My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government what official is charged with the duty of deciding whether an article is of historic interest within the meaning of Section 20 of the Finance Act, 1896; what special qualifications he has for the performance of this duty; whether there are any regulations for his guidance; whether there is any appeal from his decision.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, the section mentioned by the noble Lord imposes upon the Treasury the duty of deciding whether an article is of historic interest for the purpose of exemption from Death Duties. The Treasury, in arriving at their decision, must necessarily have recourse to expert opinion, and the existing arrangement for this purpose is that the authorities of such institutions as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum are consulted as to the suitability of the articles presented for exemption. The employment of the experts of the great national collections is considered 515 to be the most satisfactory mode of ensuring the accurate operation of the section, in view of their familiarity with the principles which regulate the admission of articles into those collections, and in view of the circumstance that the test of exemption is whether any article is of such interest that on that ground alone it would be accepted by one of the national collections. Beyond Departmental instructions of an administrative character no regulations have been issued for the guidance of the experts which would interfere with the exercise of their own technical opinions. There is no appeal from the decision of the Treasury; it is obvious that any appellate body would have to resort to the same type of expert opinion as the Treasury at present makes use of.