HC Deb 13 December 1974 vol 883 cc1045-78

2.19 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

I beg to move, That this House views with alarm the threat to the arts from Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposals for capital transfer and wealth taxes; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to safeguard access to public and private art collections of national importance by exemption of works of art from such taxes to avoid their dispersal or sale abroad and the discouragement of patronage of living artists, to take adequate measures to preserve historic houses and their collections of works of art, to provide support and sufficient financial assistance to university and provincial museums, galleries and exhibitions and preserve for public enjoyment art treasures which are the country's heritage and which, if such taxes were imposed, would be lost to future generations in the United Kingdom. I ask the House to support the principle of the motion. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), who is an expert in these matters, cannot be present to take part in the debate. He is absent because of illness in his family, which illness we much regret.

The grim prospects for our standard of living should never deter us from taking what steps we can to preserve our artistic heritage. I hope that that will meet with general agreement. The motion indicates that I wish to concentrate on art collections, public and private, and the protection of living artists, historic houses, museums and galleries from ill-conceived taxation. It is a big subject, which I hope to deal with as quickly as I can.

I should declare an interest in historic houses, in the sense that my brother-in-law is the owner of an historic house in Staffordshire in respect of which a grant is received from the Historic Buildings Council.

We are approaching a state of economic siege, when everyone will have to make some sacrifices. The siege may last for several years. Despite the hardships that ordinary people may suffer, it is still our duty to see that our art treasures are preserved for the people and not to accelerate their loss to the nation by panic measures that history may never forgive. We have a duty to future generations in that regard.

In this debate I shall often turn for aid to remarks made by Lord Goodman. He said at the annual meeting of the Historic Houses Association on 23rd October: We live in a society with very uncertain sets of values.… Almost everyone believes that a greater measure of opportunity and of resources should be encouraged. Unhappily, this seems only capable of being achieved at the expense of the destruction of a great many things that are of total importance in a civilised world. I very much agree with that statement.

It would be out of order for me to anticipate the legislation on capital transfer tax which we are to discuss on Wednesday. I do not believe that to be the biggest threat to the arts. The wealth tax is what we should be discussing today, in terms of its effect upon the arts. The tax, as we know, has a political objective, and the Under-Secretary of State, whom I am glad to see in his place, is on record as supporting it. I do not wish to debate the tax as a whole ; I wish to refer only to its relevance to the arts. I do not think that it has much relevance to the financial storm which is gathering around us every hour. I am concerned only with the provisions under the title of "The National Heritage" in the Green Paper. I hope that the Select Committee on the Wealth Tax, when it starts work, will take note of what is said in this debate. I fear that if the Government do not express a firm intention to widen the exemptions for art collections in this country many irreplaceable works of art will be lost in the few months before the Select Committee reports to the House. It will take the Select Committee some months to do its job.

The people who own works of art are not all rich. Some own only one picture. Others exist, hanging on by the skin of their teeth, in the smaller country houses and manor houses, with their precious possessions which have been in the family for centuries. During the last 30 years sensible legislation by both Conservative and Labour Governments has enabled such people to carry on, with an occasional grant from the Historic Buildings Council. The people want it this way. Roughly 43 million people a year visit the historic buildings of Great Britain. Without historic country houses, vulnerable as they are, the best pictures cannot be preserved at the best temperature. Those houses are the best setting for pictures and furniture of historic importance.

There is no doubt that if the wealth tax were implemented in the form suggested in the Green Paper, allowing for the studiously vague suggestions for exemption, it would amount to an annual rental paid on works of art, and it would cause owners to sell. If the museums cannot buy them—the purchase grants are totally inadequate—many of our art treasures and the houses in which they are kept will be sold to sheikhs, or exported to Hamburg, New York and Yokohama.

Throughout this century there has been a steady destruction of country houses. Some of us have seen the recent exhibition. There has been a drain of works of art away from their original setting, which is tragic. Instead of waiting for their doom, the art world, especially the living artist and collector, should vigorously campaign against such desecration. They should anticipate the worst. In the Peterborough column in the Daily Telegraph today a note appears of an advertisement in a Cheshire restaurant in which the proprietors announce that "due to pressure of business one month's notice must be given for all funeral parties." That is certainly anticipation.

Artists who depend for their existence on private patronage are also in danger. They should show fight and not surrender to the resulting decline of the private collection. The past importance of the private collector cannot be exaggerated. The great collections of Leningrad, for which so many sacrifices were made in the grim battles against the Nazis between 1941 and 1944 were, after all, built up in that way. In our country 1,185 out of 2,040 pictures in the National Gallery were acquired by gift or bequest. More than three-quarters of the Tate Gallery collection was acquired through private collections.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

My hon. Friend will of course observe that most of the Hermi tage Collection came from Charles I.

Mr. Neave

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. We should remember the tremendous risks which were taken by ordinary people in Leningrad to preserve the art treasures which were built up in this way through collections by monarchs, both British and Russian. In that way treasures such as early books and manuscripts in the British Museum become the property of the people. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would applaud that.

It is, therefore, no use waiting until the axe falls on the private collector. As Lord Goodman said on 26th June: Where Governments are concerned it is ex tremely wise to cry long before you are hurt In this connection we should all pay tribute to the indefatigable Mr. Hugh Leggatt and Mr. John Cornforth of Country Life who have already warned the country, as have many noble Lords in another place, of the danger that is coming. Ordinary people must be alerted through the House, which is the proper forum, and through the Press. I fervently hope that good sense will prevail and that no Government of this country will be so Philistine and retrograde as to cause a dispersal of more great art collections.

Recently, the control of exports and exemption from capital gains tax and estate duty of important works of art have brought great benefit to public collections, but in this debate we have to consider the total burden of taxation imposed on owners of country houses and collectors of art. That is the main matter which I wish to stress. I do not forget the rates, which will be increased next year, and the high cost of insurance on works of art. All these costs are a tremendous burden on those who own works of artistic merit. If the Chancellor charges, in addition, an annual rental on a valuation of an art collection, that will be the last straw for many. I repeat, many art collectors are modest people and are not in the position of rich tycoons, as is sometimes suggested.

It is, as Mr. John Scott-Taggart writes, as if the purely spiritual dividend from art were like the monetary dividend from stocks and shares. I do not think that one can make a proper comparison betwen investment in Stock Exchange securities and investment in works of art.

Recent high prices have led some to say that it is more or less obscene for the rich to put money into pictures which may carry some relief from estate duty. It is better that a few—and they would be a few—vulgar tycoons should own beautiful works of art than that the small army of modest collectors should be wiped out. That would be the greatest tragedy of all. The small collectors would be the first to suffer. It is not the rich tycoon who would be the first to go.

As for the suggestion that valuable art treasures are "unnecessary" at a time of crisis, I remind the House that the nation spends £1,500 million a year on gambling and equally huge sums on food and drink. I believe that we are in danger of getting our values wrong, even at a time of economic stringency. We are in danger of losing the private collector altogether and of making it impossible to build up new collections for the future. Who would wish to bequeath or loan his pictures to the State or to a local authority if he were to be fined annually for having a collection? This is what the wealth tax will amount to—a fine for collecting. Contemporary artists should be aware that 90 per cent. of purchases are made by private collectors, and the destruction of the private collection would be very serious for the living artist.

Again, Lord Goodman comes to my aid against the ignoble doctrine of the wealth tax. He says: I think that we should not make the Philistine assumption that because a man has a picture he has something which is to be regarded as realisable wealth. I think this is a horrible Philistine proposition and should be rejected out of hand. I agree with the noble Lord.

I remind the House that it is the total burden of taxation which must be considered. Would this not be a suitable moment for the Minister to state his policy in regard to taxation of works of art and the imposition of VAT on them, and to say whether he has yet persuaded his Treasury colleagues—one of whom, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is sitting beside him on the Government bench—to give some relief?

What effect will the capital transfer tax have on historic houses if the 45 per cent. relief for agricultural land on the estate duty scale is abolished? I shall not go further into that matter lest I am out of order, but I hope that the Minister will say as much as he can about it. It docs not sound as though, in terms of wealth tax, historic houses will be exempt —or, for that matter, works of art which are not on view to the public. The exemption provisions in the last few years seem to be narrowing, but perhaps I am wrong.

Will the Minister explain paragraphs 36 to 39 of the Green Paper? I regard it as extremely important that people should understand the situation. I have already said that it will be some months before the Select Committee reports to the House. It is extremely important for art collectors and for the art world in general to know something about the position and not to remain too long in a state of uncertainty. How will our heritage— here I refer to paragraph 39 of the Green Paper—be more readily available to the public if owners are forced to sell their works of art? I should like the Minister to answer that question. The Government in the same paragraph admit that the wealth tax could lead to the dispersal of the national heritage". They say that they intend to ensure that this does not happen. Will the Minister say how the Government intend to ensure that it does not happen?

The Minister is reported as saying that the effect of wealth tax has been exaggerated. If that is so, I am sure we should like to know in what way. The Minister should do all he can to calm the fears of many people who are hanging on waiting to hear what the policy is. The Minister is also reported as saying that it is the Government's intention to cushion those owners of artistic objects who are pre pared to make them available to be seen by members of the public. I do not think people would object to that, but how is this to be done? There are big practical difficulties.

I have been in correspondence with many museums about the future, and I do not believe they will be able to take over and acquire on loan or by sale a large inflow of works of art. I have corresponded with the City Museum of Bristol, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent Museum, Mr. Michael Jaff'é of the Fitzwillian, Cam bridge, and with the Standing Commission on Museum and Galleries. They all confirm that grants for purchase at present could not possibly meet a big rush of important work of arts for sale or for loan. It is not only a question of their lacking the finance to acquire fine art treasures, but of their having little space. Birmingham, for example, has had no substantial increase in its space since 1919. That is one of the practical difficulties which has to be faced in saying that wealth tax on works of art is justified.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is it not a fact that the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, which I know fairly well, has only seven of its 16 painting galleries open, because of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman is drawing attention?

Mr. Neave

It is a very serious problem indeed, involving the difficulty of staff, insurance and high costs—all of which contribute to the closing down of galleries and parts of museums. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for underlining my point.

To return to the subject of finance, the Victoria and Albert's allocation of £139,000 went within four weeks of the start of the current year. That is an example of the very serious nature of the deteriorating position of our museums and galleries, which are on their beam ends at present. The National Portrait Gallery, operating on £40,000 a year, is virtually in the same position. When it needed to raise another £3,000 in the third month of this year, the money went within three weeks of the start of the current financial year. A grave position faces the galleries, and there are large practical problems. All this talk about the availability of art increasing with the wealth tax is quite unrealistic. It cannot be done.

I should also like to refer to the position of overworked museum staff who might become involved with the new army of Inland Revenue officials who are supposed to conduct valuations for wealth tax. The problems are complicated. Perhaps the Minister will say what will be the basis of valuation. Will it be on purchase price, as Lord Clark suggested in another place?

This brings me back to the subject of the historic house. Professor Nield asserts in the New Statesman that the present system creates private museums. He appears to advocate that historic country houses should become State museums, as in the Soviet Union and China. Where will the money come from to do all this? How could the Government take over all the historic houses in the United Kingdom, of which there are about 600 which are of great importance?

I hope that the Minister, in reply, will answer these questions. He is the man who should take the lead in the battle for works of art against the Treasury and so save treasures that might otherwise be lost to generations in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that the capital transfer tax will be discussed by the House next week. Therefore, I hope that other hon. Members will, like the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), avoid going into depth on that subject—other wise they will be out of order.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

We do not get many opportunities in the House to discuss arts matters and I had therefore intended to make a major intervention today, giving my views on what I regard as a number of issues on which present Government policy is failing the country in artistic matters. However, I am prevented from doing so—and I pro test publicly about this—because I must leave the Chamber shortly, due to the appalling lack of proper secretarial facilities in this place, to attend to the filing of my own correspondence so that, at the end of this week, I may write a few replies to constituents' letters which have come in since last weekend. I shall not stay during the debate. I have duties which I intend to fulfil within a week of receiving their letters. I must therefore go off to sort out my files and do the damn thing myself. But I hope to return to listen to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), whom I still regard as the best arts Minister we ever had, now sadly departed, but we have instead the benefit of a Labour Government, which I suppose is some consolation.

When I was Opposition spokesman for the arts I fought, with the backing of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and many ardent supporters out side, to try to persuade an obstinate Tory Cabinet, led by an extraordinarily obstinate gentleman, to abandon its petty policy of imposing museum charges. It took over three years to win that but win it we did. We won it because we kept on till we wore the opposition into the ground.

Those of us who love the arts are now engaged in two further battles. It is tragic that while we are able to agree across party lines on arts matters we have had to battle with successive Ministers for the Arts to try to preserve the importance of our national artistic heritage. We have been engaged in the present battle for some months.

The first part of this battle is to try to persuade my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to zcro-rate for VAT the work of all creative people. I recall that when we were in Opposition, my hon. Friend the Under secretary passionately denounced this philistine policy when it was first mooted, and we supported one another whole-heartedly in the denunciation of this mean-minded measure. It is to the shame of all of us in the House, of all parties, that we cannot persuade the Government to change their mind and acknowledge the mistake—they did not make it, the Tories did—not only of imposing the tax at all but also of continuing to levy it on the works of creative people for even a single day longer. I hope that this battle will not last as long as the battle against the museum charges, but I must warn my right hon. Friend that those of us who favour fiscal aid rather than fiscal oppression on the arts will not surrender in our struggle.

The second part of the fight in which we are now engaged is against the wealth tax on works of art. Has my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary not yet accepted any of the reasoned and so far—apart from occasional petulant outbursts—unans wered criticisms of the threat that this tax poses not only to our past heritage but also to the very livelihood of living British artists?

Does my hon. Friend not care—or is his political muscle not enough—that there are many of us who want to encourage the patronage of the arts by private as well as by public bodies? Does he believe that there will be a flight from equities into works of art if they are exempted? He knows, or he should know—somebody in his Department should have told him—that this has not occurred in any single country where a wealth tax is already in operation and where works of art are excluded from its scope. Why, therefore, should it hap pen here? Why has he made such irresponsible remarks on this issue which can only damage the very heritage that we are seeking to protect?

There has been a failure on the part of successive Governments to make local authorities carry out their responsibilities towards the arts. There has been appal ling neglect by most local authorities. Under present policies few provincial museums and art galleries will be able —as the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) pointed out—to receive a succession of works of art removed from private collections as a result of the wealth tax. Such museums and galleries lack any proper financial support, and arc, sadly, inadequately staffed to undertake their responsibilities of display, preser vation and conservation.

There are some hon. Members on both sides of the House who do not give a damn about such matters, and the appalling emptiness of this place today under lines this. I appreciate that it is Friday, but it is pretty inexcusable that out of 635 Members so few can bother to turn up to discuss these matters. Most hon. Members may not give a damn, but I for one do, and I am not entirely alone. I hope that my words find support from both sides.

I trust that my hon. Friend will persuade the Chancellor to exclude works of art, museum objects and books from the scope of the wealth tax for the sake of our long-cherished cultural tradition.

Ministers for the Arts, of varying qualities, come and go, but our national heritage is in danger, and it is the duty of the present incumbent to play a more active and successful role than he has so far played in ensuring that these treasures and this enormous range of things in our cultural heritage remain in this island of ours.

2.48 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on his extremely lucid presentation of a very important case. He has done a great service not only to the House but also to the country by bringing this matter before Parliament following his success in the Ballot. His speech ought to be read and studied with great care by those who have jurisdiction over these matters.

We understand the secretarial pressures that will cause the temporary absence of my hon. Friend—I deliberately call him that—the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) from the Chamber. His contributions to these debates are always forceful and welcome. He has done a tremendous amount for the arts in this country, and deserves recognition for this.

Mr. Faulds

While the hon. Gentleman is making those pleasing observations, would he also stress publicly how damn ably incompetent are the secretarial arrangements in this place, because I feel very strongly on this matter?

Mr. Cormack

I must not be provoked too much on that score, Mr. Deputy Speaker or you might rule me out of order, but I appreciate the hon. Gentle man's remarks in relation to this and I also agree with much else that he has said. It is a shame that Members of Parliament are not given adequate secretarial facilities, or adequate secretarial remuneration to do their jobs as they ought to be able to do them, and so devote to this Chamber and to debates the amount of time that they ought to be able to devote.

Having said that, I come to the subject of the debate and I ask the question which needs asking on an occasion such as this. Where does the wealth of the nation lie? Where is the richness, where is the opulence? I answer that by saying that the wealth of the nation lies, first, obviously, in its people and its institutions, but second, as much as in anything else it lies in its history, and the history of a nation is most clearly marked and enshrined in its buildings and works of art.

I do not believe that anyone with a soul could possibly pass more than a few weeks in this place without being moved every time he walked not just into this Chamber, which is relatively modern, but into the great Westminster Hall in which so much of English history has been encompassed.

In thinking of our nation and its sense of history, all of us recall periods of shame which we try to gloss over—the period when the great monastic buildings were pulled down, the period when, with an excess of zeal, the supporters of Cromwell defaced and disfigured so many of our finest churches. Today, too, we face a threat to our heritage which is on a parallel with the dissolution of the monasteries and the activities of the iconoclasts, for if Government policy as at present outlined is implemented, the heritage of our nation will be dealt a deadly blow.

I shall concentrate my remarks upon our country houses and collections, and I shall urge the two Ministers on the Government Front Bench—I pay tribute to them both, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, for attending the debate—to think again before they act precipitately.

It is an old adage, but it bears repetition, that one can do much in haste that generations hereafter will repent at leasure, and a pretty poor leisure at that if the present proposals are carried through. I cannot believe that a man with the knowledge of the performing arts which the Under-Secretary of State has, or that a man with the intellectual qualities and sensitivity of the Financial Secretary, could conceivably be willing parties to an act of wanton destruction. I like to acquit them, therefore, of any thoughts of malice, and I say to them only that, perhaps through ignorance or perhaps through some other cause, they are embarking on a course which, if only they would consider it, they would greatly regret.

We had from my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon a very good resume of the position of the country house, but I wish to expand a little on what he said. Naturally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall obey your injunction with regard to the capital transfer tax, save to say that I feel that my hon. Friend was wrong on only one point, that is, when he underestimated, as I see it, the effect which that tax and the wealth tax cumulatively would have. In my view, it would be disastrous.

It is a tragedy that the party of Sir Stafford Cripps, who was responsible for the Gowers Report, should now be embarking on its proposed course of action. It is even more tragic that the party which derived so much of its inspiration from the works of Ruskin should be embarking on that course. Here, if I may, since I think it deserves repetition, I shall quote a short passage from Ruskin: To my farther great benefit, as I grew older, I thus saw nearly all the noblemen's houses in England; in reverent and healthy delight of uncovetous admiration—perceiving, as soon as I could perceive any political truth at all, that it was probably much happier to live in a small house, and have Warwick Castle to be astonished at, than to live in Warwick Castle and have nothing to be astonished at ; but that, at all events, it would not make Brunswick Square in the least more pleasantly habitable to pull Warwick Castle down. And at this day, though I have kind invitations enough to visit America, I could not, even for a couple of months, live in a country so miserable as to possess no castles. Brave words, felicitously expressed by one of the greatest masters of English prose, but words which should mean so much to hon. Ladies and Gentlemen opposite because, if anyone could claim to be the cultural forefather of the Labour Party it would be Ruskin.

Although he used the word "castle", Ruskin was speaking of our English country houses, which are unique and special. France has its chateaux, Italy its great villas, and Germany its somewhat daunting castles, but in England it is in our parish churches and in our country houses that the very spirit of our history breathes.

Today, we are accustomed to devoting a great deal of time and thought in Government circles, and sometimes in the House, to conservation of the countryside. There is not a Member of Parliament who does not with delight get out of London and into the countryside, luxuriating and relaxing in it, and thanking God for it. Yet the countryside is a living thing ; it is not merely a park. It is a living thing, and our pastoral country-side depends, more than anything else, upon working farmers and working foresters often within country estates, It is a countryside which has buildings as its focal points in the glorious landscape which almost all our counties afford, and those buildings, by and large, fall into two groups—the country churches, to which I am particularly devoted, and the country houses. There is an indivisibility in the English countryside, and the buildings which form those focal points none of us should ignore.

I am not speaking just of the great houses, the Longleats, the Woburns and the Chatsworths, great and glorious though they are. I am talking about many a smaller house or manor, with a long history, part and parcel of the community, and often the focal point of the community through generations.

Mr. Faulds

Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me? I go to do my secretary's work.

Mr. Cormack

I almost feel that the House should stand in silence [An HON. MEMBER: "Or cheer."] No, the House should never cheer the exit of one of its great parliamentary characters. Let us hope that the hon. Gentleman soon makes another entrance.

I was observing that we are thinking here not of the great country houses but of many a smaller place. I shall give three examples from my own constituency which graphically illustrates the problem with which we are dealing. 1 have in my constituency Weston Park, the great house of the Earls of Bradford which is open to the public every day for about eight months of the year. Thou sands of people from the Midlands flock to it to enjoy its gardens and its park and to go into the house and look at the treasures. It is in the top league of country houses, and it deserves to be so.

Weston has a special place, but I also have in mind in my constituency a house to which my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon referred, Chillington. The house was designed by Soane and it is an architectural achievement of great importance. It has a glorious Capability Brown landscaped park and is open to the public on a fairly regular basis. It is not a great house in the way that Weston is. It is not stuffed with the sort of treasures that Weston possesses, but it is at the centre of an estate of great importance to the whole fabric of our countryside on the doorstep of the industrial Midlands.

There is another house which is much smaller—still a large house by most of our standards—but which cannot be opened to the public very easily because the facilities do not exist. It does not have the concentration of treasures, pictures and works of art that would attract vast numbers of people to go there. Yet it would be a tragedy if that house had to close. Each of these houses in its individual way is threatened. None of them is owned by a truly rich man. In these days if a man lives in a great country house and he is rich, it is in spite of his possessions and not because of them.

As the Christmas Recess draws near, and since the Financial Secretary has a constituency close to mine, may I extend to him an invitation to come to look at some of these houses and see some of the problems to which I am referring? I shall write to him after the debate and I hope that he will accept my invitation.

These are the places which are threatened. It is not as if any of them could be replaced or changed in their use. I would quote from "The English Country House" by Victoria Sackville-West, a book which was loved by people of all political parties. She says: If these English houses of ours were all to be turned into institutional buildings, schools, asylums, hotels and the like, some thing of our national heritage of pride and beauty would be gone. Museums? A museum is a dead thing ; a house which is still a home of men and women is a living thing which has not lost its soul. The soul of a house, the atmosphere of a house, are as much a part of the house as the architecture of that house or as the furnishings within it. Divorced from its life, it dies These houses are part of the countryside and they are open to people who at least may enjoy their grounds. They cannot be transformed into museums and their collections kept intact without prodigious expenditure and in our present economic situation we cannot begin to contemplate that. That would be the best alternative use even though it would deprive the building of life. But that is not feasible.

Some hon. Members ask, "What of the National Trust?" I yield to no one in my admiration of the National Trust, and it has made some of the most force ful representations against the wealth tax. It says that it cannot take on more houses unless they are very well endowed. It does not want to take on empty houses whose collections have been sold and dispersed, because that is not its function. That does not provide a solution nor is there any solution in local authorities taking the buildings over. The thought of their being transformed into head quarters for this that and the other, becoming outposts of bureaucracy, is enough to make the spirit freeze within one. One has only to think of how liberating and delightful it is to be able to wander round the fine rooms of Somerset House to realise how much a building can be ruined by being used for the wrong purpose. So these houses which enshrine and enclose so many of our greatest collections are truly part and parcel, and a very important part, of our national heritage.

From those houses has come so much to enrich our public heritage. My hon. Friend referred to our great public collections. Nearly half the pictures in the National Gallery came there as a result of private benefaction from collections acquired through the discernment and patronage of generations. Three-quarters of the pictures in the Tate Gallery, just along the Embankment, came there as a result of private patronage.

It is a fact, perhaps the one that should above all else convince us of the validity of the facts presented by my hon. Friend, that living artists are almost entirely de pendent on the private patron, the private collector, for their existence. Take that away, and the arts will be dealt a death blow.

But there are practicalities which must also be considered. Imagine, for the purpose of argument, that the paintings are realisable lumps of wealth—but what a cold way to think of them! Imagine that they can be valued, though that in itself would be a difficult exercise. Where will the people be found to do the valuations? There are not sufficient people with expertise in this country to go around the hundreds and hundreds of houses and value collections, let alone the houses themselves, for taxation pur poses. It would become a bizarre combination of an inquisition and a soulless bureacracy. It drives one almost to distraction just to think of it.

It would be a supreme and tragic irony if, as we entered the European Architectural Heritage Year of 1975, we enacted measures which would have the effect of putting up the shutters all over England on some of our finest buildings, and dispersing from those buildings over a generation some of the finest collections of art ever collected together in one country. We must resist this. It would be an abdication of Parliamentary duty—Parliament, after all, is the custodian of what is best in this country—if we were to allow it to happen.

I am not attacking the concept of the wealth tax or even the capital transfer tax. I accept that Labour Members now form the Government, and that they have ideas which they wish to translate into legislative action. I accept that they will not be deflected from their basic intention, which is to introduce those two taxes. But I pray and beseech them to listen to the arguments which we are trying to advance, with feeling and passion, on behalf of the national heritage.

If words of mine cannot move the Government, and if the eloquent sub mission of my hon. Friend cannot touch them, let them think for a moment of the financial implications. Let them listen to the Director-General of the British Tourist Authority. Let them think of the millions of tourists who flock to this country, upon whom we are increasingly dependent for foreign earnings. They come to see a country that is historic, a country with traditions and beautiful countryside. According to some questionnaires, they come more than any thing else to visit our famous buildings. Let us not do anything that will take away that magnet from the tourists.

Let us not do anything that would deprive our young people, the future generations, of the joy and glory that has been ours. We must not allow that frightening exhibition, graphic in its simplicity, held recently at the Victoria and Albert Museum, to become a reality. Let not our generation say "Ours was the Parliament that encompassed the destruction of the English country house ",

3.10 p.m.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

I listened with great care to both the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). The hon. Member for Abingdon moved his motion with great care and with attention to the facts of the situation. I listened to the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West with growing astonishment and with a degree of alienation. There has been a great deal wrong with the arts policies of successive Governments. I hope on another occasion to be able to debate the matter in considerable detail. To hear emotional claptrap being used as an argument for trying to protect a narrow aspect of our cultural heritage seems to be putting a large and inadequate cart before a small horse.

Whichever way we consider the matter, pictures and the maintenance of some of our architectural beauties are of considerable importance. It is unrealistic to imagine that the wealth tax will immediately produce a dramatic result. We should be considering other means of raising money to assist our museums to make more purchases throughout the year. A hint has been given. We are spending millions of pounds on gambling. What is to stop an imaginative Treasury Minister—it seems that God forbids such a creature to exist—introducing a national lottery which would allow us to raise money for the arts and the National Health Service? We could begin at long last to benefit from innocent enjoyment in a way which would provide better facilities not only for the sick but those who want to enjoy the real and magnificent heritage which we have in paintings and books.

I believe strongly that VAT must be removed from the arts in general. I disagree with many of my hon. Friends, in that I would define the creative arts much wider. There is in the House a cultural snobbishness, in that many hon. Members believe that the theatre is cultural and films are not. It is widely believed that country houses should be protected and that architectural sites should not be given the same sort of assistance. It seems that the view is held that archaeological sites should not be given such assistance.

It is time that as a House we realised that we have a responsibility that covers a much wider area than we normally demonstrate. That will not be done if we continue to believe that we should protect only country houses, some of which, in my view, are not open enough to the public.

Mr. Neave

I think that the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) would agree that in the context of art collections and the housing of pictures the preservation of historic houses is important. It is in that context that I was putting my case.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I understand that and I totally agree. It has always been my view that by giving the public constant access to private collections we should be keeping collections together and helping to preserve them in the best possible conditions. However, there are some country houses—to name them would be invidious—in which it appears that gene ration after generation has had astonishingly bad taste and has managed to pre serve second-rate artists throughout the ages. I suppose that that is a highly personalised view and not necessarily a good argument for doing away with the wealth tax.

I believe that VAT on any form of art—for example, writing, painting and film making—is a retrograde step. It should not be allowed to continue. The Conservative Party was absolutely wrong when it introduced it when in Government.

There is a slight degree of hypocrisy in Conservative Members now suggesting that my hon. Friend has not moved fast enough to preserve the arts from depredation. My hon. Friend will find on the benches behind him a great deal of sym pathy for the world of the arts and any thing that he can do to help to preserve it. However, he will find no uncritical acceptance of the sort of argument that we have heard this afternoon.

In my constituency there are many houses which are so sub-standard as to be despicable. I am ashamed to have people living in them. I regard my job as being that of a legislator who must decide priorities in the spending of money, in the context that my responsibility must be to those families, to ensure that they are properly housed, clothed and employed. I do not want to do that at the expense of paintings or of works of art in general, but it is unrealistic to assume that any section of the community can escape the real, stringent and difficult financial measures which will be experienced by the rest of the community. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind when he concludes the debate.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

We are debating this motion— which was so carefully and compre hensively drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and so beautifully read out by yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in a manner of which the late Sir Henry Irving would not have been ashamed—in the context of the gravest crisis that the arts in Britain have faced since the war.

The motion refers to threats, and there are three which we have to consider. The first is the threat that the work of the Arts Council which has been built up over a quarter of a century is liable to be destroyed. The second concerns the future of the historic houses of Britain, the nation's heritage over the centuries, which are threatened by the proposed wealth and capital transfer taxes. The third is the threat to the great collections of pictures and other works of art which are liable to be dispersed and lost to this country if these taxation proposals are implemented.

It is right that at a moment of such great peril for the arts the House should debate the matter and draw the attention of the country to the dangers facing our heritage. In default of the Government providing an opportunity for debate we are indeed grateful to my hon. Friend, who has given us the opportunity to debate the whole subject and who introduced it in what I hope he will allow me to say was a profound, thoughtful and economical speech.

The Under-Secretary today has the opportunity, if he wishes, to clear up the destructive doubts which are gathering about the Government's arts policy. The first question that we wish to have answered is: do the Government intend to support the arts on the same scale as the Conservative Government did? When we came to office we found that a certain sum of money was being devoted to the arts. By the time that we left office, that amount had been doubled, and until the emergency of November 1973 the real growth rate in the arts budget had been about 10 per cent. a year. Even when facing that emergency, even when the cuts in the rate of growth—there were no absolute cuts—had been allowed for, there was still a growth rate of 4 per cent. at the prices then prevailing. Of course, those figures were later rendered out of date by the remorseless advance of inflation.

Never has there been such demoralisation and concern about the future as there is in the arts world today. For this a heavy responsibility rests upon the Minister himself, because there is such a lack of knowledge about the Government's intentions. Under the previous Government, the Arts Council knew in about June of the previous year roughly what it might expect for the next financial year. It is essential to have this advance know ledge so that there can be forward planning for arts projects. Here we are, in December, still with no idea of what the budget for the arts is likely to be next year.

On Tuesday 10th December The Gardian carried the headline— Jenkins wins £6 million for the arts. In the text the arts reporter of The Guardian said: Mr. Hugh Jenkins, Minister for the Arts, is reliably believed to have won his long battle for an extra £6 million in 1975–76 for the 900 organisations supported by the Arts Council. Where did that story come from? The words "reliably believed" are a term of art which normally indicates some degree of prompting, if not of inspiration. There could be only one official source for that figure, and that would have to be the Minister or his Department, whereas this information should have been given to the House of Commons. The Minister is not responsible for newspaper reports, but this report has cause widespread speculation throughout the arts world and I should be grateful if the Minister would make it clear to the House what role, if any, he played in this.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)

Although I hope to deal with the matter in greater detail if I catch your eye a little later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it might be as well if I say straight away that whatever source that speculation came from it certainly did not emerge from my office, or from anybody in my office.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for that assurance, which I accept entirely. The hon. Gentleman must agree that it was an unprecedented piece of reporting and that it would be interesting to know exactly on what it was based. I suppose that neither the Minister nor myself is in a position to establish that with any degree of certainty.

However, the Minister will be able to clear up my next point. He has announced an emergency grant of £1.75 mil lion to the Arts Council. What is the status of that grant? Is it a payment on account of the £5.5 million the Arts Council has said it needs if its existing work is to survive, or is it a recurrent grant which will raise the basic level of the grant to the Arts Council to £21.3 million? It is very important that we know that.

I hope that the Minister will tell the House two other things. First, is the grant for 1975–76 to be increased to make good the ravages of inflation? That is the question that is being asked so insistently. Secondly, what growth rate in expenditure for the arts can we expect for the future? Under a Conservative Government it reached, in real terms, a rate of 10 per cent. We had from the Secretary of State for Education and Science an indication of the growth figure for the education budget. The right hon. Gentleman told us that that budget will grow, in real terms, by 10 per cent. over the next two years.

Surely it is right that the arts should have the same growth rate as education. After all, the arts are treated as an in trinsic part of the Department of Education and Science. That has certain disadvantages, as the Under-Secretary will know. If there are disadvantages, the advantages should be enjoyed as a sort of compensation. What we are asking is that the arts should be given equal treatment with education. We say that the depredations of inflation should not only be made good, but that there should be a 5 per cent. growth rate as well. If that is so, the arts grant the country would expect to see in 1975–76 would be about £28 million and in 1976–77 about £37 million, if that growth rate were to be maintained.

Our first accusation against the Minister is that he has left undone those things which he ought to have done. Not con tent with that, he has also done those things which he ought not to have done. He has given his personal commitment and support to the new taxes proposed by the Government. What the Minister has done is to put forward and adhere to his well-known Left-wing views. I am sure that he will not take "Left-wing" as a term of abuse but rather as a compliment. His Left-wing philosophy and economics have been given priority over his duty to the arts. That is why he has supported in public the proposals for the wealth tax and the capital transfer tax without care or concern for their effect on the future of our national heritage. Yet of that national heritage he is the titular custodian.

Another accusation which I must put forward is that the Minister has spurned the initiative of the Opposition, who have pledged their full support to the proposal of the European Commission that the arts should be zero rated for the purposes of VAT. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) was forthright in her views of VAT this afternoon and I hope that the Minister will be urged on by what she has said. I agree with the hon. Lady that it was a mistake not to zero rate the arts from the beginning. I am afraid that I had no responsibility for that. [Interruption.] We have seen the error of our ways.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Too late.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Not too late to urge upon the Government that they should profit from our mistakes. I hope that we shall have a pledge from the Minister that the Government intend to give their active support to this proposal of the European Commission, and that in the reasonably near future we shall see that works of art, particularly of the living artist, are zero rated for VAT purposes.

I turn now to the wealth tax. What we as an Opposition, supporting the plea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), ask for is an exemption from this tax for all works of art. That is the only way to protect the country houses and the private collections which are an intrinsic part of the national heritage.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the hon. Gentle man say whether, in that case, it is his party's attitude that furniture should come within the official definition of an antique and thus be excluded from VAT? If this is what he proposes he should spell it out now.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I see no objection to that proposal. A work of art should be broadly defined. There can be works of art in furniture, just as in pictures. It is quite practicable. The hon. Lady is looking sceptical.

Mr. Cormack rose

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to deal with the hon. Lady's scepticism first.

The proposal is practical because the majority of European countries exempt works of art from tax.

Mr. Cormack

There are in existence internationally agreed conventions which list these items.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for that supporting note.

I interrupt my discourse to welcome the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) back from his struggles with his correspondents—struggles which apparently have been successful and mercifully brief. He is his own best secretary.

Mr. Faulds

Sadly, may I correct the hon. Gentleman? My struggles were not with my correspondents but with my correspondence. His enunciation needs to be improved. I have totally failed, having answered only four letters.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think the distress of the hon. Member should be restrained from now until the end of the debate, which is just half an hour away.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for your guidance to us all, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I thank the hon. Member for Warley, East for his kindly references to myself, saying that I was the best Minister for the arts we have ever had. I reciprocate, and say that he was the best Minister for the arts we never had. But all hope is not lost. When I form my national Government I shall see to it that this unaccountable omission is put right.

Returning to the subject of the wealth tax, I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with the important question of valuation. How is an effective valuation to be carried out, and who will carry it out when there is such a shortage of valuers?

What steps does the Under-Secretary propose to take to prevent the flight of the fine arts market to other countries? That market follows freedom. If extra taxes are imposed in the United Kingdom, we shall lose this market. I need hardly stress, at this point in our history —and in view of the statistics published yesterday—the importance of invisible earnings to our future. The Green Paper offers an impractical palliative instead of a firm commitment of exception. It espouses the vague principle that those works of art which are on view to the public will receive special treatment. However, it is impractical for many owners to allow people into their houses to see their small but important collections. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon made the point that most provincial museums lack the space and the staff to accommodate the flood of works of art from those who, seeking to avoid the tax, might well want to put their art objects on public view.

All those dangers have been highlighted by the society, Heritage in Danger, which commands widespread support from all parties. That society is supported in particular by Mr. Hugh Leggatt, who has been indefatigable in putting forward the dangers to our heritage from these ill-thought-out and untimely proposals. The ineluctable result of putting these proposals into operation will be that many owners will be forced to sell. There will be no—or very few—British buyers coming forward, and works of art which are part of our heritage will be snapped up by foreign buyers and lost to this country for ever. That is the danger to our national heritage. All those people interested in the arts are now looking to the Minister as an ally. But what do we find? We find that he has gone over to the enemy.

The Labour administration of 1964, thanks to the efforts of the incomparable Baroness Lee, enjoyed a high reputation for concern for the arts. If the Minister continues as he has started the Labour administration of 1974 will go down in history as one of the most Philistine administrations we have ever had. I hope that he will remove that impression today. If so, no one will be more delighted than I and other Opposition Members. Moreover, we shall fully co-operate with him in so far as he takes steps to protect our heritage and the arts. But if he continues along the path which he seems to be taking we shall continue to harry him, because he will be failing in his first duty as Minister responsible for the arts, which is to protect our heritage. If he will not discharge that duty, it devolves on the Opposition so to do in default, and we shall do it with all the energy and persistence at our command.

3.35 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of Stale for Education and Science (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)

Before I reply to the debate which was so ably opened by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), I should like to express my warm appreciation of the presence, even if it be in a mute capacity, of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I doubt whether the House realises what an enormous sacrifice it is for my hon. Friend. He spends far more time in my company than I believe he would wish. Day in, day out he is bombarded, not only by myself, but by other Ministers, and I am reliably informed that some Ministers believe that I have his ear more effectively than they do. However, that is entirely untrue. He is completely impartial in the ear which he gives all of us. That he should volunteer to be present today—and it is extremely courteous of him; he is under no compulsion to be present— speaks highly of his sense of duty.

In general, the debate has been informative, interesting and invaluable. That is particularly true, with perhaps one exception which it would be invidious to name, of the speeches made from the back benches. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), who leads for the Opposition in these matters, tends to spoil his case by over-exaggeration. Someone, a Conservative, was so unkind on one occasion to say to me, "I cannot understand what is wrong with my party. At least your party keeps its lunatic fringes on the back benches". I would not take the matter as far as that. However, there was a certain immoderation in the hon. Gentleman's approach. He would have done well to emulate the example of those on the benches behind him a little more than he did. I shall learn from this debate. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will learn something, too. Let us live in hope.

I listened with interest particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Abingdon. The motion refers primarily to objects of art which could be affected by the Government's proposals for a wealth tax and a capital transfer tax as set out, respectively, in the Green Paper and in the White Paper of August 1974. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have drawn attention to the fact that the proposals for a capital transfer tax are covered in the Finance Bill, which was published this week and which is to be debated next week. Therefore, I shall not trespass far on that ground. However, I have consulted my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary on the matter and if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House will permit me to do so, I should like to refer briefly to a specific aspect of the Bill which has particular relevance to our discussion.

However, before doing that, perhaps the hon. Member for Abingdon will forgive me if I point out that parts of the motion are not necessarily connected with each other. Therefore, I shall address my reply mainly to the capital transfer tax and wealth tax aspects of the motion, as I think the hon. Gentleman would wish me to do. But, if I have time, I should like to make some points at the end of my remarks about the Government's general policy on encouraging access to and enjoyment of the national treasures. If I do that, I shall succeed in making a limited reply to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack).

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Do not forget the Arts Council.

Mr. Jenkins

I shall refer to what the hon. Gentleman has said. Even though I felt that some of his remarks were immoderately phrased, that does not mean that they do not deserve a reply.

I refer the House to paragraph 16 of the White Paper on the capital transfer tax proposals. The first part of the paragraph explains the present arrangements for gifts to National Heritage bodies listed in Schedule 25 of the Finance Act 1972. These will, in effect, be continued under the Finance Bill which will be before us next week, and they are embodied in Schedule 6 of the Bill. There is no intention of making any change, except for one beneficent change to which I shall refer in a moment. It would probably be inappropriate for me to detail all the bodies listed in Schedule 6, but in summary they comprise the national collections, local authorities, university collections, the National Trust, the National Trust of Scotland and the National Art Collections Fund. All those bodies are in the position of accepting exhibits, and gifts given to them are excluded.

In the Finance Bill the Friends of the National Libraries have been included for the first time. Here, therefore, there is a possibility of valuable treasures becoming available to the public through acquisition by such bodies.

Paragraph 16 also refers to the Government's consideration of the possibility of tax relief based broadly on existing estate duty provisions in respect of works of art, and so on. Our intention is that the transfer from estate duty to capital transfer tax will make no difference to works of art, and in some respects there may be a minor advantage. The Finance Bill provides for the continuation of those transfer arrangements.

In addition, I should remind the House that present estate duty arrangements, which provide for pre-eminent items to be accepted in satisfaction of estate duty, have the effect of enriching the collections of museums and galleries to which they are allocated. The Government's intention is that that arrangement will continue with the proposed capital transfer tax, and that is also provided for in the Finance Bill. There is no threat here. On the contrary, there appears to be a minor but significant gain.

All these aspects of the capital transfer tax will no doubt be discussed when the Finance Bill is debated in the House. Perhaps it will be discussed then by Ministers who are more equipped than I am to do so.

I turn to the Government's proposals for the wealth tax which, not surprisingly, has been the subject of most comment. Hon. Members have referred frequently to the details in Chapter 3 of the Green Paper. Paragraph 26 lays down the general principle that the tax should be levied equally on the value of all the realisable assets mentioned in that paragraph.

The question that must concern the House is how the Government propose to ensure that the fears which understandably have been expressed will not be realised. The first thing I should point out is that in the illustrations provided the tax will not begin until the sum of £100,000 is reached. At that level it is proposed to begin at a rate of 1 per cent. Therefore, we should get the matter in proportion. Listening to some Conservative Members, one might also get the idea that anybody with a pennyworth of assets will be in danger of losing them. The situation is not like that. I repeat that the tax starts at £100,000 and at that level the figure of tax is 1 per cent. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will go into these matters in greater detail on another occasion.

There are obvious problems of possible market distortion, the creation of tax havens and injustice to other taxpayers if some types of possessions are excluded from the liability to wealth tax. Therefore the Government cannot go so far as to meet the claim or suggestion made on both sides of the House that objects of all kinds of artistic value, possessions, historic houses, and so forth, should be altogether excluded from the application of the tax.

Mr. Neave

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of exemption, will he say what will be the basis of valuation in respect of the wealth tax on works of art?

Mr. Jenkins

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a satisfactory answer on that point. These are difficult matters to which the Select. Committee will give much time. I should only be hazarding a guess if I were to go any further in answering that matter. The Select Committee will represent the views of all sides of the House and it would be improper if I were to suggest that the Committee should conduct its work in a particular way, or if I were to take anything for granted. We certainly cannot attempt to condition the Committee before the event.

Mr. Cormack

Assuming that the Select Committee makes recommendations about the impracticality of this move, is the Minister saying that the Government have decided that, whatever the Select Committee says, the tax will be applied to these objects?

Mr. Jenkins

I am saying that the Government's intentions on wealth tax are much the same as were their predecessor's intentions on VAT. I must confess that I felt as unenthusiatic about VAT as Conservative Members do about the wealth tax. I objected to VAT because it impinged on the poorer people in the country, whereas the wealth tax will affect the wealthier people. I have endeavoured so far to avoid party points, but it is true that Conservative Members generally become more exercised about the impact on the wealthier people in the country. We on the Labour benches by and large tend to be more concerned about the poorer people.

At any rate the Select Committee has been set up—and here I have some hard news to give the House—and will consist of 21 Members from all parties. I am not in a position to say when its first meeting will be held. Some hon. Members appear to be asking me to say that the Government reject their own Green Paper. That is not the case. But the Select Committee will be entirely within its rights if it chooses to come forward with proposals for fundamental changes in what has been put forward in the Green Paper.

It is our hope that the Select Committee, will, in general, go along with our proposals in the Green Paper, and advise us on those detailed matters which, without a Select Committee, we could not deal with ourselves.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Surely the point is that the Government will give evidence of their views before the Select Committee, and the Select Committee will assess the Government's views as well as many other views. But what my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) is seeking to have elucidated from the Under-Secretary is whether he has said that whatever are the views of the Select Committee on exemption of objects of art, the Government will reject those views in advance.

Mr. Jenkins

I am not saying that. I am talking about the Government's present views of the principle of the matter. The views are in the Green Paper, and I point out that it is a Green Paper—and therefore intended as a basis for discussion—rather than a White Paper. I also express absolute readiness to consider all the arguments put before me by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the detailed matters which hon. Gentlemen hold dear, and which some of us on this side claim to hold no less dear.

I was intrigued to hear the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West say that he spends a considerable amount of time visiting country houses, stately homes, including the lesser stately homes, and country churches. This is one of my favourite occupations and therefore it seems that in spite of our political differences we have some things in common. One is an appreciation of the enormous wealth which resides in this country in historic houses, museums and art collections. We are sick in this respect and it is not our intention as a Government to see that wealth destroyed, or go abroad.

I must now get on with the main part of my speech. I will not succeed in answering points that have been raised in the debate if I allow myself to be sidetracked, as I have done up to now. We have said in the Green Paper that we are determined to protect the national heritage. We have said that we are sympathetic to easing the difficulties that the tax proposals might cause, although the variety of objects and historic houses affected would obviously require different solutions. This would be one of the main tasks of the Select Committee.

Some suggestions on how to ease the difficulties, including the possibility of greater public access as a condition of special arrangements, have already been referred to in paragraph 39 of the Green Paper in relation to both historic houses and to works of art generally. I wonder whether hon. Members' recollection of the Green Paper, which they have undoubtedly read, is clear. If they re-read paragraph 39 they will be considerably reassured. Let me read the first sentence of that paragraph: The Government recognise the danger that the wealth tax could lead to the dispersal of the national heritage: they intend to ensure that this does not happen and that instead our heritage becomes more readily available to the public generally. This is the object of the Government's policy. I readily recognise the Opposition's right to assist us in carrying out that policy, but I do not recognise their right to say that it is not our policy. We are the declarants of our policy. It is our policy, and I assert it here and now. It is right that the House should ensure as fully as it can that we stick as closely as possible to what we have set out—

Mr. Neave rose

Mr. Jenkins

I am afraid that I cannot give way at the moment.

Paragraph 39 of the Green Paper is particularly relevant to the motion, which calls for continuing access and public enjoyment of these treasures. Hon. Members will note from the end of paragraph 39 that arrangements might be made to take works of art into public ownership in satisfaction of wealth tax liabilities, and these would be allocated to public collections where they would be constantly available for viewing by the public.

Mr. Neave

How can paragraph 39 be carried out without the museums and galleries being able to acquire pictures or buy them, if people have had to sell their pictures to pay the tax and are no longer able to lend them?

Mr. Jenkins

There are several ways in which it can be carried out, and I am pretty sure that the Select Committee will explore all of them. Lending already takes place to a substantial extent. There are all kinds of ways in which it can be done. However, it would prevent my replying to the rest of the debate if I were to try to explore them in detail now.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

What about the Arts Council?

Mr. Jenkins

If the hon. Gentleman will contain his soul in patience. I shall endeavour to satisfy him at the end of my speech.

There was a useful debate on historic houses and art collections in the other place on 26th June, and I recommend those hon. Members who wish to concentrate on the question of historic houses to read that debate, in which there were not only very good critical speeches but some very adequate—if I may put it as low as that—replies on behalf of the Government by my noble Friends Lord Shepherd and Lord Strabolgi.

Mr. Benyon

They were not all that adequate.

Mr. Jenkins

That is a matter of opinion. I may be a little prejudiced, though not too much, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman is prejudiced in the opposite direction.

I think that hon. Members will note from paragraph 39 that we are moving a long way in the direction which they wish. My noble Friends made clear that the points made by my noble Lords would be taken into consideration in assessing our proposals.

It is recognised in the Green Paper that it may be necessary for special arrangements to be made for historic houses which can be opened to the public.

Works of art over 100 years old and worth £4,000 or more cannot be exported without a specific export licence from the Department of Trade. The same applies to documents and old photographs over 70 years of whatever value, except that certain dealers are authorised to export documents of a value up to £100 at their discretion. This means that there is a great deal of protection, and I am sure that some of the fears voiced by hon. Members have been a little overstated.

For items which are regarded by the Government's expert advisers and the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art as of national importance on grounds of close association with British history and traditions, aesthetic importance or importance for study, export licences are withheld for a period. The precise criteria on which national importance is judged are, I think, well know to the House.

I should have liked to say more on the main subject of the debate, but in the time available to me, having given way to hon. Members opposite whenever possible, I think that I have said as much as I can, and I come now to the interesting question regarding the Arts Council which the hon. Member for Chelmsford raised.

The hon. Gentleman asked me why on this occasion a journalist was able, apparently, to forecast what the Government intend to do next January. I have no means of telling him, but I hazard the guess that, as for the first time in its history, the Arts Council put into its report this year a statement of what it was asking of the Government—this has never happened before—

Mr. Neave rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Jenkins

On no previous occasion has the Arts Council put into its report, before the Government had given a reply, the sum of money for which it was asking. In my guess, what the journalist did was to take the correct figure, which, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, is about £20 million, and the figure which the Arts Council put in its report, and then made an assumption, upon his own responsibility, that the Arts Council would get what it was asking for. That is my guess—it was his assumption—but I am not in a position to confirm it to the House this afternoon.

I must say that, as a matter of personal opinion, I am inclined to hope that the Arts Council will learn its lesson from these events and will not repeat the practice of putting in its own report the claims which it is making on the Government in advance—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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