HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1915-20

In Subsection (2) of Section three of the principal Act (which empowers the trustees to accept certain property) all the words from "who is or," to the end of the Subsection, shall be omitted.—[Sir C. MacAndrew.]

Sir Charles MacAndrew

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

At present the trustees are required to accept any money left to them by anyone who is or has been a Member of the House of Commons, but we are not entitled to receive money from anyone else. It seems to me that if anyone is good enough to leave money to this Fund there is no reason in the world why we should not accept it. Anyway, I can see no reason. Perhaps that is because I am a Scotsman, but I can see no sense in not accepting a bequest left by someone who does not happen to be a Member. If the trustees are left by a Member or ex-Member any property or real estate investments, we have to realise them as soon as maybe and re-invest them in authorised trustee securities. This Clause also makes it possible to remove that restriction. I am not trying to make a party point of this, but everyone in this House knows perfectly well the inflation which is now going on. We see it every time we go to buy something, and anyone left property or land or anything else of that kind, would not in their senses cash it now. As a trustee I can see no sense at all, if we are left any property, that we should not operate it and keep it until such time as we think it right to sell. The trouble is not prices rising but the value of the pound falling. Who would today take money out of real estate and put it into trustee securities, if he could do anything else? I hope the Committee will agree to allow us to accept money that is offered to us, and allow us freedom to invest it as any prudent man would.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

This is a domestic matter, and the Committee will come to their own decision, but I am empowered by the Government to say that they have looked at this proposal. It does seem to the Government to involve certain risks which were considered when the original Act was passed and gifts were confined to those from Members and ex-Members. We do feel that that limitation was a reasonable one, and that it would be a pity to depart from it. This is, as I have said all through, a House of Commons Members' Fund; we subscribe to it among ourselves; we fix our own rules; we have even gone so far as to rob ourselves of any chance of getting Income Tax rebate on the amounts we subscribe to the fund. We feel—it is for the Committee to decide, but the Government feel—that it would be wise to retain the original words in the original Act, and for the fund not to accept gifts from outsiders.

This is a small point, but if this new Clause were accepted, a further amendment to the Bill would be necessary. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has forgotten that the Third Schedule of the original Act deals with powers of investment. If the new Clause were accepted as it stands, it would be necessary to amend that Schedule. However, we feel that the Committee would be wise to reject the new Clause, and that it would be much better, more straightforward and more dignified not to accept it.

Sir C. MacAndrew

What about investment? Would the Government be prepared to accept the latter part of the new Clause, and allow us to retain real estate left to us by an ex-Member?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Again, that is a matter for the Committee to decide, not for the Government. I am simply acting for the Government in taking the view—which I think correct—that, as we are piloting the Bill through, it is our business to make to the Committee suggestions which it is for the Committee to accept or reject as they think fit. If we think it not right and open to objection for the Fund to accept gifts from outsiders, then quite obviously there is an objection to such gifts whatever the kind of property involved.

Sir C. MacAndrew

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has read the new Clause. There are two things here. At the present time we cannot accept property from people other than ex-Members or Members. That is one matter. The other is, we cannot keep real estate. Would the Government be willing to allow us to keep real estate rather than realise it imprudently? I gather they are not going to allow us to accept money from outside sources. Will they allow us to keep property left us by Members or ex-Members? Suppose that I died and left the House some property. Would the House be allowed to keep it, or must the property be sold while inflation is going on?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

The words in the original Act are "as soon as may be." The realisation of the property might not be made until some considerable time after it was left to us at death—for most gifts of this sort would presumably be bequests. The matter would require careful thought, because, clearly, that property should not be got rid of on the spur of the moment by a forced sale when, by holding on to it, something better might be got for it. I think the original words cover that. If I may give my own view, I think it would be invidious if ex-Members began to leave real property so that the Trustees found themselves gradually and increasingly involved in managing estates. That would be open to considerable objection and the Trustees could possibly not want it.

1.30 a.m.

Mr. Pritt

I would like to say one word in support of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. In regard to the question of holding real property, the right hon. Gentleman is right in regard to the ordinary English administration of a trust. I am speaking only of England; I do not know about Scotland. If property is left to a trust, it can be held for a very considerable time. That rather contradicts the other observations about the undesirability of holding property. If you say they can hold it for a considerable time, then they are holding it. Certainly it is right that at times they should hold real property. It would be better if the right were expressed, though I do not think there is very much difficulty about the original Act. On the main point of why we should not accept gifts to the Fund from outside, if we are going to accept gifts, and I see no reason why we should not, why money should be considered clean from inside the House and non-kosher from outside, I cannot understand. We should take gifts from anybody.

Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)

I hope this Clause will be accepted. The Fund is the responsibility of all Members of this House. The purpose is to give certain payments to ex-Members who happen to fall on hard times. Surely if we are shouldering that responsibility in an equitable manner and paying the same contribution while we are Members, and the Member who finds himself at the other end of scale when he retires wants to make a further contribution to help his comrades whom he left in the House, there is no reason why he should not make that contribution. He makes it on the acceptance of the principle on which the Fund is based, and because fate has dealt more kindly with him when he is retired, he should not be debarred from making a further contribution to help those whom fate has not treated so well.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

The hon. Gentleman does not quite understand. The existing position is that there is nothing to prevent any ex-Member from leaving property for the benefit of the Fund. The new Clause seeks to widen that provision in order that we can accept gifts from others as well. Ex-Members can do it now. I suggest to the Financial Secretary that in this domestic matter, in view of the opinions expressed on both sides of the Committee, he might consider this matter. We have just passed a provision, by a slender majority of two votes, by which noble Lords in another place can benefit from our own fund. Ought we not therefore to allow noble Lords in another place to make a little contribution to us? It seems to me to be a reasonable thing to do. In view of what has been said on both sides of the Committee, will not the Financial Secretary consult with his colleagues about this provision, or accept it now?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am in the hands of the Committee. I have no feeling on the matter one way or the other. It is for the Committee, not for me, to decide. If it is the wish of the Committee, we shall accept it. But I should point out that it will require some further Amendment to provide for the fact that the Third Schedule definitely lays down the securities in which the Trustees may hold stock.

Sir C. MacAndrew

Let us have it.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Captain Crookshank

If I am in Order I would like to move, "That further consideration of the Bill be adjourned," in view of the fact that we know that there has to be an Amendment made on the Report stage, and in view of the fact that it is very late and that one of the Amendments was disposed of by a majority of only two votes in a Committee of fewer than 100 on a domestic matter.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I hope the House will not agree to this suggestion. It is true that we have had a discussion upon a number of new Clauses tonight, but I do not think they have been greatly controversial. It is true that, as I have already indicated, we may have to make some change in the Third Schedule; but it is obvious that that can be done in another place. We are getting quite near to the Recess, and it will, I think, be to the advantage of all concerned—and the chairman of the Trustees will, I imagine, bear me out in this view—that we should get this Measure at the earliest possible moment. I can see no reason why we should delay the matter beyond tonight. Unless hon. Members have a lot to say, I imagine that the proceedings can be over in quite a short time; then we can go home. I suggest that we take the Third Reading, and that we make the Amendment in another place.

Captain Crookshank

I think it would be most objectionable that in a domestic matter the House of Commons should rely upon an Amendment being made in another place. I cannot conceive that there is any urgency in this matter between today, or tomorrow, or the next day, in the passing of this Bill. I do think that in this domestic matter we should adjourn further consideration till another day, so that we ourselves may deal with such Amendment as may be necessary. Quite apart from that, the House as a whole may very well wish to consider a matter of its own domestic concern which was only defeated by the small majority of two votes. The right hon. Gentleman has said several times that this is a House of Commons matter, not a Government matter. As a House of Commons Member, not speaking from the Front Bench, because I move two paces when necessary, as the Lord Chancellor does in another place, I hope we may now adjourn the matter, and leave it for another day. It is quite improper at this time of night to be told that an Amendment is necessary and that it will be made elsewhere, when the other place has nothing to do with our domestic arrangements.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Very well. Again, this is a matter for hon. Members to decide. The alteration is a very small one, and not one of principle. If it is the view of the Committee that we should postpone further consideration, who am I to object? I readily fall in.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Wednesday and to be printed [Bill 85].