HC Deb 11 June 1947 vol 438 cc1229-33
Mr. Keeling

I beg to move, in page 41, line 14, after "where," to insert: a lease of land is granted to any governing body constituted for charitable purposes if the land which is the subject of the lease is to be occupied and used by such body for the purposes of that body or where.' The object of my Amendment is to exempt charities from the doubling of the Stamp Duty on leases granted to them. Charities have been badly hit during the past few years. They have had many premises requisitioned, and others have been acquired compulsory. They will have to acquire new ones and will be caught by the doubling of the Stamp Duty. Their expenses generally have risen steeply and the yield from their investments has dropped. Many investments have been seized by the State and they have been given in exchange cut-throat compensation terms. Finally, benefactors have been discouraged by last year's Finance Act from giving covenants, because under last year's Act covenants no longer attract exemption. I understand there has been a big fall from Surtax in the number of fresh covenants, and renewals. Now they are being struck this further blow by the doubling of the Stamp Duty.

The Government have on several occasions denied that they are unfriendly to charities. The Chancellor has said he is friendly to them. All I can say is that he has been very skilful in dissembling his love. My Amendment is specially in the interests of those charities which look after children deprived of home life. The Curtis Report urged that this particular kind of charity should seek smaller and up-to-date new premises. I am told that one of the largest of these charities, Dr. Barnardo's Homes, has in the last twelve months acquired 14 new buildings, and will have to acquire many more if it carries out the policy of the Curtis Report. These new buildings, although smaller, are not small enough to get the preferential rates for small buildings provided for in the Bill, and will, therefore, be heavily hit by the doubling of the Stamp Duty. What I have said about children's homes applies to many other charities.

We have, in Clause 41, exempted charities from increased Legacy and Succession Duties. It is possible I may he reminded by hon. Members opposite that one or two of my hon. Friends opposed that. I am not embarrassed by that, because the case for exempting charities from these increased Stamp Duties is, I think, much stronger than that for exempting them from increased Death Duties. The reason is that when a charity gets a legacy it is, so to speak, "money for jam"; but it has to acquire leases, and there is no doubt that this increased Stamp Duty on leases will deter charities from acquiring up-to-date premises. In conclusion, may I say that I am not sure whether my Amendment is perfectly drafted, because I see that the Clause refers to "lease or tack," whereas my Amendment does not refer to "tack." Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deal with that point when he replies, and explain to us the difference.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

I should like to reinforce from a slightly different stand-point what my hon. Friend has said. When I first saw these provisions, and the point was put to me about charities and religious bodies, I did not think at first sight that there was much in it. I asked for some information. My informants were the Church of Scotland, and I was very surprised to be told that the Amend- ment which preceded this, and which was not called, would have meant a difference of about £7,000 a year to the Church of Scotland in Stamp Duties of this character. One would not have thought that the amount was so much, and I cannot help thinking that the reason the Government have allowed the concession in the case of legacies, but not in the case of Stamp Duty, is that they were under a misapprehension also, and thought that the amount at stake was comparatively small and that it was hardly worth while to make the exception in favour of religious, charitable and public bodies. I cannot imagine there was any other reason for drawing this distinction. There does not seem to be any logical reason.

I can see that there might be a practical distinction, that one amounted to a substantial burden on these bodies and the other did not. But now that it has been made plain to the right hon. Gentleman that in the case of charities commonly so called, and in the case of churches and other public bodies, the burden is really substantial, I hope he will import into this Clause the same concession as he has already given in the Clause dealing with the Legacy Duty. I would only say, in conclusion, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is well aware, particularly in regard to the Church of Scotland, of the very large loss it is suffering in connection with the nationalisation of the railways, and to put another £7,000 on top of that would be a crippling blow which I cannot believe the right hon. Gentleman really intends to impose on our national Church.

Mr. Dalton

It is the case, as has been stated, that in the matter of the Legacy and Succession Duties we have deliberately left unincreased the duties upon bequests to charities, including, of course, the churches. It is our wish to do nothing to diminish that net flow after taxation of bequests to charitable purposes. It is also true that the argument cannot be resisted that in so far as that was a right thing to do in the case of the Legacy and Succession Duties, it would not be a wrong thing to do it from the same point of view with regard to the Stamp Duty, and make a similar differentiation there. The argument of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) is that we should leave untouched the Stamp Duty falling on this class of legacy. While the words need not be accepted, I am quite prepared to accept the Amendment, and to put down on the Report stage suitable words to give effect to that point.

With regard to "tack," I am advised very recently—and I am sure competently advised—that "tack" is Scottish for lease and that is confirmed, I believe, in the Stamp Act. I have not had the opportunity of verifying that, but I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) will support my statement. There are two Amendments and we are quite prepared to make that wording cover both. I should merely add that it would be out of Order to go into a discussion on the compensation Clauses of the Transport Bill or any other Bill of that kind. However, I have defended, and would be prepared to defend again, those Clauses in a right setting. It is not our intention to penalise the churches, either the Church of England or the Church of Scotland, or indeed any religious body who is left property, and as far as these churches are concerned, I am glad to accept the suggestion contained in the Amendments.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I should like to express my personal appreciation of what the Chancellor has said, particularly having regard to the correspondence which we have had in the past with regard to the difficulties in which religious bodies find themselves in connection with these bequests. I should like to ask him whether that assurance which he has given to the Committee covers the second Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and myself, namely, in page 41, line 38, at the end, to insert: (c) to any conveyance or transfer of land either on sale or operating as a voluntary disposition, inter vivos, in any case where the conveyance or transfer is to a governing body constituted for charitable purposes and the land conveyed or transferred is to be occupied and used by such body for the purposes of that body.

Mr. Dalton

What I hope is that the Amendments dealing with this matter will be withdrawn, and I will undertake to put down on Report stage an Amendment which, I hope, will give satisfaction to those who have been associated with these Amendments on the Order Paper. I do not want to pledge myself to the exact words, but our purpose is the same.

Mr. Keeling

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.