HC Deb 27 October 1966 vol 734 cc1457-74

31.—(1) Provision may, in accordance with the following provisions of this Part of this Schedule, be made by regulations so as to require or enable an allowance to be made under this Schedule for the purpose of assessing levy in respect of a chargeable act or event where one or more of the conditions specified in paragraph 1(1) of this Schedule are not fulfilled, but the following conditions are fulfilled, that is to say—

  1. (a) property consisting of the land in which the chargeable interests subsists or of part of that land or of an interest in that land or part of that land (whether subsisting at law or only as an equitable interest) passed on the death of a person and estate duty was leviable in respect of that property;
  2. (b) that person died not more than six years before the relevant date or, where the property was an interest in expectancy and estate duty in respect of it was not paid until it fell into possession, the interest fell into possession not more than six years before the relevant date; and
  3. (c) there has not before the relevant date been any previous chargeable act or event in connection with which an allowance under this Schedule fell or falls to be made in respect of the passing of that property on that death.

(2) In this paragraph any reference to property passing on a death is a reference to its passing, or being deemed to pass, on that death for the purposes of the enactments relating to estate duty.

32. Regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 31 of this Schedule may provide that, in such cases where the conditions specified in that paragraph are, or are claimed to be, fulfilled as may be specified in the regulations, the preceding provisions of this Schedule shall apply, subject to such exceptions and modifications, and together with any such additional provisions, as may be so specified.

33.—(1) Regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 31 of this Schedule may provide that in such cases where the conditions specified in that paragraph are, or are claimed to be, fulfilled as may be specified in the regulations (not being cases in relation to which the regulations make provision in accordance with the last preceding paragraph) the Commission may make such allowance under this Schedule as, after consultation with the Commissioners of Inland Revenue, they determine to be appropriate.

(2) Any regulations made in accordance with the preceding sub-paragraph may provide that, where it is claimed that the power conferred on the Commission by the regulations is or may be exercisable, the provisions of Part III of this Schedule shall apply, subject to such exceptions and modifications, and together with any such additional provisions, as may be specified in the regulations.

34.—(1) Where for the purpose of assessing levy in respect of a chargeable act or event there are two or more deaths to which the preceding provisions of this Schedule are applicable, those provisions shall have effect in relation to those deaths cumulatively so as to require or enable the appropriate allowance to be made by reference to each of them.

(2) In this paragraph any reference to the preceding provisions of this Schedule shall be construed as including a reference to any regulations made under this Part of this Schedule.

35. In this Schedule, in relation to a chargeable act or event, 'the chargeable interest' and 'the chargeable owner' have the meanings assigned to them by paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 5 to this Act, and 'the last relevant disposition' has the meaning assigned to it by paragraph 6 of that Schedule.—[Mr. Skeffington.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Skeffington

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

I apologise for the fact that the Schedule is of some length. I have meditated on whether I should give an explanation of every paragraph and have decided that this is unnecessary. There are some parts of the Schedule which everyone will agree are clear, or at any rate clearer than others. It is almost inevitable that, when an attempt is being made to put into legislative form a concept such as this, it must be spelt out at some length. I have prepared as carefully as I can a summary of the main provisions. I hope that when I have concluded the House will be somewhat farther along the road than they are at present, in so far as the Schedule is not already crystal clear.

I am sure that the purpose of the Schedule will receive general approbation, because it is to ensure that, where other duty is payable, the interest so affected does not have to pay twice in respect of a contribution which is already made. Put more succinctly, the purpose of the Schedule is to provide, in effect, that the amount of Estate Duty which has been charged on development value and which will also be subject to levy is to be set off as a deduction from market value when assessing levy on the first chargeable act or event after the death in respect of which the Estate Duty is leviable.

Part I sets out the conditions in which the allowance is to be made and the way in which it is to be taken into account. I have already said that it is by deduction from market value. [Interruption.] Did the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) wish to intervene?

Sir D. Glover

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I was just referring to his three hon. Friends below the Gangway as "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil".

Mr. Skeffington

Part I of the Schedule sets out the conditions in which an allowance is to be made, and the way in which it is to be done. If right hon. and hon. Members opposite look at paragraph 1 they will see the conditions which apply.

Part II is concerned with the calculation of the allowance. The overlap between Estate Duty and levy is broadly the amount by which the market value of the property for the purposes of Estate Duty, called the "gross principal value" in the Schedule, exceeds the base value for the purposes of the levy. I am sure that after all our long discussions here and in Committee, and with the expert knowledge of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), of these calculations, I need not once again define base value.

The excess of the gross principal value over the base value is called in the Schedule "excess gross value". In practice, if we had taken precisely the base value used for assessing the levy this could, in some circumstances, lead to the levy-payer not being given a generous or proper allowance. That is why some slight changes have been made to the concept of base value for the purposes of the Schedule. This changed version of the base value is called "modified value".

The rate at which Estate Duty is actually borne may be less than the nominal rate of Estate Duty because, as I believe the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) mentioned yesterday, there are deductions for debts, mortgages and other matters of that kind, and the application of such factors as quick succession relief. Paragraphs 12 to 22 of the Schedule are concerned with taking into account all these matters which are relevant to the determination of estate duty, to convert what I call the nominal rate of duty into the actual or the effective rate of duty which is paid. This rate, multiplied by the excess gross value, which is the amount of development value subject to both these imposts, is then the amount of relief to be given. This, I think, fairly takes into account not only the existing practice but the added impost which the interest in the land may attract because a development levy may be paid.

Part III is concerned with procedure. Perhaps I can clear up one point which worried hon. Members yesterday. The notice of claim under paragraph 25 and the application for relief under the new Clause 4 are different notices. The notice to be served under paragraph 25 can be served at any time before the notice of assessment of levy becomes operative. Normally, any potential levy-payer will be asked early in the process of assessment to supply information, under various Clauses of the Bill already discussed, to make the assessment possible, and particularly information about how the relevant land has been acquired. This notice will contain an invitation to make a claim—so that it is brought to the attention of the levy-payer under this paragraph—if the circumstances are satisfied that there has been a death on which there is a potential liability for estate duty. The period for making the claim is very much more than the two months which I think the hon. Member for Hornsey suggested yesterday. It would be much longer than that.

The calculation of the amount of the appropriate allowance is partially the responsibility of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue and partially the responsibility of the Land Commission. It is for the Inland Revenue to produce the gross principal value and the effective rate of duty. These are factors which can be extracted from information which has been settled in the course of determining the liability to Estate Duty, which, of course, is open to the normal appeal in that context. It is for this reason that the certificate is conclusive—we had some argument about this yesterday and in Committee—except where the figure of gross principal value for the particular property has not been determined independently. In these circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Lands Tribunal on the valuation. I am glad to give that assurance, which I was asked for yesterday.

Sir D. Glover

Did I hear the hon. Gentleman speak of "yesterday in Committee"? I am sure that he would like to correct that.

Mr. Skeffington

I am obliged. I meant yesterday, though I am not quite sure when it was in terms of yesterday or today. We seem to have passed a kind of Parliamentary date line now. But, to be fair, we did also have discussions on the point in Standing Committee.

The certificate is conclusive, except when the figure of gross principal value has not been determined independently, and, in these circumstances, I was saying, there is a right of appeal to the Lands Tribunal on the valuation. All the other parts of the calculation which are the responsibility of the Land Commission, including the determination of modified base value, are open to appeal in the same way as all other parts of the assessment for levy.

Part IV of the Schedule is principally concerned—this is the first three paragraphs—with a power to make regulations extending the range of cases in which the allowance for Estate Duty can be made. It is intended primarily that these regulations will adapt the provisions of the Schedule to deal with the special problems of land held under trusts.

I conclude by saying that the provisions of the Schedule have no effect on the determination of liability for Estate Duty—this, of course, is still a matter for Inland Revenue—and they do not impose any additional burden upon the citizen. They are concerned solely with giving relief from levy in cases where the impost has already been paid in respect of betterment value.

Mr. Rossi

We had some discussion on this Schedule yesterday, and several questions were raised which were not answered then and which, though I listened to him attentively, I did not hear the Parliamentary Secretary answer now. I shall, therefore, repeat the questions, though avoiding all the details of the argument yesterday, which would be quite unnecessary.

By means of a simple—if that be the right word—algebraic formula, I tried to interpret in mathematical form the method of calculation set out verbally in the Schedule. My first question is this: was my algebraic formula a fair or unfair representation of what the Schedule does? In other words, did I understand what I read, and did I express it correctly? If I am wrong, I should be glad of correction, because this is something which I shall have to work elsewhere in the days to come and I want to be sure that I have it clear in my mind.

I raised one question on the formula which was not answered yesterday and has not been answered today. This relates to the method of arriving at the net principal value by making certain deductions from the gross principal value. The Schedule sets out that one must first take the probate value of the piece of land and deduct any charge on the land, say, a mortgage. It then provides that one must also make deductions for funeral expenses and debts and liabilities of the deceased.

But as I mentioned yesterday, the funeral expenses, debts and liabilities of the deceased are not a charge on a part of the estate, but they are a charge on the whole of the estate. Therefore, when one is making this deduction from the gross principal value of a piece of land in order to find the net principal value, is one entitled to deduct the whole of the funeral expenses, the whole of the debts and liabilities of the deceased's estate, or does one only apply some proportion thereof that can be notionally attributed to some asset or proportion of the whole of the deceased's estate?

11.0 p.m.

There is no wording in this Schedule that suggests it is correct to use either method. I am seeking an explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary, because this is to be worked by practitioners advising their clients. This is one of the things they must know. It is a basic part of the algebraic formula to be operated so as to assess the allowances to which people are entitled. It is a factor that occurs right at the very beginning of the formula and everything will turn on this. If you do not get it right at the beginning you will end up with the wrong answer. I must press the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me which is the correct method. Will he undertake to amend the Schedule so that the correct method is spelt out clearly and correctly?

The next question I have to raise, which I did not mention yesterday because I was endeavouring a certain degree of simplicity and I thought this might be an unnecessary complication, is that in paragraph 14(2) in Part 2 of the Schedule we are told that a charge for Capital Gains Tax should not be deducted from the gross principal value. Then paragraph 15(2) proceeds to tell us how we must deduct it.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to give me, if he would, an explanation of the meaning of paragraphs 14(2) and 15(2), because there may be a contradiction there and it certainly does affect the algebraic formula to which I made reference.

Now, the next matter to which I made reference yesterday was this question of the notice of claim read in conjunction with new Clause 4 that was discussed yesterday. The Parliamentary Secretary has just given us a general explanation—a gloss—which does not to my mind answer the precise point I raised with him yesterday.

What he has said very quickly is that the two notices in the two parts are not the same notice. I would like him to draw my specific attention to the wordings of both the Schedule and the new Clause and show me the two paragraphs relating to these notices and show me where it is said they are different. I cannot see it myself, but he has made a general statement to this effect and I would be grateful if he would draw my specific attention to where this is said in the Amendments before us.

The point I tried to make yesterday was this—that the Commission under new Clause 4 is being given power to grant relief for a period of up to six years after a notice of assessment of levy has been served where an allowance should have been claimed but has not been claimed. But this relief can only be granted if two circumstances already exist. Those two circumstances are, first, that the notice of assessment of levy has become an operative assessment of levy, and, secondly, that a certificate has been issued by the Commissioners of Inland Revenue under Part III of the Schedule.

We know that a notice of assessment of levy becomes an operative assessment of levy within two months of service under Clause 46 of the Bill if a counter-notice has not been served. As I mentioned yesterday, where questions of unclaimed allowances come into play there is a general inference that the person entitled has not been taking the right steps that he should have been taking under the Bill. It is a fair assumption that this kind of case is likely to arise where there has been no counter-notice, where there has been no reference to the Lands Tribunal and where one has an operative assessment within the very short period of two months of the notice of assessment being served.

If there is an operative assessment, the applicant is too late to make a notice of claim under paragraph 25(2) of Part III of the Schedule, because that paragraph states that a notice of claim shall not have effect if an operative assessment is already in existence. If it is of no effect, the Commissioners cannot issue their certificates. But the operative assessment and the issue of the certificate are the two prerequisites of the Commission giving relief. It is complete and utter nonsense.

Mr. Graham Page

The chicken and the egg.

Mr. Rossi

Exactly, or the bird that flies in ever-decreasing circles.

I ask the indulgence of the House for repeating at some length an argument which we made yesterday, but I received no answer to this argument yesterday, no explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister, and I have received no answer today. All I have been told is that they are two different notices. If they are two different notices of claim, will the Parliamentary Secretary please show me the words where that is said? I cannot find them in my copy of the Amendments.

We know that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has copies of the Bill with blank pages. It may well be that the Parliamentary Secretary has pages of the Notice Paper with Clauses we have not seen. That may well be the explanation. We are waiting for an explanation. We have not got it yet.

To recapitulate, I am asking whether my algebraic formula is correct. If it is wrong, will the Parliamentary Secretary direct my attention to where it is wrong? Secondly, I want to know what we do with the funeral debts and liabilities of the deceased. When we are arriving at the net principal value, do we deduct the whole from the gross principal value of one asset of the estate, or do we apportion them. If we have to apportion them, will we get a new wording to make that clear? The third point is the one of the notice of claim, on which I have just spoken.

Those matters of detail are matters of practice, in effect, to which professional advisers must know the answer before they can deal with their clients' affairs in due course under this abominable piece of legislation when it becomes law.

There is a matter of principle that underlies the Schedule. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary tell us that they are being generous and are making a concession. They are making some concession, it is true, but only after considerable pressure by hon. Members from this side in Committee. It is only as a result of the pressure in Committee that we are seeing some concession about Estate Duty. But what kind of concession are we getting? We are told that we have to find the value of an asset of the estate which is to be called the net principal value. That is the probate value of a piece of land, after certain deductions along the lines which we have just been discussing. Having got that reduced probate value—and those of us who are practitioners know what probate values are—we have to make a deduction from that value of a base value. In the case of a piece of land, we have to go back to the last purchase, find out the price then, and deduct that price from the probate value of the land at the date the owner died.

It is only that difference between the two figures that has to be referred to a reduced rate of Estate Duty—not the rate of duty which the estate has already borne, but another fictional effective rate of duty which we have to arrive at by a series of elaborate computations. It is that difference in the value of the land multiplied by this artificial kind of Estate Duty that gives us the allowance which we can set off against the betterment levy.

It is virtually no concession at all when one thinks in terms of what the probate value of a piece of land is. We know what the land would fetch on a forced sale at the date of death, and it is always a knocked down value. It is common knowledge among valuers and professional people that the probate value of a house is a knocked down value. Having got the knocked down value, one deducts the value the last time that it was sold and gets relief on the little bit which is left. That is the wonderful concession which the Government are giving people behind this smokescreen of 380-odd words in an incomprehensible Schedule.

What kind of deal is that? It is no deal at all. It is another confidence trick of the kind that we are only too accustomed to receive from hon. Members opposite from the Prime Minister down wards. We on this side of the House are here to expose confidence tricks, and I hope that this is one which has been well and truly exposed.

I hope that I shall be forgiven if I repeat an argument which was made yesterday. I think that it is one of validity, and it certainly represents the views of hon. Members on this side of the House. We are concerned with the situation of a family in which a death occurs and, on that death, Estate Duty is paid on the family home. Within a relatively short period of time, the home has to be sold for one reason or another. Along comes the Land Commission and says, "We want to charge a levy. We want another whack out of this family because it has sold its home within a short period of the death on which it paid Estate Duty." We say that there must be considerable relief. The State should not penalise that family twice in a short period of time.

The only fair way to do it is to offset one tax against the other and deduct the whole of the Estate Duty which has been borne already by that property from the levy which is now sought to be charged on the house. That is the only fair way to do it, and one can achieve that purpose by a short paragraph of about 10 lines, rather than 387 lines which pretend to give a concession but give nothing at all.

This is a travesty. This is a general principle and there is a wide division between the two sides on the principle. The Schedule is not accepted in anything it sets out to do. Apart from that, knowing the majority that hon. Members opposite have, and their determination to foist measures of this kind on the public, we nevertheless want to see that these measures are intelligible and that people know their rights.

It is to that purpose which I directed my earlier questions and I am still awaiting a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I am happy to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) because I have a number of questions to ask. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary and his many advisers will be able to work on my hon. Friend's questions while I put mine.

I was glad that the hon. Gentleman made this point about a concession, or so-called concession. If a Government intend to steal the assets of an unfortunate citizen, and then they change their mind and decide not to steal so many, that is surely a very little concession. In fact, it is not a concession at all.

My hon. Friend made a further point about a family forced to sell its asset or home or house and then having to pay a further levy or tax. This is indefensible. It is taxing the poorer people while the richer people can escape, because owners of the estate who can afford to put off the sale will not have to pay the levy and those who need the money will find themselves having to pay yet more.

My hon. Friend mentioned that there were over 380 lines in the Schedule. I have tried during the evening to make them intelligible to myself. I must confess that I have made pretty heavy weather of it. As a result of a careful reading of the Schedule I have a number of questions to ask. I heard an hon. Member behind me who was outside the confines of the Chamber say that he understood it. I hope that we will have some explanation from the back benches opposite, because we have had little from the Front Bench.

I am glad to see that the number of hon. Members on the benches opposite has increased considerably since I began my remarks, when it seemed that the majority was not held by the Government but by the Opposition; although I think that the majority is held by the staff of the Minister's Department lurking not far from this Chamber and where we can see them and by many more behind the scenes.

I want to know more about the formula which my hon. Friend mentioned. I cannot find it anywhere in the Schedule. Perhaps one of my hon. Friends will supply me with it before I conclude my remarks.

Now I come to the very tricky questions which spring to mind on studying the Schedule and listening to the Ministerial speech which opened this debate. We have heard that capital gains are to be taken into account, but suppose someone who hoped to make a capital gain made, as a result of the operation of this Schedule and Estate Duty and other taxes, a capital loss on the transaction. Would it be possible to set that off against Capital Gains Tax?

There is the further question of the allowance. Any allowance is welcome. Although we do not accept the principle of all this, what about the case of land which goes to the National Trust in lieu of estate duty? Is that land to be valued at its value when developed, because the point of it going to the Trust is to prevent it being developed and to protect it for the enjoyment of the community? Or is it to be valued at the value it would have if free-for-all development were allowed and filling stations and all sorts of other expensive horrors were allowed to be built?

What about land on which there is a covenant specifically preventing its development, land which, were it not for the covenant, would be of immense value if its beauty were destroyed and every conceivable commercial exploitation took place?

I now come to a question which is by no means hypothetical, because legislation passing through the House has a bearing on it. I am thinking of a piece of land which is designated under the provisions of what we all believe will be the Civic Amenities Act. This legislation has the support of the Government, and of both sides of the House. Under it a local authority will be able to designate a piece of land as being of historical and architectural interest to prevent it being destroyed or developed. What would happen if the levy were to fall on a piece of land which subsequently was designated in this way? What benefit will accrue to the miserable taxpayer, and what preparations have the Government made for dealing with this situation which no doubt will arise at some future time?

My hon. Friend asked a number of questions, and I should like to amplify one of them a little. I should like a little more information about funeral expenses. In the calculations which apply to the provisions of this Schedule, will the Minister allow any reasonable funeral expenses, or will there be a limit? The Inland Revenue can be very tough about this. A person may be faced with the problem of providing a memorial on a scale which matches other memorials in the area. This may result in considerable expense for him. The Inland Revenue is very often difficult about this sort of thing and says that a plain granite slab is appropriate.

Many other questions were asked by my hon. Friend. I do not want to detain the House for very much longer. I conclude by asking one question which I think is highly appropriate when we are dealing with a Schedule of 387 lines. Will the cost of professional advice, which is vitally necessary to every private citizen affected by the provisions of this Schedule, be allowed to be set off, and therefore is the miserable citizen at least to get his legal expenses reimbursed, because of the tremendous cost put on the taxpayer by this iniquitous Schedule?

Mr. Rossi

On a point of order. If my hon. Friend refers to column 1069, and the subsequent columns of yesterday's HANSARD, he will find the formula for which he asked.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I am obliged to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Skeffington

I shall endeavour to answer as many points as I can. I may not be able to deal with them all, but I undertake to communicate with the hon. Members concerned in respect of those points which I do not cover.

Perhaps I might deal, first, with the point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), about land passing to the National Trust. I cannot see that this, in the normal way, would be developable land. It therefore would not attract levy. However, if the hon. Gentleman will let me have in writing the sort of case that he has in mind I shall consider it, but I do not think that levy will be attracted to it, and, therefore, I do not think that the difficulties which he foresees will arise.

The hon. Gentleman will find the question of funeral expenses dealt with in paragraph 14 of the Schedule. If he looks at that, I hope that it will make the position clear to him.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) asked about the algebraic formula. So much of it as I remember, and so much of it as I understood then and now, leads me to believe that the hon. Gentleman is approximately correct, but I would not want to go further than that, because it is obvious that this is not an easy matter. I do not pretend that it is. Indeed, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having got there. So far as I can recall—I have not had time to look it up—what he said was right.

The normal position about debts is that they follow the existing rules. Debts will be deducted first from personal property and only in so far as this is inadequate will debts other than mortgages be set off against real property. This is the normal practice and, as the hon. Member realises, very much in the taxpayer's favour.

The hon. Member asked me about the notices. I think that I have the position right. The first notices will arise under paragraph 25 of the Schedule. They start the process. Without them the Commission would not know that it had to apply for a certificate. Then there are applications for relief, necessary only when a certificate arises after the levy has been assessed. This attracts the appeal provisions of new Clause 4. These are two separate events. I think that I may be able to curtail the discussion by saying that if I am wrong about this I shall write to the hon. Member correcting what I have said.

Mr. Rossi

What is really troubling me—and perhaps when the hon. Gentleman writes to me he will deal with this point—is that as I understand the Schedule the Commissioners of Inland Revenue cannot issue a certificate until a proper and effective notice of claim has been made. That notice must be made before there is an operative assessment of levy. Therefore, new Clause 4 cannot be brought in until after there has been an operative assessment of levy. The Commissioners cannot issue a certificate until there is a valid notice of claim. Perhaps this point could be dealt with.

Mr. Skeffington

As I understand, my right hon. Friend made the point earlier that the attention of those concerned will be drawn to these matters, and an undertaking was given that if for some reason anyone was prejudiced because of the non-arrival of the appropriate certificate the matter would be dealt with administratively. I am happy to repeat that undertaking.

Capital Gains Tax is dealt with in paragraphs 15 and 16. These follow Section 24 of the Finance Act, 1965, which provided that where property passes on the death of an individual for the purpose of Capital Gains Tax the relevant assets are deemed to be disposed of by him… for a consideration equal to their market value". The tax is charged on the gain so accruing. The same Section provides that such chargeable gains shall be added to other chargeable gains which have already accrued before death.

The Section makes the tax on such gains deductible from the value of the estate for the purpose of Estate Duty. The amount to be deducted in respect of outstanding tax will come in a single figure, corresponding to the whole of the outstanding liabilities for tax and no figure normally exists for the amount of tax payable in respect of the chargeable gain arising on the deemed disposal of a single property. It is, therefore, necessary to provide a rule to determine how much Capital Gains Tax should rank as a deduction in finding the net principal value of the property in question. This is done by paragraph 15. This applies the formula which everyone now knows, relating to the top slice of income.

If the hon. Member will look at paragraph 17 he will see that it deals with the case where there may be more than one chargeable event. In this case the top slice accruing on the surplus gain is deducted in that way.

I hope that I have answered the questions put to me. If there are some which I have not answered I will take them up in correspondence.

Mr. Costain

An American, referring to the work of this House, described our Committees as "Government by conversation". We have now reached the stage of Government by correspondence. The Minister has kindly said that he will write to my hon. Friend answering any questions with which he has not dealt tonight, but I always thought that the idea of the House of Commons was that we should be able to give our constituents some ideas to help them become legally-minded and to keep the laws of the country.

Is there no procedure to cover the case where a Minister cannot answer questions? I give the Minister his due; he has made the bravest attempt yet to answer our questions on this Schedule. Is there any way ——

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Skeffington

These are rather minor points on a very complicated Schedule. I said that I would write if I had missed any. I do not know that I have. It is a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman to try to take advantage of this offer. If he has any point in mind, I will be delighted to answer it in the House or by letter. He could always put down a Question.

Mr. Costain

I obviously made a mistake in giving the hon. Gentleman credit for being helpful. I must appeal here on behalf of the many people who think that they ought to understand this. There is something wrong with our procedure that we should have to rely on Parliamentary Questions to bring out matters which should have been dealt with on Report. If the memorandum which is to be published will make a special point of this, I withdraw my objection.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will my hon. Friend not concede that it is how the courts interpret this Act—when it becomes an Act—which matters, and that what the Minister says or writes to any hon. Member makes not a jot of difference, and that we must be certain, if we are to have this thing on the Statute Book at all, that it makes some sort of legal sense?

Mr. Costain

I thank my hon. Friend for that valid point, but before a man can go to the courts, he must understand what he is going to the courts about; and we have not achieved that so far.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Considering the Schedule and thinking about the situation of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary with as much sympathy as possible, I cannot help thinking that, if this Schedule and similar Schedules were capable of explanation, we would have been given that explanation: they would certainly have had a better shot at giving that explanation.

The truth is that this and other Schedules, and other large parts of the Bill, are beyond simple explanation. There is none, which is why we have been treated to this weaving and ducking by the Parliamentary Secretary: an explanation cannot be communicated in terms which are understandable to ordinary human beings. The Schedule is typical of the too fantastically complicated conception which they have attempted to reduce to words and incorporate in legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) made the most effective attempt at explaining the difficulties of the Schedule. I would say to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite that he made a particular and special attempt to look at this mess of words in a practical way and to pose the problems which will exist for professional people who must carry out this work. Many hon. Members on both sides are used to dealing with problems of this kind and know that the Bill is beyond comprehension. It is too fantastically complicated.

The difficulty is that this complicated conception will make the most awful mess of a great number of transactions which affect ordinary people. In many cases of death, people will be involved with a great team of valuers, accountants and solicitors, who will have to struggle to understand the Bill. We have tried to understand it. We have had some reason able experience of these things and in our opinion it is beyond comprehension——

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

It is meant to be beyond comprehension.

Mr. Eyre

—and it is an unworkable system. The right hon. Gentleman should understand that it will add at least another year of quarrelling to the administration of an estate. If one considers the calculations and negotiations which will have to take place and the figures which will have to be exchanged between the parties, one sees that this will be so. It will add enormously to the cost of the administration of that estate. Valuers, accountants and solicitors will not work for nothing. It will add at least one third to the estate's administration.

Having said that the new Schedule is totally unworkable, we must regard it as a conception, a great theory, which has been assembled as a mass of words and squirted at those who will have to try to administer it. Professional people will not understand it, it is totally unworkable and it is utterly discredited. The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary will suffer badly in reputation when this comes to be recognised outside.

Question put and agreed to.

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

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