Immigration Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Lord Hall of Birkenhead

Main Page: Lord Hall of Birkenhead (Crossbench - Life peer)
Thursday 21st October 2010

(13 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Lord Hall of Birkenhead Portrait Lord Hall of Birkenhead
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, for securing this debate. I should like to add my voice to those who have talked about the impact on the creative industries and culture. I declare my interests as chief executive of the Royal Opera House, chair of the Cultural Olympiad and a non-executive director of Channel 4.

Across the UK, the creative and cultural industries employ more than 700,000 people and contribute nearly £25 billion gross value added to the UK economy each year. The sector is growing fast. This is something that we are extremely good at. However, without a shadow of doubt, the interim limits on migration brought in in July are having a damaging effect, while even tighter limits from April would make a bad situation worse.

Let me give a couple of examples of what I mean. The UK is very good at animation and visual effects. However, while we are good at the creative side of things, we do not have enough people in this country who are good at the programming to make the creative ideas work. Programmers have rightly been accepted under the route that allows shortages to be addressed but, if you cut back on the numbers allowed in under tier 2, you could have a British success story under threat. Much the same applies to our computer games sector, which, with software and electronic publishing, contributes a third of the value of the exports of all our creative industries. Here again, we have the creative talent; the problem is on the technical and software side.

The long-term solution is clear to me. Skillset, the skills council for this area, is working closely with universities to increase the supply of UK workers with these skills, but of course we need to start earlier than that, making children at school aware of the opportunities. We also need to think about expanding the number of apprenticeships and work placements in these areas. However, that will take some time—five, eight or 10 years. In the mean time, we cannot and should not put at risk what are successful sectors of the UK economy because they cannot get the skills that they need.

I hope that the coalition Government will look again at caps on immigration. I hope first and foremost that they will not change those things that were previously working well. I further urge the Government to assess the economic impact on growing and specific sectors of our creative economy and to link in to that by seeing how best we can increase the skills in this country in these important areas in the longer term.

Will the Government—this is another issue—review the cap as it applies to artists coming into the country? As has been said, orchestras and dance companies in particular are already finding the current limits difficult, never mind the tighter ones that are scheduled for April. It is vital for arts and cultural organisations in the UK to be able to get the best people from around the world to come and work here. We pride ourselves as being the cultural capital of the world. This is something that we are really good at. It has been achieved by allowing, over many years, talented artists from all over the world to live and work here. Our diverse society, where so many different currents from around the world meet, is an exciting, creative and challenging place where people want to be. It is something that we want to show off in 2012 with our Olympic cultural festival. We want our dance companies and orchestras to be at the top of their game. Rather than throwing up barriers in their way, we should celebrate when international artists, such as Carlos Acosta, the Cuban dancer, want to come and live here.

Interestingly, as has been said, this argument has been made and accepted by the Government for elite sportsmen and sportswomen, who are quite rightly exempted from the limits. My question is: why should not elite artists—the world’s best performers, dancers and musicians—and perhaps others, too, be given the same status? I have put this argument to both the Home Secretary and the Migration Advisory Committee.

It is not just tier 2 and the cap that are causing problems for the cultural sector in attracting the world’s best; the problem is also the application of the broader visa system in other areas. Last year, we at the Royal Opera House had such difficulty getting a visa for a Russian designer that it was easier for my team to fly out to Moscow than for him to come to London. In the end he got in, but it was a real obstacle course. An Australian principal dancer with the Royal Ballet had incredible difficulty getting a visa to return to the company in London. It took nine weeks and an Australian MP had to intervene on his behalf.

I mention our experience only because it is closest to me, but I know that this issue has an impact right across the cultural sector, from world music to our great museums, whose cultural exchange programmes do so much to build up relationships across the globe. The free movement of artists and thinkers is fundamental to the British way of life. It is something that we used to take pride in and we still should.