HC Deb 18 June 1941 vol 372 cc783-5

The estate of any person killed in action, dying of wounds received in action, or killed when on civil defence duty, shall be exempt from all Death Duties. —[Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive (Ludlow)

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

I am putting forward this new Clause on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). It seem to me rather mean that, when a man or woman loses life in the service of the country by enemy action, the Treasury should demand Death Duties in exactly the same way as if life had been lost in the ordinary course of events. Most people to whom the proposed new Clause relates have died at an age when they would normally have many years' expectation of life. I imagine that the Treasury estimate the amount of money likely to be received from Death Duties, but deaths on active service must upset those calculations very considerably and must mean that the Treasury receive a great deal more money than was estimated. I suggest that the Treasury might forgo the sums received by the deaths of people who have lost their lives as a result of enemy action, and that their heirs should not be required to find these sums when suffering such bereavement.

Captain Crookshank

This matter was raised last year, and I spoke on it then. While not exactly repeating what I said then, I must take exception to one word used by my hon. and gallant Friend, quite by inadvertence, I am sure. He said it was rather mean of the Exchequer to exact the same Death Duties in the case of those killed in action as at other times. Well, we do not. It is not the same. The present law, as a matter of fact, so far as concerns relief for those killed in the Armed Forces and Mercantile Marine, is the same as in the last war. It has all became part of the general law, namely, that those who are under the rank of full sergeants or chief petty officer receive complete exemption from all duties, while in the case of those of higher ranks exemption from duty is provided for the first £5,000 of an estate and for relief to the remainder, the amount depending on the age of the deceased, provided that this estate passes to the widow or certain other near relatives. That is to say, the expectation of life is taken into account in the calculation. That is the law which has been on the Statute Book for some time, and it is the same sort of relief as was granted in the last war.

Since the war began we have extended the same provision to merchant seamen by the Act of last year, and this very Bill, Clause 37 of which went through without any discussion, makes a further large extension in the direction which the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants. We have already enacted, and have put into the Bill at this stage, provisions for those who are killed as a result of enemy action, and not only for Civil Defence workers but for the civilian population as a whole. The relief is extended by Clause 37 to the estates of all persons who are killed as a result of operations of war, whether engaged in Civil Defence duty or not, so we are going a good deal further in that direction than the hon. and gallant Gentleman had in mind. His Clause referred only to persons killed when on Civil Defence duty, whereas we say, not only on Civil Defence duty, but if they are killed as the result of operations of war, they will get the same relief as is applicable to the Armed Forces and the Mercantile Marine. There are some modifications of detail, the only one which I need mention being that death must take place within 12 months of the injury, because of the difficulty of certifying. There is no Department which is in a position to make a statement definitely on that point. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will see that while we cannot go all the way with him in removing all Death Duties from such estates, we have already gone a long way in extending the present concessions to the whole field of the population who may suffer death from enemy action. Seeing that that is the position, I hope my hon. and gallant Friend, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman for whom he moved this Clause, will agree that we have gone a long way in these difficult times. Everyone would wish to do so, because, after all, nothing in the way of tax remission could possibly recompense those whose relatives are killed, or could possibly assuage their grief. But this is something which can be done on the material side by this House, which in any case would extend to those so bereaved our sincerest sympathy.

Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive

I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for what he has said, in view of which I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

First and Second Schedules agreed to.