HC Deb 29 April 1892 vol 3 cc1737-43

Order for Second Reading read.

(11.35.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I have to say it only touches a few cases and a very small part of a subject which has received a good deal of attention in past years. There are a few cases in which directions have been given, by will or otherwise, for the accumulation of the rents or profits from property, and the investment of such profits in the purchase of land. Owing to the alteration of the circumstances under which land is held, from those obtaining when the direction was given, very great inconvenience is found to arise there from, and it is proposed to limit the accumulations for the purchase of land to the period of the minority of the person who, under the trusts of the instrument directing the accumulation, would be entitled to receive the rents, issues, profits, or income of the property if of full age. The Bill will touch only a limited number of cases, and I now ask the House to read it a second time, for I think no question arises that may not be dealt with on the Committee stage.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir R. Webster.)

(11.36.) MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

I hope the House will consent to the Second Reading. The Bill has a useful purpose, and deals with a need much felt in the country. Although, as the Attorney General is well aware, it does not go to the full extent of the evil to be remedied, certainly it is a Bill which ought not to be opposed.

*(11.36.) MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

I am not surprised at the praise given to the Bill by the hon. and learned Member opposite; but I am surprised that this Bill should have been brought in by the Government. The Bill certainly has a rather misleading name. I should have thought it would have been better described as an "Accumulations in Land Prohibition" Bill. But it may occur to hon. Members to wonder why people may accumulate everything else out land. The day, I suppose, has gone by when the wishes of a testator received respect and consideration, and I suppose it would be considered an anachronism now to say that some regard ought to be paid to the wishes of a man who made sacrifices in his lifetime for the benefit of his successors, and to get back the land which had gone from the possession of his family. I am not interested in the possession of land, but I do say that nothing can be more calculated to destroy the value of land than such a Bill as this. We are told there are some cases in which the Bill might be useful; we are told of the altered conditions of land; but those who made arrangements for their property after their death on behalf of those they wished to benefit must be supposed to have had some knowledge that land might rise or fall in value. It seems to me there is no reason, because land has now fallen in value, why all the wishes, all the sacrifices men have thought it right to make during their lives for those they loved and wished to benefit, should be completely ignored and disregarded. Of course, I know it is not in my power to stop the progress of the Bill, and therefore I confine myself to suggesting a slight alteration which I trust the Government may agree to. The offence aimed at by the Bill is the dire offence of attempting to accumulate land. Now, if it is an offence—and I will suppose it is a gross offence—I cannot see why the offence which is created by the instrument under which the land is accumulated requires a provision such as this in the Bill. A man may not leave the rents and profits of property to be accumulated for the increase of the area of his land. By law the profits are not to be used to buy land; but why, if land is not to be accumulated, may not the rents and profits be allowed to be accumulated in some other form? You allow a man by any instrument to provide that after his death the accumulation of profits shall be invested in stocks of all kinds; but you say this shall not be the case in the matter of land; but why should not the rents and profits from land be accumulated in the way of investment in stocks? That would prevent the mischief—if it be mischief, though I cannot conceive how it is so—at which the Bill aims. I wish to ask the Attorney General if he will consent to a slight Amendment putting an end to accumulations in the way of land, but allowing people who happen to die possessed of land, and wish to increase their property for the benefit of those who are interested in the same way us those who have been more fortunate and have invested in stocks, to re-invest the interest and profits derived, if not in land, in certain specified stocks? I express my regret that the Bill has been brought forward, and I cannot understand what is the great mischief that is deemed to be met by it. I think it is lamentable that the wishes of those who during their lives have made great sacrifices for the purpose of accumulating property for the benefit of those in whom they are interested should be utterly disregarded and ignored.

*(11.40.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I am glad on this occasion to support the Government in what I believe to be a step in the right direction, and I trust that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not allow the Bill to become a farce by accepting such an Amendment as that which has been suggested. Although this is a very small Bill, it is a step in the direction of free trade in land, and I hope it will be carried into law without being mutilated as proposed.

*(11.41.) MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

This Bill is of a very peculiar character, and deserves, I think, a little more explanation than has been given to it. The Thellusson Act has been in force for a long time, and I think it is only right, before we are asked to alter an Act which has been so long in existence, and which on the whole has worked well, that we should have some explanation of the cases which have arisen, and which make it necessary to introduce these alterations. I am not aware that there are any greater objections to instruments directing the accumulation of profits to be invested in land than to the accumulation of funds to be invested in any other way. We are entitled to some kind of explanation why this particular form of investment is objectionable. But I specially call attention to Clause 2, and, assuming that there is something obnoxious in investing accumulations in land, and that it would be proper to direct that trusts, so far as they require this particular kind of investment only, should be void in the future, that is not the way to treat existing trusts. The fault, so far as we can judge from the Bill, is not that accumulations are wrong, but the mode in which the accumulations are directed to be invested is objectionable. The remedy, then, is not to declare that the direction for accumulation shall be void, but that the direction for this particular form of investing the accumulations shall be inoperative. Surely it is a sound principle to say you ought not to affect trusts more than is necessary to carry out the object of this Bill; and the object of this Bill is, for some unknown reason, to declare that accumulations shall not beyond a certain period be invested in land. Then why not limit the change to preventing the mischief which is supposed to arise, directing that trusts shall be so far modified as to allow investment in other ways to which there is not this great objection? I hope we may hear from the Attorney General that he will be prepared in Committee to consider whether the Bill can be modified to this extent.

*(11.45.) MR. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)

I think explanation is sorely needed both by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson), and also by the hon. Member for Camberwell (Mr. Kelly), and I think it is just as well that some explanation should be attempted to be furnished from this side of the House, as none appears to be forthcoming from the Treasury Bench. My own view of the reasons which have led to the introduction of this Bill a Bill to which I do not object—is this: that, emanating from a Tory Government, we may naturally suppose it is an emanation from those who have landlord interests at heart, and not only these, but the interests of landlords' descendants. What I believe has induced right hon. Gentlemen to introduce the Bill is this: they say the pestilent Radicalism of modern times is certain to reduce the value of land; and they say that it will be a very horrible thing if, as time goes on, noble Lords and those who possess a great deal of land will go on making wills, as they have continued for generations to do, directing that profits shall be invested in the accumulation of more land. The result will be that noble Lords and their descendants will be compelled to go on buying land in what right hon. Gentlemen know very well will be a falling market, until the Radicalism of modern legislation, the coming legislation, has the effect, in the near future, of reducing land to its real agricultural value in contradistinction to the fictitious value it has hitherto possessed, and which to some degree it possesses at present. In the absence of all voice from the Government, this is the explanation I, from below the Gangway, venture to offer to hon. Gentlemen behind the Treasury Bench.

*(11.47.) SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)

Some explanation is required of Clause 2. It appears to be retrospective in its operation, and we ought to know whether that is intended or not? I have no objection myself to either of the clauses; but I think we should pass the Bill with our eyes open, knowing whether or not it will affect trusts created many years ago.

*(11.47.) SIR R. WEBSTER

Only by the indulgence of the House can I answer the questions which have been put. First, in reference to the question raised by the hon. Member for Camberwell (Mr. Kelly), of course, it he proposes an Amendment in Committee stage in reference to any direction to be given as to what is to be done with the money which otherwise ought to be invested in land according to the will or instrument, that Amendment will be carefully considered; but it is difficult to say off-hand whether we could accept until we see the way the condition is imposed, and how far it agrees with the object of the Bill, which is to alter the law, and put an end to the accumulations of land by trusts created for that purpose. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson) asks what is the necessity for the introduction of the Bill, and perhaps I ought to apology for not having made a longer statement in moving the Second Reading; but when I remembered how this matter has been discussed twice in the last two Sessions on a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Cozens-Hardy), and by my hon, and learned Friend the Member for the Wellington Division of Somerset (Mr. Elton), when the matter was gone into very thoroughly, I could not conceive that hon. Members had forgotten these discussions; but had I known there was any wish for further information, I would have endeavoured to have fulfilled that wish by making a more lengthened explanation. My hon. Friend also raises the question as to the disposition of the income which otherwise would be invested in land. It is a question for the House to decide whether, accumulations in land being no longer permitted in the way provided by the testator, the profits should take some other form of investment, or should go to the person who would be entitled thereto, had there been no such direction. It is part of the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell. The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Sir W. Foster) asks whether the second clause is retrospective in its action, and, as I understand, it is so intended. If, however, in the view of the House it ought not to apply to trusts other than those created after the passing of the Act, then the operation of the clause may be so limited; but I frankly say that the clause as it stands will take effect against all future accumulations even though they might arise under trusts created before the passing of the Act. Should the view be taken that the claues should not be retrospective, that view may be developed by Amendments in Committee. I would have directed my explanation more to details if I had thought that had been expected; but I thought, in view of what has taken place before, that was not necessary.

Motion Agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.