"Thank you, Madam Chair. I am here to represent the 142 people in the Clacton constituency who signed the petition, and of course our world-leading performing arts industries, which were the focus of my professional life before entering this place. Having worked in Europe in that life before politics, I know there are significant opportunities for touring performers on the continent, and we must ensure that our domestic talent can continue to access those. That is crucial for its development, and of course it is a great deployment of UK soft power.
"As I said Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions last week, our performers face a double whammy: an industry devastated by covid, and the loss of an entire continent as a venue. Thankfully, we are already working to help the industry recover through the Culture Recovery Fund, which provides a significant amount of money and at least demonstrates that the Government take this seriously. However, alongside that investment, we must ensure visa-free and carnet-free travel for performers, their kit, and of course their support teams. Unfortunately, our proposals to the EU on this matter, which would have allowed UK professionals to tour more easily, were rejected.
"We must continue to raise this issue with our EU neighbours. The Minister encouraged me in his reponse to me last week; he set out how “the door always remains open should our European friends wish to reconsider our mutually beneficial proposals.” After all, this is a two-way street: we in the UK want to welcome EU performers here as well. Everything from the smallest provincial venue to the largest festival is affected.
"In the meantime, where visas are needed, our agreement with the EU contains measures designed to make the necessary processes as smooth as possible, but they are not good enough, so we must remain open to discussing this matter. We must be ready to act for our performing artists who so rely on opportunities in Europe, and vice versa.
"For the moment, I want to focus on music. Touring European countries is deeply important for the UK music industry. The EU is a key overseas market for the £2.9 billion of UK music exports, and the UK is the biggest exporter of music to the EU member states. That success has been built on the ability of artists to travel freely through the EU.
"Music is also a key national economic asset, employing four times more people than the steel and fisheries industries combined. The inability of performers to access Europe is putting those economic, social and cultural contributions at risk. We see that across the arts; the same risks are emerging for theatre and dance groups. That is why, as chairman of the APPG for theatre, I wrote to the Government to raise concerns about provisions of the Brexit deal that impact on the performing arts. I was joined in that by the APPGs for classical music, music education, music, dance and opera, supported by our secretariats from UK Theatre, SOLT, the Association of British Orchestras, the ISM, UK Music, and One Dance UK. I am sorry, Madam Chairman, for the list, but it is a parliamentary clarion call.
"I ask the Minister to look at the points raised in our letter, to bring about that refinement, and to continue to seek discussion in and with the EU on the need for visa-free travel for touring performers. We need to get together. The EU needs to see sense."