§ Entertainments Duty within the meaning of Section one of The Finance (New Duties) 2826 Act, 1916, shall not be charged on any payments made for a programme or seat at a musical performance provided by a local authority in any public park or open space.—[Major Henderson.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time.". This arises from the provisions of the Finance (New Duties) Act, 1916. When the Act was passing through the House on 17th April, 1916, the present Member for South Paddington (Sir H. P. Harris) moved that a Sub-section be added to the Bill as follows:Nothing in this Section can be deemed to impose any Entertainment Duty on nominal payments made for a programme or seat at musical performances given in any public park or open space.The Home Secretary of that time, who was in charge of the Bill, said in reply:I do not think the duty would attach in the case to which my hon. Friend refers. 2827 If you pay for a programme you do not pay for admission, and if you pay for a seat in a place in which you are entitled to stand you are not paying for admission either. In any case, in administering the Act there is no intention to administer it in that way."—[0FFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1916, Col. 2157, Vol. 81.]The proposal to add the Sub-section was thereupon withdrawn. Later on, in answer to a question, it was stated by Mr. McKenna thatIn the case of band performances in public parks the Entertainments Tax is not leviable on any payment made merely for the use of a chair, provided such payment is not made, directly or indirectly, for admission to an enclosure, but when the arrangement of the chairs is such as to constitute an area reserved for the occupants of the chairs, the payment must be held to be a payment for admission to an entertainment and is subject to tax accordingly.If the chairs are not within an enclosure—at all these public performances there are chairs inside and outside the enclosures—the chairs outside do not pay anything. The arrangement of chairs in question, which has been in operation for years, is such as has been found from experience to be the most suitable in the circumstances, as it facilitates the collection of the charges and adds to the comfort and convenience of the audience. In view of the large numbers which attend the performances no other arrangement is practical. If people are allowed to move their chairs all over the place it is obviously much more difficult to collect the charges made. It would be easy for a man, when he saw the collector coming round, to move to another place, and later to return to his original place. I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can possibly make any difference between chairs placed in an enclosure and chairs placed outside, because in many cases they are only a few feet apart. The real importance of this Clause is that these musical entertainments in the parks are of an educational nature. They have a great moral effect and they attract to public places a lot of people who in many cases have very little to do and keep them out of mischief. For these reasons and owing to the fact that these entertainments educate the public into a taste for good music I feel that they should not be liable to this particular form of duty. There is a provision at present which exempts 2828 educational entertainments in certain circumstances, one of which is that the entertainment is not conducted for profit. These entertainments are not conducted for profit. In the case, for instance, of the corporation of Glasgow, they do not cover the cost, and the balance is imposed on the rates by the Parks Assessment. If this particular duty was taken off it would lighten the rates, and when it was put on it rather discouraged local authorities. The only reasons I can see which can prevent the Chancellor accepting my proposal is that this might entail a serious loss of revenue, and I do not believe that is the case, and secondly, that it might cause cinema proprietors to say that he was giving special preference to local authorities in the case of entertainments. This Clause stands in my name and in the name of the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Newbold) That hon. Member cannot be here this afternoon. He is, as the Committee knows, the one Member in the House who is very much interested in cinemas, and he wished me to say on his behalf and on behalf of that profession that they have absolutely no objection to an Amendment of this kind, because they do not consider that it is a question of competition.
The acceptance of this new Clause would lead to results which I am sure the hon. Member who moved does not contemplate. It might for instance lead to a charge being made in the Royal Parks, where music is provided by the First Commissioner of Works. I do not dwell on that, and I submit that the hon. Member has not made out his case. No tax is charged where the payment received for a seat or for a programme is not regarded as payment for admission to the entertainment, and accordingly a tax is not levied on payments for moveable chairs scattered about Hyde Park or other parks, even though a band may be playing in the neighbourhood. But if seats are within an enclosure, or are so arranged as to constitute an area reserved for their occupants, then the payment for any such seat is taken as payment to an entertainment, and the tax is levied accordingly. Similarly, if the admission to the enclosure can only be obtained by a charge for a programme, the programme becomes the equivalent of a ticket of 2829 admission, and is subject to tax. My hon. Friend's motion would draw a distinction between payment for a seat within the enclosure and payment for admission, and would render the tax nugatory. He referred to the case of cinema proprietors or cinema palaces. It may interest him to know that one proprietor attempted to evade liability by advertising that admission to the hall was free, and that payment was only charged for a seat. A somewhat similar attempt was made by a proprietor of a pierrot show at a watering place. In both those cases proceedings were taken and the defendants were convicted. The cases point not only to the danger of recognising any such proposal as my hon. Friend suggests, but to the probability that if I were to accept this new Clause all musical performances provided by local authorities in any public park or open space the basis of admission would be arranged so as to escape liability to the tax. Probably if I made an exception in one case I should at once be confronted with cases over the border-line, which would become an ever-widening line until the tax, which is so far a tax, and which is a profitable tax, would be eaten into and destroyed. Exceptions are now made for educational and some other objects.
I could not include general music in the parks to be educational merely because it happened to be provided by local authorities. I do not think that is possible. I do press the Committee not to endanger the revenue derived from this tax by encroaching further on it. If we were to make concessions of this kind it would make the tax absolutely unworkable and destroy the whole revenue from it. We are not in a position to forego this revenue. I hope my hon. Friend will think that I have made out a good case why he should not press this Amendment, and that he will not think me unsympathetic with the desire and effort of public authorities to provide music in public places for the enjoyment of our people.
§ Mr. MILLS
I cannot agree with the Chancellor's statement. I regard the provision of music by local authorities as a great educational influence. I can speak from my own experience in this 2830 matter. People who cannot afford to go anywhere else can gather in open spaces, and if they are enabled to listen to good music it is certain to have very good effects. For that and for the further reason that I am absolutely opposed to putting on to the public this form of indirect taxation, I support the proposal.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.
§ The CHAIRMAN
In regard to the two Clauses proposed by the hon. and gallant Member for the Shettleston Division of Glasgow (Rear-Admiral Adair) ("Duty on meals served in restaurants" and "Entertainments Duty"), the first one would be a tax on the subject, and cannot be moved except by a Minister of the Crown, and would require a resolution in Ways and Means. The next one proposes a new schedule. Not being an expert in this matter, I had to consult the best expert available to me, and he informs me that this, too, would involve a fresh charge on the subject, which also would require a Ways and Means Resolution.