Clause 69 - Acquisition by bodies established for national purposes

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 10th June 2003.

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Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 206, in

clause 69, page 47, line 40, at end add—

'(f) Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland;

(g) Scottish Natural Heritage;

(h) National Galleries of Scotland;

(i) Historic Scotland.'.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

In tabling these probing amendments, I was seeking to understand the rationale underlying the list of organisations that qualify for stamp duty land tax relief. The title of the clause refers to bodies ''established for national purposes''. As a Welsh nationalist, I am mindful of the fact that there are three nations in the UK, in addition to the Province of Northern Ireland, each of which has its own distinctive purposes. The list of bodies has a somewhat London-centric feel. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, which is known as English Heritage, is a specifically English body that has exact equivalents in Scotland and Wales, which are not mentioned.

As I understand it, the list has its origins in section 507 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, which allows the five bodies to claim back income tax as if they were charities. The relief for the British Museum and the Natural History museum is long-standing and goes back to the early 19th century.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not do this deliberately, but I do not want him to mislead the Committee. English Heritage is not a London-centric body and its representatives in the north-west met me in my constituency office last Friday to talk about its work in the north-west region.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I stand admonished by the hon. Gentleman. I was specifically referring to the British Museum and the National History museum, both of which are London-centric in a narrow geographic sense. English Heritage obviously covers the whole of England, and its equivalent bodies—Historic Scotland, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments—perform the same function of conserving and preserving historic monuments and castles in Wales and Scotland. I am glad that he clarified that point.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England were respectively established in 1980 and 1983, when specific provision was made for their tax relief. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts was established under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, and again provision was made for it to enjoy tax relief.

The probing amendments list equivalent organisations in Wales and Scotland, although one

could have extended the list to include bodies in Northern Ireland—for example, the board of trustees of the Ulster museum. National Museums and Galleries of Wales is a registered charity and Scottish Natural Heritage is a recognised charity, and they would both be covered by the clause. The position of National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums of Scotland and similar organisations such as the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Scotland, which have talked about satellite sites in the past and could be involved in land transactions, is unclear, and I have been unable to ascertain their charitable status.

The potential unfairness is clearest in the tax treatment of bodies equivalent to the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, such as Historic Scotland and Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments. Unlike in England, those bodies are Executive agencies of the devolved Administrations and as such would be exempt from stamp duty involving transfers from other public bodies under clause 66. By definition, many of the acquisitions made by those two organisations would be from private individuals, in which case the English body—the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England—would enjoy a tax advantage not offered to the equivalent organisations in Wales and Scotland charged with the conservation of heritage.

About 20 castles, including Leeds castle, Shrewsbury castle and Bolton castle, are in private ownership. If the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England were to acquire those castles, it would enjoy tax relief under clause 67. However, Braemar castle and Inverkip castle, Ayrshire—

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

The Castle of Mey is an interesting case. Since 1996 it has been owned by a charitable foundation, which would count as a private person in the law. The tax exemption would not apply to Historic Scotland acquiring the Castle of May. Carreg Cennen castle in my constituency was famously sold in the 1930s by the Earl of Cawdor to cover a gambling debt. He forgot that the castle, which is currently privately owned, was within the plot of land that he was selling. If Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments wanted to acquire it—this would apply to Cardiff castle, Caldicott castle, Gwynedd castle and any other privately owned castles in Wales—tax duty relief would not apply. I cannot imagine that the Government would want to appear to be putting a greater intrinsic value on the historic heritage of England than that of Scotland or Wales.

I stress that these are probing amendments, but I would be grateful if the Chief Secretary would confirm that the same tax relief will apply for acquisitions from private individuals by organisations in Wales and Scotland that are the equivalent of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Chief Secretary, HM Treasury, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Under section 507 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, a shortlist of five well-known bodies is entitled to the same reliefs from tax as

charities. Clause 69 makes those bodies exempt from stamp duty land tax. Generally, they were established for purposes that are in the national interest, but they cannot as a matter of law be recognised as charities because they are only semi-independent of central Government. I stress that that is why they are dealt with in a specific way for income tax and why clause 69 does the same thing for stamp duty.

The bodies are not on the list because they are in any way especially worthy or more important than bodies that have been omitted. Many more bodies could be added to the list, as is reflected in the amendments, but the five bodies need a specific rule because as a matter of law they are separate corporate bodies that are not able to attain charitable status. Most other contenders for the list, including some of those proposed in the amendments, do not need to go on the list because they are charities or have charities associated with them.

For example, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) mentioned the castle of May. I thought that his comment would be the precursor to his sharing with us the names of palatial homes in the vales of Tatton. We heard so much in an earlier sitting about the arrangements for the acquisition of one such home that I had hoped we might hear more.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I take particular interest in the subject, as one of only two Members of Parliament whose constituency is named after a historic building—the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) being the other.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Chief Secretary, HM Treasury, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

That is very interesting—yet another reason to go to Tatton. When the Committee adjourns, having served the public so selflessly on the Finance Bill, it really ought to pay a visit to Tatton to see not only the hon. Gentleman's palatial residence but the historic building.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I recommend that my right hon. Friend visit Tatton—it is a delightful place—but the hon. Member for Tatton might care to reflect on the fact that the name Knowsley derives from the home of the earls of Derby, which is in my constituency.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Chief Secretary, HM Treasury, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Tatton via Knowsley, or Knowsley via Tatton—I cannot think of a happier prospect. Either way, the journey will be extremely pleasant.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Of course, my right hon. Friend would be more than welcome in Knowsley. He would be warmly received there.

Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Chief Secretary, HM Treasury, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Don't go there.

The activities of the five bodies listed in the clause are as much of public benefit as the activities of bodies that are able to attain charitable status; hence, a special rule in the 1988 Act. The clause puts stamp duty land tax on an equal footing with the other taxes for those bodies, and I commend it to the Committee.

The amendments are well-meaning—and the bodies to which they refer are very worthy—but I hope that the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) will be satisfied by my explanation as to why they are not necessary. As I explained, the list in clause 69 is based on the list in section 507 of the 1988 Act.

The National Museums and Galleries of Wales is a working name adopted by the body incorporated as the National Museum for Wales. As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, that body operates a number of museums in Wales, not just the national museum and gallery in Cardiff. The National Museum for Wales is a corporate body, established by royal charter in 1907, with a renewed charter adopted from the 1907 charter in 1991. The amendment would be effective only if it referred to the National Museum of Wales, rather than the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, since that latter is a working name rather than a legal one.

I can confirm, however—I am sure that this will satisfy the hon. Gentleman—that the museum is treated as being established for charitable purposes by the Revenue, so it falls within the current stamp duty exemption. That is confirmed by the museum's most recent annual report for 2001–02 in section 1.11, and has also been confirmed to me by the Inland Revenue. The museum is also regulated by the charity commissioners as charity No. 525774.

Assuming that the activities of the museum do not radically change in the near future, and I cannot believe that they would, there is no reason why the museum should not fall within the relief in clause 68 following the enactment of the stamp duty land tax. I hope that that sets the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. Amendment No. 119 would be superfluous.

The Inland Revenue has also advised me that, in practice, Scottish Natural Heritage is already treated as being established for charitable purposes, and it therefore falls within the current stamp duty exemption. Once again, there is no reason to suppose that that will not continue under the modernised regime. Historic Scotland is an agency of the Scottish Executive and should therefore be covered by the relief in clause 107(2), to which the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr referred.

The other two bodies listed in the amendment are not charities, but have charities associated with them. Amendment No. 206 is therefore also superfluous, and I hope that, having had an interesting debate prompted by the amendment, the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw it.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon 2:45 pm, 10th June 2003

I have no interest in any of those bodies now, but I used to be the trustee of the Toure collection housed in the national gallery of Scotland, so I used to have an interest.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

With the confirmation that the Chief Secretary has generously provided, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.