HC Deb 01 April 1947 vol 435 cc1995-2003

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill,"

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It may be difficult to convince Members opposite that some of us attach enormous importance to this Bill, but as we listen patiently to many things that move them deeply so I think we might have some consideration in return. I do not propose, after the lengthy protest that we made about what we regard as a bad Measure, to detain the Committee very long on this Clause, which deals with the Trafalgar Estates. The Financial Secretary said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Treasurer of the Navy—an office now merged in the Paymaster-Generalship—are trustees, not of the annuity, but of the estate. That is true, but many of us feel that the two trusts are deeply intertwined, and that is why I made reference then to them on Clause 1. With regard to the estate, the right hon. Gentleman said that the holders of the title of Lord Nelson will be advantaged by this Clause, because they are now free from any ban on selling or developing the estate. We are not here making our protest out of any particular consideration for whoever may be the Lord Nelson of the day, although he is as much entitled to personal protection as any other citizen of this country. What we are concerned about is the question of principle—and on that we have made our protest on Clause 1—and also the fate of a fine and historic estate, with a magnificent house, and that arises now on Clause 2. It may be true that the owner of the estate at the moment may now be free to develop the estate and turn it into anything he likes; he may be free to sell it brick by brick to the United States to buy those thing that the Government in their wisdom think should have the highest priority; but this would not be, to us, a worthy national purpose. Therefore, I have risen to ask the right hon. Gentleman what it is proposed to do with the Trafalgar Estate, and what has happened to the negotiations that we understand have been taking place between Lord Nelson and His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

As I indicated when we were dealing with an earlier Clause, Clause 2 deals with the Trafalgar Estates, which were bought, as I have already indicated, with £99,000 which was granted by the House for the purchase of a mansion house and lands going with it, in which it was hoped the successive Lord Nelsons would live. That is an entirely different thing from the proposed pension with which we have just been dealing. Under an Act which was passed in 1813, it was definitely laid down that no holder of the title could bar the entail, and therefore, the estates have been entailed to successive holders of the title from that time until now. It was felt, when this Bill was being discussed before its introduction, that it would be unfair to the Nelson family to take away the pensions and not give the holder of the title some easement so far as the sale of the estate was concerned, and, therefore, Clause 2 was put into the Bill. It is, as I have already said, beneficial to the Nelson family in that the holder of the title can now, if he is so minded, sell the estates, although the funds which will accrue from any sale which may take place will have to be held under the Settled Lands Act, 1925, in trust, but the trustees can be of the Nelson family's own choosing. It will not be, in the sense that it is now, a public trust. It will be a private family trust, and in that sense they will be able to deal with it as they will.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) asked me whether the suggestion that this mansion house should be put to some use by the nation had come to any conclusion. The position is that negotiations have been going on, but that, unfortunately, no conclusions have yet been reached. The Committee already knows there was a suggestion that this mansion might be used for the Admiralty as a centre for training young sailors, or for some other purpose connected with the Royal Navy, or with the dependants of men who have served in the Royal Navy, but these suggestions, and others of their kind, have not come to anything so far.

Mr. Bracken

Sir Ben Smith is not going to buy it, is he? The right hon. Gentleman need not look so worried

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I was not worrying at all, but I was thinking if the "Financial Times" wanted to make a generous gesture through its chief proprietor, I am sure the Nelson family would only be too delighted, supposing the price were good enough, to come to terms with the right hon. Gentleman. I can only say that we still think it may be possible to arrange for the house to be used for one of the purposes suggested during the Debate on the Second Reading, but that I can make no very hopeful report at present.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) asked a question and I permitted the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to reply to that question. However, on consideration, I do not think that the future of the estate comes within the purview of this Clause, which really deals with legal aspects.

Mr. C. Williams

I will endeavour, of course, to keep as closely as possible to the legal aspect of the Clause and I should like to ask a question or two on it. The right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury explained—and I think that this is a legal as well as a technical matter—that the estate is now no longer one which is a national trust, but one which comes into the hands of the private trustees. May I ask, if that is so, at this moment before the Bill passes, is this estate subject to Death Duties; and when it becomes a private trust will it be subject to Death Duties? It is going to make a tremendous difference if by the passing of this Clause the estate is made subject to Death Duties. I think that point is worthy of consideration, because if it is subject to Death Duties the generosity about which we have heard so much just now is not anything like as big as it might have been.

The next point with which I should like to deal is in regard to the trustees. I think we are all clear that there are official trustees at the present time. I should like to ask whether any wish has been expressed that we should no longer have any connection between the historic estate and the estate administered by these new trustees, when the official trustees are abolished by this Clause. There are certain other things in this Clause about which I am not clear. I should like to ask what is meant by this phrase in Clause 2 (1): Provided that nothing in this subsection shall affect the limit imposed by law on the number of trustees for the purposes of the Settled Land Act, 1925. So far as I can see, under this Clause we are dealing only with limited trustees. Is there any reason to put this in the Bill at all? I think that the Bill is strong without it, though I am not a law adviser of the Government. I would like some information on the point from one of the Law Officers. I see that the principal Law Officer is present and the second Law Officer is here, too, but I do not see the unofficial law officer in the Committee tonight. Surely from the principal Law Officer or his deputy I can have an explanation of this matter. I think it might be helpful and that a good number of other Members might like to know something about it. It seems to me to be a point of substance, and for that reason I must press for some explanation.

12 m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Briefly the answer to the hon. Gentleman is that under Section 5 (5) of the Finance Act, 1894, these estates were not subject so far as the principal was concerned, to Death Duties. The Death Duties payable were only payable in so far as the life interest of the tenant for the time being was concerned. The question asked was whether the provisions of Section 5 of the Act of 1894 will continue to apply to the estates now that this change has taken place. I am advised that it will—that the tenant in possession will continue, under the trust which will be set up, to enjoy the provisions of Section 5 of the Finance Act, 1894. As far as Clause 2 (3) is concerned, I hope I shall not be asked to delete that because there is a good deal of meat in it. It is under that Clause that the Nelson family are going to enjoy the new benefits of freedom to sell the estates if they so desire.

Mr. Williams

I always try to be courteous, and I am sure the Committee would wish me on this occasion to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary for the way he has answered this question. I want to go further than that on this occasion and say that the right hon. Gentleman has treated this matter in a kindly way.

Captain Marsden (Chertsey)

I think we ought to hear a little more about Clause 2. It seems to have been gone through very rapidly. I understand that the Clause did away with the official trustees, so that Lord Nelson and his brother could appoint their own trustees, and under those new conditions they will be allowed to sell this property. The Financial Secretary has half handed it over already, or at least he thinks he has. He has told us about using the House for Admiralty purposes or for sailors. Has he any authority for saying such things? I think they are most improper. I suggest that the Government should do this thing differently. If they are going to take away Lord Nelson's gratuity, why not give him a job with the Coal Board? The remuneration he would receive would enable him to maintain his position with the dignity which our predecessors expected him to have.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

12.5 a.m.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)

I have not spoken on this Measure, and the House need not be afraid that I shall detain them long on this occasion. It is right, however, that I should state my opinion about it. This is a squalid little Bill, characteristic of the squalid little minds who devised it. I cannot attach quite so much importance to it as some of my hon. Friends do. I do not see why Parliament should not, in its wisdom or unwisdom, alter or terminate arrangements made some 150 years ago. What I cannot understand is why it cannot do so decently generously. I cannot understand why it is not considered honourable in this House to pay proper compensation for what is being done. I would point out that the actual cost to the Treasury would be negligible owing to the incidence of Death Duties and Surtax. I imagine that the net gain to the Nelson family would be extremely small indeed. I am driven to the conclusion that this Bill is characteristic of much of the policy we are asked to approve at the present time. It is introduced, not for its own merits, but simply for the purpose of wasting Parliamentary time.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I do not think that question arises on the Third Reading, which, as the hon. Member knows, is confined to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Hogg

I was trying to confine myself to what is in the Bill. We have been gagged and guillotined on every kind of Measure, but not on this. We have been guillotined on the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill but not on this.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member must keep to the subject-matter of the Bill, otherwise I must ask him to resume his seat.

Mr. Hogg

The provisions of this Bill are not designed to expedite Parliamentary business. I say no more than that the Bill has been introduced for the purpose of wasting Parliamentary time.

12.9 a.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

I should like to ask whether, in. passing this Bill, we are not forgetting the fundamental fact that we are breaking a solemn promise made by Parliament some 150 years ago. I may be old-fashioned, but I think a promise is a promise. There is no doubt that 150 years ago Parliament wished this pension to be in perpetuity, and it is therefore, highly undesirable that this Parliament should say that that is not to be the case. A promise is a promise, and I feel that that is the only thing that matters in this Bill.

Major Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

No, I am sorry. There can be no argument about this. [Interruption.] I wish to repeat that—I feel it absolutely essential that when a solemn promise has been given we should support that promise, even 150 years later.

12.12 a.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I rise simply because of the indecent sneers which we have heard from the other side of the House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken was sincerely voicing his opinion when he said that this Bill represented the breaking of a solemn promise. That is a view that may or may not commend itself to hon. Members of this House. But it is, clearly, held with great sincerity, and I think it is a poor day for this House and a poor day for this country when expressions of opinion of this nature are greeted with sneers and jeers from the little minds opposite.

Major Poole

The hon. and gallant Gentleman who was greeted with sneers and so on by the rest of the House, did not give way to allow me to ask him a perfectly simple question.

Hon. Members

Why should he?

Major Poole

Because it is common courtesy in this House to give way.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

May I say I did not give way to the hon. and gallant Member because I wanted to say what I was going to say very shortly. If I appeared discourteous I am very sorry.

Major Poole

I entirely accept that. All I wanted to do was to ask the hon. and gallant Member a perfectly simple question. Would he, on the basis of his argument, give us a categorical assurance that in no circumstances would any Conservative Government—if ever there should be a Conservative Government—repeal or alter any of the legislation passed by this Government?

Hon. Members

Do not worry.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I cannot say whether there will be a Conservative Government or not—I have my own views on that subject—but I still think that a promise is a promise, whether it is made by a Conservative, Socialist, or a Liberal Government. That is all there is to it.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The House divided: Ayes, 173; Noes, 58.

Division No. 120.] AYES. [12.15 a.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Gilzean, A. Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Gordon-Walker, P. C. Moyle, A.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell) Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) Nally, W.
Attewell, H. C. Grierson, E. Neal, H. (Claycross)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Barton, C. Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Bechervaise, A. E. Gunter, R. J. Noel-Buxton, Lady
Beswick, F. Guy, W. H. O'Brien, T.
Bing, G. H. C Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Oliver, G. H.
Binns, J. Hale, Leslie Paget, R. T.
Blackburn, A. R Hall, W. G. Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Blyton, W. R. Hannan, W (Maryhill) Palmer, A. M. F.
Boardman, H. Hardy, E. A. Pargiter, G. A.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Herbison, Miss M. Parker, J.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Hobson, C. R. Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Holman, P. Paton, J. (Norwich)
Bramall, Major E. A. House, G. Pearson, A.
Brown, T. J (Ince) Hoy, J. Piratin, P.
Burden, T W. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Plaits-Mills, J. F. F.
Burke, W. A. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme) Popplewell, E.
Byers, Frank Irving, W. J. Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Callaghan, James Janner, B. Randall, H. E.
Carmichael, James Jeger, G. (Winchester) Ranger, J.
Champion, A. J. Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Reid, T. (Swindon)
Cooks, F. S. Jones, J. H. (Bolton) Rhodes, H.
Collins, V. J. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Robens, A.
Comyns, Dr. L. Keenan, W. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.) Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E. Rogers, G. H. R.
Corlett, Dr. J. Kinley, J. Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Daggar, G. Kirby, B. V. Royle, C.
Daines, P. Lang, G. Sargood, R.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Lee, F. (Hulme) Sharp, Granville
Davies, Clement (Montgomery) Leonard, W. Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lever, N. H. Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lewis, J. (Bolton) Shurmer, P.
Diamond, J. Lindgren, G. S. Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Dobbie, W. Longden, F. Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Driberg, T. E. N. McLeavy, F. Simmons, C. J.
Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Skeffington, A. M.
Dumpleton, C. W. Mathers, G. Smith, C. (Colchester)
Dye, S. Medland, H. M. Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mellish, R. J. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Middleton, Mrs. L. Stubbs, A. E.
Evans, John (Ogmore) Mikardo, Ian. Swingler, S.
Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Foot, M. M. Mitchison, G. R. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Gibson, C. W. Monslow, W. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Thomas, George (Cardiff) Weitzman, D. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton) Wells, P. L. (Faversham) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Ungoed-Thomas, L. Wells, W. T. (Walsall) Willis, E.
Usborne, Henry West, D. G. Wills, Mrs. E. A
Vernon, Maj. W. F White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.) Yates, V. F.
Wadsworth, G. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. Zilliacus, K.
Wallace, G. D. (Chistehurst) Wilkins, W. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.) Willey, F. T. (Sunderland) Mr. Collindridge and
Warbey, W. N. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland) Captain Snow.
Watkins, T. E. Williams, D J. (Neath)
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W) Rayner, Brig. R
Baldwin, A. E. Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H. Ropner, Col. L.
Baxter, A. B. Lambert, Hon. G. Scott, Lord W.
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J G Linstead, H. N. Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Challen, C. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Smithers, Sir W
Channon, H. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Spence, H. R.
Clarke, Col. R. S. McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Crowder, Capt. John E. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Cuthbert, W. N. Marlowe, A. A. H. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Drewe, C. Marsden, Capt. A. Thorp, Ll.-Col. R A. F
Eccles, D. M. Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Ward, Hon. G. R.
Eden, Rt. Hon. A. Maude, J. C. Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter Mellor, Sir J. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Gage, C. Molson, A. H. E. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G. Neven-Spence, Sir B. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Patrick)
Grimston, R. V. Nicholson, G.
Hogg, Hon. Q. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hope, Lord J. Ramsay, Maj. S. Mr. Studholme and Major Conant.
Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.

Question put, and agreed to

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.