Economy and Society: Contribution of Music

Jo Stevens Excerpts
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:01 p.m.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. It is also a great pleasure to participate in a debate with so many members of MP4 here on the Front Benches. I feel humbled in their presence and I hope they will give us a rendition later in the debate.

I am well aware of the economic benefits of the music industry; my son composes music for films, so I see the inside of that industry from a family point of view. However, I will concentrate here on the benefit to society. People may remember that Edward Elgar once said:

“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us! The world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.”

However, I think those days have long passed.

A good example of that is in the availability of organists. I happen to be an organist myself, so I speak from personal experience. The lack of organists is much more important than the lack of people going to church, and shows the inability of young people’s education to pick out the talent that exists and to encourage young people to go on to play the organ and to develop it. That must be tied in with what the Arts Council has asked for in terms of a diverse and appropriate potential workforce—a point that it is making very forcefully.

There are two other examples that I would give of how music affects society, both from my own constituency. The first is an organisation called Not a Choir. It is actually a choir, but it is for people who have never sung before, believe that they cannot sing or in some way feel embarrassed about trying to sing. It has given the people who sing with it a tremendous amount of solidarity with each other. It has taken away a lot of the loneliness they feel by allowing them to participate and perform together. They perform publicly together, and their performances are very much appreciated by the people who listen to them and in the villages around them.

The second example is a charity in my constituency called Music for Autism, which is run by the conductor of the Orchestra of St John’s. He gets members of the orchestra to work with young autistic people and provide them with a good music therapy experience. It is a delight to watch not just the young autistic people’s ability to latch on to the music and their being helped with it, but also how much the musicians who participate get out of it. We only have to see their faces when they are performing to realise that this is something worth doing.

I suggest to the Minister that more needs to be put into education for musicians and talent spotting of musicians, and also that more needs to be put into efforts to ensure that music is at the heart of our communities, both now and in the future.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:05 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on securing this debate and on making such a great speech.

I am very grateful for the opportunity today to speak about music, particularly live music venues, which I always take the opportunity to champion because they are very precious and, as we have heard today, constantly under threat. I represent a city centre constituency, in a city known not just across the UK but around the world for its songs, its singers and its musicians.

We have a very rich cultural history in Cardiff, and I am determined that we will have a rich cultural future too. To ensure that that happens, we need to ensure that our school music teachers have the resources and time to inspire pupils from the earliest age to participate in music and to understand the joy and wellbeing, which have been discussed today, and the opportunities that singing or playing an instrument can bring.

We know, though, that the past 10 years of Government austerity and the savage cuts to the Welsh budget have made the provision of music much more difficult. I think that is the pattern across the UK. I pay tribute to the music teachers up and down the country who do such a great job—actually, for them it is not a job but a vocation—in such difficult circumstances. But it is not only the teachers; it is the talented volunteers who conduct our orchestras, who transport children and their instruments to eisteddfods and who fight for venue space and practice venues every day of the week.

In the centre of my constituency we have independent live music venues of all types and sizes, catering for every possible taste. I promise hon. Members that if they come to Cardiff Central, on every night of the week they will be able to listen to great live music of some type or another, from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the incredible auditorium that we have at Saint David’s Hall and the noise bowl of the Principality Stadium, where I saw the Rolling Stones, to Fuel Rock Club, Clwb Ifor Bach and the Globe.

However, since I was elected in 2015, it feels as though colleagues and I have been continuously fighting to save live music venues across the constituency, from the Womanby Street campaign to saving Guildford Crescent and Gwdihŵ and, just this week, another live music venue, 10 Feet Tall, a small but long-standing venue under threat of closure. We have built a grassroots movement in Cardiff, with Daniel Minty from Minty’s Gig Guide, the Music Venue Trust, the Musicians Union and UK Music, to value and support venues and to try to save as many as possible.

Our Labour council in Cardiff has set up a music board to champion our music scene locally, nationally and internationally, and to protect and promote music at grassroots and all levels. I am proud that our Welsh Labour Government was the first Government in the UK to introduce the agent of change principle into planning guidance and to help to protect live music venues. Along with colleagues here, I co-sponsored the Bill by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) to do the same in England, and I worked with a Labour colleague to do that in Scotland too.

I will briefly mention our Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on our live music inquiry, which took detailed and comprehensive evidence from across the sector and made a series of recommendations to the Government to protect and enhance the contribution of live music to our economy and society. We know what the problems are, and we have heard about them today. They include business rates, planning development pressures, the need to extend creative industries tax reliefs and parity of funding for grassroots venues through bodies such as the Arts Council. Talking of arts councils, yes, we need to continue to support high arts and culture, but I also want those kids who are setting up their first band in their mum’s garage to have parity of support.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
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21 Jan 2020, 3:10 p.m.

On the subject of the Select Committee report on supporting community music venues, does the hon. Lady agree with me that it is also important that local towns have a robust plan for their own areas to support venues? Folkestone in my constituency has launched a music town initiative. It is important that local authorities work with venues to support them both in terms of business rates and how they sit with the local planning regulations as well.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
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21 Jan 2020, 3:10 p.m.

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, who, as Chair of the Select Committee in the previous Parliament, did such a fantastic job of leading our Committee on the inquiry. I want to see music boards in every town and every city so that every child has the opportunity to fulfil their talent.

Lots of questions have been asked of the Minister, but may I add two more to his list? The Government’s response to our report was very thin. I appreciate that it was right at the end of July, but will there be a statutory consultative body to promote the protection of music venues so that they can provide advice to local authorities on the implementation of the agent of change principle and see how it works in practice? We are still waiting—it was not responded to in the report—for a full post-legislative memorandum for the Live Music Act 2012. Will the Minister address that in his comments?

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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21 Jan 2020, 3:12 p.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh, and a pleasure to get the opportunity to big up my own constituency of Glasgow Central, which I am sure must be among the most musical constituencies in the country. We have not only been awarded a UNESCO City of Music status—the only city in the UK other than Liverpool to have that status—but we have a wealth of different venues and talent in the city.

We are at the moment in the midst of Celtic Connections, an event founded in 1994 to give light to cold winter nights in January and to bring people into the city, and it now has a programme of more than 300 events over 18 days, with 2,100 musicians from about 50 countries. In addition to having events within venues in the city, it also works in the community through an education programme to involve the next generation, and this year, for the first time, through Celtic Connections in the Community, it is working with BEMIS to extend it to people with ethnic minority backgrounds within the city as well, which is really important when we talk about traditional folk music and making sure that it reaches and involves as many people as possible.

We also have within the constituency iconic venues such as the Barrowland Ballroom, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, the Hydro and the SEC. The Hydro, which opened in September 2013, brought £131 million to the city in its first year. It has helped the regeneration of Finnieston, where it is now impossible to get a bad meal, and has brought new people and new growth into the area, providing the jobs that go with that as well.

We are incredibly lucky to have the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the constituency as well. When I went on a tour of the RCS, every door that was opened would bring some delight, with different types of music being played in different ways and people making music together who might not have found each other otherwise. It is a real boon to have that in the city.

We also have organisations such as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra, Scottish Opera, and younger bands such as SambaYaBamba— who played outside in Parliament Square on one occasion, which stopped the traffic in the city. It is great to see such joy being shared. For young people we have a Big Noise Sistema orchestra, based in Govanhill since 2013. In recognition of some of the work of Big Noise, Nicola Killean, the CEO, got an OBE in the new year’s honours. They work with children in Govanhill, from St Bride’s, Holy Cross, Annette Street and Cuthbertson primaries and nurseries, and with Holyrood Secondary. They work with 1,200 children a week, bringing together children who have very different backgrounds—many children in Govanhill do not have English as a first language—and all the outcomes from the project have been extraordinary. As I said, in an area where children might not have much English, they can communicate with music and enhance their abilities. All the outcomes from this project found by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health have noted how it increased confidence, academic skills, resilience and happiness. I am not quite sure how we measure happiness, but it is certainly very much worth investing in for the good of the community.

I also want to mention the risk, which is something for the Minister to take away to the Home Office. There are significant risks in the way the Home Office conducts itself, and risks with Brexit with regard to visas and with the ability of artists to move and transport equipment. Donald Shaw of Celtic Connections has flagged that in the press. He mentioned particularly the risks for American people looking to book to come here and the way in which African and Indian artists are treated. He says they are treated very badly in the application process and that it is all about suspicion rather than welcome from the UK. Last year, six artists from the Devasitham Charitable Foundation in Chennai were unable to come when two blind artists were not allowed a visa from the Home Office. I ask the Minister to reflect on that and on the success story of music in Glasgow and in Scotland and do all that he can to make sure that that continues in future.