HC Deb 17 April 1946 vol 421 cc2754-64
Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

I beg to move, in line 4, after "music," to insert "Eisteddfod."

Hon. Members will like myself have read this Resolution with considerable interest. It deals with exemption from Entertainments Duty, and I am sure that I am right in saying that the word "Eisteddfod" ought to be included among those. I shall be told, of course, that it is not necessary to have the word "Eisteddfod" there at all; it is assumed by the Treasury that an Eisteddfod is covered, but let me call the attention of 'the Financial Secretary to the vocabulary of the Resolution. The exemption from Entertainments Duty will cover a stage play. Well, an Eisteddfod is not a stage play. It will cover a ballet. That is not an Eisteddfod either. The Eisteddfod is not of necessity a preponderance of music. I ought to know as much about it as any hon. Members; and if hon. Gentlemen challenge me I may sing them some Welsh songs as an example. Seriously, the Eisteddfod is not an exhibition of a kinematograph by any means.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

What is it?

Mr. Rhys Davies

It is not a lecture; it is not a speech and certainly it is not a recitation. It is not an exhibition of artistic work or an industrial exhibition either. I am asked, what is an Eisteddfod? An Eisteddfod may be all these and more, or less.

Mr. Messer

It cannot be.

Mr. Rhys Davies

If my hon. Friend would do me the favour of attending the next Welsh National Eisteddfod, he would not then talk so glibly. There is something peculiar about an Eisteddfod. It is, of course, a Welsh national institution on the pattern of the country itself. What brass bands are to Lancashire, the Eisteddfod is to Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] I want this institution exempted from taxation. I understand that the National Eisteddfod is already exempt, but that some local Eisteddfodau are not. Let me remind hon. Gentlemen that the case I have in mind is one from England. Manchester Welsh people recently held an Eisteddfod, to the delight of English people. The English people always have had a taste for the best products of other nationalities. That event was held in Manchester and the tickets were taxed for Entertainments Duty. I want it to be made clear that that cannot happen again. It may be that the promoters of that Eisteddfod in Manchester may be able to reclaim the money they paid in tax, but that, clearly, is a waste of the time of civil servants. I am very anxious, therefore, that this word shall be inserted in the Resolution. The House should remember that most hon. Members from Wales, and most hon. Members who hail from Wales representing English seats, are, in the main, the products of the Welsh Eisteddfod. If they are not, they cannot be very good Members of any Parliament.

This institution is peculiar to the Welsh nation. It has existed from about the eighth century; there are traces of it as early as the fourth century. It is an institution of the common people, run by ordinary men and women; the farm labourers, in every hamlet in the Principality take a part in the proceedings. It is a cultural organisation; and if there is any profit to be gained out of an Eisteddfod it ultimately finds its way to some other educational institution. For all those reasons I plead that this word should be included. I would assure my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary that it is necessary, although I have the impression that the reply he will give to me is that it is not. If I thought that all the taxing officers of the country knew that in advance, I would not press my Amendment. I am satisfied that when the tax officer in England comes across the word "Eisteddfod" he regards it almost as if it were a circus or menagerie. In Wales, on the other hand, they understand what it means, and a Welsh tax officer will know at once that it is a cultural effort on behalf of the people.

I would plead with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the. Exchequer to import a little of the William Morris and John Ruskin idea into his Budget as a whole instead of leaning so much towards Engels and Karl Marx. I am in favour of exempting from taxation all educational institutions. I have travelled a great deal like some of my hon. Friends, I find that we have produced in this country some institutions which are worth copying throughout the world, and the Eisteddfod is one. Our ideas of Parliamentary government are indeed worth copying in some of the countries which I have recently visited. Finally, we must remember that democracy does not come from above; democracy and freedom emerge from below, and the motto of the Welsh National Eisteddfod is a very appropriate one, and one which should appeal to us all. It is "Truth against the World." If there is one thing that ought to be preached in the sad world in which we live today it is that truth makes men free. The Eisteddfod stands for all that. I trust that because of these arguments my right hon. Friend will be convinced and that he will accept my Amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I heartily support and endorse all the observations my hon. Friend has so eloquently made about one of our finest institutions. Anyone who has the remotest perception of the domestic life and the cultural activities of the people of Wales will immediately ask, on perusing this Resolution, what the position is of the Eisteddfod, of our national and local Eisteddfodau, of which we have about 100 in the course of a year. It may well be said that they are covered by one of the expressions used in the Resolution as it stands, but I, like the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) would like a specific answer to that question, because it would appear to me to be monstrous if this form of educational entertainment were not covered by the Resolution. I cannot think of a more apt description of our Eisteddfodau than that of an educational entertainment.

Even if assume that the Eisteddfod is included among the expressions at present used in the Resolution, I would still say that the position is not really a satisfactory one. After all, the Eisteddfod is a very unique and distinct type of entertainment, and it should be specified by name in a Resolution of this kind. When we look at the games and sports mentioned in the Resolution, we find that there is a high degree of particularisation. Circuses, travelling shows and menageries are mentioned, but, presumably, the Eisteddfod is left to come under the description of "a performance of music." As the hon. Member for Westhoughton has already explained, the Eisteddfod is that, but it is also something far more, and I hope we shall have an assurance that it is covered by this Resolution and that, at a later stage, the word "Eisteddfod" will be embodied in it.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I can save the House a good deal of time by saying straight away that I am advised by those who have had considerable experience in drafting this type of Resolution that "Eisteddfod "is included. I was not surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said he had a shrewd idea of what I was going to say in reply, because I had already informed him of what I was going to say.

Mr. Rhys Davies

The hon. Gentleman was not supposed to say that.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I had hoped that that assurance would have been enough for him. We have to resist this Amendment for two reasons: first, because it is redundant, and, second, because, if it is included, it will make the words used in Section 1 (3) of the Finance Act, 1935, read differently from the Resolution, and lawyers may have difficulty later on because it is included in the one and not in the other. A Clause in the Finance Bill will be based on this Resolution, and I can assure the House that the Clause covering this matter will be drafted in such a way as to include Eisteddfodau. It is quite clear that "Eisteddfod" does cover music, recitation, and, sometimes, as in the days of Earl Lloyd-George, lectures or addresses. What we have to make sure of is that it covers not only one type of entertainment but several when taken in conjunction during one performance. As I say, I am told that the point is covered in the Resolution, but we will see that the terms of the Finance Bill when it is brought in make it clear, without any doubt, that Eisteddfod and Eisteddfodau are included.

Mr. Rhys Davies

In view of the very satisfactory reply which I have received from my hon. Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.'

Mr. Peake

Now that the Amendment has been disposed of, I think I ought to say that my hon. Friends and I on this side of the House approve of the contents of the Resolution. If my recollection serves me right, a proposal of this character was included in the Finance Bill brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) before the General Election last year, and I think that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated last October that he was willing to do something about it at an early date. As everybody knows, the task placed upon the Board of Customs and Excise, even though they have the help of an Advisory Committee in this matter, is one which it is quite impossible to discharge under the present law.

It has to be decided whether or not any individual performance is partly educational in character. We thus have the absurdity of having two lists of plays, films and so on, some of which have been held to be partly educational and some of which have been held not to be within the definition. "Charlie's Aunt," I think, has been held to be a partly educational entertainment, and so has that rather bawdy 18th century play, Congreve's" Love for Love." When I was at the Treasury that fact produced a great many protests from people who saw the play, expecting to see something of highly educational value and finding that they had both got out of paying the entertainment tax and had also seen something which horrified their susceptibilities.

The proposal in the Resolution, as I understand it, is that the test in the future shall be the aims of the society producing the entertainment, and not the character of the individual show. This is what was pressed upon us at the Treasury by the society representing authors, of which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Levy) is a member and who came with other playwrights to the Treasury to press this point of view. There will still remain, of course, the general test that the society producing must not be conducted for profit. It is in respect of that part of the proposal that I would ask the Financial Secretary or the Solicitor-General for one or two assurances. Once we have the position whereby Entertainments Duty will not be levied where the play is produced by a society not operating for profit, we may have some abuse of this provision. Obviously, more people will go to see a show if the charge is reduced by the absence of Entertainments Duty than if the duty has to be paid. Given shows of equal merit, a show which does not have to pay Entertainments Duty will yield much higher profits and it will, therefore, be possible for the actors and actresses in it to be remunerated at a much higher rate. There is always the possibility that societies will be formed—and I believe some have already been formed—not having profit as one of their objectives, but the profit actually goes in a very high scale of remuneration paid, for instance, to an actor-manager.

I hope, therefore, that when we come to the Finance Bill it will be made clear that exemption will not automatically be given for all time to any body which can show that it is not conducted for profit. I hope that from time to time there will be some review of these bodies and that some certificate will have to be obtained, be it from the Board of Customs and Excise or elsewhere, to dispense with the necessity for the payment of Entertainments Duty. Broadly speaking, the test by means of the object of the society is undoubtedly much better than the test by means of the character of the individual show. It is much easier to administer, it is much more straightforward and satisfactory, but it may in certain circumstances be liable to abuse. I hope, therefore, that the Ministers concerned will reserve some discretion in the Board of Customs and Excise or in the Treasury to disallow the exemption from Entertainments Duty in cases where it can clearly be shown to have been abused.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has asked the learned Solicitor-General to give a clarification of the question whether or not a society is conducted for profit. I would like the answer to be carried a stage further so that we may know precisely what is meant by "partly educational." As the learned Solicitor-General will know much better than I can explain to the House, an expression of this kind can be construed strictly or narrowly; and I believe if it ever came before the courts, it would be construed in favour of the society concerned. That being so, it would be open to a society to show that part of its purpose was educational. There would immediately arise the question, What does" educational" mean? It may be that there is a statutory definition which may be incorporated in this Resolution to prevent any doubt arising. But "education" does not mean merely reading, writing and arithmetic, nor merely learning the arts and the sciences. There is such a thing as political education. One has to put the question, for instance, whether the Fabian Society, which, I presume, exists for educating people in Socialism, the Society of Individualists, which educates people in freedom and democracy, and so on, are to be regarded as educational or partly educational, so that they will be entitled to benefit from this Resolution.

Less controversially perhaps, but with very great sincerity, I would like to mention the question of operatic and dramatic societies generally. There are many Members in this House who have benefited from such education as they received from those societies in the past; and there are many Members who probably would have benefited if they had taken advantage of their opportunities. Operatic and dramatic societies do their best to cover their expenses, but frequently do not exist for the making of profit. They exist partly for the entertainment of their neighbours and partly for the education of their members in the arts of opera and the dramas, and very valuable education it is. Perhaps the learned Solicitor-General would give us some idea of their position.

Finally, I wish to mention the question of schools. Strictly speaking, I would have thought that "a society, institu- tion, or committee "included the board of governors of a school; and, if that school were not carried on for profit, it would be entitled at its annual concert or on any other occasion to the benefit of this Resolution. A slight complication arises there, because we have schools which, according to their original foundation, were not intended to be carried on for profit, but which, in fact, ultimately did make slight profits from time to time. Then there are schools which present the converse problem of being private schools originally intended to be carried on for profit, but which succeeded in being carried on at a loss. How do those institutions fare in the interpretation which the Solicitor-General wishes to give to these words? In view of these doubts, it may be that the learned Solicitor-General, instead of asking the House to accept this Resolution, will consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer once more and take such steps as he thinks necessary in order to consult the various authorities on the subject, because it seems to me to be a complicated and difficult matter.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

I would like to exact one more assurance from the Financial Secretary that the effect of this Resolution will not result in difficulties being put in the way of a small society developing its enterprise. It is possible that that may happen, because it is quite easy for a society to describe itself as "non-profit making," to produce evidence to that effect and to go on with a stage play which is educational. Anybody can say whether a play is educational, from examining and reading it. It may take some time when the society itself has to prove it is an educational society. During that time of development and of establishing its reputation, the society will not benefit from the reduction in tax. I would like to be absolutely clear as to the purpose of this Resolution. Is it for administrative convenience only? Can the Financial Secretary give us an assurance that it will not hamper and impede the formation and development of new societies?

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

I would point out to the Financial Secretary something which has caused a little doubt in my constituency, as, no doubt, in many others. What will be the position of the youth organisations? They exist primarily for the cultural and physical development of the members. One of the sections of those societies is that which presents dramatic plays. Will those societies be exempt?

Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)

I would like to take up two points which have been made by certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake)—who, I recall with appreciation, received myself and other Members of my trade union very sympathetically on this matter—made one point which I think is of great importance, namely, that the greatest possible care should be taken to ensure that no loopholes are left open for bodies which are not fully and completely non-profit making to pass as non-profit making companies. I would emphasise that not only actors or managers, but even authors, should not be allowed more than their normal rate of royalties, or more than their normal salaries. It is not beyond the power of the Board of Customs and Excise to come to some reasonable assessment of what that should be. If that mattes is sufficiently emphasised, then the point made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), when he asked for some definition of the phrase "partly educational," is answered automatically.

For it has always been a fact that, fortunately, the theatre attracts a number of enthusiasts, a number of people who are anxious to do the best they can in the theatre, people who would be ready to work, and work well, regardless of profit. As I understand it, one of the purposes of this Resolution is to give encouragement to those people This is a means of doing it in such a way as to avoid the necessity of discriminating as between play and play, and more or less avoiding the necessity—unless the point is unduly pressed—of discriminating as between one society and another. In other words, it avoids all the dangers existing in the law at the present moment in regard to discrimination; for discrimination means censorship. If the maximum emphasis is placed on the elimination of loopholes for profit-making, then the question of whether societies are "partly educational" or not will answer itself, because people who are willing to forgo profit will presumably be more concerned with the cultural than the commercial aspect of the theatre. In conclusion, I would thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the inclusion of this valuable Resolution.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy) has lightened my burden considerably. What he has said helps to throw light on this matter and does, I think, answer the questions that have been put. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said, this Resolution was introduced, I think in these exact terms, in the Budget of April, 1945, but owing to the approaching General Election it was dropped when the shorter Budget was introduced. There was also some talk of introducing it in the Budget last October but then it was feat that, as that Budget was long enough anyhow, the matter might remain where it was until this April. We now have the Resolution in front of the House. The question whether a society is partly educational or not is a question of fact, and each society must be judged on its merits in that regard. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) asked whether youth organisations would be included. The answer is that some of them undoubtedly would be and some of them would not. It would be a question of fact in each individual case.

Mr. Alpass

I was referring more particularly to the small organisations which are administered by the county educational committees.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I think it more than likely that they would be covered, but it would be difficult for me now to say that they definitely would be without going into the circumstances of those organisations and seeing what they were. There will be very close control of the powers laid down in this Resolution. Customs and Excise, who will deal with this matter, will watch societies extremely carefully and will see, as far as they can--and I think they can be relied upon to do their duty in this matter—that this exemption is not abused. There are, very properly, in the commercial world quite a number of people watching this matter with a jealous eye, because they feel that this type of performance may do harm to, for example, the commercial theatre. Therefore, the fact that many people will be watching this, in addition to the Customs and Excise, should mean that very little abuse will take place or pass unchallenged. I have been asked whether the exemption would be given automatically, and whether there would be a review of each case from time to time. The answer is, of course there will be reviews from time to time. This matter will be watched in all its aspects. With that assurance, and realising that all parties expected to agree to this exemption a year ago, I hope the House will now pass it.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question whether this Resolution is likely to make the formation of new societies possible.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I thought the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eton and Slough had answered the Noble Lord. It is our hope that this new provision will not hamper the growth of societies or the formation of new ones. I see no reason why it should, now that all societies will know exactly where they are. Before, every time they wanted to give a performance, they had to go to the Customs and Excise to ascertain in advance whether they would get exemption or not. Now the society, whatever its size, will know in advance exactly where it is in this matter. I think that answers the Noble Lord.

Mr. Renton

Could the Financial Secretary give the House an assurance that political education is not education as envisaged in this Resolution?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

It is not for me to say whether political talks and lectures are educational or not. As I said earlier, it is a question of fact. A society is formed; the Customs and Excise look at its constitution, and if it has articles, or memorandum of association Customs and Excise will no doubt look at them too, and, I take it, will also look at the balance sheets as the years go by. If a society happens to be a political society and claims that it is also educational and non-profit making, it is not for me to say what the Customs and Excise will decide under the law. If the hon. Gentleman, however, would like me to hazard an opinion, I would say the Customs and Excise would probably indicate that such a society was not educational in the strict sense of the word.