HC Deb 18 July 1979 vol 970 cc1873-907
Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: '(6) As from the passing of this Act subsection (1) above shall not apply to the supply of tickets for a live theatre performance.'. In earlier debates the Chief Secretary has refused to make exceptions to a flat rate of VAT on the ground that it was inconvenient to make distinctions between different classes of goods. We are now at the stage where we are not discussing taxation on goods but taxation on ideas and entertainment, what one might call two of the mainsprings of our culture. We believe that there is a very clear case for an exception to the recent increase in VAT imposed on tickets for live theatre performances.

We must look at this proposal to raise taxation on theatre tickets in the context of other aspects of the Government's policy towards the arts. The general secretary of British Actors Equity Association, Mr. Peter Plouviez, summed up this threat to our theatre in a statement on 12 July when he said: The Budget represents an unmitigated disaster for the live theatre and those who work in it. The amount of State and local government subsidies to the theatre in Britain has for long trailed dismally behind that for other European countries. For instance, two years ago West Germany spent 14 times more per head of their population than we did on the live theatre. It is a bitter irony that after all their encouraging and seemingly enlightened talk about the Arts immediately prior to the election, the Conservative Party when in Government, has instantly made an unprecedented cut in the Arts Council grant and threatened the existence of much of what is left of the non-subsidised theatre by the massive increase in VAT on theatre seats. As if this were not enough, the effects of the cuts in local government expenditure will almost certainly lead to closures of some theatres, the disappearance of some companies and even more unemployment for British performers. Wittingly or not, this Finance Bill is part of an attack on the live theatre by the Government. For example, local authority cuts will grievously harm the live theatre in Britain. Touring theatre companies are heavily dependent on theatres supported by local authority grants, and as local authorities are likely to reduce those grants because other services take priority, those theatres and touring companies will be in jeopardy. There will be no increase in support for subsidised repertory theatres which are nurseries for talent for commercial theatre and television. Already many theatres do not know what support they are likely to get for the present year. Therefore, because of local authority cuts, the theatre suffers very much indeed.

When it comes to cuts in grants for the Arts Council, these will take a further toll on the live theatre. It is likely that one of our great national ballet or opera companies will have its grant cut altogether, which means extinction for companies that have taken many years to build up. Apart from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Arts Council gives only £8 million in a year for all drama to 100 companies. Yet some individual Continental companies receive more than the total drama allocation in Britain.

Live theatre suffers greatly from the effects of inflation, as might be expected, because it is so labour-intensive. An increase in the rate of VAT can cause more theatres to lose money and many have suffered losses already. A small provincial theatre might have to find an extra £1,000 per year for every 1 per cent. increase in the rate of VAT. Many such theatres, including some in the West End, are already running at a loss. In my own constituency, the Theatre Royal in Norwich, which is known throughout the country as an extremely successful company and is a theatre which provides entertainment not only for the city of Norwich but for the surrounding counties as well—perhaps for all East Anglia—has discovered that its VAT bill will rise from £28,000 to £52,000 in this year alone. The cost of that theatre's annual pantomime this Christmas will be 14 per cent. more because of this increased rate of VAT.

In other EEC countries it is common to have a lower rate of VAT for the theatre. Now that we have pitched our flat rate at such a high level, there is a much better case for having a lower level for the theatre. In France the general rate of VAT is 17 per cent. but the theatre rate is 7 per cent. In West Germany the theatre is totally exempted from VAT. In Italy the general rate of VAT is 14 per cent. but the rate for the theatre is 6 per cent.

It is estimated by Equity that the cost of mounting productions will rise by 6 per cent. alone as a result of the impost on the theatre by the Government, leaving aside any effects of inflation as a result of wage settlements or other costs. It already costs £400,000 to mount a large-scale musical in the West End. Recently ticket prices have increased by about 50p so that the top price for a popular production in the West End now runs at £6.50 or more. Managements are already beginning to notice that they are charging more than the market will bear.

As a result of this new impost, managers will be less willing or able to nurse a show to profitability. They will be less willing to take risks with new productions. It will be more difficult for new writers, actors and directors to break into the world of the theatre. In some subsidised repertory theatres it will simply not be possible to raise prices or to secure greater increased grants or subsidies. Extinction will be the real risk for such theatres.

I am aware that the Treasury is always keen on hard economic and accounting arguments, so let us consider the effect on the tourist industry and the contribution made to the tourist industry by live theatre. A survey by the British Tourist Authority has shown that 50 per cent. of foreign tourists give a visit to the theatre as one of their main reasons for coming to Britain. Foreign tourists spend £1½ million a year in Britain. It has been said that our theatre is the equivalent of the sunshine of the Costa Brava when it comes to attracting tourists to Britain. It is one of the reasons why so many tourists come to London. So there is a good economic argument for relieving the theatre of this new impost.

The argument about our theatre is not primarily one of accountancy or economics; it is an argument about the values in our society. We may not be that good as a nation at making and selling goods, but we are outstandingly successful in the world of theatre. On any account British theatre is one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit over the past 30 years. Throughout Britain, from small local repertory companies to the Royal Ballet and the Royal Shakespeare Company, our community has created an artistic and intellectual achievement no other country can match. In turn, the strength of our theatre has given us the best television in the world.

Our live theatre is a ferment of innovation, challenge and experiment, yet very few people make much money out of it. The top wage in 50 per cent. of our subsidised theatres is under £70 a week. An artist can spend years training for ballet, finally make it and be paid £42 a week. The increase in taxation on this precious national and international asset is an act of crass philistinism and destructive of the life of our community.

Over the past five years the present Minister with responsibility for the arts pranced all over the artistic landscape, waving his wooden sword and declaring his dedication to the arts in general and the live theatre in particular. To see how he has given in to the blue meanies in his party is most depressing and is hypocritical.

I hope that the Minister of State will be more amenable to these arguments than the Chief Secretary. The Minister of State should look up from his pocket calculator just this once and consider the wider issues of culture in our society. He should give a little by enabling the live theatre to have a lower rate of VAT on its tickets.

8 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

I hesitated to speak because I hoped that a large number of Conservative Members would get up to support the amendment. At one time the Tory Party and the class that it represents were the great patrons of the arts. They have now deserted that fairly noble role. Thank goodness for the philanthropy of the earlier Tories. Disraeli and others must be turning in their graves.

I am pleased that we are discussing the amendment, because we had quite a fight about it during the earlier stages of the Bill. We thought we saw a significant nod that indicated some kind of support from the Leader of the House, who finally stopped his prancing around with his wooden sword for six years. I think that it was Harlequin who had the wooden sword. If we have to thank the right hon. Gentleman for this amendment, we are grateful. However, we are grateful for little else, because according to a report in The Guardian today he has already lost the battle. The Guardian states: The reductions in arts subsidies, which are expected to intensify in the next financial year, will force the Arts Council to consider withdrawing its grant-in-aid to one of the major national arts organisations, such as the London Festival Ballet, the English National Opera or the Royal Ballet's touring company. Such an action, defended on the grounds that it would save the closure of more than half a dozen regional repertory theatres …". That is the sorry pass that we have reached, not only in relation to the VAT impost, but also in regard to specific cuts in support for the arts—either support for the regional theatre or the closure of one of our major artistic companies.

I listened with great attention to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) and to his praise for the Theatre Royal. I saw "Bartholomew Fair" there a year ago, and a very good production it was. Perhaps my hon. Friend is beating his luminous wings in vain by trying to appeal to Conservative Members to respond to the real merit of the amendment, which, as he pointed out, is not an economic one but rather is in defence of what has been the glory of England. I believe that we have now reached the point at which the basic Conservative ideology of the free market—that which people are prepared to pay for is that which is valuable—has closed its ears to any appeal on something higher than the level of cash. Therefore, let us look at cash.

Some Conservative Members may have read the book by Bernard Nossiter entitled "A Portrait of Britain". He is an American correspondent for The Washington Post, and is a good friend of this country. In that hook he says that relatively Britain has been doing badly compared with some of its Western European competitors, but he urges us to look at some of the other aspects of British life. Among the other aspects that he picks on as being in the lead in the world are the theatre and the arts. Even on the level of tourism, as my hon. Friend pointed out, this is one of the factors that brings many people to this country.

The threat faced by the theatre is very real. Actors are among the worst paid in this country, and it is to our disgrace that that should be so. Over the last few years they have been restricted by an honourable adherence to incomes policy, but now they, too, require honest pay for their honest trade. However, we are told that if this were to happen it would create a major strain. For example, we are told that the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera would face an increased wage bill of between 10 per cent. and 12 per cent. for their choruses, which would have a serious effect on their future operations.

It is against that background of cuts that we must estimate the question of VAT. We should not be arguing for a tax standstill. If there were any understanding of background and culture among Conservative Members, they would be in the lead for arguing not for a standstill but for a zero rating of tax. In France the theatre rate is 10 per cent. below the general VAT rate—7 per cent. instead of 17 per cent. In Western Germany there is complete exemption for the theatre. It must be remembered that these countries also spend considerable sums of money in support of the arts. For example, the State Opera in Hamburg alone receives more in its annual grant than we in Scotland receive for the entire Arts Council budget and other support from local authorities. That is the light in which we must look at this new act of meanness and philistinism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South was right to point out that there is yet another factor against which this must be weighed. If it is right that the Leader of the House has lost his battle in the Cabinet, and if it is right that we shall see a direct cut in support for the arts on the ground that it is not profitable, there are always the local authorities, which in the past have succeeded in supporting the arts. But they, too, are being subjected to an intolerable strain. For example, it has been seriously suggested in Scotland that as a means of saving money local authorities should consider abolishing concessionary fares. As a result local authorities have been put in the intolerable position of choosing between the need to support the aged and others or support the arts. Against that background, it will be difficult to put up a major fight on behalf of the arts. That is the background against which we must view this VAT impost.

I hope that it is not too late to appeal to Conservative Members to join us in the Lobby tonight. I hope that it is not too late to appeal to the Government Front Bench to give way. It would be a little candle glowing in a naughty world if the Minister of State were to stand up and say that he accepts the amendment. It would give a little heart to people throughout Britain that the Government—terrible, reactionary and stupid as they are in their economic policies—will not compound that by showing such crass philistinism. The argument should be for zero rating and for increased expenditure on the arts. That should be so for the prestige of our country as well as for our economy. Even at this last moment, I hope that the Minister of State will respond.

Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

I find it difficult to take seriously the arguments of Labour Members. While the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) was describing Conservative Members as philistine in their desire to impose VAT on the performing arts, I slipped out to pick a selection of shows that are currently showing in London and which under the amendment would henceforth be exempt from VAT.

Without too much difficulty, I saw advertised the following shows. At the Comedy there is "The Rocky Horror Show", which presumably Labour Members would exempt on the basis that it was an entertaining simile to the recent general election result. At the Criterion one can see "Bent", and at the Prince of Wales "Bedroom Farce". Elsewhere there is "The Festival of Erotica" and there is a play at the Shaftesbury which is described as a "bawdy comical musical". At the Windmill there is a show called "Rip Off". Why should this particular area of the entertainment industry be exempt?

Mr. Buchan

"Bent" is a most important play. It is well written and, above all, well acted, with people such as Ian McKellen in it. It is a plea for human compassion and understanding. The hon. Gentleman must not go by the advertisements that appear in the Evening Standard or by the titles of the plays. If he had his way, most of Shakespeare would be thrown in the dustbin. The hon. Gentleman should have a look at the last scene of "Hamlet", where the stage is strewn with bodies. No doubt he would reject that as sex and violence. It has both, and a very good play it is, too.

Mr. Wickenden

All I am saying is that such shows, or even plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe, have no more merit than does a county cricket match at Sussex, and it is not proposed to exempt that from VAT. No one is suggesting that Chessington zoo should be exempt, despite the educational value of its entertainment, and no one is suggesting that restaurants should be exempt, despite their assistance to the tourist industry.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman—this cultural Neanderthal—where he was educated?

Mr. Wickenden

I was educated in many of the theatres that the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has not frequented lately and which do not show the sort of shows of which I have been speaking. The argument is whether a particular area of entertainment should be zero rated.

Mr. John Garrett

The hon. Gentleman should read the amendment that we are discussing before embarking on a new, brutalist attack on everything cultural in our society. It is clear that he does not even know what we are discussing.

Mr. Wickenden

On the contrary; the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) put in a plea for the theatre to be zero rated, and I was referring to his remarks. Surely the question is whether we should exempt one small section of the entertainment industry without being equally fair to others. It would be patently absurd to the hundreds of thousands of people who support other sections of the entertainment industry if we did that. It may be seen to be not an arts attack but a class attack on the other sections.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I have sat in this House for nine years. I never thought that I should live to see the day when "Hamlet" was compared with Sussex, of all teams in the county championship, or, indeed, with Chessington zoo. The hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) appears to think that Chessington zoo and "Hamlet" are on the same level of entertainment. He should not have intervened in the debate before doing us the courtesy of at least reading the amendment.

8.15 p.m.

I have two points that I hope will be seriously considered by Treasury Ministers. First, we already sponsor and assist many forms of cultural activity in this country through VAT zero rating. I declare an interest as an executive member of the council of the National Book League. We are grateful that books have always been zero rated, but it is an absurdity that we can read Mr. Tom Stoppard's "Night and Day" without paying VAT but have to pay VAT to see the play.

The addition of VAT to prices in some theatres in the West End may not put them out of business. The hon. Member for Dorking should consider, however, how many plays that are generally sala- cious and intended purely to draw in large audiences of gullible tourists will not only survive but become the staple fare of the West End if costs rise to such a degree that the experimental theatre—that genuinely serious theatre—cannot be pursued. I do not believe that he was making a serious point, as I feel that he does not know what "Bent" is about. He was going purely by the title.

He was trying to make the point with the range of titles that he read out that a great deal of material in the live theatre does not need subsidy because it has no intrinsic artistic merit. If for the purposes of argument we accept that, precisely the same consideration can be applied to the zero rating of books. Many books are not of intrinsic artistic merit. Nevertheless, in order to preserve the cultural impact of books in general they get through, and that is a price that most civilised people are prepared to pay.

My second point specifically relates to local theatre, and subsidised repertory theatre in particular. I deeply regret that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons, having for so long maintained that he is a great friend of the arts, is now heavily hammering the Arts Council. Whatever play is running at the Whitehall theatre in this Parliament, it will not be "The Norman Conquests" but "Norman Conquered". The right hon. Gentleman has been overthrown when it comes to the support of the living arts and the sustenance that the Arts Council needs and deserves.

Local repertory theatre will be hit simultaneously by an increase in seat prices through the imposition of the higher rate of VAT and the progressive withdrawal of Arts Council subsidies. A few weeks ago I went with an all-party deputation from the city of Derby to the Arts Council to plead the cause of the Derby Playhouse. On its present Arts Council grant it cannot put on plays with a large cast. It cannot pay the wage bill, and the cost of mounting such a show is prohibitive. It is limited to a range of plays—some of them very good—that are family entertainment and not of a particularly demanding or experimental nature. Such theatres with a good local reputation will find themselves further put at risk by the progressive foreclosing of Arts Council support, and they will have to charge more than the market will bear because of the increase in VAT. I do not want to see that, and there must be some Tory Members who do not want to see it either.

A genuine exception should be made in the case of the live theatre, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will acknowledge that exception. If he does not, we shall go a long way to killing the live theatre, which has been one of the great glories of Britain as a civilised society.

Mr. Peter Rees

Whatever the motives that led Labour Members to put down the amendment, their contributions to the debate have generated more heat than light. They have described myself and my hon. Friends at varying points as ignoramuses, Neanderthal men, crass philistines and blue meanies. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) asked why there were not more Tories in the Chamber to support the amendment. I believe that that is because they do not take it seriously, for reasons that have emerged during the debate. We are not debating the attachment of either party to culture in the round or who is more dedicated to the support and advancement of culture. We are debating a precise and specific issue—whether a particular element of our cultural activities or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) chose to put it, a particular aspect of the entertainment industry should be exempt from VAT.

Labour Members are apt to affect to speak for the ordinary working person, as they choose to describe him. In the debate there have been speeches as supercilious as any I have heard in my limited time in the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West will explain how he reconciles his position in the debate with the attitude adopted to other aspects of VAT when Labour Members affect to have a monopoly of compassion and understanding of what the ordinary working person thinks. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking spoke with a good deal of earthy common sense and probably more truly appreciated the sentiments of ordinary working people than the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West. That, however, is not the point of the debate.

Mr. Buchan

I have never heard such crass elitist, anti-working class snobbery in my life. The hon. and learned Gentleman appears to be proclaiming that the arts and theatre are only for educated morons like the Tories, that the working people of this country cannot appreciate them and we cannot therefore be speaking for them. If that is so, I find it contemptible and offensive.

Mr. Rees

That is an absurd distortion. In fact, the hon. Member's contribution was as supercilious as any I have ever heard. No wonder we did not take it seriously.

How far should we go in creating a specific class of activity that is zero rated or taxed at a lower rate? The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) widened the debate into a general discussion about culture and the question of which Government have done more. We do not mind that, but there was an unwarranted attack on my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has consistently championed and defended the cause of the arts.

Mr. Faulds

He used to.

Mr. Rees

I should point out that the Arts Council provision for this year will be £60 million. The cuts which have taken place generally have fallen far less heavily on the arts than on anything else. Labour Members should ponder on that before scraping around for ways to attack this Bill. That sort of behaviour will not endear them to people outside who think more deeply about these problems.

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West spoke about past Tory patrons of the arts and what they had done. He seemed to speak in a rather approving manner. Therefore, he should support the cuts in higher rates of tax because this might facilitate present-day Tory patrons.

The question that we are debating is whether the live theatre, however it is defined, should be charged VAT at a rate lower than 15 per cent. That is the real point.

Mr. John Garrett

The Minister seems not to understand the fact that we take this matter very seriously. He is replying with his usual flatulent self-esteem. However, we really believe that this amendment is of crucial importance to the theatre, which provides both entertainment and education and which is often the foundation of our best television. Why does the Minister believe that it is supercilious to defend the theatre?

Mr. Rees

The Government are not attacking the theatre. It is an old debating trick to attribute to one's opponent a position that he has never taken. We do not contemplate an attack on the theatre. We are simply debating whether special exemption from VAT should be made for the live theatre, however that is defined.

The amendment draws no distinction between the various types of theatrical performance. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking has demonstrated how indiscriminate this relief would be if the House were foolish enough to accept the amendment. I need not go through the various types of performance which would attract this relief. The Opposition seem to think that the amendment would single out only those cultural and theatrical activities of which they approve. However, the amendment is not drawn in that way, and there are technical defects as well.

The fact is that in practice every kind of theatrical performance, whether it was at the Old Vic or some striptease, would attract a concession on VAT.

Mr. John Garrett


Mr. Rees

The hon. Member says "Yes", but that is not a sensible approach to the problem. Since he has broadened this debate into one about culture generally, why is it right to single out the theatre? Why should we not consider a special rate for the sale of pictures or sculpture? This suggests that the debate is specious.

Labour Members have attempted to demonstrate during past weeks that they have a monopoly on compassion. Tonight they claim that they have a monopoly on culture. That argument will not commend itself to my hon. Friends, and I suggest that we should reject their arrogant pretensions, just as we should reject their ill-thought-out amendment.

Mr. Faulds

We have had a fairly lively little debate on culture. I thought that it would have been a quieter even- ing, but I am delighted that a great crowd of my colleagues has flooded into the Chamber tonight to join in the discussion.

The debate has been revealing for two reasons. We have had the true Tory elitist approach peep out in the arguments of the Minister, and the more empurpled the hon. and learned Member became, the more convinced I was that he was embarrassed by the things he was having to say to defeat this amendment. The real revelation of the evening was the cultural contribution made by our new colleague—I wonder how long he will hang around with those views—the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden). In my 14 years in this House I have never heard such absolute crap from anybody on any Bench in the House. However, because we want lively contributions, I hope that the hon. Member will join in on future occasions.

I hope that what I said did not cause you any distress, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

It did indeed. I think that the hon. Member could use other words

Mr. Faulds

I have a large vocabulary, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I promise that next time I shall choose my word with much more care.

The Labour Party is fortunate in any matters to do with the arts. If my excellent services were not available as shadow spokesman, there are numberless other members of my partly who could speak as competently, effectively and as concernedly as I. On these occasions we would always rise to defend the practitioners of the various branches of the arts and to protect the cultural lifeblood of our community from the bleeding attacks of the present Government—and I use that word in both connotations.

The Conservative Party is less fortunate in these matters. It has a number of Members who are acquisitive collectors and habitual theatregoers. The former are more interested in possession than appreciation, the latter more concerned with social occasion and society tittle-tattle than the survival of the theatre. The theatre is an art form which is in danger of decline and disappearance unless it is given Government subvention to keep it alive. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

8.30 p.m.

Although the Conservative Party may have made the electoral pretence of being the party of civilised living—that may be difficult with the hon. Member for Dorking in its numbers—and cultural concern, its record in performance in Government in support of the arts does not compare with the sustained and increased expenditure on the whole range of the arts that Labour Governments have provided over the years. The trouble with the Conservative Party is that everything has a price. The performance and life of the arts is beyond price—it is beyond pricing. Very few Conservative Members realise that.

One such Member is the renowned spokesman for the arts, the enlightened, effete, the ecumenical the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). He is one of a tiny Tory minority who actually appreciate the arts. In February of this year, when he was in Opposition, he wrote of the national scene in Classical Music Weekly: One sphere which, because of its record of economic success, has a unique claim on public investment is the arts. And then there is a deal of vague verbiage which is the sort of stuff that the right hon. Gentleman usually goes in for. Then he has another telling phrase: So there is a case for increased public expenditure on the arts"— the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself. Everyone on this side of the House would endorse those words. Collectively, we were as delirious as Dervishes at the spate of promises that poured from the mouth of the right hon. Member for Cheltenham before the election about the enhanced prospects—

Mr. Peter Rees

Before the election my right hon. Friend was the Member for Chelmsford.

Mr. Faulds

I should have known that. I always call him by a more affectionate title.

The enhanced prospects for the arts under a Conservative Government seemed to be enormously enriched. Even the present Prime Minister—I am not of course making a personal attack—never renowned for ever having expressed any concern for cultural matters nor for having shown any artistic taste whatso- ever, even when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science—and some of us remember those days—

Mr. Buchan

Museum charges.

Mr. Faulds

That is another matter. Let us not get drawn into that. Those charges may be brought back under this crowd. Even the right hon. Lady promised the country that there would be no "candle-end savings" where the arts were concerned.

And what happened, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when the Conservatives were returned to power? In the Budget a sustained attack was mounted on all the factors that prop up the life of the live theatre. First the audience. With all the fancy talk about more money being left in people's pockets because of the tax reductions, the fact is that for the great majority of ordinary theatregoers the increase in VAT across the board, the impact of inflation and the rise in the cost of living will leave less in people's pockets for expenditure on such inessentials as theatregoing.

Then the effects of the Government's cuts on the Arts Council—bad this year and worse next year. The Arts Council's ability to support the range of its responsibilities with inflation rampant is bound to be curtailed. And then the local authtorities—their reaction to public expenditure cuts. Sadly, the track record of most local authorities, particularly Conservative authorities, is poor in regard to the arts. The first budgets that they are likely to trim are those which fund arts activities. So the prospects for live theatre are pretty dim.

But the Chancellor of the Exchequer has compounded the damage. Theatre performances and activities already suffered under the earlier impost of the 8 per cent. VAT rate, against the pleas of those like myself and indeed the present arts Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who had all wanted a zero rating in VAT for those activities and related activities such as musical performances in the concert hall and opera house. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer upped the rate to have a standard rate of 15 per cent. Even he must have known the damage that that would do to the practitioners, the practice and the performance of the arts. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster certainly knew, because he cares about the arts—or so he claimed in the old days.

The life of the live theatre is made much more difficult to sustain and more costly to finance by these developments. The costs of materials of production, the printing of programmes, the maintenance of the theatres—backstage and in the auditorium, the making of costumes, wigs and scenery, every single cost of keeping theatres open and in active operation, will be upped and upped damagingly by the 15 per cent. imposition of VAT. That cannot fail to damage disastrously a creative industry which lives pared to the bone and which has done so for years. It survives not on careful commercial calculation but more by faith and hope, with very little charity. It has survived in that state for many years.

The box office receipts which help to float all these creative activities are bound to be affected by the increase in VAT to 15 per cent. in seat pricing, because fewer people will be able to go as regularly as they would have liked to go and, perhaps, as they used to do when VAT was lower. The theatre is an industry beset in any case by the uncertainties of passing taste and fashion, by the uncertainty of audience reaction, and the fallibilities of writer and director and performer.

Everything is not perfect in the theatre world. It has its own internal problems. It really is a risk enterprise. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) does not come into the Chamber or cease his chattering, I shall go and belt him one.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) must come into the Chamber if he wishes to intervene.

Mr. Faulds

Perhaps the hon. Member is itching to make a valuable contribution, since he obviously knows a great deal about these matters.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

He is certainly itching.

Mr. Faulds

Yes, he is.

Mr. Wickenden

Despite the hon. Gentleman's invective, it is clear that he did not understand the point that I was trying to make. Will he explain in simple language—we are simple, albeit Philistine, people on the Conservative Benches—why it is that according to the hon. Gentleman "The Festival of Erotica" should have tax concessions and exemption from VAT when a long-playing record of a marvellous symphony should not? Why is it that the undressed cavortings of "Oh! Calcutta!" should be exempt from VAT but a film of Hamlet should not?

Mr. Faulds

I think the hon. Gentleman is, unconsciously perhaps, making more revelations about himself than he ought to make. It is interesting. Perhaps we should pursue the matter in private in the bar on another night. However, in answer to his question, the reason why we argue for VAT exemption or lowering of VAT on the theatre is the point I made earlier, and which I think the Minister of State got if the hon. Member did not.

The life of the theatre is in danger, and if, to save it, we have to fund obscene performances on occasions, such as parts of "Oh! Calcutta!" or fund erotic performances in dance, so what? The hon. Gentleman does not have to attend. He can stay away and be worried about it. It might, incidentally, require the support of performances that a lot of us would not be interested in seeing. The hon. Member is very eager to watch them, apparently. It might incidentally have that effect. But it would save the life of the theatre. That is what the amendment is about.

I was talking about the life of the theatre. It really is a risk enterprise. But is any allowance made for that? Far from it. Generally losses can be set against income tax and corporation tax—as Conservative Members undoubtedly know. But in the framework of the theatre, VAT has to be paid even on losses. One wonders sometimes how the poor thing survives.

Mr. Peter Rees

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman appreciates that a registered theatre can, of course, set its VAT inputs against its outputs.

Mr. Faulds

I have much too much sense to enter into a detailed financial argument with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I think that he would agree that VAT losses are not claimable. If the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to enlighten me on that, perhaps we could have a private chat later. I notice that he does not take up my argument.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is known for his pro-Europeanism. He is a Minister in a Government which, in my view quite rightly, staunchly supports our European involvement. How does our provision of moneys in direct grant aid to the live theatre, including opera and ballet, compare with that of other European countries per head of population per year? Here I should like to read a short table of figures, because although my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) touched on this matter, the range of figures is very revealing and should be put on record.

The West German figure, per head of population, is £7.80 a year. For Sweden the figure is £6; Switzerland, £2; Italy, £1; Belgium, 90p; France, 60p; Netherlands, 60p. For Great Britain, at the bottom of the list, the figure is 45p. That is a deplorably low figure for a country which claims as we do, with some justification, to be a cultured community It is extraordinary for a country that makes a contribution to the arts in all fields—poetry, writing, painting, sculpture, music, theatre and ballet—that bears comparison with the rest of the world. We are the best practitioners of the arts in every form throughout the world. That is not an idle chauvenistic boast. But think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how incomparably richer our artistic life could be in Britain were we to fund such creativity to the extent practised in West Germany and Sweden.

And then, Sir, perhaps in more direct relevance to the amendment, which permits my argument, I should like to compare the VAT rates imposed on theatre and related activities, such as concerts, in the EEC countries. In France, the standard rate of VAT is 17.6 per cent., with a special rate for the theatre of 7 per cent. In West Germany, where the standard rate is 12 per cent., the live theatre is totally exempt. In Italy, the standard rate is 14 per cent. and the rate for the theatre is 6 per cent. In Belgium, the

figures are 16 per cent. and 6 per cent.; in Ireland, 20 per cent. and 10 per cent.; and in Luxembourg, 10 per cent. and 5 per cent. Only the Netherlands and Denmark impose the standard rate of VAT on the life of the theatre. Neither of those countries has stirred the pulses of the world with its theatrical contributions.

Will the Government not look at this problem again? If their concern for the life of the theatre in Britain is not profound enough for the introduction of zero rating, for which some hon. Members, including the arts Minister, used to argue, will they not, even now, consider a lower rate in line with EEC practice? 10 per cent., a return to 8 per cent., or—an even happier slip to only 5 per cent. Such an act would not be a gesture of charitable inclination and responsible concern but might literally make all the difference between life and death for certain parts of the live theatre. That is a point that some hon. Members seem unable to grasp.

One of the problems of politics is that those politicians whose policies achieve actual damage are often in another Department, are out to grass in another place, sit on the board of a bank—we can all think of a few names—or are perhaps called to eternal service before the damage that they have done becomes apparent. I cannot think that the hon. and learned Gentleman or his right hon. Friend, and my friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would wish to be included in that ignoble band. I really do urge the hon. and learned Gentleman to consider the amendment with due concern and for once, to use a favourite phrase of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for once on an ecumenical occasion, to accept it. I must advise my hon. Friends that I shall not withdraw the amendment and that I count on their support in the Lobby.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 202, Noes 259.

Division No. 66] AYES [8.43 p.m.
Adams, Allen Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Bradley, Tom
Alton, David Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Bray, Dr Jeremy
Anderson, Donald Beith, A. J. Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)
Armstrong, Ernest Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Buchan, Norman
Ashley, Jack Bidwell, Sydney Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)
Ashton, Joe Booth, Rt Hon Albert Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Campbell, Ian
Campbell-Savours, Dale Horam, John Pendry, Tom
Canavan, Dennis Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Penhaligon, David
Carmichael, Neil Howells, Geraint Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cartwright, John Hughes, Mark (Durham) Prescott, John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Radice, Giles
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Cohen, Stanley John, Brynmor Richardson, Miss Jo
Coleman, Donald Johnson, James (Hull West) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cook, Robin F. Jones, Barry (East Flint) Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Cowans, Harry Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rooker, J. W.
Crowther, J.S. Kilfedder, James, A. Roper, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dalyell, Tam Kinnock, Neil Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Lambie, David Rowlands, Ted
Davies, E. Hudson (Caerphilly) Lamond, James Sever, John
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Leighton, Ronald Sheerman, Barry
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Silverman, Julius
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lyon, Alexander (York) Skinner, Dennis
Dempsey, James Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Snape, Peter
Dewar, Donald McDonald, Dr Oonagh Soley, Clive
Dixon, Donald McElhone, Frank Spearing, Nigel
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Spriggs, Leslie
Dormand, J. D. McKay, Allen (Penistone) Steel, Rt Hon David
Dubs, Alfred MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Duffy, A.E. P. Maclennan, Robert Stoddart, David
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) McMahon, Andrew Stott, Roger
Dunnett, Jack McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central) Strang, Gavin
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McNally, Thomas Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Eastham, Ken McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McWilliam, John Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Tilley, John
Evans, John (Newton) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Faulds, Andrew Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Field, Frank Mikardo, Ian Watkins, David
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Weetch, Ken
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kiibride) Wellbeloved, James
Ford, Ben Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Welsh, Michael
Forrester, John Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Foster, Derek Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Foulkes, George Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Whitehead, Phillip
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Morton, George Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Ginsburg, David Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Gourlay, Harry Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Newens, Stanley Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Oakes, Gordon Winnick, David
Hardy, Peter Ogden, Eric Woodall, Alec
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter O'Halloran, Michael Woolmer, Kenneth
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy O'Neill, Martin Wrigglesworth, Ian
Haynes, David Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wright, Miss Sheila
Heffer, Eric S. Palmer, Arthur Young, David (Bolton East)
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Park, George
Home Robertson, John Parker, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Homewood, William Parry, Robert Mr. Ted Graham and
Hooley, Frank Mr. Hugh Mc Cartney.
Adley, Robert Biggs-Davison, John Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Aitken, Jonathan Blackburn, John Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)
Alexander, Richard Body, Richard Channon, Paul
Alison, Michael Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Chapman, Sydney
Ancram, Michael Boscawen, Hon Robert Churchill, W.S.
Arnold, Tom Bowden, Andrew Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Aspinwall, Jack Braine, Sir Bernard Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Bright, Graham Cockeram, Eric
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Brinton, Timothy Colvin, Michael
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Cope, John
Banks, Robert Brotherton, Michael Cormack, Patrick
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Corrie, John
Bell, Ronald Browne, John (Winchester) Costain, A. P.
Bendall, Vivian Bruce-Gardyne, John Cranborne, Viscount
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Bryan, Sir Paul Critchley, Julian
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Crouch, David
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Budgen, Nick Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Berry, Hon Anthony Bulmer, Esmond Dickens, Geoffrey
Best, Keith Burden, F. A. Dodsworth, Geoffrey
Bevan, David Gilroy Butcher, John Dorrell, Stephen
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cadbury, Jocelyn Dover, Denshore
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Latham, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Durant, Tony Lawrence, Ivan Ridsdale, Julian
Dykes, Hugh Lawson, Nigel Rifkind, Malcolm
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lee, John Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Eggar, Timothy Le Marchant, Spencer Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Elliott, Sir William Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rossi, Hugh
Emery, Peter Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rost, Peter
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Royle, Sir Anthony
Fairgrieve, Russell Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Scott, Nicholas
Farr, John Loveridge, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Fell Anthony Luce, Richard Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fenner Mrs Peggy Lyell, Nicholas Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Finsberg, Geoffrey McAdden, Sir Stephen Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Fisher, Sir Nigel McCrindle, Robert Shersby, Michael
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Macfarlane, Neil Silvester, Fred
Fookes, Miss Janet MacGregor, John Sims, Roger
Forman Nigel Mackay, John (Argyll) Skeet, T. H. H.
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman McKelvey, William Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Fox, Marcus McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Speed, Keith
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Madel, David Speller, Tony
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Major, John Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Fry, Peter Marland, Paul Sproat, Iain
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marlow, Antony Squire, Robin
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Marten, Neil (Banbury) Stanbrook, Ivor
Garel-Jones, Tristan Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Glyn, Dr Alan Mather, Carol Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Goodhart, Philip Maude, Rt Hon Angus Stokes, John
Goodhew, Victor Mawby, Ray Stradling Thomas, J
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Tapsell, Peter
Goodlad, Alastair Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Temple-Morris, Peter
Gorst, John Mellor, David Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Gow, Ian Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Gower, Sir Raymond Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Thompson, Donald
Greenway, Harry Mills, Iain (Meriden) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Miscampbell, Norman Thornton, George
Grist, Ian Moate, Roger Townend, John (Bridlington)
Gummer, John Selwyn Moore, John Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyhealth)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Hampson, Dr. Keith Morgan, Geraint Trippier, David
Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Trotter, Neville
Hannam, John Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Haselhurst, Alan Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Viggers, Peter
Hastings, Stephen Murphy, Christopher Waddington, David
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Myles, David Wakeham, John
Hawkins, Paul Neale, Gerrard Waldegrave, Hon William
Hawksley, Warren Neubert, Michael Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Newton, Tony Wall, Patrick
Heddle, John Nott, Rt Hon John Walters, Dennis
Henderson, Barry Onslow, Cranle[...] Ward, John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally Warren, Kenneth
Hicks, Robert Osborn, John Watson, John
Hill, James Page, John (Harrow, West) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd&Stev'nage)
Hooson, Tom Parris, Matthew Wheeler, John
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Patten, Christopher (Bath) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pawsey, James Whitney, Raymond
Hunt, David (Wirral) Percival, Sir Ian Wickenden, Keith
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pink, R. Bonner Wiggin, Jerry
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pollock, Alexander Wilkinson, John
Jessel, Toby Porter, George Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Price, David (Eastleigh) Wolfson, Mark
Kaberry, Sir Donald Proctor, K. Harvey Young, Sir George (Acton)
Kershaw, Anthony Raison, Timothy Younger, Rt Hon George
King, Rt Hon Tom Rathbone, Tim
Knight, Mrs Jill Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Knox, David Rees-Davies, W. R. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and
Lang, Ian Renton, Tim Mr. Peter Brooke.
Langford-Holt, Sir John

Question accordingly negatived.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking):

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: '(6) As from the passing of this Act subsection (1) above shall not apply to the supply of female sanitary goods.'. I first encountered this subject and the cost of it when I was about 13, and I had a direct personal interest in it continually until a few years ago when that interest ceased. The cost of sanitary goods has long been a source of resentment to women since it is one from which no woman can escape.

From time to time there have been moves in the House to deal with this matter. There have been attempts to get the cost reduced—not just the VAT element of it—and to have sanitary products regarded as essential items which are regularly used by women just as medicaments or appliances are used by people who have a medical ailment. I am pleased to say that the latter group get their requirements on prescription. Women are not able to get sanitary products on prescription, although over the years many of them have pressed for that to happen.

This matter is of interest to me as a woman but also as a Member of Parliament. In a family with a wife and daughters the burden falls upon the breadwinner. Therefore, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen ought to take as much interest in this matter as right hon. and hon. Ladies, and to that end it is worth pointing out that the first three names attached to the amendment belong to male hon. Members.

All hon. Members ought to take an interest in the subject anyway because it affects their female constituents. It is a subject upon which I have had direct approaches from women constituents who are concerned about it.

I was unhappy when VAT was applied to sanitary products in the first place, but the rate was only 8 per cent. For it now to be increased to 15 per cent. is a bit too much. I should have preferred to move an amendment to zero rate these products, but I am not allowed to argue along those lines. There is a good case for them to be zero rated, but perhaps we may pursue that argument on another occasion. The average pack of 10 standard sanitary towels costs 37p. That includes the 15 per cent. VAT. The average cost of tampons is 27p inclusive of 15 per cent. VAT. The more absorbent products cost more. Most women will use one packet per month and therefore that cost is a regular expense. There is no escape from that.

9 p.m.

Sanitary protection is not a luxury and a woman cannot say that she will do without it for a month and find another way of coping. The problem must be faced. It particularly affects poorer families, especially large families with several daughters.

My hon. Friends and I have tried to show that the effect of VAT—and our amendments are designed to this effect—affects the less-well-off sections of the community who are less able to bear the increased VAT, particularly on essential products.

A long time ago I had representations from the female work force of a factory in my constituency. They took the trouble to petition me about the cost of sanitary products. Their petition was not concerned specifically with VAT, but that is a real element of the expense. When I next meet those women, they will be even angrier because the 15 per cent. VAT has increased the cost of those products.

The Price Commission has examined the cost of sanitary products on three occasions. In May 1978 it drew attention in its recommendations to the fact that the price reflected the high cost of advertising and promotion. The Price Commission considered that the advertising and promotional costs should be reduced and that the benefits so derived should be passed on to the consumer. That would be most welcome to my female constituents and no doubt to all women. The advice of the Price Commission will, of course, have been ignored. The Government are doubly culpable in their abandonment of the Price Commission and in the raising of the VAT element in the cost of sanitary products from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent.

I recognise that this is a personal and sensitive subject but I urge the Government to recognise that it is a topic which concerns at least half the population. I ask the Government seriously to think about reducing the VAT on those products to 8 per cent. and, on a later occasion, to reconsider the whole question whether those products should be zero rated.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I support the amendment. All hon. Members will agree that the argument is overwhelming and I do not imagine that the Minister of State can reject the amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, sanitary products cannot be described as a luxury or an irrelevance—they are absolutely essential. Large families find these products expensive, and there are many large families in my constituency, as I know there are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking. These products are expensive when they are considered in terms of the acknowledged fact—this will be known to many hon. Members on both sides of the House from their own experience—that young girls now menstruate at a very much earlier age. Poorer families and large families have a considerable burden imposed upon their financial wherewithal which should not be imposed.

No doubt the Minister of State will respond by saying that the amendment, if accepted, would create an anomaly. He will argue that if value added tax for these products is reduced to 8 per cent. or, as my hon. Friends and I wish, abolished altogether, it will create an anomaly. I do not understand where the anomaly would lie.

No doubt the Financial Secretary will bring out the hoary argument that if we exempt female sanitary products, or if we reduce the rate to 8 per cent., it will be necessary to do the same for men's shaving equipment. That was the argument used by my right hon, and hon. Friends when the Labour Government were in office. That is not good enough. It is an argument that carries no weight. It is an argument that is unacceptable to almost everyone in the Chamber.

The products that we are talking about are essential. They are medical products. It is recognised that they are expensive. They are necessary now for a larger proportion of the female population than a decade or more ago. There cannot be any defensible argument to be sustained in opposition to the amendment. There is no argument in terms of the raising of revenue, and certainly not on any moral grounds.

I know that the Minister of State finds this subject sensitive. I appreciate that he finds it embarrassing. I know that many of my hon. Friends do too. However, there is no reason why we should be embarrassed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking said, we should not be ashamed, embarrassed or sensitive. It is an extremely important issue. However, if the hon. and learned Gentleman finds it embarrassing or sensitive, he should remove the issue from controversy and discussion in this Chamber. He can do that by making a start tonight by reducing value added tax to 8 per cent. Next year he can introduce an amendment to exempt female sanitary products from value added tax. I promise him that if he does that neither I nor any of my hon. Friends will make a speech on that occasion.

Mr. Peter Rees

The hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) has argued her case moderately and factually. Tonight we have heard the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) at his most appealing. I feel almost guilty of a gross indecency in suggesting to the House that there is possibly a different point of view. This is for me—I think for many of my hon. Friends and perhaps for Labour Members, even though the hon. Member for Ormskirk approaches the problem more robustly than I do—a sensitive issue.

I can assure the House that it is an issue on which the Government have thought long and hard. We realise that it affects the feminine section of our populace. I have no doubt that it is a problem on which the previous Administration thought long and hard. I have no doubt that the considerations that led them to resist the argument have weighed with us.

I recognise the force of all the arguments that have been advanced. However, VAT is not a tax to be levied only on luxuries. There are, dare I say it, a whole range of necessities that I shall call hygienic necessities that attract the full rate of value added tax. I shall give the House some examples—soap, tissues and medicines not on prescription. I speak with particular diffidence, but perhaps one is entitled to make a masculine contribution—it may appeal to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I include razor blades in my list of examples. I know that the hon. Member for Ormskirk was rather dismissive of that argument. The list also includes bandages, plasters and disinfectants. We can all argue the qualitative importance of all those items. My general argument, which I hope I am advancing moderately, is that VAT is charged at the standard rate on a range of hygienic necessities.

Mr. Cook

Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates that it is not essential to purchase razor blades. He is producing an answer that we have heard before on many occasions. It is argued that there are other goods that might, similarly, be the subject of a reduced rate of VAT or removed from VAT altogether. That does not enable hon. Members to reply adequately to their constituents who have raised this issue. In addressing himself to the amendment, will the Minister explain why this product is suitable to be taxed and to be a revenue-raising source for the Exchequer? That is the question to which we should address ourselves—not how many other products are unsuitable for this purpose.

Mr. Peter Rees

By his very appearance in this Chamber the hon. Gentleman undermines, to a limited degree, the example of razor blades that I gave. He is a skilful debater. He turned the problem round the wrong way. He suggested that I must justify VAT on a particular product. I suggest that as VAT is designed to be a broadly based tax on goods and services, it is for those who wish to make an exception to persuade the House of the validity of that exception.

There are always two sides to any question. I am attempting to put forward, however inadequately, the case against acceding to the hon. Lady's suggestion. This is the fundamental question. I am sure that the case appealed to the previous Administration as the same arguments were addressed to them. However, they found it in their hearts or minds to resist them. The problem of the same considerations has also weighed with us. Value added tax is not essentially confined to luxuries. It is a broadly based tax on goods and services. Therefore, we must establish some kind of principle. The one I look for is this: why should hygienic necessities be exempt? The hon. Lady will follow the logic of my argument. If I take her case a little further, why should not soap and the other items that I enumerated also be subject to VAT at a lower rate or be zero rated? With diffidence, I suggest that that would undermine the basis of the tax.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Surely the Minister is not saying that all the items he mentioned come into the same category and have the same importance as the product we are talking about tonight. That is not the case. He knows that. He has not got his heart in arguing that. He is not trying to suggest that if we exempt this product from VAT we shall have a horde of constituents round our necks pleading for the same treatment for soap and dis- infectant. Of course, we shall not. They recognise—as does the Minister—that this product falls into a totally different category and justifies an anomaly, if the Minister gives way to the amendment.

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman is at his most eloquent tonight. I have heard him speak on a range of subjects, but I never heard him debate a point more effectively. Obviously, his heart is in this matter. It makes my task especially difficult, as the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) found when he had to harden his heart against comparable arguments.

The hon. Gentleman suggests that we should make a series of qualitative judgments. It is difficult to find any objective test in this area. At the end of the day it is a matter of subjective judgment. Therefore I hope that the House will not regard me as guilty of male chauvinism—I may be guilty of fiscal chauvinism—on this occasion if I suggest on general principles, however much we may recognise the sensitivity of the issues and the eloquence and force with which the hon. Lady made her point, that the House should—

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)


Mr. Rees

I shall not give way. I am coming to the end of my speech. It was open to the hon. Gentleman to intervene at an earlier stage. I do not think that it would assist if I gave way now.

Mr. Stephen Ross

The Minister says that he cannot give way now. The reason is that he wants one standard rate of VAT. Will he at least say from the Dispatch Box that he is prepared to reconsider the point for the next financial year? The points made were pressing and obvious. This is a tax on women; it does not apply to men. Surely the Treasury should accept this case.

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the principles will alter, but they will not. The principles will remain the same, just as I dare say they remained the same for the previous Administration. With considerable reluctance—because I recognise all the points which have been put—I must invite the House to reject the amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. John Garrett

The official Opposition support this sensible amendment. What a change there has been, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the Minister of State. When he is leaping about from crag to crag in high finance, arguing for tax relief for the wealthy, he is full of himself. When he is dealing with a problem which affects ordinary working-class people, he is very modest but as hard-nosed as ever, and refuses to see the force of our argument.

This shows once again the folly of having a 15 per cent. flat rate of VAT with absolutely no exceptions. We have shown in other debates on the Bill that VAT falls on goods which are essential and that the effect of raising it across the board in this way hits poor families hardest. Many of them get nothing out of the tax reliefs, the goodies handed out at the beginning of the Bill. Consider a family on below-average earnings, such as many of us have in our constituencies, with two or three teenage daughters. The cost of VAT on santitary protection alone will be a significant burden.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) put the case very sensitively and intelligently. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) developed it. The Minister of State produced a load of spurious comparisons which showed that he had very little understanding of the burden of the charges on these goods for ordinary people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking will press the amendment to a Division.

Miss Richardson

I was very disappointed with the reply of the Minister of State. I was particularly disappointed that he did not respond more sympathetically to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that he might consider this matter for next year. That would at least have been some response.

But no, the hon. and learned Gentleman chose, as usual, to be hardhearted.

I would be quite happy—as, I am sure, would other hon. Members and people in the country—if the Government regarded hygienic products as being free of VAT, because they are essential items in anyone's budget. But the item with which the amendment is concerned has a very special significance, because it represents a regular piece of spending by every woman and by every family, and also because it is discriminatory. There is so much in the Bill that is discriminatory, and still remains discriminatory, against women. I should have thought that on this relatively small amendment, which would help so many people, the hon. and learned Gentleman could give way.

Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

I am not entirely unconvinced by the arguments advanced by Opposition Members, and I wonder whether, in view of the thrust of the argument, my hon. and learned Friend might consider the proposal for next year, if it cannot be considered now. If he said that, it might help one or two waverers on the Conservative Benches.

Miss Richardson

I always feel very warmly towards Conservative Members who listen carefully to arguments and who are prepared to be convinced by them. Perhaps the intervention of the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) will make the Treasury think more carefully next year about this very sensitive subject. But I will press the amendment to a Division because I believe that that is what the female constituents whom we represent would want us to do.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 206, Noes 263.

Division No. 67] AYES [9.20 p.m.
Adams, Allen Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Campbell, Ian
Alton, David Bidwell, Sydney Campbell-Savours, Dale
Anderson, Donald Booth, Rt Hon Albert Canavan, Dennis
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Carmichael, Neil
Armstrong, Ernest Bradley, Tom Cartwright, John
Ashley, Jack Bray, Dr Jeremy Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Ashton, Joe Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Cohen, Stanley
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Coleman, Donald
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Buchan, Norman Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Beith, A. J. Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Cook, Robin F.
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Cowans, Harry
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Crowther, J. S. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Richardson, Miss Jo
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Dalyell, Tam Kilfedder, James A. Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Davies, E. Hudson (Caerphilly) Kinnock, Neil Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lambie, David Rooker, J. W.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Lamond, James Roper, John
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Leadbitter, Ted Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Leighton, Ronald Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Dempsey, James Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Rowlands, Ted
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Sever, John
Dixon, Donald Lyon, Alexander (York) Sheerman, Barry
Dormand, J. D. Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u [...])
Dubs, Alfred McCartney, Hugh Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A.E. P. McDonald, Dr Oonagh Skinner, Dennis
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) McElhone, Frank Snape, Peter
Dunnett, Jack McGuire, Michael (Ince) Soley, Clive
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McKay, Allen (Penistone) Spearing, Nigel
Eastham, Ken MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Spriggs, Leslie
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Maclennan, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) McMahon, Andrew Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central) Stoddart, David
Ennals, Rt Hon David McNally, Thomas Stott, Roger
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McNamara, Kevin Strang, Gavin
Evans, John (Newton) McWilliam, John Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Faulds, Andrew Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Field, Frank Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Ford, Ben Mason, Rt Hon Roy Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Forrester, John Maynard, Miss Joan Tilley, John
Foster, Derek Mikardo, Ian Torney, Tom
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Ginsburg, David Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Watkins, David
Gourlay, Harry Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Weetch, Ken
Grant, John (Islington C) Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wellbeloved, James
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Welsh, Michael
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Hardy, Peter Morton, George White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Whitehead, Phillip
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Whitlock, William
Haynes, David Newens, Stanley Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Heffer, Eric S. Oakes, Gordon Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Ogden, Eric Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Home Robertson, John O'Halloran, Michael Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Homewood, William O'Neill, Martin Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hooley, Frank Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Winnick, David
Horam, John Palmer, Arthur Woodall, Alec
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Park, George Woolmer, Kenneth
Howells, Geraint Parker, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Parry, Robert Wright, Miss Sheila
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Pendry, Tom Young, David (Bolton East)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Penhaligon, David
John, Brynmor Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Johnson, James (Hull West) Prescott, John Mr. Ted Graham and
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Radice, Giles Mr. Thomas Cox.
Adley, Robert Body, Richard Clark, William (Croydon South)
Aitken, Jonathan Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Alexander, Richard Boscawen, Hon Robert Cockeram, Eric
Alison, Michael Bowden, Andrew Colvin, Michael
Ancram, Michael Braine, Sir Bernard Cope, John
Arnold, Tom Brinton, Timothy Cormack, Patrick
Aspinwall, Jack Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Corrie, John
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Brooke, Hon Peter Costain, A. P.
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Brotherton, Michael Cranborne, Viscount
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Critchley, Julian
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Browne, John (Winchester) Crouch, David
Banks, Robert Bruce-Gardyne, John Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Bryan, Sir Paul Dickens, Geoffrey
Bell, Ronald Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Dodsworth, Geoffrey
Bendall, Vivian Budgen, Nick Dorrell, Stephen
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Bulmer, Esmond Dover, Denshore
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Burden, F. A. Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Butcher, John Durant, Tony
Berry, Hon Anthony Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Dykes, Hugh
Best, Keith Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Bevan, David Gilroy Channon, Paul Eggar, Timothy
Biffen, Rt Hon John Chapman, Sydney Elliott, Sir William
Biggs-Davison, John Churchill, W.S. Emery, Peter
Blackburn, John Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Fairgrieve, Russell Lester, Jim (Beeston) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Faith Mrs Sheila Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rossi, Hugh
Farr, John Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Rost, Peter
Fell, Anthony Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Royle, Sir Anthony
Fenner, Mrs Pegg[...] Loveridge, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Finsberg, Geoffrey Luce, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Fisher, Sir Nigel Lyell, Nicholas Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) McAdden, Sir Stephen Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fookes, Miss Janet McCrindle, Robert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Forman, Nigel Macfarlane, Neil Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman MacGregor, John Shersby, Michael
Fox, Marcus Mackay, John (Argyll) Silvester, Fred
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) McKelvey, William Sims, Roger
Fry, Peter McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Skeet, T. H. H.
Gardiner, George (Re[...]gate) Madel, David Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) Major, John Speed, Keith
Garel-Jones, Tristan Marland, Paul Speller, Tony
Glyn, Dr Alan Marlow, Antony Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Goodhart, Philip Marten, Neil (Banbury) Sproat, Iain
Goodhew, Victor Mates, Michael Squire, Robin
Goodlad, Alastair Maude, Rt Hon Angus Stanbrook, Ivor
Gorst, John Mawby, Ray Steen, Anthony
Gow, Ian Mawhinney, D[...] Brian Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Gower, Sir Raymond Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stokes, John
Greenway, Harry Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, J.
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Grist, Ian Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Tebbit, Norman
Gummer, John Selwyn Mills, Iain (Meriden) Temple-Morris, Peter
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mills, Peter (West Devon) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Hampson, Dr Keith Miscampbell, Norman Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Hannam, John Moate, Roger Thompson, Donald
Haselhurst, Alan Moore, John Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Hastings, Stephen Morgan, Geraint Thornton, George
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Hawkins, Paul Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Trippier, David
Hawksley, Warren Murphy, Christopher Trotter, Neville
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Myles, David van Straubenzee, W. R.
Heddle, John Neale, Gerrard Viggers, Peter
Henderson, Barry Nelson, Anthony Waddington, David
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Neubert, Michael Wakeham, John
Hicks, Robert Newton, Tony Waldegrave, Hon William
Hill, James
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Onslow, Cranley Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Hooson, Tom Osborn, John Wall, Patrick
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Page, John (Harrow, West) Waller, Gary
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Page Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Walters, Dennis
Hunt, David (Wirral) Parris, Matthew Ward, John
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Patten, Christopher (Bath) Warren, Kenneth
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pawsey, James Watson, John
Jessel, Toby Percival, Sir Ian Wells, John (Maidstone)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pink, R. Bonner Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd&Stev'nage)
Kaberry, Sir Donald Pollock, Alexander Wheeler, John
Porter, George Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Kershaw, Anthony Price, David (Eastleigh) Whitney, Raymond
King, Rt Hon Tom Proctor, K. Harvey Wickenden, Keith
Knight, Mrs Jill Ralson, Timothy Wiggin, Jerry
Knox, David Rathbone, Tim Wilkinson, John
Lang, Ian
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Latham, Michael Rees-Davies, W. R. Wolfson, Mark
Lawrence, Ivan Renton, Tim Young, Sir George (Acton)
Lawson, Nigel Rhodes James, Robert Younger, Rt Hon George
Lee, John Ridsdale, Julian TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Le Marchant, Spencer Rifkind, Malcolm Mr. Carol Mather and
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.

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