HC Deb 22 June 1954 vol 529 cc226-8
37. Mr. Russell

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a detailed statement regarding all purchases of United States surpluses made available under Section 550 of the Mutual Security Act, giving details of commodities, quantities and values; and if he will also give particulars of further offers now under consideration.

Mr. R. A. Butler

As the reply to the first part of the Question contains a number of figures, I shall, with permission, circulate it with the OFFICIAL REPORT. As regards the second part, I am not in a position to give details of further offers as negotiations are still proceeding.

Following are the figures:

measures to prevent the collection from being lost to this country.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Yes, Sir. Consideration has already been given to this important matter, but I am not yet in a position to make any statement.

Mr. Dalton

Is it not desirable to procure undispersed for the nation this most valuable collection and to safeguard the building itself from being pulled down or allowed to go to ruin in future? Does not the provision of the National Land Fund and the Budget of 1946, together with the consequential legislation in 1953, provide exactly appropriate machinery for dealing with the matter? Why should there be all this delay?

Mr. Butler

I should not have taken the initiative myself in 1953 in the Budget and consequent legislation had I not thought that an objective like this was desirable, but the fact is that one has to make an agreement which is agreeable to both sides. I have not yet any further statement to make about this case.

Captain Waterhouse

In view of the fact that the public conscience has been aroused and there is public indignation about the magnitude of the charges referred to in the Question, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to the whole scale of death duties, for today they have, in effect, become penal instead of fiscal?

Mr. Butler

I have expressed on other occasions my concern about the effect of the death duties, but I can give no undertaking whatever on this occasion to make any further statement. I can only say that this inclusion in the Budget of 1953 was for the purpose of meeting cases like this, which it was thought could be settled in the public interest.

Mr. Gaitskell

In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's previous replies, may we take it that in principle the Government are favourable to the idea of accepting the art collection and Chatsworth as a whole in lieu of death duties?

Mr. Butler

They are in principle in favour of such an arrangement, but I should not wish to particularise it until the negotiations are completed. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that negotiations must be concluded in the national interest with due regard to the private owner's wishes. When we reach such a stage, as I hope we shall, then I can make a statement.

Mr. Smith

Is the Chancellor aware that his answers have given some encouragement to the many people in the country who in these matters have some regard to aesthetic values? Is he also aware that many of us hope that the Treasury will be able to do a deal, provided that some regard is had to reality in valuation?

Mr. Butler

I thank the hon. Member, because that, I believe, exactly represents the feelings of the Government.