HC Deb 29 June 1915 vol 72 cc1743-5

The Death Duties (Killed in War) Act, 1914, shall have effect as respects the present War as if it applied to property passing on the death of any person whose death has been, or shall be, caused by an act of war on the part of the enemy forces on sea or land although such person may not have been subject to the Naval Discipline Act or to military law.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

Last year we passed an Act allowing certain deductions from the Estate Duty on the estates of those killed in the War. The measure of that rebate was founded on a calculation of the probable expectation of life. It is not a very liberal allowance, and at the time we passed that Act we had had no experience of peaceful citizens being killed by an act of war, and I do not know that this was even contemplated at that time. Since then we have had a number of citizens killed by means of raids from the sea, and I think a few have been killed by bombs. We have also had the cases of those persons who were passengers on the "Lusitania" and the other merchant vessels which have been torpedoed and sunk, and the passengers have perished in consequence. It seems to me a small act of justice to allow in those cases where the Death Duties become payable at a time which has never been contemplated before, that the estates should be entitled to the same favourable treatment granted by the Death Duties (Killed in War) Act, 1914. The amount involved is very small, and the number of persons in the case of the "Lusitania" whose estates would be affected would not be considerable. Consequently I think it would be an act of justice to those who have sufiered from what was undoubtedly an act of war, although they were not belligerents.


I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Clause. In the case of those coming under the Naval Discipline Act, or military law, a strong appeal was made on the ground that it is undesirable for the State to make money out of the death of men who volunteered for the service of their country. A very strong expression of opinion—sympathetic to those who have volunteered to serve their country—was made particularly at the time when casualties were very numerous, and therefore the Government agreed to the moderate concession of last year. To extend that concession now is to reopen the whole argument. A person who is killed by a Zeppelin, or by a bombardment from the sea, is killed by a mere accident, and that particular person may not be serving his country. In fact, so far from doing that, he may be doing something detrimental to this country. You cannot tell who is killed. It may be that the person killed may not be at all a deserving citizen, whereas in the case of the Army and Navy there was a strong appeal made on behalf of those who were serving their country. I think it is quite a different consideration to say that we should give relief from Death Duties to a person who is killed by accident, even though the cause of the accident is something done by the enemy. It is not as if such a person was doing any action on behalf of the State. Although we sympathise with such a person being killed, he is not at the time in the performance of a State duty. Therefore, I do not think we ought to extend this concession which was given to members of the forces, to those who are the victims of accidents, because there is no real analogy between the two cases. For these reasons I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will not press his new Clause.


I will not press the Clause, but I am not in the least convinced by the arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to me, and, of course, I respond, but I should have responded to his appeal without this argument, and perhaps more readily.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.