Musicians to lobby Parliament over threat to livelihood posed by security measures

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The Independent Culture

Furious musicians are planning to lobby Parliament over airline security measures because of the threat to their livelihoods.

Limits on the size of hand luggage in the wake of the recent foiled terrorist attack mean all instruments, from the size of a violin upwards, can no longer be taken into aircraft cabins even when they are hundreds of years old and worth millions.

But yesterday the Musicians' Union announced it is planning to table an early day motion calling for a dispensation for musicians over the issue which was also raised at the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday.

Keith Ames, a union representative, said: "Nobody expects a slackening in security but the fact that musical instruments that are made of wood and can be scanned have to go into the hold means that musicians will just not fly."

Mark Elder, who conducted the Last Night of the Proms, told the worldwide audience that the difficulties were "deeply to be regretted". Something needed to be done "at the highest level ... otherwise next year we will be looking forward to a concerto of laptop and orchestra," he said.

Nicholas Kenyon, the Proms controller, said only one orchestra did not appear this summer as a result of the problems, but many others had been forced to make expensive changes to travel plans to take part.

It is understood that the Mariinsky - formerly the Kirov - orchestra was able to take its instruments on to its own privately chartered plane only after receiving a last-minute exemption to the rules.

"It has been a major problem for countless musicians," Mr Kenyon said. "The Government has been too slow to realise that people's livelihoods are at stake."

Steven Isserlis, the cellist, said it would be "a tragedy" if instruments such as his - a borrowed 1730 Stradivarius - were destroyed as a result of being thrown around in a hold or damaged as a result of the cold and humidity. Cellists and double bass players normally buy a second air ticket to give their instruments a seat. They are now travelling to Paris by Eurostar to link up with flights to the rest of the world. But the time and expense involved was putting their careers at risk.

Isserlis said he had no idea how he was going to fulfil engagements to perform in Cologne, Germany, next month and then be in Connecticut, United States, just over 24 hours later.

He suggested a system of special permits might provide a way forward and added: "There's no threat from terrorists. Everyone notices a cello and the last thing a terrorist wants to be is conspicuous."

Julian Lloyd Webber, who performs on his own 1690 Stradivarius cello, said: "It's a disastrous situation really. The trouble is it's treated as slightly jokey, but it isn't a joke, it's people's livelihoods. I don't think it has anything to do with security. Even after 9/11 nobody thought of this."

Business people had already succeeded in easing restrictions on carrying laptops and duty-free items had been exempted because of the potential financial losses involved, he said. But the monetary clout of musicians may not have been enough to have had an impact.

He added that if instruments could be judged a danger then the Eurostar was a threatening train to be on at present "because of the massive terrorist threat caused by so many cellos on their way to Paris".

A BAA spokesman said it was the Department for Transport that made the rules. Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, is in talks over the matter and has been lobbied by Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary.

She has stressed the significant lost earnings and potential legal actions from breach of contracts that the ban entailed.