HC Deb 29 November 1973 vol 865 cc573-5
11. Mr. Astor

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what he estimates will be the amount of VAT payable in an average year by charitable organisations in respect of equipment purchased specifically for the purposes of medical research ; and how this figure compares with their liability to tax in respect of such purchases before the introduction of VAT.

Mr. Higgins

No estimates have been made.

Mr. Astor

While my hon. Friend cannot make an estimate, does he agree that the liability to VAT on medical research equipment can be substantial? For instance, an electron microscope would be about £4,500. Will he confirm that it is not the Government's intention to impose the tax on medical research equipment? Will he consider the matter again before the next Budget?

Mr. Higgins

I understand my hon. Friend's feelings. This is a matter which we debated at considerable length in the context of charities during the passage of the 1972 Finance Bill. I do not believe that discriminatory relief from VAT is a suitable means of promoting my hon. Friend's aims, no matter how desirable they may be in their own right. It is important, when considering the position of charities, to take into account not only the changeover from purchase tax and SET to VAT but the substantial changes which my right hon. Friend made in the treatment of charities in 1972 and 1973, at a cost to the Exchequer which is estimated to be of the order of £20 million for 1973–74. We must consider the overall picture and we must not single out individual items or the effect of individual fiscal measures.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that that is a most unsatisfactory answer? Is he saying that the Treasury cannot find a way of giving tax relief to charitable organisations which are financing research? Is he aware that I sit on research committees which lack funds because the Treasury is so miserly? Will he reconsider this matter and apply a bit of common sense and practicality?

Mr. Higgins

The hon. Gentleman does not appear to have listened to what I said. I said that the Chancellor has already made very substantial concessions towards charities, amounting to £20 million in 1973–74.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

In our debates on this subject, were there not considerable misgivings that the Government had not been able to make exactly the kind of estimates for which my hon. Friend asked? Is it not possible to look again at the whole question of VAT and charities, as many people feel that the Government have been a little unyielding when they could have been more helpful?

Mr. Higgins

We debated this subject at considerable length. Discriminatory relief of the kind suggested would have the effect of reproducing many of the anomalies and distortions which occurred with purchase tax. Therefore, my right hon. Friend thought it appropriate to give help to charities in other ways on a very substantial scale.

Mr. Joel Barnett

Will the Minister re consider what he has said? He has effectively misled the House by saying that the Chancellor gave concessions to charities. Those are concessions on the tax that he himself first imposed—

Mr. Barber indicated dissent


Mr. Barnett

We on this side did not introduce VAT.

Hon. Members

Selective employment tax.

Mr. Barnett

The Minister spoke of not being discriminatory, but he has been discriminatory in giving help for hearing aids. Surely he can reconsider this matter in the light of giving increased assistance to medical research.

Mr. Higgins

The expression of support which the hon. Gentleman is getting from behind him is more an expression of sympathy than of encouragement. If he is seriously suggesting that the overall tax record and the concessions given by the Labour Government are better than those of the Conservative Government, no one could have more disregard for the facts. I repeat that it is important to look at the picture as a whole. The Chancellor has made considerable concessions in other ways which will have a dynamic effect inasmuch as they will encourage contributions to charitable bodies in the future.

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