HC Deb 18 February 1980 vol 979 cc18-9
21. Mr. Jessel

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he considers that on balance a reduction in the minimum period for charitable deeds of covenant from seven to four years would result iv increased private support for the arts.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Although the overall effect is impossible to predict, there is a widely held view in the arts world that a reduction in the minimum period of charitable covenants for the purposes of tax relief would increase private support for the arts. However, any reduction would also have important consequences for other charitable bodies and for the Exchequer.

Mr. Jessel

Apart from the view of the arts world and charities, is my right hon. Friend aware that the public would welcome a reduction from seven to four years? Will he encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer to propose such a reduction?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly encourage my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do anything that will benefit the arts. The difficulty is that some people might execute deeds of covenant for periods shorter than they otherwise would. That would result in a loss of revenue to the charity concerned. That might be balanced by others who would be encouraged by the shorter period. There is a balance. I shall convey my hon. Friend's views to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Faulds

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the total removal of VAT would be the simplest way to serve the best interests of all the arts throughout the kingdom?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

What a wonderful thought that is. How much I regret that the hon. Gentleman's Government never did that.

Mr. David Price

In view of the slightly equivocal advice given to my right hon. Friend on whether four or seven years is right, will he be daring and suggest an experiment based on four years to see whether it provides more revenue for the arts, as I and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) believe it will? Why does not my right hon. Friend try it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am always willing to be bold, but if I tried to interfere with the responsibilities of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer my actions, experimental or otherwise, would be received with less than rapture. I shall certainly pass on those important views.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the great attractions of the switch to four years is that people would tend to uprate their covenants? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the seven-year covenant remains at a fixed sum and is not reviewed during that period? That is why so many people would like to see the period changed.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a valid point, but it will not be quite so important once the Government have brought inflation under control and down.

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