HC Deb 30 July 1951 vol 491 cc1102-6

"(1) The Minister may by order direct that sections five and six of this Act shall not apply to ironstone specified in the order, being ironstone an interest in which is held on the date of the order on charitable trusts or for charitable purposes.

(2) No order shall be made under this section after the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and fifty-two.

(3) An order under this section may be made so as to take effect from the date of the order or from such earlier date as may be specified therein."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.—[Mr. Dalton.]

Mr. Powell

While I hope that the House will agree to this new Clause, I think it should be pointed out that there is a certain illogicality in making this concession in favour of land held by charitable trusts and expressly withhold it from other owners of mineral-bearing land. There is no real analogy between what we are doing in this Clause and the tempering of the wind of taxation to the shorn lamb of charitable trusts. The whole basis throughout of the levy under this Bill upon the ironstone landowner has been that he had a duty towards the restoration of the land which he had, in the past, failed, or partially failed, to carry out and, therefore, it was proper that from his compensation under the Act of 1947 a certain amount should be recovered for the purpose from the Ironstone Restoration Fund.

Now we are proposing that a particular class of landowners, if they are deemed in the past to have carried out their obligations properly, are to be excused from the necessity of a reimbursement. But there is really no logical ground for distinguishing between this type of landowner who is to be excused, and any other landowner of mineral-bearing land, who has properly carried out his obligations as a landowner. I take this Clause as an admission on the part of the Government that there is an inherent injustice in the provisions of the Bill so far as the landowner is concerned.

Mr. Molson

There are two observations I want to make and one question I wish to ask. The first observation is that, however glad one may be that special treatment is being accorded in proper cases to charitable trusts, this levy partakes of the nature of a tax. This was, indeed, implicit in an argument used on behalf of the Government in another place, where it was pointed out that charities are exempted from some taxes. The end does not always justify the means, and for a Minister to have the power of exempting from a tax which falls upon other members of the community a certain category of persons or charities who otherwise would be compelled to make this payment, is, I think, on principle highly objectionable.

The second observation is that there appears to be a certain inconsistency in the attitude of the Government at the present time in making this exemption in favour of charities, but in the case of the principal Act, the Act of 1947, when a number of hon. Members on this side of the House urged that land belonging to charities should be freed from the obligation to pay development charges, that was resisted by the Government on the ground that there was no justification for trying to distinguish between charities and other members of the public.

The question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is this. Am I right in understanding that when these great and, as I think, rather objectionable powers are being taken by the Minister, it will be necessary for any order to be made by him to give effect to this and that the positive assent of both Houses of Parliament will be required?

Mr. Assheton

I rather think this Clause owes its origin to an Amendment moved in another place by Lord Samuel. Although I wholly agree with the points raised by my hon. Friends behind me, both of whom raised points of considerable substance, we are here going along the road we have travelled before. That is the road of conceding to charities certain advantages not conceded to other members of the public. I am glad to see justice done even to charities, and on those grounds I would recommend hon. Members on this side of the House to accept their Lordships' new Clause.

Mr. Dalton

It might be convenient for me to make an observation. The right hon. Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) was quite correct. Lord Samuel proposed the Amendment in the House of Lords and, after consideration, the Government accepted it. Therefore, I advise this House to accept the Clause.

There is a consequential Amendment later to Clause 36, which will enable any Order made under the provision to be annulled by Resolution of both Houses, which is the negative procedure, and the Minister, whoever he may be—I, or it may be another, although the Order operates only until the end of 1952 because we want to clear the matter before the payment out of the £300 million; it is a short-term power to be exercised by the Minister—will be subject to the negative procedure of either House.

There are many cases in our law of a preferential treatment of charities in respect of taxation. When these cases were deployed, as in another place by the noble Lord, I felt that he made a convincing case and, without speaking at great length on the subject, I would mention the Income Tax Act, 1842, which gave substantial exemptions to charities from tax on their endowments, which are still enjoyed today. More recently, the Income Tax Act, 1918, exempts land belonging to a large range of charities from Income Tax, and Corporation Duty, which is a substitute for Death Duty, does not fall upon charities that are expressly exempt.

The War Damage Act, 1943, which is analagous in extent, because this is a peace damage Act, granted exemption from war damage contribution to a considerable range of charities. It seems reasonable that the Minister should have power to exempt from this contribution such charities as may seem to deserve exemption, particularly in the light of their conduct as landowners in relation to the restoration of land.

I hope, therefore, in view of the control that will be exercised by either or both Houses of Parliament, and the fact that the period of exercising orders is only until 1952, that the House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite and myself that we should accept this Clause.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not object to the Clause, and I hold the noble Lord who was its author in very high respect. It is, of course, quite true that there are many precedents in Income Tax law and elsewhere for the preferential treatment of charities, but what is really inconsistent, and I think this was in the minds of my hon. Friends, is the treatment accorded in this section of this planning Act compared with the treatment accorded in the principal Act of 1947.

There a sharp distinction is drawn between charitable land held for investment purposes and charitable land held for functional purposes, and the only relief from development charge is for land held on charitable purposes. That distinction seems to have gone in this Clause, which refers both to land held on charitable trust and for charitable purposes. I am wholly in favour of the way in which it is now dealt with, but it does seem regrettable that it should not have appealed to the Government in this light in Section 85 or Section 86 of the 1947 Act.

Question put, and agreed to.