s birthplace, perhaps I will be able to do so eventually. I declare my membership of the Musicians’ Union and the financial support that it gave me at the last election. I am also a member of the Ivors Academy, and have some small earnings from MP4, the world’s only parliamentary rock group—as you know, Dr Huq.
I congratulate the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), on her tenacity in pushing forward this issue over the last year or so, for not letting it go and for not letting the Government off the hook. The fact that she brings her immense experience and powerful advocacy to the issue is important to musicians across the country, who are all immensely grateful to her for her campaigning.
Everyone is right: a tremendous variety of artists from the UK of different musical styles and genres tour Europe, from major orchestras, to the up-and-coming opera singer mentioned by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), to the young singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar and an easyJet ticket, with no support, but perhaps a few T-shirts and CDs inside their pull suitcase. It is an incredibly varied landscape, and the Government do not seem to have grasped the importance of that from the outset. And yet, it could have been so different.
I remember being in this very Chamber in January 2020 with the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who was the predecessor of the Minister here with us today. I welcome the new Minister to her place; I do not think we have had the opportunity to have a debate before, but I look forward to our exchanges over the coming months and years. The former Minister said:
“Touring is the lifeblood of the industry… It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 56WH.]
It was official Government policy in January 2020, just after we had left the European Union, that there was free movement for artists across the European Union. What went wrong? Why did that not get translated?
The hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), the Chair of the Select Committee, put it well. Our experiences of dealing with Lord Frost to try to untie this issue and get some movement on it were immensely frustrating. Not only were there delays, to which the Chair of the Select Committee referred, but when Lord Frost appeared before the Select Committee, he said, in contrast to what the Minister’s predecessor said in this Chamber on the record in Hansard:
“We do not agree with permanent visa waivers because they deprive us of control over our immigration system.”
That is the root of this. The issue is not about immigration, but about our creative industries, cultural exchanges and the touring of artists across Europe and across the United Kingdom. That is being conflated with an argument about freedom of movement and immigration, which has nothing to do with it.
In all my 20 years in Parliament, I have never heard anyone on the doorstep say, “What are you going to do about all these Polish violinists coming over here and entertaining our people? It’s an absolute disgrace. When are you going to do something about it?”. It is nonsense, yet we have changed from the position of the former Minister, on the essentiality of freedom of movement for artists to be able to work, to a position where the Government are saying, “We don’t believe in this because it undermines our immigration system.” What a load of nonsense and what a way to treat this hugely important part of our economy.
The creative industry is the fastest growing part of our economy and, as the hon. Member for Solihull rightly said, it is an important export earner for this country. It is an industry in which we have a comparative advantage and of which we can be proud. The industry brings immense prestige to this country in the soft power it exerts, as well as in the hard-line economic benefits we get from it.
Frankly, that has been the problem. The Prime Minister said at the Liaison Committee that he will “strain every sinew”, and he promised to fix it, yet a couple of months later this issue, which he said is so important that he will put his full weight behind it, was not even on the agenda of the first meeting of the Partnership Council in relation to Brexit. The Government, as an afterthought, included it as any other business, as Lord Frost had to explain when he came before the Select Committee.
I know that this is not within the Minister’s power, but perhaps she can pass it on to her colleagues. Will the Government take this issue off Lord Frost? Let us get him a million miles away from this issue as quickly as possible. Give it to a senior Minister, or even an up-and-coming, able and talented junior Minister, which I am sure the Minister is. Give it to somebody with a cross-Government remit to sort out all the issues between Departments. We have heard about the Government not acting in concert or in harmony on this issue. Give it to somebody who can sort it out, not Lord Frost. I am not a believer in nominative determinism but, let us face it, Lord Frost has had a chilling effect on this issue. It is fixable, so let us fix it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman).
Like Camberwell and Peckham, Vauxhall is home to a thriving music scene and there are reminders of our musical past and present throughout my constituency. I am sure many hon. Members have visited the O2 Academy to see the wide range of musicians from around the world who have performed there.
Perhaps the most famous tribute in my constituency is the mural of David Bowie just outside Brixton station. David is one of Brixton’s most famous sons, having grown up on the boundary between Brixton and Stockwell. He attended Stockwell Primary School until the age of six, and he went on to be a worldwide cultural icon. Like many musicians of his time, he travelled up and down the country to play his music and draw inspiration.
Famously, David lived in Berlin for three years. During that time, as some hon. Members will remember, he recorded “Heroes”, a song telling the tale of lovers on either side of the Berlin wall at a time when people as young as 18 were shot for simply trying to cross the border. A decade later, David gave an emotional performance of “Heroes” close enough to the wall for thousands of young people on either side to listen and sing along. When he died in 2016, the German Foreign Office paid tribute to him by linking to his performance and praising him for his work in bringing down the wall.
That shows the valuable contribution of our music. Music is perhaps one of our most crucial and valuable exports, and it has a profound political impact across the world. However, that only happens when our musicians can travel freely across Europe and across the world. It is not just the big bands that create such cultural capital, but the many smaller touring bands, orchestras and freelancers. They all give British music a unique standing in the world.
I cannot claim to have a record like my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), but I can claim to have played the melodica at primary school—and to have played it very badly. However, I want to pay tribute to the cultural hub that is the South Bank Centre, home of the Royal Festival Hall, in my constituency. It supports so many young people from right across my constituency, from that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham, and from many other constituencies. Before covid, it hosted an annual music festival put on by the Lambeth Music Service, which saw over 3,000 young people coming together, performing and playing a range of instruments. That is how we support our young people to get active in music, so that they can fulfil their ambitions and professions. That will not happen if these barriers stay in place.
Not allowing our musicians to travel not only weakens our position internationally but severely impacts the income streams of many performers. After such a desperate few years, our musicians are crying out to perform. They want to do what they know best: they want to play to the crowds; they want to support local businesses; they want to support local residents; they want to be able to employ people to start their careers. That will happen only if we support them from the outset.
It is not right that our musicians are missing out on vital touring opportunities. The Government have to listen. I ask the Minister to listen to all of us—this issue has cross-party support—and to the Musicians’ Union and others, and to reach an agreement so that our musicians can travel freely.
I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) for securing the debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. I always say that; I do not always mean it. In this case, I wholeheartedly do.
Oh, my goodness—here we are again! The needle is stuck. The arguments go round and round. I realise that I have spoken about this issue in the House six times over the past 12 months; let us hope that this is our farewell tour. We have today heard some very familiar lyrics, and as plaintive as ever. We know that swathes of the creative industry are suffering directly as a result of Brexit, with endless bureaucracy.
Lord Frost, that living rebuke to the unelected Brussels bureaucrat, fessed up at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and told us that the sector had been thrown under the Brexit tour bus mid-negotiation. Even Brexiteers booed metaphorically. As we have heard, only the richest artists can navigate the endless red tape and visa costs. But they are not all Elton. DCMS Ministers were not even a support act in those negotiations.
How did we get to this place? The much-trailed bespoke deal that the UK proposed had no precedent, as Ministers told us at the time. The Incorporated Society of Musicians warned that the EU would not sign up to it. Instead, the EU offered a standard visa waiver, the UK said no, and we found ourselves in this mess—artists abandoned for Brexit zealotry.
As the disastrous consequences of the hard Brexit that the UK Government were imposing on the sector dawned, the then Culture Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), sprang into action, setting up the creative and cultural touring project, with the aim of striking 27 separate touring visa deals with EU countries. The group met a grand total of once, in January. When the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), then a Minister, appeared before the DCMS Committee on 16 February, she confirmed, shockingly, that no negotiations with EU member states had begun—lethargy, torpor, lazy chaos. Even today, six EU countries have no visa waiver arrangements with the UK. Carnets and other customs controls are delaying artists and their crews. Contingency days need to be scheduled into tours—needless Brexit bureaucracy, needless Brexit bills.
For wealthy artists, this is manageable, but for our new talent it is not. Music is perhaps these islands’ greatest export, but if we lock young artists out of much of Europe, they will miss a vital market. Orchestras, which by their very nature have to transport at times hundreds of instruments, cannot afford to tour. As the Association of British Orchestras says,
“These added costs, delays and administrative burdens result in damage to our international reputation, to cultural exchange, and damage UK orchestras’ already fragile business model.”
The road haulage sector can be added to the long list of businesses suffering because of Brexit and the UK’s disastrous failure to negotiate a decent deal with the EU. As Members will know, without multiple truck stops, there can be no European tours using UK hauliers. Currently, UK vehicles that weigh more than 3.5 tonnes are banned from making two stops before returning home. That is having a crushing effect on UK haulage. The larger players will be forced to relocate much of their business, as we have heard, away from the UK to EU countries, but smaller players will be forced out of the market altogether. I do not remember seeing huge new visa costs, reams of new red tape and creative sector jobs lost on the side of that Brexit tour bus.
The UK Government are failing to engage with the industry in a constructive way. They continue to pursue headlines. That is what the House of Lords European Affairs Committee concluded last week, expressing the industry’s despair in a letter to the world’s worst negotiator, Lord Frost. I think we all think it is time for him to step aside and for the UK Government to stop pretending this problem is solved. The Pollyanna Brexit fantasy does not wash with musicians and road hauliers facing real hardship. Listen to the industry, Minister, and let us get this issue properly sorted once and for all.
It is particularly apt that you are chairing today’s debate, as a published author on music, Dr Huq. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) not just for securing the debate, but for all the work she has done. We have seen a breadth of support on this issue, much of which she has corralled—and perhaps carolled—into being.
The creative industry is the fastest growing sector in the UK. There are 2,000 employed musicians, 10,000 freelancers and 2,000 administrative and technical workers. Millions of children and adults are currently undertaking music as an educational pursuit in schools, community settings and elsewhere. This country needs its musicians. We will be able to retain them only when we recognise the problems in the industry and work with them to resolve them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) made a very good point about her former constituent David Bowie, who I saw at Glastonbury. Will we see more artists like him if we do not resolve this issue? I have to say the Brixton Academy is one of the best venues in the country and I have been there many times.
This has been the most difficult time for the music industry in generations. Covid-19 has devastated live performance and meant restrictions on travel as well as performance and teaching work—a point well made by my hon. Friend and gig companion, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I look forward to many future concerts with her—perhaps one or two in the EU if we resolve this issue. The live events sector was the last to reopen after lockdown. Musicians across the country were forced to rely on the complex self-employment income support scheme, their savings or, in some cases, universal credit for income. Many have fallen out of the industry altogether.
We have emerged from lockdown into post-Brexit Britain, which has had a substantial impact on any musician or arts organisation that depends on touring in the EU. In 2019, UK artists played almost four times as many shows across the EU as they did in North America, sustaining an estimated 33,000 British jobs. As a result of the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, in which the EU and UK failed to reach agreement on a visa waiver for performers, EU countries now treat UK performers and crew as visa nationals when entering the EU to do paid work. As a result, as we have heard, UK musicians must now navigate 27 different sets of rules for 27 different countries. Add to that the complexity of navigating the various covid restrictions in each country and we have a significant problem.
The Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), rightly made prescient points about the lack of meetings and the lack of progress by Lord Frost. I do not blame the Minister, who is new in post, but I certainly blame Lord Frost.
I am pleased to note that in the past few days there has been a waiver for British musicians in Spain. Spain was a particularly challenging place for musicians to obtain the right to work without a visa; many musicians described the process as incredibly stressful and the amount of financial information required as extremely invasive. Although the issue has now been resolved, it is important to note that its resolution was within the gift of the Spanish Government, after extensive discussions with our music industry leaders. The problems encountered with Spain still exist in other EU countries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who is an accomplished musician and hopefully a future EU touring musician, was right to say that the issue had been made one of immigration. It should never have been about immigration. I am not the shadow immigration Minister; the Minister is not the immigration Minister. This is a matter for the creative and cultural sector.
Even getting across the border is a huge challenge. Carnets, cabotage and post-Brexit customs controls have meant increased time crossing the border, often costing days of touring time. Eurostar is not a designated port, despite the sector’s repeated calls for it to be since the EU referendum, so musicians have no option but to fly to Europe rather than take the train. Touring musicians care deeply about the climate. Post COP, why are the Government pushing aviation emissions when it is quicker and easier to go to Europe by train?
Those who travel by road—particularly larger ensembles such as orchestras, which travel with special equipment—face big problems at the border. The Association of British Orchestras says:
“A specific concern for UK orchestras is that so many of the ABO’s members operate their own trucks—these are adapted at sizeable expense to accommodate fragile and high value musical instruments—for example humidity and temperature controls, air conditioned, special suspension, special brackets inside to support the instruments.”
It points out that drivers also have specialist knowledge.
In preparation for this debate, I spoke to many musicians and artists who are struggling post Brexit. While I was at COP in Glasgow last week, I met Stuart Murdoch. I am really pleased that his Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), is present; we were both with Stuart at a Belle and Sebastian event last week.
Belle and Sebastian are touring nine European countries in the spring. Stuart told me:
“The new rules cause a significant difficulty for us, our crew and the whole industry. Financially, the additional costs incurred for touring clubs and small venues between 200 and 500 people make it impossible to organise a European Tour without third party support. We tour venues between 1200 and 2000 capacity and we can just about make that work. Increased costs of visas, carnets and testing bring a double whammy of Brexit and Coronavirus. The big issue for crew is the 90 days of 180 which could push them out of the industry”—
a point made by the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), whose leadership on this matter I absolutely rate; I thank him for all his work and look forward to the inquiry that the APPG is launching next week. Stuart also said:
“Passports are retained by Embassies when they are needed to cross borders—even with 2 passports it’s proving near impossible to operate.”
Simon Rix, the bassist in West Yorkshire’s most successful ever band, the Kaiser Chiefs, told me:
“The current legislation post Brexit will make it impossible for the next Adele, Ed Sheeran, Kaiser Chiefs to learn their craft and reach the necessary wider audience that Europe provides. On a personal level it will mean us travelling there less for a number of reasons. Carnet rates at 40% and import duty on merchandise making it harder to make any profit. The merchandise alone would pay for fuel/accommodation for smaller bands and these rules make it financially unsustainable for all but the biggest acts. All this also means less tax income for the country. It would also lead to us outsourcing for crew, lights, PA and trucking meaning less UK jobs and companies moving their business to EU countries.”
Nathan Clark, who runs the best venue in the UK —Brudenell Social Club in my constituency, where I recently saw Sir Tom Jones, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) mentioned in her excellent speech—told me:
“The impact has been twofold. Both in some cancellations of venue bookings due to an artist’s tour not being viable enough across the whole tour, therefore economic cost to us. But the impact of local artists who are now skipping a tour in Europe due to both financial cost, but also mental stress of navigating a tour production, unlike ever before for new aspiring artists exporting their talent.”
There is a risk that when we talk about UK music output, we talk only of major recording and touring artists or highly esteemed orchestras. We can fall into the trap of talking about the industry only as an economic equation, as I did earlier in my speech, but the truth is that much of our cultural offering to the world comes from grassroots artists and freelancers, who are bringing art and culture from every community in the UK.
Matt Holborn is a UK-based violinist, band leader and touring artist. He articulated to me the real threat both to freelance musicians and to music itself, saying:
“as someone who has organised tours and one-off gigs across Europe, Brexit has certainly put a stop to all of it, for the time being. People who are signed to minor record labels…are having to cancel European tours that have been in the planning for years due to the complexity, uncertainty and potential costs…As a freelancer, I have basically written it off now, I haven’t organised with my contacts abroad and haven’t booked in the gigs that I did pre-Brexit and pre Covid. Covid has provided a double whammy, just as you get your head around the visa rules for each country you also have to consider the Covid rules as well.”
We are where we are, and at this time we do not want to start rehashing the debates around Brexit or covid, which might get us nowhere in the short term. In this debate, it is important that we on the Opposition Benches offer practical solutions to this problem, so here are some, and I hope that the Government will take them on board and offer the creative industry some assurance that this situation will get better. I hope that the Minister will respond to these points.
First, let us look at reciprocity. We need to deal with the fact that there are 27 different sets of rules for musicians and music workers to navigate, as compared with the UK’s relatively liberal rules for international musicians to come here through permitted paid engagement and tier 5 visas. We must redress that imbalance and seek reciprocal visa and work permit arrangements for our UK touring artists with the EU. Better yet, the Government should engage with the EU and seek an agreement on a visa waiver for performers, as exists between the EU and other third countries, as well as a waiver on carnets and cabotage. The industry must also have a transparent view of these negotiations through the Government reporting to it and to this House any progress that is being made, particularly in relation to countries that do not offer a cultural exception such as Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Cyprus.
Other practical steps would include making Eurostar a designated entry and exit point for carnets and cabotage, as well as agreeing a reciprocal arrangement with the EU for the movement of goods for cultural purposes or, at the very least, an exemption for operating on one’s own account. We need an agreement on truck stops, which may look like an EU-wide cultural exemption; on the movement of specialist vehicles; and on transporting concert equipment and personnel. During the negotiation period, the industry needs interim support to mitigate the large-scale disruption caused by Brexit. As we know, negotiations of this sort can take years, so we need something in place now to ease the concerns of the industry. DCMS must produce clear and accessible guidance for musicians at every level as to what they need, and for where. We need to support our musicians, not bury them in a sea of complex administration that is easy to get wrong. I know that thus far, DCMS has been reluctant to provide guidance, or to support any guidance produced by the sector. That needs to change, and greater partnership work in this area is essential.
In the long term, we need a viable plan for UK artists and crew to continue working in all EU27 countries without costly permits or bureaucracy. We have to look at ways to ease the burdens on European tours through some of the measures I have just outlined, and we also need to discuss and focus on what we can do domestically to provide a thriving cultural arena for musicians and artists. I hope that the Minister can address all those points.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and I am really glad to be here to discuss the important issue of touring. I am particularly grateful to the Mother of the House for engaging on this issue and setting out some of the economic, cultural and quality-of-life reasons why music is so important to us all. I certainly agree with her; I do not want the UK to become a cultural Galápagos, and I am confident that it will not. I am very glad that she has also spoken directly to the Secretary of State, and has acknowledged our mutual desire to get movement on this issue. I am also very grateful to her for offering to work in close partnership on this issue, and I shall take her up on that offer.
I appreciate the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton). He is an accomplished musician and a great champion for the industry, and I look forward to working with him. He also makes a very important point about the importance of services as well as goods, an issue that I agree is too often overlooked. I also emphasise that the cultural industries are not niche industries but real economic drivers of growth. I also thank right hon. and hon. Members for the quality of the contributions we have heard today, especially from members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I feel compelled to insert a Tom Jones pun, but the less we talk about sex bombs in this place, the better. [Laughter.]
I am also very grateful to the chairman of the DCMS Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who has made a similar point about how important DCMS is as a Department. This is not some Ministry of Fun: it too often suffers from that perception, but it is a serious economic Department and it needs to have that place within Government—I would say that now that I have moved, wouldn’t I? On the cross-departmental working issue, I reassure Members that I had a former role in the Cabinet Office, so I have contacts there. I understand how some of the European issues work—the committee structures and so on—and I am very keen in this new role to champion DCMS within those committee structures, and make the point that this is an incredibly important issue. I appreciate the comments that have been made about Lord Frost; I have no desire to promote myself to his position, nor would I have the power to, but he is doing some very difficult and complex work, and we appreciate the work that he does for the Government.
As we all know, the UK has left the EU, and it was inevitable following this that there would be changes in how creative professionals toured. I appreciate that the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has led to uncertainty in the sector, which we are seeking to resolve.
Hon. Members talked about the difference between some of the larger groups, with more money behind them, and the complexity for a smaller band or individual that is touring, and how it can be very difficult to navigate the bureaucratic issues around touring. I very much hear that issue, so throughout this year my Department has been working very hard to support the touring sector by clarifying arrangements, helping the sector to adapt and, where possible, looking at what we can do unilaterally and with EU member states to make things much easier.
Indeed, I had a very good meeting yesterday with representatives of the touring sector; in fact, I think it was the seventh meeting of the touring working group. It was a really productive meeting. I took down a lot of notes myself about some of the issues that I need to raise with ministerial colleagues.
However, this week was also a positive week. We have made good progress with Spain in relation to short-term visas for touring artists, and I will meet the Spanish ambassador next week, when I hope to ensure that we have worked through all the different issues, so that there is not just a headline but we actually have the details in place. I also hope to use this moment of engagement with Spain to encourage the final six countries to follow suit and provide clarity for people on the issue.
It is clear that although some significant issues remain—I am not a Minister to try to gloss over any issues; I want to work through them—I also wish to emphasise that I think the arrangements are more workable than has at times been portrayed. It is important for all of us to try to build confidence in the sector and to say what can be done, as well as highlight some of the issues that remain.
Touring generally involves the movement of people, goods and vehicles. I will initially focus on visas and permits, but I will address some of the other issues in turn, to highlight what my Department has done and is doing to progress these issues, notwithstanding the fact that some issues are within the remit of other Departments.
In the negotiations for the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, we sought to ensure that touring artists and their support staff did not need work permits to perform in the EU. However, those proposals were rejected. Our recent trade deal with three European Free Trade Association countries, which include those provisions, was based on the same offer, which shows that it is workable.
I am aware that there have been calls for the Government to negotiate a visa waiver; that issue was raised by a number of hon. Members here in Westminster Hall today. We have engaged extensively with the industry on this proposal, but unfortunately we do not think it is viable. It is not Government policy to agree visa waivers, and the EU did not offer a visa waiver for paid activities during the TCA negotiations. What it did offer was a reciprocal visa waiver agreement covering all current member states and any future member states for short stays, for example as a tourist. However, nothing in this proposal would have compelled member states to change their visa regimes for paid engagement, and we think that remains incompatible with our manifesto commitment to take control of our borders. In addition, we do not think that it would meet the sector’s needs. We enable visa-free visits by EU citizens, but we wish to retain control of how we apply this policy, and it is important to stress that no major G7 economy has agreed to lock in its visa systems with the EU in this way.
Lord Frost has used the TCA’s committee structures to note the importance of this issue to the Government and we have also raised touring during the most recent meeting of the EU-UK’s Trade Specialised Committee on Services, Investment and Digital. However, our focus is now on working directly with EU member states and, as we have seen with the good progress this week, it is they who are principally responsible for deciding the rules governing what work UK visitors can undertake in their country.
We first want to address the uncertainty that is felt by some in the sector. It has been apparent that the information available online from member states regarding visa and permit requirements for touring musicians is at times lacking in detail and difficult to follow. As I have said, Spain has been a particular focus, and touring was raised with the Spanish Government by Ministers from across the Government, including by Ministers from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, from the Department for International Trade and from the Cabinet Office, as well as by our ambassador in Madrid. Following that, as I have said, I am very pleased that there has been movement on this issue this week.
I am not sure that the point about the G7 and visa waivers is a particularly strong one. After all, three of the G7 countries are France, Germany and Italy, so they are members of the European Union. The others are Canada, Japan and the United States, which are all many thousands of miles away from the European Union. We are the only G7 country that—as the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), said—is 20 miles away from the European Union and in the case of Northern Ireland no miles away. So I would not rely on that point as a very strong argument against locking in our system to a visa waiver agreement in relation to the creative industries.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and I also appreciate the point he made earlier about wanting to disentangle this issue, so that it is not an immigration issue; this is about the importance of our creative industries and their economic power. I am happy to explore this issue further in response to some of the points that have been made here this afternoon.
Spain is a major market for UK touring artists, and it is one of the big ones that we wanted to solve. The sector has done tremendous work in advance of the announcement. It was a good example of where we can all work together to dismantle remaining barriers.
Twenty-one EU states have now confirmed that they offer visa and work permit-free routes for musicians and creative performers. I recognise that the visa and permit situation for touring has changed since EU exit, and it requires adaptation, but it is important to recognise that those routes exist. We try to provide clarity on gov.uk, so that people understand the arrangements before they have to leave.
At present, six EU member states do not offer visa or work permit-free touring. We have lobbied and will continue to lobby those countries to allow creative professionals to tour easily. As I say, I want to use the Spain breakthrough as a moment to re-engage with those member states. Those countries would benefit from the cultural exchange and the positive financial spill-overs that touring inevitably brings. UK Music, as others have said, has found that in the UK, for every £10 spent on a ticket, £17 goes back into a local economy. Therefore, if those EU member states change their position, we believe that they will find a similar benefit. We have emphasised that point in our engagement.
Ultimately, those are decisions for those six member states, but we are using the diplomatic tools at our disposal to get a good outcome for our industry. It is important for the Government and the sector to work together in that effort. As I said, yesterday I spoke to the sector and to the touring working group, and the Secretary of State engaged earlier this week with Sir Elton John in a productive and positive meeting. As singers and performers know, combining our voices will make the greatest impact. I appreciate the help of everyone in the Chamber in making the case.
To turn to the concerns about the movement of goods and vehicles, there are new requirements, with potential costs and paperwork to do with the ATA carnet documentation, and the movement of merchandise or of instruments made from protected materials. Some of those were raised in the meeting yesterday. The new cabotage rules can limit the movement of vehicles to a maximum of three stops. As I mentioned at the start of my speech, those changes could be particularly concerning for emerging artists. We have worked across Government to provide clarity on the issues. In many cases, the arrangements are much more workable than is at times reported—that is not to diminish the concerns expressed.
For example, a UK band can pack a van with their instruments, equipment and up to nine people and travel around the EU without being subject to the TCA cabotage restrictions. They may also take their portable instruments and equipment without the need for carnets, and EU rules state that each individual is able to take up to €1,000 of merchandise into the EU to sell on tour without paying customs duties.
In cases when a carnet is required, that is a single document that can be used for multiple items as many times as required in approximately 80 countries around the world for a 12-month period. Carnets have long been a familiar feature of touring. They were needed whenever touring was taking place beyond the EU, including for example to Switzerland, so this is a case of adaptation.
Will the Minister clarify? When she says that there is one carnet, but everything has to be listed, my understanding is that with a drum kit, someone cannot just say, “Drum kit”, but must specify every different cymbal and drum. Is that the case? Even though it is all on one piece of paper, that could still amount to a huge amount of bureaucracy.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point and I am happy to take it away. I am fairly new to this area, so with some DFT issues I will not be able to give clarity on all the details. I am happy to write to her.
I have also been listening to the music sector’s concerns about the possible designation of St Pancras as a port designated under CITES—the convention on international trade in endangered species—for artists carrying instruments made of protected materials. The number of CITES ports in the UK has already increased from 24 to 36 over the past year, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Border Force are working together to look at the possibility of St Pancras being added to that list. I am keen to accelerate that.
The Government have engaged with the sector’s concerns about the restrictions to do with cabotage and cross-trade that apply to single-use trucks, issuing a call for evidence on options in the summer. It is worth reiterating that during negotiations for the TCA, we proposed specific market access rights for specialist hauliers carrying out tours for cultural events, but the EU did not agree. To help artists navigate such issues, we have developed creative sector-specific landing pages on gov.uk to signpost relevant guidance. We continue to work across the board to encourage updates to guidance and to ensure that rules are clear and accessible.
The UK’s cultural and creative industries are an integral part of our economy across the UK, and they play a huge role in a truly global Britain. That point was made by a number of hon. Members today. We continue to support our creative industries through a range of export support programmes, including the music export growth scheme. We also recently launched the export support service, where UK businesses can get answers to practical questions about exporting to Europe. In our meeting yesterday, a Department for International Trade official highlighted some of the new services available to musicians. These are all with a view to strengthening the international reach and reputation of our creatives, and the benefits they bring to our economy, culture and society. I will continue to work with Departments, the creative industries trade and investment board, and sector representatives, such as UK Music, to see what more can be done to help the industries adapt to these new arrangements with the EU.
To conclude, leaving the EU has led to a number of changes. We recognise the uncertainty and concerns felt by our musicians and the creative sectors, and my Department and the Government as a whole have worked very hard to support them. Across issues relating to the movement of people, goods and vehicles, we have engaged extensively with the sector to understand and grip those concerns and help people adapt. Like hon. Members, I want to see UK creatives tour and perform in the EU not just for our musicians but because they have so much to offer people in member states, and I hope we can make sure that can happen.
We have heard incredibly compelling speeches. The Minister will have heard the real sense of frustration and that patience is running out, and I am sure she will take that to heart. Some problems are intractable for Government—this is not one of them. It can be solved, so the Minister should bear that in mind. Some actions that Government take cause a backlash. There will be no backlash when this problem is solved, and she should bear that in mind as well.
I would like to give the Minister a couple of sisterly suggestions, which are very genuinely felt. I suggest that she goes on a European tour, literally going to different European capitals, starting with Brussels, taking her officials with her and talking to her counterparts there. Before she goes, she should download the forms, see what she makes of them and try to fill them in herself. She should engage, as it were, as a musician and then go, as a Minister, to those European capitals, and she will find people willing to help and she will learn more. It will empower her when it comes to dealing with Lord Frost, of whom mention has been made today.
On behalf of Members, the sector, and the Government keeping their promises, she must be quite clear with Lord Frost that he must be part of the solution and not an obstacle to it. The Prime Minister is having enough rows with enough people right now. This issue does not need to be a row if Lord Frost becomes a facilitator rather than an obstruction. It is not always that a junior Minister can do something really meaningful, that will really make a difference, that gives real job satisfaction, and which people will be grateful for. She has that opportunity; I hope she will act very quickly because time is running out.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered enabling visa- and permit-free working for musicians in the EU.