HC Deb 11 June 1951 vol 488 cc2145-59
Mr. H. Strauss

I beg to move, in page 22, line 6, to leave out "or university," and to insert: university or college in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to take this Amendment and the next two Amendments standing in the names of my hon. Friends and myself—page 22, line 14 and page 22, line 40—together, if that is agreeable to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Clause which we have now reached is the one which—

Earl Winterton

On a point of order. I understand, Major Milner, that you intend to call my Amendment, which deals with a slightly different but analogous point from that which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) has moved. Indeed, I understood that the two Amendments were to be called together. Perhaps my understanding was wrong.

The Chairman

I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I am very much in the hands of the Committee. I do not know the precise details of the Amendments. They appear to me to fall into two groups, but if the movers are agreeable, I am perfectly content, and it would possibly result in a saving of time if they were discussed together. Is the hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) agreeable?

Mr. Strauss

I am ignorant of my right hon. Friend's Amendments. I shall only speak about the three Amendments in the names of my hon. Friends and myself, but if the Chancellor thinks it convenient to make this combination of all the Amendments, I will, of course, bow to the wishes of the Committee.

Mr. Gaitskell

I think it would probably be to the convenience of the Committee if we could take those Amendments together. I certainly wish to cover them all in the statement I make.

Mr. Strauss

This Clause, as explained by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in his speech on Second Reading, goes some of the way to carrying out certain proposals of the Gowers Report. It is designed to further the interest of preserving some very valuable properties, and I think that it is generally agreed that the provisions of this Clause are beneficial, and they have, I think, been very generally welcomed.

I am proposing a slight extension because I believe that extension to be necessary if the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is to achieve its purpose. Both the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleague the Financial Secretary to the Treasury are members of Oxford colleges, as I am myself, and I think we all three know, as do many other hon. Members in various quarters of the Committee, that Oxford and Cambridge Universities consist largely of their colleges.

4.0 p.m.

A loyal son of Oxford or Cambridge, if he were thinking of leaving a historic house to be looked after by Oxford or Cambridge as the case might be, would not leave it to the university but to his college. I see another former Fellow of an Oxford College in the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland), and I might perhaps mention his College of Trinity which still preserves the beautiful home, Wroxton Abbey, of the founder, Sir Thomas Pope.

I think it would be generally agreed that a loyal son of Oxford or Cambridge wishing to leave his historic property to be looked after, as he hopes, in perpetuity, would be more likely to leave it to his college than to the university.

Mr. Messer

What about Borstal?

Mr. H. Strauss

I think this is a serious subject and I hope hon. Members will try to be serious about this matter.

The first reason for moving this Amendment is that, without an Amendment such as this, the admirable intentions of the Chancellor will miss their mark so far as Oxford and Cambridge are concerned. If I turn from that to the proposed recipients of these bequests, the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, of course, perform many of the functions performed in more modern universities by the universities themselves. They provide the whole of the housing for the students which, in modern universities, is provided in hostels established by the universities. If it is relevant I could satisfy the Chancellor, though I am certain his own investigations confirm it, that the contribution of the colleges to the finance of the universities is enormous.

Another point the Committee may wish to bear in mind is that the sales of real property or disposals by Oxford and Cambridge colleges are completely under the Government eye and the jurisdiction of the Minister of Agriculture, under the Universities and College Estates Act, 1925. I could give the figures of the contribution the colleges make to the universities if that were considered relevant, but I do not wish to do so now because I do not think the Committee would consider it material.

A further point is the great experience of Oxford and Cambridge colleges in looking after and adequately upholding great and beautiful buildings. If the main idea the Government had in mind in this Clause was, as I gathered from the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the Second Reading of the Bill, to help to preserve those buildings with which the Gowers Report dealt—though the Government do not propose to carry out all the recommendations of the Gowers Committee—I think that this Clause is an admirable one so far as it goes; but that it needs this extension to carry out and make really effective the Government's excellent intentions.

Earl Winterton

I certainly agree, of course, with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) about the case of colleges and I am in thorough support of his Amendment. But if there is a case made out—and I think he has made it—for applying this principle to colleges, then I think the extension of the principle which I suggest in the first two Amendments on the Order Paper in my name to insert "local trust" after "authority" is equally made out. Without saying anything derogatory to his Amendment, I think my case is more important, for the reasons I shall show.

I shall not bother the Committee with the history of the case, but there has been in recent years, in successive Finance Bills, an extension of exemption from Death Duties on property given to the National Trust. According to my information, it began with the Finance Act, 1931, by Section 40, where any estate in land was given or devised by any person to the National Trust and was held by that Trust inalienably for the public benefit, the Treasury might remit any duties leviable on the death of that person and in case of remission such property was not to be aggregated with any other property. Then in the Finance Act of 1937 by Section 31 (6), Where the requirements … of section forty of the Finance Act, 1931 are fulfilled … the estate or interest shall be exempt from any duties which might … have been remitted by the Treasury. By Section 31 (1) of the same Act exemption from Death Duties was granted notwithstanding that the devise to the Trust was subject to life interests.

Again, in the Finance Act, 1949, by Section 31 (1) the exemption granted to an estate or interest in land given or devised to the National Trust was extended to any other property, for example, an endowment fund, given as a source of income for the upkeep of the land. Everyone knows what is in Clause 29, which we are now discussing.

I suggest to the Committee that there is a principle of some importance here involved—that what is permitted to the National Trust in the way of exemption should also be granted to societies which are designated in the third Amendment I have down on the Order Paper which says the expression "local trust" means an incorporated trust established for objects which include promoting encouraging and fostering the study science and knowledge of archaeology in any specified county or counties, acquiring or securing the preservation of buildings and places of historical or archaeological interest value natural beauty or public resort therein and forming and maintaining a depository for papers and records connected therewith. Briefly, the societies which would come within the ambit of my three Amendments would be the archaeological societies or preservation societies not being part of the National Trust and which exist in many parts of the country. I should hate to refer to a matter with which I am personally concerned, though I have no financial interests in it, but I must tell the Committee that we have an archaeological society in Sussex of great merit with which a great number of well-known archaeologists are connected. We have quite a number of properties. We own Lewes Castle, Anne of Cleves' House in another part of the country, and three or four other properties. They are no doubt of benefit to the public who visit them for a small fee and in some cases have to pay no fee. The purpose of my Amendments is to ensure that we are put in the same position as the National Trust.

I might quote—because this is symptomatic or rather typical of what is being done by these societies—from what is being done by the particular society to which I have just referred to, the Sussex Archaeological Society—in the case of Lewes Castle Keep. The Society are the owners of Lewes Castle Keep, which is a most prominent landmark in an ancient town of great historic interest. This is an extract from the report of the Pilgrim Trust for 1950—not from our report: The Sussex Archaeological Society has more than a century of widely varied activity to its credit. During the past 25 years, by means of a trust formed specifically for the purpose of holding properties, it has been doing for much of Sussex what the National Trust does for the country as a whole, and so by voluntary effort is caring for some important monuments of the kind maintained in many areas at the taxpayers' expense by the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate of the Ministry of Works … In other words, we are performing as a voluntary duty work which in other parts is being done at the expense of the taxpayer.

It is a most pleasing experience for me, after 46 years in the House, to be able to make a speech of this kind in a lengthy Sitting without being interrupted or being called to order by the Chair. I seem to recollect through the mists of time about 42 years ago the Chairman saying, "I have already warned the noble Lord twice that he is completely divorced from the subject, and I must now ask him to resume his seat." It is a pleasing experience for me to find no apparent dissent from the Committee, not even from those who are in a very somnolent condition, as they are bound to be at this hour of the day. I hope that in view of the agreeable nature of the subject and in view of the genial manner in which I have discussed this Amendment, it will be accepted.

Mr. Profumo (Stratford)

While agreeing with everything that has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss), I rise to support the eloquent and crisp speech made by my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), for it is that side of the Amendment to which I should like to refer. In all quarters of the Committee we appreciate the stress under which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Attorney-General have been during these long weary hours at this stage of the Finance Bill. I see that one of them nods his head and the other shakes it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That symbolises the Government.

Mr. Profumo

I do not wish to be controversial. I only want to make this point. I hope that their fatigue and strain will not anaesthetise them from appreciating what may at first sight appear to be a somewhat small point. In fact, this is not in any way a small point. This point rests on a very fundamental principle indeed, and it is one which is not unknown to hon. Members opposite. It is a principle which is evoked on many occasions on their platforms—the principle of fair shares. We feel that this concession which is being offered by the Government in this Clause should be fairly shared between all the organisations which fall into the category which the Government are seeking to aid.

May I use a piece of military jargon and say that the objects of the exercise in this case appear to me to be twofold: first of all, to induce people to bequeath property to organisations by allowing a rebate of Death Duties, these organisations making us of that property in the national interest and in the interests of the community. The second purpose would appear to me to be to see that the legatees shall in fact secure such property without financial embarrassment. In these respects my noble Friend and I believe that this Clause does not go far enough. It may have been an oversight in the drafting of this Clause, but we believe that if the Clause remains as it is, then the omission will operate in a highly detrimental manner to the particular organisations which we would have included in this Clause, namely local trusts.

If these local trusts are left out of this Clause, they will continue to be in a position whereby they are not attracting all the legacies which they might otherwise attract, for two reasons. First, there is no inducement to members of the public to leave property or land to those local trusts because there is no alleviation of Death Duties; secondly, anybody considering leaving a piece of land or property will be frightened that the organisation concerned, the local trust, might be financially embarrassed after their death. This provision could undermine the whole of the finances of certain incorporated trusts.

4.15 p.m.

When the Exchequer are considering at any time any form of concession, the first point on which they have to order an inquiry is what the total cost may be to the Treasury, what financial burden will rest on the Treasury if they bring in the concession. When in the past my hon. Friends have sought concessions from the Government, the first thing they are always told is that it would be much too expensive. It is with a sigh of relief on this beautiful afternoon that I am able to say that the financial side of this matter is not germane.

The Government are seeking to alleviate from Death Duties properties which are bequeathed to universities, local authorities and Government Departments. Let us take them one by one. There are a score or more of universities. The cost involved to the Exchequer thus far cannot be inconsiderable. In the case of local authorities there are hundreds of them and, therefore, the financial loss to the Exchequer may be very considerable indeed, and if we go on to the category of Government Departments no one can tell how they may spread. If Socialism goes on, one cannot tell how many Government Departments there may be and what may be the loss to the Treasury.

There are, however, only five of these incorporated trusts concerned which we seek to have included in this Clause. There are the Shakespeare Birthday Trust, the Oxford Preservation Trust, the Cambridge Preservation Trust, the Sussex Archaeological Trust to which my noble Friend referred, and the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. Those are only five trusts and, therefore, it seems to be a pity to spoil a good ship for a ha'p'orth of tar.

My particular interest in this case concerns the Shakespeare Birthday Trust. This Trust was incorporated in 1890 and has been doing work of a very similar nature to the National Trust ever since. Its purposes are to own and administer properties in connection with William Shakespeare and his family, and to receive gifts of properties with a view to preserving the amenities in the vicinity of the Shakespeare buildings.

I think the Committee will appreciate that my constituent—for although he may be disenfranchised, he is still living—William Shakespeare, is one of the greatest dollar earners which this country has today. Therefore, it is of considerable importance that the Shakespeare Birthday Trust, which is the centre of the whole shrine of Stratford-upon-Avon, should have the possibility of maintaining the glamour and aura which surrounds this great centre of culture in which our own people can enjoy themselves and to which they can make pilgrimages, and to which overseas visitors may go and be certain of being in the surroundings in which the great bard himself lived.

I want strongly to support the Amendment and to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether at the end of what we might call "midsummer night's dream" we could expect that he would rise and say "As far as this Clause is concerned it shall be 'as you like it.'"

Mr. Gaitskell

The hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo), who was kind enough to be solicitous for our health, might like to know that I shook my head because I did not feel that I deserved the solicitude. It was my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General who, with his usual courtesy, patience and lucidity hour after hour, conducted the proceedings on the last Clause, and who nodded his head.

I think it is rather pleasant to have this little interlude between the battles and to be discussing something on which I do not think there is much disagreement. As far as I can see, there is general support in the Committee for the main idea behind this Clause, which is, of course, to enable the Treasury to waive payment of Death Duty where land—that includes houses—or endowments have been left to a Government Department, a local authority or a university, as it is enabled to do in the case of the National Trust; and also to provide that it may also waive Death Duty where the contents of a house are bequeathed to any of those bodies, including the National Trust. The Amendments have put forward the proposal that the list of public bodies in whose respect Death Duty may be waived should be extended. There are two things I should like to say on this.

First of all, I should like to remind the Committee, in case there is any misunderstanding, that the purpose of the Clause is, of course, not to confer benefits on any public authority, college, university—or even trusts, however admirable they may be: it is to enable historic houses, and perhaps the grounds with them, to be preserved, and their contents, too. Therefore, again in case there should be any misunderstanding, I must say that I think that we can take it that there will be no question of any of the beneficiaries of these gifts benefiting financially from them. On the contrary, it is extremely probable that, before the Treasury would give its consent, it would have to insist, unless there were a substantial endowment, that the body concerned should, perhaps, itself pay some money to ensure the preservation of the house.

The second point is this. I feel myself that it would be quite impossible to limit the list to the colleges situated in Oxford and Cambridge to start with. As the hon. and learned Member for Norwich, South (Mr. H. Strauss) said, in, moving the Amendmeint, I was at an Oxford college myself, but I should certainly wish to include London, where I taught for many years; and I think that there is quite a number of other universities as well that would take it very ill indeed if they were excluded. I do not think one can very well stop just there. I have indeed had some correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has pointed to the claims of the Churches in this matter, and the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo) have, I think very rightly, drawn attention to certain trusts which have, I think, rather special claims in this field.

I have come to this conclusion, which I should like to put to the Committee. It seems to me that it is probable that it will not be possible to draw up a precise and definite list of the particular bodies that might be affected by this Clause. We drew up the present list, as a matter of fact, largely on the basis of the Act of 1894, under which duty could be waived when works of art were given to various bodies—local authorities, museums, an galleries, and the universities. However, as I have said, I do not think we can stop there.

I am inclined to this solution. I think it would be, perhaps, a better plan if we were to alter the Clause in this way. We should not have any specific list, but we should lay down that the Treasury might give exemptions simply where it was satisfied that that was a suitable way in which the property in question could be preserved for the benefit of the nation. It would have, of course, to lay down conditions to make that clear, but the whole purpose of it would really be to ensure that the treatment of the property was right, rather than that these provisions should be limited to any particular list of public bodies.

I do not imagine myself that, in practice, we shall find such a very long queue waiting to take on what is generally a very onerous, financially expensive affair; but that is all the more reason for not drawing the Clause too narrowly. Therefore, if the Committee would agree, I should propose to introduce at the Report stage a suitable Amendment in wider terms on the lines that I have indicated. I hope that that will be agreeable. I think that is pretty well in line with what hon. Members have in mind, and I hope that, on that understanding, these Amendments will not be pressed.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I do not want to keep the Committee more than a minute or two, but I feel we should welcome the extension that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has suggested, though I do not know what those associated with the Amendments may feel about it. I should like to support what was said by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) about the importance of encouraging local societies, and I should like to add just this consideration to what he said. I have had some connection with a National Trust, and I am quite sure that both the National Trusts—though I cannot speak for them—would welcome an Amendment on those lines.

There are some local properties which have local importance, although possibly not national importance, and which should be preserved, and it is extremely difficult for the Trusts to supervise all those. There are buildings such as old mills, which are fast disappearing, which local bodies could look after very well. We have had some experience of this sort of thing in Scotland. I am thinking particularly of a building in the Hebrides. Unfortunately, most of it was blown away before Edinburgh learned what was happening to it. The people in the localities of these buildings can do much better in looking after them than can people far away in Edinburgh or London. Therefore, I do not think that there is any danger that the National Trusts will object to an extension of this.

I draw the Chancellor's attention to the diversity of such organisation; for instance, there is the Severn Wildfowl Trust and the Highland Folk Museum. I do not know whether it would be possible to include such a body within this proposal. However, he rightly says that it is very difficult to draw up a precise list. There is the Highland Folk Museum, which does valuable work in collecting and looking after old implements, which would otherwise vanish for all time.

I would also draw attention to something in the noble Lord's Amendment which the noble Lord did not mention—the most important question of local papers and records.

Earl Winterton

I am sorry I did not mention them. It was my fault.

Mr. Grimond

I think it is a pity that local records and papers should be totally dispersed or put into the Central Records Office. There are a great many small collections of less important records which are best kept in the places to which they relate, and in some suitable local building. Again, in Scotland, we suffer in that respect, because most of our records have been moved to England, and we are still trying to get them back. I think that over-centralisation of records means that such records and papers either disappear in the vast Central Records Office, where they are not available to people in the localities to which they relate, and who have a real interest in them, and who want to be able to see them; or else, if the Record Office does not take them, they disappear for all time, and are lost to the nation.

Mr. Logan

I think that this concession ought to be granted, but there ought to be a proviso for protection's sake. I am wondering whether the Chancellor would have power to reject an application for the benefit of the proposal if he felt that the property in question ought not to have the benefit. That, I think, would be a suitable arrangement.

Mr. Alport (Colchester)

I shall take only one or two moments just to clarify my own mind, and perhaps the minds of one or two other hon. Members, with regard to what the Chancellor said in one particular. He said that the exemption would not be for the benefit of those who were the beneficiaries in so far as they would have to provide money for the upkeep. I can quite easily see that that would be so in almost all cases unless the money were provided as part of the bequest.

But does that mean that the beneficiaries, for instance, a university college—and I am thinking in particular of the University College of North Staffordshire which has recently come into being, and which, at the present moment, I believe, has only, comparatively speaking, poor accommodation—would not be able to use a house or an estate left to them for the purposes of a faculty or for a college? They would carry on the upkeep, but, it is perfectly true, change the use of the building to some degree and get an immense benefit—a benefit which would compensate for their newness, so to speak, in relation to older universities which for centuries have received this type of bequest, sometimes incorporating bequeathed buildings in other buildings for their own use.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith

There is a point I want to get clear. This proposal has been very sympathetically considered, and I would say that I have sympathy with it. I should like to ask, as we have not had the advantage of seeing the list, whether, if other suggestions are made to the Chancellor, he will give the same sympathetic consideration to them as he has given on this occasion.

Mr. Pickthorn

I am very grateful to the Chancellor for the sympathetic way in which he has treated this matter, as I am sure are other hon. Members who are concerned with these two proposals. I think that I might offer comfort to one or two hon. Gentlemen who have been rather questioning about this, by saying that I have been more than once the honest broker in connection with gifts or bequests of this sort, and I do not think that there is likely to be any grasping on the part of universities and colleges. They are far more likely to be afraid of being landed with white elephants than to go legacy hunting in this matter.

And then, the Chancellor has said, there is the safeguard here of the requirement of Treasury consent. May I, for half a minute, say that I think, with respect to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), that he is mistaken in thinking that this has anything to do with local records, and I feel sure, as a member of the Royal Historical Manuscripts Commission, he is quite mistaken in thinking that no one is looking after them. Great trouble is being taken about them by the Master of the Rolls and others, and particular pains are being taken to see that there is no over-interpretation in that regard.

Mr. Gaitskell

I would point out that the waving of the Death Duty is entirely subject to Treasury control and that we would lay down conditions to make sure that it was only granted where it was going to result in a satisfactory arrangement for the preservation of these properties. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), I would point out that there is no list at all. I was saying that I did not think that one could deal with it on that basis of a list. I would far rather make an Amendment to the Clause so as to give the Treasury power to do this when it is satisfied that it should be done.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport), I would prefer not to say at this stage—indeed, I cannot possibly say at this stage—the exact conditions which would be laid down. What I meant when I said that it was not intended for the benefit of the bodies concerned was simply this: I thought that if I did not state that, there might have been an idea that the various colleges were anxious to acquire properties free of Death Duties and draw a larger income from them. That is not the idea at all. They would not get the waiver on Death Duties if that was going to happen. I did not mean that the property had to be preserved completely empty in every case. I think that we should normally expect, as we do in the case of National Trust, that it should be acceptable to the public.

Mr. P. Roberts

With regard to the Local Government Act, 1932, can the right hon. Gentleman tell me if that includes rural districts and urban districts for the acceptance of small local buildings?

Mr. Gaitskell

I should have to have notice of that one.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

As I am interested in the work of the Sussex Archaeological Trust, may I say how much I welcome the attitude of the Chancellor on this particular question? This Trust looks after a number of properties and places of great historical interest, some of which are in my constituency, including Lewes Castle and The Keep and other famous landmarks like the Long Man of Wilmington. I welcome the broader approach which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed, and I hope that it may be acceptable to my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). I wonder if I am expressing a pious hope when I say that I hope the Chancellor will apply the same spirit of co-operation to all our other Amendments during the course of the Bill.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

There is a conflict in my mind about what is said in the Clause. According to the Clause, anyone who gives or bequeaths land to a Government Department is exempted from Death Duties. It is not going to be enough, as I understand it from the Chancellor, simply to make a will and then die having bequeathed one's property. One has to go through a process of negotiation with the Treasury, the Treasury giving their sanction, and the recipient of the property has to be in a position to say that he will receive it and look after it, the Treasury sanctioning that process before the exemption of this Clause is called into play.

I think that is a very important point People must not suppose from the wording of the Clause that all they have to do is to make a will and then sit back and wait to die in the knowledge that their property will pass on and their heirs will be exempt from Death Duties. They have to go through a formal contract with the recipient of the property and obtain the sanction of the Treasury.

Mr. H. Strauss

Before I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, may I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his proposal, which I think is an improvement on the Clause as originally drafted? I should like to say why I did not include anything beyond the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. It was not because I was not most willing that other institutions should be included, but because I had the actual authority of those colleges for including them.

I remember that many years ago, when I was serving, as I still serve, on the Executive Committee of the National Trust, I moved an Amendment, which was accepted, giving a benefit to the National Trust, and out of great goodwill I included the National Trust of Scotland, and was then told that they did not want it. After that experience I decided that I should never include any charity in an Amendment unless asked to do so. I thank the Chancellor for his sympathetic approach to this matter, and I think that what he has undertaken to do on the Report stage will greatly improve this Clause. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Winterton

As the Chancellor has met us extremely fairly, I do not propose to proceed with my Amendments. I am glad that this matter has been brought to his notice and that he is going to amend the Clause accordingly, which will make it far more symmetrical. There has been a pleasant interlude in which the troops have fraternised in the absence of the commanding officers and I hope that this spirit of generosity will not much longer prevail.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.