HC Deb 19 July 1927 vol 209 cc373-7

I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

This Clause does away with the very small relief granted by the Finance Act of 1907 to certain classes of property. I do not wish to weary the House by going into any detail, nor could I argue whether this relief remains part of the Statute law of the land by an oversight or because it was part of the bargain or condition upon which a settlement of Estate Duty was done away with, but I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider whether he cannot leave this small relief in existence, for two reasons, and for two reasons only. One is that this relief, although a small matter, is of some value to that section of the com- munity upon which the burden of Estate Duty falls admittedly with special hardship. It is especially severe because of the very small ratio the revenue from settled land, particularly rural real property, bears towards its capital value upon which Estate Duties are assessed, and when it is out of the power of a tenant for life to dispose of the property it is very hard that he should have to bear an additional heavy burden, because the property, which is out of his disposition, is aggregated with his own private property for the purposes of Estate Duty. My second reason for framing the Amendment is that my right hon. Friend has on snore than one occasion stated that the whole incidence of the Estate Duties upon rural property requires reconsideration and revision and that he hopes to undertake this task shortly. With a general revision of the question pending it is rather hard to remove a relief, however small, from that section of the community that suffers more severely than any other from the incidence of Estate Duty.

Commander WILLIAMS

I beg to second the Amendment.

On a former occasion the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in referring to this Clause, said it was simply one to remove an accident, and that because it was only a little accident which did not very much matter, we should accept it and pass it. He told us the whole amount of the revenue involved is about £300,000. He naturally wished to do his best not to make it bear more hardly on the taxpayer than was necessary, but in his Budget statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us it would come to £1,000,000. When he comes to actual definite figures he gave £800,000 as the full result of one years revenue. But the argument that has been given on two occasions for the passing of the Clause is that it is an accident, that it had escaped the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer and that it ought to be remedied at present. It never was an accident. It was deliberately left out in 1894, and it was deliberately left out again in 1900, when it was laid down very clearly by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach that this Clause is the outcome of a careful inquiry by very competent persons, and never has been an accident. It is really not in accordance with the dignity of the House to maintain that all Chancellors of the Exchequer, from Lord Oxford, the leader of the Liberal party, right down to the predecessor of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, have really allowed this accident to go on. I think really it has gone on because of the very justice of the case that has been raised by my right hon. Friend in proposing the Amendment.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given away very little during the Budget Debates—nothing that will cost the Exchequer very much. Here is a Clause which is unjust and wrong and which has never been proposed by any of his predecessors, and surely, at the end of the Report stage, he might do something to help the Unionist and Conservative party by giving them some small comfort for the work they have done in supporting him so loyally throughout the whole of these Debates. I ask him to remember, at any rate, that this Clause goes absolutely dead against one of the great principles of our party, and that it will do no good and must inevitably do a great deal of harm to employment in this country.


I think my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer felt that he could hardly trust himself after the eloquent appeal of my hon. and gallant Friends behind me, and he has, therefore, entrusted me with the duty of resisting the Amendment moved at this late hour from the benches of the Tory party. I am not sure that I could conscientiously carry out that duty if I thought that by accepting the Amendment I should be doing anything for the Tory party. I do not think that Members of the Tory party should go on the dole. It is not necessary again to explain the historical reason for this particular anomaly which is being removed by this particular Clause, which my hon. and gallant Friend has asked to be deleted. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Torquay (Commander Williams) referred to it as if it was an accident, and said we had been defending our action all through on the ground that the particular anomaly had been overlooked by an accident, and he gave a number of dates to show that it was not so. My hon. and gallant Friend entirely misunderstood the ground upon which we are basing our action. No one ever suggested that in the years to which he referred there had been any accident at all. The point is this, that in 1914 when the whole basis of the liability of certain lands to Estate Duty was reviewed and overhauled and put upon a completely new footing, these particular lands—and they are comparatively few in number—were not in point of fact dealt with. There was no reason why they should not be dealt with and from that time, undoubtedly, it has been through an oversight that this anomaly has continued up to the present time. An appeal has been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on two grounds. The first was that there was a special severity of burden resting on settled property. I admit that is so. I admit that that species of property has a very strong claim for reconsideration with regard to taxation and perhaps for legislation.

The whole point here which is overlooked is that we are not dealing with settled property as a whole, but merely with a very few settlements that happen to have been made before 1894. Any particular burdens which may be upon them, or any economic difficulties which have been referred to have no force when brought forward against a proposal for dealing with these particular settlements on exactly the same footing as every other settlement. A statement has been attributed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which it is said he asserted that the whole principle of the Estate Duty required reconsideration and review. That may very well be the case, but that cannot be a reason for singling out settlements which are merely exceptional, and saying that those particular settlements which were made before 1894 shall be treated for the purposes of taxation on a totally different footing from other settlements which in the year 1914 were placed upon a new footing which was intended to cover all settlements, and which does not apply to any one class of taxpayer, They are really asking for the continuation of an exceptional privilege which is placed upon a very small section of the property.


The Government are in a very humiliating position. We have seen a revolt of Members on the Conservative benches, and this has created a position in which we have been told the whole Conservative and Unionist benches are in danger. I rise to take part in this discussion in order to make a suggestion which may take the Government out of their difficulties. My suggestion is that in order that there may be time given to the Government to get some harmony in the ranks of their supporters I would like to move the Adjournment of the Debate until the Government are able to get the support of its own Members in this House.


Is the Motion for the Adjournment not accepted?


I cannot accept that Motion.

Amendment negatived.