HC Deb 22 October 1973 vol 861 cc909-12

Lords Amendment: No. 62, in page 135, line 16, at end insert new Clause C: C.—(1) All property held on trust immediately before 16th May 1975 by

  1. (a) an existing local authority, or
  2. (b) a councillor and a specified officer of an existing local authority,
shall on that day be transferred to and vest (subject to the same trust) in the appropriate islands or district council. (2) The council in whom property is vested by virtue of subsection (1) above shall nominate a sufficient number of their councillors to act as trustees of that property and in so doing shall have regard to the terms of the trust deed; and where the property is held immediately before 16th May 1975 by the persons mentioned in subsection (1)(b) above, the council shall nominate the proper officer as one of the trustees. (3) All property held on trust immediately before 16th May 1975 by a specified officer of an existing local authority shall on that day be transferred to and vest (subject to the same trust) in the proper officer of the appropriate islands or district council. (4) Where, immediately before 16th May 1975, property is held on trust by the holder of an office, whether as a councillor or a specified officer, connected with an existing local authority or existing local authorities and any other person, the appropriate islands or district council or (where the area to which the trust relates comprises the areas of more than one existing local authority) the appropriate islands or district councils shall, on the application of the trustees, nominate a sufficient number of their councillors to act in place of such holder and in so doing shall have regard to the terms of the trust deed, and, where the terms of the trust deed so require, the said council or councils shall nominate the proper officer as one of the trustees. (5) In this section "appropriate islands or district council" means, in relation to an existing local authority, the islands or district council whose area comprises the whole or the greater part of the area of the existing local authority, and "appropriate islands or district councils" shall be construed accordingly. (6) This section shall not apply to property which is subject to section (educational endowments) of this Act.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The new clause seeks to ensure that the new authorities will be able to fulfil duties in relation to trusts held by existing authorities or in which existing authorities have an interest. The amendment to Clause 221 is consequential. It will relieve anxiety, which I have had expressed to me in my constituency capacity, about the future of the numerous small trusts throughout the country. The provisions will not deal with the circumstances of every trust, because the variations in the choice of trustees are endless, but I believe that they will save an application to the court in a great many cases which might otherwise arise. This is a helpful new clause which it would be to our benefit to accept.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

You rightly rebuked me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I inadvertently sought to make this debate into a Committee stage. I am sure you will appreciate that since I first saw these amendments yesterday afternoon and we have been engaged in battles about Strathclyde and the Greater Glasgow district since, it has been extremely difficult to raise the matter earlier. I am not naturally suspicious of any Government but it seems that these could be fairly important matters which could involve a lot of legal dispute. It appears as if we have all slipped up in not examining in greater detail some of the later clauses, particularly in Committee.

Because some things need to be done at short notice—the Minister said he had received some constituency queries but they must have been of recent vintage—there is bound to be some area of doubt or argument when we look at the individual endowments. This could cause concern. All I ask is that someone in future will look at what we are doing. There may be a need for flexibility or even amendment to the law in view of the no doubt peculiar problems which will arise if someone decides to test the legality of what we are doing.

I have no personal knowledge here but I assume that if it comes to dealing with wills all sorts of situations could arise creating legal problems—as happened with museum charges. I hope, if we do not know what we are doing, we are safeguarding the future and recognising that we may have to look at this again.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

By leave of the House I will reply. It might be helpful if I explain further. The background is that many local authorities are asked to take on the duties of trustees, or are among the trustees of charitable trusts. In such cases the trust deed will name as trustees, for example, the provost and magistrates of such and such a burgh, or the provost, magistrates and town clerk, or whatever. The problem which was brought to our notice during the passage of the Bill through this House is how to secure the continuity of these officers and the authorities they represent when they cease to exist in May 1975.

No particular difficulty will arise where the trust deed merely requires the local authority to nominate representatives to act as trustees. This is something we had anticipated and dealt with in Clause 214. Where the town council or officers are named this would not work. In those cases existing trustees would have to approach the courts for a variation in the terms of the trust deed, to allow it to continue its function.

Some of the smaller charitable trusts might find it difficult to afford the court action involved. This clause is designed to enable the trusts to continue operating with the minimum necessary changes in administration. I do not claim that this will answer every variation and type of trust but we believe it will meet the great generality of cases, avoiding recourse to the courts. Where there is doubt the trust will have recourse to the courts to decide what happens after May 1975. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

1.30 a.m.

Mr. Ross

I am thinking of one particular trust called the Marr Trust, which built the Marr College. I am drawing on memory, but I think that one of the trustees was the Provost of Troon and another was the Town Clerk of Troon. It was all localised. That was a very important trust which handled more than £250,000, most of which was expended on building the Marr College. Will the clause mean that the new district council will nominate someone on that council to take over the task of trustee or will an official of the district council take over that task? It used to be a very important trust—so important that some people were not anxious to relinquish the office to successors.

It may be that all this is now out of date, but this touches upon a fascinating part of Scottish history which these days is sometimes ignored. There may be other such cases. If that is so, are those cases covered?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

With the leave of the House, may I say that I would not presume to answer the right hon. Gentleman's specific question about the Marr Trust. I do not know the terms of the trust and therefore I am not in a position to judge what the precise effect will be. We are seeking to ensure continuity where a trust is vested in a local authority. Subsection (1) deals with this matter and all property held in trust will vest in the appropriate islands or district council. It does so subject to the same trust as at present and there is no change in the purpose of the trust. Subsection (3) goes on to deal with the transfer to the proper officers of the islands or district council of any property held on trust by a specified officer of an existing local authority. We have tried in the clause to deal with a variety of situations either where property is vested in the town council or in officers of the town council. I hope that in this way we have managed to deal with the generality of cases.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendment agreed to.

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