HC Deb 27 May 1965 vol 713 cc1017-21
Mr. Ridley

I beg to move Amendment No. 386, in page 34, line 10, at end insert: (2) A gain shall not be a chargeable gain if accruing, on the disposal of an asset by way of gift to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty or if accruing on a disposal on death of an asset devised or bequeathed by the deceased to the said National Trust. I believe this to be a non-party Amendment, because I think all hon. Members support the activities of the National Trust. It may not be generally known that the Trust is entirely financed by voluntary subscriptions. It receives no public money at all for its day to day operations. It has great financial problems. The agricultural revolution has required that very large quantities of money be spent on modernising plant and properties, which has put a serious strain upon the resources of the Trust. All this expenditure is met by private subscriptions, by gifts, devises, wills and trusts, and I am sure the Committee would wish to encourage this. The principle of the Amendment has been conceded in all previous legislation.

If a person makes a gift or an endowment to the National Trust, then he is excused Estate Duty on that part which he gives to the Trust. The fact that such endowments are free of duty seems to establish the principle that the State does not wish to tax gifts and devises made to the Trust.

The Trust is grateful to the Government for having supported its coastal appeal to the tune of quarter of a million pounds, which I think shows that the Government are thoroughly in accord with the objects and ambitions of the Trust. I ask the Government to accept that if death duties can be waived on gifts and endowments to the Trust, then any capital gain which might accrue to

such gifts or endowments can equally be waived too.

If the Bill goes through un-amended there will be much less likelihood of people giving money and shares, which might bear Capital Gains Tax, to the Trust or devise it in their wills.

Equally, if they continue to do so, the money will be worth less in the hands of the Trust if it has to pay capital gains on what it receives. For those two good reasons, unless the Amendment is accepted, there is no doubt that the finances of the Trust will suffer to some considerable tune. The Amendment may not be properly drafted, but I am sure we would accept any alternative drafting which the Financial Secretary may he prepared to offer. I commend the Amendment to the Committee as a practical way in which to help a worthy and typically British and successful institution, which I am sure the whole Committee would like to help.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I rise to support my hon. Friend and to echo all his sentiments about the National Trust, whose work should surely be helped in every possible way by Parliament. If this Amendment were passed in its present form it would put the National Trust in a special position. I hope, therefore, if the Financial Secretary is going to look favourably at this Amendment, he will give an undertaking that any other trust trying to perform similar work shall have the same exemption, because it would be wrong to put the National Trust in a special and favoured position. There are a number of private trusts, and there might be others in the future, who are doing equally good work in the same sphere. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.

Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)

I do not wish to detain the Committee for more than a moment. It is really more a question than anything else that I would like to bring to the notice of the Financial Secretary. It concerns the reference to Section 15 (2) of the Finance Act, 1894. Why is it that this particular Section has been specially selected for reference in this Bill, since it relates only to gifts made to universities and to local authorities? Will it be possible for gifts to the National Trust, and indeed to charities generally, to be excluded within the framework of that exemption?

Mr. MacDermot

If I could deal with the last point first, because it leads into the main question on this Amendment, this is one of the references made to earlier legislation and the common feature of them all is that these are cases where Parliament has thought it right to grant exemption from Estate Duty. The particular example which the hon. Member has chosen is that of universities and local authorities, but there are others also referred to in the Clause which benefit national collections of one kind and another.

If I may return to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), would like to thank him for his gracious reference to the Chancellor's decision to make a grant in support of "Operation Neptune". This is something which I know had a great personal appeal to the Chancellor. Chancellors do not always love spending public money, but I know that on this occasion it gave him great pleasure to be able to make this grant.

The hon. Member, in moving his Amendment, said that he based his case on the parallel of the Estate Duty exemption in favour of the National Trust. This argument my right hon. Friend finds compelling, and he agrees that it is right that a similar concession in favour of the National Trust should extend to the Capital Gains Tax.

If I may express sympathy with the hon. Member as one who tried from time to time when sitting on those benches to draft Amendments, his Amendment in fact does go considerably wider than the scope of the Estate Duty exemption for the National Trust. To make it clear, perhaps I should explain that the exemption is for land given or bequeathed to the Trust indefeasibly and which is vested in the Trust inalienably for the public benefit; secondly, objects ordinarily kept in a building forming part of such land; and thirdly, maintenance funds given for the support of that land. Other bequests or gifts of money—for example, gifts of securities to the Trust—do not enjoy the benefit of the exemption.

12.30 a.m.

What we consider would be right would be to extend the exemption to the same field as the exemption which exists for Estate Duty purposes; amongst other reasons, because, when making such a concession, we think it important that one should, as it were, adhere to precedent and not do something that will lead to very wide pressure for the extension of the concession to other fields.

For that reason, I do not think that I can give much comfort to the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), who asked for an assurance that we would extend the concession to other bodies. That is not the intention.

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to the Financial Secretary for considering the Amendment so favourably. Having sat for many hours in order to urge points to do with the arts and buildings upon the hon. and learned Gentleman, it is a happy thought for me that we end up good friends, and I am delighted that he has accepted the principle of the Amendment.

I should like just to query one thing. The Financial Secretary said that he did not feel that it would be right to extend the concession to securities which might be given to the Trust. I am sure he knows that the Trust never accepts any house, building or other property unless there are also sufficient capital assets to guarantee enough revenue to maintain that property in perpetuity. Many donors do not give land because they may not have the land, or sufficient land to yield enough revenue. It is, therefore, not uncommon for the Trust, when receiving property, to be given a block of shares to produce enough income to maintain the property.

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will look at this point again. It would not be difficult for a would-be donor to switch his securities to buying a piece of land and giving us that land in lieu of giving us the securities, but that would surely be a dodge which the Financial Secretary would not like donors to indulge in. Although I do not ask for an answer now, I feel that in this case we might be able to depart from the Estate Duty precedent, and extend the concession to shares as well as to land and other forms of property. However, with the hon. and learned Gentleman's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. MacDermot

I beg to move Amendment No. 148, in page 35, line 45, after "section" to insert "without subsection (8)".

This Amendment has been tabled in order that we may put ourselves straight in relation to the Northern Ireland law. A special provision is required, because Capital Gains Tax exemption is spelled out in terms of the Estate Duty legislation. Estate Duty law in Northern Ireland is quite separate from that in Great Britain. As the law stands, it has the effect of applying subsection (8) to the Northern Ireland Estate Duty, and it would be quite wrong for us to try to do that. The question whether any Capital Gains Tax is payable should be a deduction for the purpose of Estate Duty in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Northern Ireland Parliament to decide. The purpose of this Amendment, therefore, is to exclude the provisions of subsection (8) from operation in relation to Northern Ireland.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. MacDermot.]

Committee report Progress to sit again this day.