HC Deb 15 June 1950 vol 476 cc629-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

We are glad to see this Clause because we remember having a discussion on the matter five years ago when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer made the concession. The only thing I want to ask is why this particular form of Clause has been adopted. As I read the Clause, it means that the extension of this exemption from Purchase Tax upon war memorials is for another five years. I hope that the Government will look at this matter between now and the Report stage to see whether the exemption ought not to be made permanent. It does not seem to me that there are likely to be memorials erected 10 years after the war, but if one were not quite completed or more had to be done to it, it would be a pity if we had to re-enact a further extension. This is only a small point but I think it is worth looking at, and I hope the Clause can be re-drafted so that the exemption will be permanent.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

It was pointed out by the predecessor of the present Chancellor that this relief for a particular user must be regarded as an exceptional relief. It was for that reason that he said he felt obliged to put some term upon the relief which he gave, and that position still holds. It would be rather dangerous to start giving relief in respect of particular users in this way. In the circumstances, the position is as it was when the then Chancellor gave the relief in 1945. Without making any kind of promise and after listening to what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, I think that is as far as I can go.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman, when reconsidering the matter, would bear in mind that this exemption is entirely outside the ordinary run of matters dealt with by Purchase Tax. I have no doubt that he has had this matter very much in front of him, but I would remind him that although the marginal note to the Clause says that it is dealing with an extension of Purchase Tax exemption in regard to war memorials, the Clause operates only in respect of war memorials inside churches and places of religious worship. For that reason I urge upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the circumstances are somewhat exceptional.

I think that he was one of those in charge of the Finance Bill in the autumn of 1945 when this matter was originally discussed, again in the middle of the night. It was at least dawn, and the Committee was somewhat tired with its exertions, when the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, after a considerable expression of view from all sides of the Committee, agreed to make the concession. The reason I now ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give this matter particularly sympathetic consideration is that he will be aware that before a war memorial can be erected inside a church at all, there is a somewhat lengthy procedure of obtaining a faculty for that purpose.

I happen to know this, because I was connected with the erection of a war memorial in the Thames Estuary, and I know how long it took to obtain the faculty for erecting it. On the occasion of its unveiling, the vicar of the church said, in impressive language which drew a great response among the company present: "This memorial will remain here as long as this church stands." That is, of course, the situation with these memorials. They are not admitted for erection in the churches except on that understanding and on that basis.

That being so, is it not rather unfortunate that it should be necessary to come back to Parliament every five years for the remission of a tax which I am certain no member of any party would wish to impose? I am sure that no hon. Lady or hon. Gentleman in the Committee, or outside it, would wish to see Purchase Tax imposed upon the very sacred memorials to those who fell in one or other of the great wars. It would be a very proper gesture which would be appreciated by thousands, I was going to say millions, of people throughout the land who have associations with these memorials if, on the Report stage, the Government could say: "Here and now, away with Purchase Tax on these memorials."

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I desire to support what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friends, only in a rather different direction. I am concerned with the memorials for all men and women who served in the war and whose memorials are erected in public places. It would not be appropriate to erect memorials to them in religious places because they were not members of particular Churches. Am I to understand that if such a memorial were erected in a place or building which was not for religious worship the Clause would not apply?

The Solicitor-General indicated assent.

Sir W. Darling

I should have thought that as they all fell in a common cause, as Christians, Jews, Methodists and members of the Church of Scotland, it might be difficult to find a particular religious building in which their memorial could properly be placed. As it is, if the memorial were placed in a public park, then the conditions laid down in the Clause do not obtain. I therefore ask the Solicitor-General to consider whether, if all the other qualifications are satisfied, the phrase relating to a place of religious worship could be permitted not to apply?

The Solicitor-General

I have listened to what has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite. As I said when I previously addressed the Committee, this relief must be regarded as exceptional. I can give no kind of undertaking at all, but we will carefully consider what has been said. We understand the feeling behind the sentiments that have been voiced, and we will carefully consider the matter.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

There is another point which I would like to put. There is a practice of placing flags upon war memorials. Those flags become damaged by weather and in other ways, and at intervals have to be replaced by new flags. I think I am right in saying that the material of which the flags are made is subject to Purchase Tax. I suggest that the question might be considered of exempting from Purchase Tax the textile materials of which these flags are made. Otherwise those flags may in the end have attracted more Purchase Tax than the actual materials of which the war memorials themselves are made.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.