The Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries (Margot James)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing a debate on this very important matter. I thank him for advance sight of his speech and questions.
The Government take extremely seriously our responsibility to champion and support our world-leading orchestras, which connect us to more than 400 years of creativity from across the world—particularly within Europe. I agree profoundly with the right hon. Gentleman about the value, success and soft power that our orchestras represent. They help to educate young people and contribute significantly to our cultural life and economy. We take none of that for granted, and we have a range of policies that support our orchestras.
In England, the Arts Council invests more than £25 million a year in orchestras, and related classical music organisations and activities, through the national portfolio. In 2017-18, Arts Council England awarded more than £2.8 million to a range of classical music projects across England through its lottery-funded Grants for the Arts programme, and more than £10 million through strategic funding programmes.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about new tax reliefs. Although that is a matter for the Treasury, I will comment on it as much as I can. The Government keep all tax reliefs under review. Any proposal for a new tax relief must be assessed for its effectiveness, wider economic impact, ability to stand up against abuse, and cost to the Exchequer. I am pleased to note that the orchestra tax relief, available across the UK, was introduced in April 2016. The most recent statistics for the relief show that, since its introduction, 205 productions have benefited and have received £6.6 million-worth of support from the Government.
On other future funding, the spending review will set the first funding envelope after the UK has left the EU, and will look at all Government spending. It gives us the opportunity to look at UK priorities and argue significantly for the hugely important area of culture, including, of course, performing orchestras. The Government have made clear our intention to undertake that spending review in 2019. Leading up to the review, we will continue to listen to the concerns of the sector, and of course we will consider any spending in the light of implications following our exit from the European Union.
The UK Government value the UK’s thriving cultural landscape and have listened to the sector’s concerns about the European market. We will continue to be in close dialogue with the sector, and we will seek a far-reaching relationship on culture and education with the European Union that is mutual beneficial for the UK, the EU, our cultural communities, including orchestras, and our citizens.
Some leading classical musicians have expressed concerns about the future as we leave the European Union, and those concerns have been represented in this debate. I assure them that their voices are being heard. My Department is working hard to ensure that Departments across Whitehall understand what our orchestras need from our future relationship with the EU, and what they need in terms of contingency planning in the unlikely case that we leave the EU without a deal. In either case, we are confident that the creativity and resilience of our orchestras will continue and thrive.
Right hon. and hon. Members have touched on a range of challenges for orchestras, and I will address them in turn. It is tragic that some orchestras have lost bookings on account of Brexit, as we heard from the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). The movement of people is important. A key challenge for our orchestras is how the rules about the movement of people might change. Those concerns have been raised, and I want to address some of them, particularly in the light of the White Paper, which was published this afternoon.
The White Paper is an invitation to interested parties to express their views. I trust that the right hon. Member for East Ham will make his views on the issues pertaining to orchestras apparent during the consultation inspired by the White Paper. In the future, it will be for the UK Government and Parliament to determine the domestic immigration rules that will apply. The Immigration Bill will bring migration from the EU under UK law, enabling us to set out future immigration system in domestic legislation. The movement of people is clearly important to the orchestras of our country. We will continue to work with the Arts Council, and we will look at the proposals it is making for visa waivers in this sector.
In the immigration White Paper, we set out further detail on the system, taking into account the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on European Economic Area migration in the UK. The future system will focus on high skills and welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s economy, enabling employers to compete on the world stage. The Home Office is launching a year-long engagement to enable business and other stakeholders, such as orchestras, to shape the final details of policy and process.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, would meet with the Association of British Orchestras. Following the publication of the White Paper, he will certainly be able to meet the right hon. Gentleman and the Association of British Orchestras to discuss this matter in greater detail.
Orchestras have expressed concern about the salary threshold. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Migration Advisory Committee threshold of £30,000. We will discuss with businesses what a suitable salary threshold should be. If a skilled job is considered to be in shortage in the UK, a lower salary threshold is likely to apply. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that skills do not necessarily relate to salary, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is well aware of that.
Sir Christopher, should I allow a little time for the right hon. Gentleman to sum up?