HC Deb 31 May 1960 vol 624 cc1340-5

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

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I am sorry, in a brief reference to this very modest gesture to learning and the arts. to appeal to the aesthetic sense of the Committee and to delay the bugle solo from Kidderminster which is to follow, but we should have, I think, some explanation of this small and interesting Clause which exempts from Purchase Tax objects to be exhibited in museums, galleries, and similar institutions.

The Chancellor will be aware that last year my hon. Friends and I moved a very much more substantial remission of taxation as it affected galleries and museums, and I should like to explain why, this year, in spite of certain indications to the contrary on the Order Paper, we do not intend to press that point. This is only a.reculer pour mieux sauter, and we shall certainly return to the charge on another occasion. But we would like a little further explanation of the scope of the Clause.

It does not cover equipment or furniture, and therefore it must be very limited. It is a very small gesture towards culture. I would like to know how limited its conditions are. The Clause suggests that the Commissioners can make certain conditions for the protection of the Revenue. What sort of conditions are envisaged? Later in the Clause there is a safeguard against remitting tax on any article which may subsequently be sold, so it cannot be that; there must be some other conditions.

I am a Governor of the National Museum of Wales, and we have a very admirable service of loans to schools, educational settlements and other institutions, and they are net likely to be included in a list approved by the Treasury for this purpose. As an administrative matter I should like to be entirely satisfied that if something is obtained free of tax under the provisions of the Clause we shall not get into difficulties if, for some reason, a gallery wishes to include such an object in its loan collection. I have no doubt that all these practical matters have been thoroughly thought out by the Treasury, but this is a useful, if limited, provision, and the Committee is entitled to know a little more about it before passing to the next Clause.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I welcome the Clause as a very civilised gesture on the part of the Treasury, but I am not certain how wide its provisions will be. I do not know whether the Treasury can give us an idea of the type of articles to which it envisages they might apply. Secondly, I take it that the article in question need not be directly acquired by the gallery or museum. Somebody may buy or import an article with the intention of presenting it to a gallery, and in appropriate circumstances might be excused Purchase Tax or the equivalent.

The Clause refers to a gallery, museum or similar institution, being an institution approved by the Treasury … I do not know whether there are any precedents for this. If the Minister can give us some indication of the type of institutions which are likely to be approved by the Treasury it will be very helpful. Houses owned by the National Trust would presumably fall within the terms of the Clause, but would private houses opened to the public? I am not sure.

Extremely wide powers are given to the Treasury by this and the following Clause, and I should welcome an indication by the Minister of the way in which they are to be exercised.

Mr. Barber

The purpose of the Clause is to empower the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to remit Purchase Tax on articles acquired by museums, galleries and similar institutions approved by the Treasury, where the articles are to be used as exhibits or specimens. The Clause will regularise an extra-statutory concession which now exists in regard to imported goods. That concession is parallel with the relief from Import Duty which results from the Import Duties Act, 1958. Home-produced goods are not at present relieved from Purchase Tax, but if they are acquired by museums it is logical and desirable that they should be treated in the same way.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked if we could give him an example of the sort of institution we had in mind. One instance that comes immediately to mind, because it is directly concerned with the problem with which we have been faced under the extra-statutory concession, is the Institute of Recorded Sound, the main function of which, as the hon.

Member no doubt realises, is to maintain a kind of national archive of gramophone records and tape recordings. Foreign records can be acquired at present free of Import Duty under the Import Duties Act, 1958, and also free of Purchase Tax under the extra-statutory concession. That will now be put on a proper legal basis. In addition, the Institute of Recorded Sound will now be able to receive free of Purchase Tax gramophone records produced in this country.

The hon. Gentleman asked about gifts which had been made. I understand that in this case also the words in the Clause are sufficiently wide to cover a case where a gift is made to any of the approved institutions.

The hon. Lady asked what was meant by the opening words of the Clause— Subject to such conditions as they"— that is, the Commissioners of Customs and Excise— may impose … She pointed out that at the end of the Clause there is reference to the fact that the Commissioners must be satisfied … that the article is not intended for subsequent resale. The sort of condition which immediately comes to mind is that the Commissioners, besides being merely satisfied that the article is not intended for resale, may require an undertaking from the institution that it will not sell the article, or that if it is going to sell the article it will inform the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, so that under whatever provisions the Commissioners may decide, Purchase Tax would at a later stage be payable.

As to the safeguards generally, I should point out that the institution must be approved by the Treasury, and this is a matter for the discretion of the Treasury. I realise the point that the hon. Lady made as to what sort of institutions will be involved. I have given her one example and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be happy to consider any representations which may be made to him so that he could exercise his discretion in the way that he thinks best.

The second safeguard of which I would remind the Committee is that the Customs must be satisfied that the article is intended for use as an exhibit or specimen in a gallery, museum or similar institution but a considerable amount of discretion is given to the Treasury in this matter, and I do not think it would be helpful at this stage, even if it were possible, to give any further indication of the sort of galleries, museums or similar institutions which may benefit from this Clause, beyond saying that I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will take into account any representation.

Mrs. White

Could we have an assurance about this matter of loans, which is quite important? For instance, the Institute of Recorded Sound may wish to lend gramophone records or even hire them out. I know from a cognate experience of the British Film Institute that films are hired out in certain circumstances to film societies. Would that be covered?

Mr. Barber

I had not considered this point. I should not have thought so, judging from the words in the Clause, which are used as an exhibit or specimen in a gallery, museum or similar institution … I should not have thought it would cover another institution to which they were lent. This is obviously an important point and perhaps I may consider it.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

There is a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) which I do not think my hon. Friend answered, namely, in respect of historic houses—that is, houses in receipt of a grant from the Ministry of Works and the Treasury, which in effect have to be open to the public and become very much in the category of a "museum or similar institution" Would these provisions apply to houses under the Historic Buildings Council?

Mr. Barber

I doubt whether they would be considered to be similar institutions to a gallery or a museum, but I will look into that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.