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Objects In Lieu Of Tax

Volume 82: debated on Monday 8 July 1985

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21.

asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State answering in respect of the Arts what recent representations the Minister for the Arts has received concerning the allocation for acceptances of works of art in lieu of tax; and whether he will make a statement.

My noble Friend is advised on the allocation of acceptance-in-lieu offers by the Museums and Galleries Commission. He occasionally receives other representations from interested parties.

While we have great respect for the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who is answering, does he accept that already nobody answers for the arts in this House, and that we are now being presented with the monkey twice removed from the organ grinder?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are in danger of losing our heritage because of the wholly unacceptable position that pertains to works of art which are accepted in lieu of tax. Will he bear in mind that the Government make good money from the arts market? Will he also bear in mind the Government's promise to look at tax incentives for the arts? We have them for the live arts. Will he please extend those incentives to the arts in respect of pictures and museums?

On the first point, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Environment, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), wrote to the hon. Gentleman explaining that he had to be in Helsinki from 7 to 10 July to lead the United Kingdom delegation to the international convention on long-range transboundary air pollution. On the substantive question, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are reviewing arrangements for funding acceptance-in-lieu transactions. My noble Friend hopes to make an announcement at the earliest opportunity.

While I welcome what my hon. Friend said, does he agree that if the system is to fulfil its purpose it will not be satisfactory simply to lift the amount available for acceptance-in-lieu transactions from £2 million to some other arbitrary ceiling? Does he agree that we should unequivocally commit ourselves to ensuring that it will be possible to retain a strictly limited category of pre-eminent items for our heritage?

I can tell my hon. Friend that the more fundamental issues that he just mentioned are covered by the review. I shall ensure that my noble Friend is made aware of my hon. Friend's strong views.

Will the hon. Gentleman relate to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who usually answers questions on the arts in this Chamber the dissatisfaction of the House that he is away dealing not with the arts but with something different? That is unsatisfactory, because his first duty should be to the House. Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that the Getty money and the large sums that are available for the purchase of works of art mean that the Treasury will have to reconsider these matters? It has lost some good opportunities for obtaining bargains. We look forward to a further consideration of such matters by the Treasury, guided by the Minister for the Arts.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Treasury is an important partner in this review. The points that he has just made will be considered by all those who take part in it. I hope that my noble Friend will be able to announce the conclusion of the review before long.

Does the Minister agree that there has been a quite unacceptable delay in rescinding this ludicrous ceiling on the in lieu arrangements? Does he realise that all of us in this House back the Minister in his wish to smash this ceiling and ensure the retention of these treasures in Britain? Will he manage to prevail upon his hon. and noble Friend — or whatever the fellow is called — to get the Treasury to pull its costive finger out on this issue?

I cannot accept the allegation that there has been undue delay. On 24 April my noble Friend announced that the review would take place, and I have just said that he hopes to make an announcement on its conclusions in the very near future. That is not too long a period for a review on such an important subject.