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Acceptances In Lieu Of Tax

Volume 79: debated on Monday 20 May 1985

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21.

asked the Parliamentary-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts whether it is policy of the Minister for the Arts to discourage tax debtors from making applications in excess of an overall token figure covering annual discharges in kind of capital transfer tax liabilities which had previously been established administratively, for the statutory provision to be brought into effect whereby pre-eminent objects may be accepted in satisfaction of such tax liabilities; and if he will make a statement.

There has been no recent change, but, as my right hon. and noble Friend said recently in another place, the Government are looking again at the arrangements whereby the cost of acceptances in lieu of tax is met from the Votes of our respective Departments.

Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the reason for so prolonged a delay ? Has his noble Friend consulted the Museums and Galleries Commission, which adminis-ters the scheme ? If not, can the Under-Secretary give an explanation for that unhappy omission ?

I will check and write to the hon. Gentleman as to exactly who has been consulted. I hope that there will not be a long delay. I believe that the studies should be completed within the next month or two. It is an important matter to get right.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his last remarks are not reassuring, because a month or two can soon become three or four ? Is he aware that it is vital that the pledge that our noble Friend gave in another place should be redeemed at the earliest possible opportunity ? Does my hon. Friend agree that as our noble Friend is also a Treasury Minister, he should be in a happy position to resolve this quite difficult problem ?

I note the remarks of my hon. Friend, who, I am sure, will wish to pay tribute to the Government for again this year finding a large sum, £25 million, for the rescue of the three great houses and for finding additional funds the year before for the support of Calke. In other words, I am sure that as well as pressing my noble Friend, he will want to give credit where credit is due.

Surely much of the tax arrangement is purely notional and has the effect of restricting the possibility of works of art passing into public hands. The time has come to stop this nonsense. The traffic in art is becoming positively obscene. Is the Minister aware that the National gallery could afford only about one third of the canvas area of the last Turner to be sold because of the level of its annual grant ? One way forward, even for this Government, would be to remove the ceiling and to alter the restrictions.

It is a new degradation of language to apply obscenity, which is often misused, to trade in works of art. We are not talking about notional money. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) argued that the cut in taxes was a disgrace. If taxes are cut by the giving of tax allowances, it is real money and not notional money that is not taken in tax.