HC Deb 19 June 1950 vol 476 cc992-5

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

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

A Clause of this kind, including the previous Clause relating to the same question—the preservation of objects of national, scientific, historic or artistic interest—becomes increasingly necessary in view of the heavy Death Duties and heavy taxation which are depriving this country of a very large proportion of artistic works and paintings which cross the Atlantic, and very few of which come back. I was very glad to see this Clause, because I think it only right that the Treasury should lay down what has not been clearly laid down before, namely, the conditions under which the benefits and exemptions referred to may be obtained.

I remember that Hitler said during the war that he was going to carry out a series of Baedeker raids; that is to say, he intended to direct bombing attacks on all the beautiful houses in England which were starred in Baedeker. I happened to say at the time that the Treasury was doing his job for him, rather more slowly but certainly more surely.

9.45 p.m.

I hope that a circular, or something of that nature, on this subject may be sent to all possible owners such as are contemplated in Section 40 of the 1930 Act. I have on the Order Paper a new Clause, which I must not discuss now, but which I am bound to have in mind when discussing this Clause and the particular point which I wish to raise now. Surely there is a little oversight in subsection (1, c), which states: reasonable facilities for examining the objects for the purpose of seeing the steps taken for their preservation, or for purposes of research, will be allowed to any person authorised by the Treasury so to examine them. I should have thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have gone a little further, and I ask him to consider this matter on the Report stage. Reasonable facilities should be allowed for the public to see particular artistic or historic objects which are exempt from Estate Duty. Most of the owners of such objects whom I know do give reasonable facilities for people to see their pictures and their beautiful homes. I think that it is only right that one of the conditions on which the owners of these objects obtain exemption from Estate Duty should be that they should be requested to give reasonable facilities, not merely for research, but also for the general public, at reasonable times, to see them. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be good enough to consider introducing some form of words to that effect on the Report stage.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

Before making a few observations on this Clause, I must state that I have a certain interest, as I am fortunate enough to be the possessor of some of the objects referred to. I think that by and large the provisions of this Clause are very reasonable. In modern jargon, they are fair enough. The object of the Clause and of Section 40 of the Finance Act, 1930, is to ensure that under the conditions of modern taxation private collections are kept together for the advantage of the nation and not dispersed more than is inevitable. While they are kept together there is an opportunity for members of the public to see them, which is frequently given, and it is also possible for them to be loaned to exhibitions. So long as there are not enough public galleries in this country, private collections are of definite importance to the nation.

I suggest that there might be added to this Clause something which would enhance the benefits intended by it, particularly in relation to subsection (1, b and c). I should like to relate an experience which occurred to me in this connection. The pictures which I was left were, I think, reasonably well maintained, but naturally, owing to the war and the fact that the house in which they were was requisitioned by the Army for a number of years, many of the pictures had to be stored, and my wife and I thought it right that they should be looked at by an expert.

That was done, and the expert, who might well have been the man referred to in subsection (3), recommended a number of things. In certain cases, where the paintings were on boards, it was found that the boards were cracked, and in other cases, where the paintings were on canvas, they were found to be blistered. Canvases had to be tightened and re-varnishing had to be done. I was recommended in many cases to have them cleaned, which I did, and it made an enormous improvement. We are trying to complete the work recommended, but it cannot all be done at once, because this is a very expensive job.

I feel that the same thing will happen under this Clause. A great many recommendations will be made, and however anxious the owner may be to carry them out, he will be unable to do so since for reasons best known to the Treasury, many owners today are not in a position to find a great deal of ready money at short notice, and they will have to sell some or all of these works of art, thereby defeating the very objects of the Clause. That would be very regrettable, and I am quite certain it was not in the minds of those who drafted the Clause that the result would be that collections would be dispersed instead of being maintained.

I suggest, as a very simple solution, that the money spent in maintaining these pictures should be allowed against Income Tax and Surtax, as is done in the case of certain maintenance schemes. If that suggestion is in any way favourably received, I shall be only too willing to put down an Amendment to that effect on Report stage. If it commends itself strongly to the Chancellor, as I hope it may, then I hope that he may put down an Amendment, which I am sure will be better drafted than mine and will be more likely to go through without opposition. I believe that this addition to the Clause will make it of considerably more value in obtaining the object which I know lies behind it, that these collections should be maintained as far as possible and not dispersed, and that in particular they should not be sent to the other side of the Atlantic.

Sir S. Cripps

It is always very tempting when fresh offers are made for remissions of taxation. I am afraid it would not be possible to include such a remission in this Clause. It really has nothing to do with the subject matter. This Clause is devised to try and introduce certain safeguards, as regards the preservation of these works of art and their utilisation for research and study purposes, where there has been a total remission of Death Duties in regard to them.

With regard to access to the public, it will be appreciated that a great many of these things are not suitable for or interesting to the public. For instance, many of the manuscripts, books and scientific collections are not things which will interest the public in the same way as pictures. As regards the whole coverage of this Clause, I do not think it would be appropriate to introduce something in connection with compulsory exhibition to the public. What is essential is that there should be access for people who are studying historical associations—that they should be able to look at the documents, pictures, manuscripts, books and so on. I think we can leave it to the public spirit and the commonsense of those who possess articles which are suitable for exhibition to the public to make them available, as indeed so many people already do.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.