On 7th July 2022 the House of Lords debated a motion from the Earl of Clancarty, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the ability of musicians and other creative professionals from the United Kingdom to work and tour in the European Union.”
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, like others, I thank the noble Earl for bringing us this debate. Noble Lords would expect a Bishop of Manchester to be passionate about music. Our vibrant popular and contemporary music scene is central to our local economy. The Royal Northern College of Music is one of our universities and we also have the leading music school for the north of England in Chetham’s, whose campus is next door to my cathedral and provides many of our choristers. We recently dedicated a brand-new, £2 million cathedral organ. It was the donation of a single—as it happens, Jewish—businessman, Sir Norman Stoller. Our music matters to us in Manchester. We invest in it and in the diverse young people developing their skills in it. It is a great force for levelling up.
However, the issues that the noble Earl has brought to our attention are affecting the Church considerably, including our cathedral choirs, parish churches and school choirs. I am not the first Bishop to raise these matters. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and, before her, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester have been raising them since at least 2018. They were promised much, but we have seen little by way of change.
On behalf of the nation, the Church maintains a unique tradition of English choral music. We host hundreds of concerts, music, theatre and arts events in 16,000 parishes and 42 cathedrals. The Church is part of Britain’s shared cultural heritage and supports thousands of professional and amateur performers, who bring shared cultural experiences to local communities. It has been levelling up the arts for centuries and providing opportunities for hundreds of young artists in our schools, churches and cathedral choirs to gain musical training. These choirs and organists often tour across Europe in the summer. It plays a significant and vital role in fundraising and supports a continuation of the musical foundation within the Church and our ability to offer scholarships and opportunities to children and young people, not least in rural and deprived communities. My cathedral is at the heart of a very deprived part of Manchester.
In the Church, we want to continue to invest in supporting our nation’s young people and our cultural life. What will the Government do to back the work that we and others are doing to invest in that? I believe that the Government should see this as a key export opportunity and should use the soft power of the arts to build an economic return for the UK.
Music is not only an economic asset. I would argue that when our choirs tour Europe and beyond, they are singing not only psalms but British values. Diverse voices raised in harmony are a powerful symbol of what our nation, at its best, stands for. It has been a great privilege to lead your Lordships’ House each morning this week in reciting a psalm—how much more wonderful it would have been had we been able to sing them.
There is already significant demand in the EU and worldwide for our choirs and orchestras to perform, but red tape prevents professional and amateur musicians from travelling. We need the Government to open doors and simplify the visa processes, not just for the big players such as the LSO or the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra but for our smaller but talented professional and amateur choirs and orchestras, such as my Manchester Cathedral Choir and the world-famous choir of my old college, King’s, Cambridge—I had to get them in.
In the brief time left to me, I would like to ask the Minister three things. First, what steps are the Government taking to simplify the administration of the current visa system so that the complexity and volume of paperwork are no longer hampering groups travelling? Secondly, what support will the Government make available for the regional arts and culture sector to bounce back after Covid? Thirdly, will the Minister commit to meeting the Church to discuss the current challenges that we have and the opportunities that we can, with support, now grasp? I look forward to the response from the Minister and hope to speak further on this matter.