Economy and Society: Contribution of Music

Pete Wishart Excerpts
Tuesday 21st January 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jan 2020, 3:24 p.m.

This is my first time speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, and I am grateful that it is on a subject so close to my heart. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on the way he has led this important debate.

Last week I gave my maiden speech, in which I waxed lyrical about how my constituency gave the world the Welsh national anthem, Cwm Rhondda, and Sir Tom Jones. The south Wales valleys are built on industry and music: both go hand in hand. Were it not for the coal mines, we would not have our world-famous brass bands, which are synonymous with culture and heritage. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) mentioned the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North referred to his constituency’s bands, and I pay tribute to them, but in Wales we have the world No. 1 brass band, the Cory Band—a fantastic symbol, spreading Welsh culture and heritage across the world and at home. Were it not for our chapels, we would not have our choirs, whose hymns and arias are synonymous with rugby.

Speaking of my other love, we all know that Wales is a mecca for sport tourism. The Principality stadium is the rugby venue envy of the world. I am sure that anyone here who has had the privilege of being in the stadium on match day, hearing the anthems belted out, will agree that it is nothing short of spine-tinglingly awesome. However, for all the sporting glory that Wales has to offer, Members may not know that in 2018 Wales welcomed more than 350,000 music tourists, who helped to contribute £124 million to the Welsh economy. That figure is growing.

We need to do more to protect grassroots venues, helping them to thrive in our communities. My hon. Friends have mentioned some of the work they have been doing to protect such venues in Wales. Just before Christmas it was announced in my constituency that Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council will be working with the Awen Cultural Trust and the Arts Council of Wales to totally transform the much-loved Muni, in Pontypridd. Plans to improve the arts centre include investing £4.5 million to create a first-class arts and entertainment venue for residents in my constituency and beyond. That is wonderful news, and I cannot wait to attend the first concert, once the Muni reopens in the summer.

One of the things that I am most passionate about is nurturing future talent, including reversing the decline of music education, so that children from every background have access to music. I am extremely fortunate that I was able to learn not one or two but four different instruments at school. I do not profess to be a concerto-worthy soloist—I am more of a jack of all trades as a performer—but I would never been able to have those opportunities were it not for the vital funding of peripatetic music education in my comprehensive school. I welcome the strides that the Welsh Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is making in that field, and support the Welsh Labour Government’s feasibility study on the options for delivery of music services and the creation of a national plan for music education.

Wales has a long tradition of inviting performers from Europe to play at festivals, venues and eisteddfods across Wales, and other hon. Members have mentioned the impact that Brexit could have on that. I know that the Welsh Labour Government will do all they can to ensure that Wales remains open to performers from across Europe after Brexit, and will look at all avenues to ensure that such cultural exchanges can still take place.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

21 Jan 2020, 3:27 p.m.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I congratulate the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) on securing this vital debate, and on the concise and articulate way in which he marshalled the case for UK Music. I want to pay tribute to Michael Dugher, who has led UK Music so diligently and effectively in the past few years. Like everybody here, I wish him all the best in future—and Andy Heath who has been the chair of UK Music. We look forward to continuing to work effectively with whoever emerges in those roles.

I remember standing here almost 19 years ago, having secured what was probably at that point the first ever debate on the music industry in the House. Having come straight from the concert hall floor—having played with Runrig and Big Country, and as the only MP who had appeared on “Top of the Pops”—I was keen that some of the issues affecting the music industry should be taken up by Parliament and be addressed by MPs. The all-party parliamentary group on music was formed almost immediately following that debate, and the Minister was a notable chair of it a few years ago. Most importantly, it brought the sector and the industry together with parliamentarians. Over the course of the years, it has emerged as an effective conduit. What we do in this House becomes available to members of the music industry. When I think of all the things that we have achieved in the past 20 or so years, I think that was really important.

When I first came to this House it was the days of plenty in the music industry. I am sure most people will remember that. CD sales were at an all-time high, and live music was in incredibly good shape, with the start of some of the really important arena tours. However, out on the horizon a dark shadow was starting to emerge, which would hit all of our creative sector. That was digitisation, with the threats—and also the opportunities—that it presented. Music was the area affected by digitisation because it was the easiest to clone and replicate. That made it vulnerable to pirates, and those who wanted to make a quick buck on the backs of the creativity of artists. In those days, it was just Napster, which I heard somebody refer to earlier, and it was a big challenge to the music industry.

It was a tough time dealing with all that, and I pay tribute to the music industry for the way it responded to that challenge in the course of those 20 years. We are not on top of everything yet, but huge progress has been made in response to the many challenges put forward, by closing down opportunities for pirates, by responding positively to new technologies and by ensuring that new services were made available, so that we can make a positive choice about the sources of music coming our way. While we are not totally on top of it, huge progress has been made in that time; it has been quite remarkable how all that has been taken up. There are still huge issues with piracy, as hon. Members might expect. In fact, some pirates come in cruise liners now, in the form of giant tech companies such as YouTube and Google. Those issues must be properly addressed, and I have a couple of suggestions for how that might be done.

We still lead the world in music, just as we do across practically every single creative sector, whether it is fashion, design, film or television. However, it has been most notable in music in the last few years. I will not repeat what has been said about some of the amazing artists who have had the biggest selling albums in the world in the past few years, although I will mention Lewis Capaldi, because I have managed to see him a couple of times recently and he is a fellow Scot. His success in the course of last year is remarkable, mirroring almost exactly what Adele achieved just a few years ago with her amazing albums. That shows the reach of music from across these isles. Why is that? If we could bottle it or sum it up somehow, it would be remarkable. It is something about the way that we have culturally set up this country, where people are allowed to develop their talents and arrangements and have the opportunity to come forward with their fantastic works of imagination and talent.

However, it is also something to do with the industry, and I praise the industry for the way it ensures that artists are properly resourced, promoted effectively and able to be sold internationally. It is the way it is all packaged. Things do not happen by accident. We have a successful music industry because of the creativity of the people who make the music and the infrastructure that supports that, which is the music industry, which is why it is so important that we support it now.

Music is still the field of dreams where young people can secure a career on the strength of their imagination and talent. However, it is also a means for people to experience enjoyment. Music timetables and chronicles people’s lives and is an important feature of our everyday experience and all our memories. It is even great to get together with friends and bash out a few tunes, just to enjoy it.

However, what we as politicians do to support the music industry is really important. First, and most importantly, we have to ensure that our artists, musicians and the talent that we have are properly rewarded for the fantastic works that they produce. If we do one thing, it should be to ensure that our artists are properly rewarded for what they do. That is why I support the call to fully adopt into UK law the EU copyright directive. That simply has to happen. It would be the single biggest intervention that we could make to most assist the industry and our artists. In one stroke, we could effectively tackle the recalcitrance of the large tech companies and the pitiful amounts that YouTube pay our artists for the music that they produce. It is simply appalling to exploit our artists in such a way. They should be rewarded properly.

More than that, as part of their legislation around online harms, the Government should consider the economic harms caused by copyright infringement. It is in the gift of the Government to do something about that almost immediately. Real harm is caused online, and I hope that, as a real way forward, the Minister will look again at including those harms in the digital harms that the Government are looking at just now.

We have to do something to ensure that the appalling decision to leave the European Union does not make a terrible situation even worse for our musicians. The ending of freedom of movement is the single biggest Brexit threat to our musicians and artists, and we must do everything possible to address the inevitable fallout of this decision to stop musicians travelling freely across our continent.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) mentioned, in Glasgow just now, the last huge UK music festival while we are in the EU is taking place, the incredible Celtic Connections. As the name suggests, it is about connections, it is global, and it brings together artists from around the world. Even before we have left the European Union, there have been genuine concerns, as my hon. Friend referenced —visa anxiety. People are confused about their right to travel and what our leaving will mean for them as artists and musicians. That has to be addressed, and there are a number of solid suggestions for how that could be taken on.

Music touring is where artists make their money, and we have to make it easier for them to play internationally. It is one of the greatest thrills and experiences that musicians can have, and to close that down, as we are doing by ending freedom of movement, will impact on every musician and artist in this country. Ending freedom of movement will inevitably bring costs—visa arrangements, bureaucracy and the confusion about how all of this will happen—so I totally support the UK Music and Musicians’ Union call for a single, EU-wide live music touring passport to avoid those restrictions. I really hope that the Government take that seriously. I know the Minister has looked at this before, and I know it is within the gift of the Government to do something about it. If one initiative could solve this problem, it would be to do with that.

However, another issue has come up that has not been mentioned so far. I refer to a report by the former chief executive officer of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, Vick Bain, about the gender gap in the music industry, which has to be addressed and stopped. Her fantastic recent report outlined that less than 20% of acts signed by major labels are female. That simply cannot continue. It cannot go on. Gender equality and the gender gap in the music industry have to be properly addressed. It is almost bizarre that an industry inhabited by progressive young people has allowed a gender gap such as this to emerge. We have to ensure that we get on top of that.

There might be a number of reasons for that. The whole lad culture of male camaraderie in bands, which has gone back for decades, might have something to do with it. Whatever it is, this has to be addressed. We have to start to get serious about sexism in music; music is sexy, but it does not have to be sexist. We have to ensure that we start to tackle the real and significant issues in this area in the music industry, and we should all be up to that challenge as we move forward.

Music is for everybody. I had the fantastic opportunity of having a career in the music industry. I believe that everybody should have that right and that opportunity. I really hope that, as we go forward, the music industry continues to support our artists, and that the Government do more to ensure that they put legislation in place to help that.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

21 Jan 2020, 3:39 p.m.

I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, including my membership of, and support for, the Musicians’ Union and PRS for Music.

I open by sending a message to Michael, as the song says, and pay tribute to the outgoing chief executive of UK Music, Michael Dugher, for the tremendous job he has done during his tenure, not only because of the way in which he communicates with Parliament but because of his personal passion for music—not just for Paul McCartney, incidentally, but all kinds of music—which shines through in everything he does and in the representations he makes on behalf of the music industry. I wish him well. I also pay tribute to Andy Heath, the outgoing chair, who has done a fantastic job with that organisation.

I went out to lunch many years ago with the former chief executive, Feargal Sharkey, when he announced the setting up of UK Music in the first place. It seems to me that, over the course of that decade, the way that the music industry has got its act together and effectively communicated its message is due in no small part to the efforts of people such as Michael, Feargal and Jo Dipple, who have led the UK Music with such distinction over that period of time.

I also pay tribute to everyone who contributed to the debate, particularly my very good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who quite rightly mentioned—as well as lots of other issues that are so important to the debate—the impact of organisations such as Nordoff Robbins and of music therapy. Having myself volunteered for Nordoff Robbins in a care home on one occasion when I was the Minister responsible for charities in the last Labour Government, I can testify to the tremendous work that it does and the impact that its work has. My hon. Friend rightly raised all the significant issues for the debate, and I shall rehearse them a little bit during my remarks and perhaps add one other issue as I go along.

We had a speech from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton), who chairs with great distinction the all-party parliamentary group on music. I welcome very much what he said about music education. I hope that he presses the Ministers in his own party and Government very hard to deliver much more effectively on music education, after seeing personally the transformational effects of music, in his own life, as a music teacher and rightly highlighted during his speech.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), whose remarks featured the very important contribution made by our orchestras in particular. I praise the Association of British Orchestras for the work that it does to promote orchestras. My hon. Friend rightly emphasised the importance of formal training and the impact that that has beyond the classical repertoire, in our film and television industries and so on.

I have seen the son of the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) perform, and he is a very fine jazz musician; and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman—it is obviously in the genes—on his own record as a church organist. He is right about the power of music therapy and the impact on people with, for example, autism.

I would also like to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), my immediate constituency neighbour, and pay tribute to the incredible work that she did, along with other colleagues, on the live music and protecting live music in our city of Cardiff. That was done along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who told us that he had once performed for President Clinton. I think that that is probably a unique distinction, as is the distinction that we heard about from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), who told us that he is the only former nightclub DJ who is a Member of Parliament—I have not heard anyone else try to claim that distinction in the course of the debate.

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) for her contribution. As well as highlighting the incredible amount of music going on in her constituency in this sector, she rightly highlighted the problems for musicians with the Home Office. She was absolutely right to draw attention to that.

We have therefore had a great debate. It was also added to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who mentioned Longpigs. She will know that of course the chair of the Ivors Academy of Music Creators, Crispin Hunt, is a former member of Longpigs. With the Ivors Academy, he is doing great work in promoting the importance of songwriting and the interests of composers.

My new hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) reminded us why Wales is so well renowned for its contribution to music. I thought that she sounded like the Rev. Eli Jenkins in “Under Milk Wood”, who said, “Thank God we are a musical nation.” My hon. Friend was almost musical in her contribution today.

The main issues that we need to address have been mentioned in the course of the debate. Grassroots music venues were mentioned quite frequently. I welcome what the Government have done about rate relief. Last year, I went with the outgoing chief executive of UK Music to meet the former Chancellor of the Exchequer to urge him to do the very thing that the Government are now pledged to do, so I hope that the Minister will give us a bit of an idea of the timetable for that and how it will be implemented.

Music venues are the R&D of the music industry, and when they are closing down, that is the canary in the mine—to mix metaphors a bit—for the industry. If music venues are closing down, there is trouble ahead for our music industry, so the Government do need to work with the sector, including UK Music, to develop a thorough strategy for the future of our music venues, and I hope that they will do that urgently.

We also heard about freelance employment and the nature of employment in the industry and the campaign of Olga FitzRoy and others in relation to shared parental leave for the self-employed and freelancers. That is a particular issue in the music industry.