HC Deb 03 July 1928 vol 219 cc1289-93

Notwithstanding the provisions of Subsection (1) Section three, Part I, of the Finance Act, 1925, no duty shall be payable upon a film recording scientific investigations or research imported into Great Britain or Northern Ireland when the Commissioners are satisfied that the films will not be sold or hired or publicly exhibited for profit.—[Captain Fraser.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Captain FRASER

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This is a proposal of a kind that I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be glad to see on the Paper and will be glad to accept, for it will not cost him very much money, and, obviously, some strong arguments can be adduced in its favour, though I do not know that I am competent to adduce them. In 1925 a tax was put upon all films imported into this country. This proposed new Clause seeks to exempt from taxation a small and very select group of films. There was a case in 1925 against the taxation of scientific films in the circumstances mentioned in the Clause, but the case is very much stronger now, for within the last few years a new technique has arisen whereby the film has come to be used as a record of scientific investigation and research. A man who has made researches with a microscope or a telescope, or in other directions of a scientific particularly a medico-scientific kind, now finds is possible, through the technique which has been developed, to record those researches and investigations upon a film instead of a piece of paper, and just as the House would properly resist any suggestion that books or treatises proposed to be imported into the country for the advancement of science should be subject to duty, so I hope the Committee will take the view that similar records of scientific work which happen to be recorded on celluloid instead of paper should equally be imported free. Science knows no barriers, and ought not to be subject to any taxation.

There have been one or two cases recently noted in the "Times" where foreign scientists have desired to bring to this country films recording the valuable work they have done, not for profit, not for sale, but simply to demonstrate to their colleagues working on similar lines in this country and to give an opportunity of talking over the progress they have made, and planning further progress. Cancer is very likely to be alleviated by some of the researches that are being made at present in America, England and Germany by men who use microscopes and cinematographs to record their researches, and the free interchange between these countries of the results of their investigations is something which I feel no taxation should possibly be allowed to impede. I hope the Chancellor may find it possible to make this concession, and that he will not say the effort involved or the machinery required to be set up is a let or a hindrance. It cannot be anything like so much trouble to a few Customs officials to sort out these few select films as it is to the scientist to bring them to this country. We want to welcome all the information and the research we can, and I hope it may be found possible to remove a barrier, quite properly erected in another connection, which is undoubtedly hampering science.


I beg to support the Clause. The object is one with which every Member of the Committee must have sympathy. Even in the few years since 1925 the importance of these scientific films has considerably increased. Many of these have originated in America, Germany and other countries, and are most valuable for teaching and scientific purposes. It has always been one of the proudest features of science, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman says, that it has no barriers of country, and there should be free trade in all that appertains to science and research and anything that will make for the alleviation of human suffering. Therefore, I think there can be no question that the suggested removal of this tax will have the sympathy of all of us, and no doubt of the right hon. Gentleman himself. The only possible objection I can see is that of administration, but I should think it would be possible for the scientific bodies to which such films would be consigned to give a certification which would make it feasible to work this exception without causing much administrative difficulty. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will receive this proposal in a sympathetic spirit and I am sure, if he does, he will receive the thanks, not only of scientific bodies, but of the general public opinion of the country.


I want to assure my hon. and gallant Friend that we have given careful and very sympathetic consideration to this matter. We should like very much to meet him if we could, but we have been forced, much against our own wish, to the conclusion that the exemption would be difficult, and indeed almost impossible to administer. It would be exceedingly difficult to decide what films could be regarded as "recording scientific investigations or research," especially in these days of popular science. There are many films which come into the category described by my hon. and gallant Friend which would be equally suitable for the ordinary cinematograph theatre. It would be almost beyond the power of the Revenue Department to keep track of these films to see whether those that are of a scientific nature are used for scientific purposes only or for the ordinary cinematograph theatre as well. I should like to quote an observation made on the Report stage of the Finance Bill of 1923 by the present Home Secretary, who was then in the office that I now have the privilege to hold. Speaking on an Amendment with a similar object to this, an Amendment to exempt from duty films of a wholly educational character, he said: The reason why we cannot accept this Amendment is because of the utter impossibility of carrying it out. It is not that we object to educational films. The reason, from the practical point of view, and the Customs point of view, is that we cannot work the Amendment if the House passes it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1923; col. 287, Vol. 166.] I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not press the Clause, and my reason for asking him not to do so is that we should find it practically impossible to work it.

Captain FRASER

I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider the opinion he has been given by his experts. I am certain it has been given in good faith, but I cannot imagine anyone who would want to see the kind of films I have in mind. They are only of interest to medical men, and I think if the suggestion of the Seconder were adopted, that the Customs officials should be satisfied by, say, the Royal Society or the Royal Astronomical Society or some accredited body of that sort, there could be no difficulty. These are not popular films in any sense. I would ask, if possible, that the matter should be reconsidered. If I am assured that this is really impossible and the Chancellor has given all the thought he can to the subject in this very busy time, I am satisfied, but I would ask him to think about it further.


I cannot give any undertaking to arrive at a different conclusion from that which has been so clearly and forcibly put forward by the Financial Secretary. Nevertheless, in view of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, I will see that the facts which have been adduced are tested and examined once again, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would wish to have access to the officials who have considered the matter, I will see that they are charged to receive any further evidence or argument that he has to put before them. Then at any rate he will feel that the representations he has made have had the most careful consideration.

Captain FRASER

I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer very much and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.