HC Deb 01 June 1998 vol 313 c3
2. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

If he will make a statement on the future of the major art houses in the United Kingdom. [41986]

The Minister for Arts (Mr. Mark Fisher)

The Government recognise the great contribution that the United Kingdom art market makes to the national economy. It employs some 40,000 people and has a turnover of £2.2 billion a year. The Government are determined to play their part in ensuring that the market continues to be competitive and to thrive.

Mr. Robathan

I whole-heartedly support the Minister's response. Will he undertake to defend the art market against the threat of harmonisation of VAT across the European Union? He will know that the introduction of 2.5 per cent. VAT on the sale of works of art has already seriously affected the art market in London and in the rest of Britain. If VAT is harmonised, the art market may be driven not just from Britain but from the European Union, and may go to the United States and Switzerland. Will he take action to prevent that?

Mr. Fisher

VAT is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it has caused problems for our art market, as has the possible threat of harmonising droit de suite. We have undoubtedly played a major part in trying to get a more rational debate on droit de suite in Europe. Other countries do not have such legislation and support us in being sceptical and critical of droit de suite. We continue vigorously to argue that case in the European Union.

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