HC Deb 11 July 1978 vol 953 cc1405-21

'In Schedule 7 to the Finance Act 1975 there shall be added:

"1(a) (1) Section 22 of this Act shall not apply in relation to the death of a person in whose case it can be shown—

  1. (a) that he died from a wound inflicted, accident occurring or disease contracted at a time when the conditions specified in sub-paragraph (2) below were satisfied or
  2. (b) that he died from a wound inflicted or disease contracted at some previous time, the death being due to or hastened by the aggravation of the wound or disease during a period when those conditions were satisfied.

(2) The condition referred to in sub-paragraph (1) above are that the deceased was or was the spouse of the holder of an office under the Crown, or a person in the service of the Crown and either—

  1. (a) was performing the duties of that office or employment, or
  2. (b) but for the holding of that office or employment by the deceased or his spouse, it would be reasonable to conclude that the death would not have occurred.

(3) This section shall be deemed always to have had effect".'.—[Mr. Peter Rees.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Peter Rees

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

It is a long and well understood tradition that the estates of members of the armed forces and related services who are killed on active service or in comparable conditions should be exempt from estate duty and, subsequently, from capital transfer tax. For estate duty the provisions are to be found in the Finance Act 1952, and in respect of capital transfer tax they are to be found in Schedule 7 to the Finance Act 1975.

There is relief from capital transfer tax for the estates of those members of the armed forces and a variety of related services, such as the Queen Alexandra's nurses and people in that sort of category, who die from wounds inflicted, accident occurring or disease contracted on active service or other service of a warlike nature.

Perhaps we have a sharper perception now of this problem since the tragic assassination of Sir Richard Sharples, a much respected and much liked former Member of the House, when he was Governor of Bermuda, and the more recent assassination by explosives of Mr. Christopher Ewart-Biggs, who, after a distinguished career in the services, was our ambassador in Dublin. Perhaps the threat comes a little bit nearer home now, as one contemplates the tragic death of Signor Aldo Moro, a distinguished Italian politician.

The theme underlying the new clause is that, since the area of risk has now been extended, so the relief should be extended. The new clause would extend the relief from capital transfer tax in the case of a person who dies while in the public service from wounds inflicted, accident occurring or disease contracted—it will be noted that these are precisely the terms used in the earlier estate duty and capital transfer tax legislation—while he is the holder of an office under the Crown or, if a spouse, while he or she is married to a person who is the holder of an office under the Crown, if the death can reasonably be attributed to such service.

No doubt it will be urged that this is an extension of the principle that we have rightly accepted for so long, that it brings in a wider class of person in different circumstances. But these are people who are now shown, on sad and recent experience, to be at risk. They are people who —or this is true of their husbands or wives —are honourably serving this country, perhaps overseas or sadly in Ulster and who may be at risk by reason of their service. It is wrong that their families should suffer when they are bereaved in this way.

One hopes that the numbers involved will not be large. If they were, that would be a sad commentary on the state of this country and the service of its representatives. It cannot be objected that this will open the door to avoidance of any kind. No one is likely to put himself or his family at risk to avoid capital transfer tax. Most people in the service of the Crown have a srong sense of public duty, but we say that no one should be looking over his shoulder at the consequences to his family of his service in a position of possible danger while a servant of the Crown.

There are no figures that we can bandy about, but the cost cannot be great. I cannot believe that the Government's public expenditure plans will be seriously affected. I hope that both sides will believe, as I do, that if any revenue has to be forgone, it will be forgone in a good cause. I cannot believe that the Government will want to preserve the inviolability of the tax system at the expense of the families of those in public service who are exposed to risk. I hope that the Government will favour the new clause and that if they do not, it will command the support of the whole House.

Mr. Powell

The hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) referred specifically, though by no means exclusively, to cases such as those of a former governor and a former ambassador. But it is impossible for an hon. Member representing a constituency in Northern Ireland to read the new clause without applying it to persons in Northern Ireland in much humbler situations. That is why the clause and the intention behind it certainly have the support of my hon. Friends and myself.

I should like to refer first to one new element which the new clause will introduce into the code which at present appears in schedule 7—I think that the reference on the Amendment Paper to schedule 1 in the first line of the new clause is a misprint—of the Finance Act 1975.

If we construe subsection (2) we arrive at the spouse of the holder of an office under the Crown or a person in the service of the Crown of whom, but for the holding of that office or employment by the deceased or his spouse, it would be reasonable to conclude that the death would not have occurred. In Northern Ireland, the wives and husbands—particularly wives—of members of the security forces and of the armed forces are at personal risk. They are at sometimes equal personal risk to that of their husbands. They are at personal risk for exactly the same reasons as those which expose their husbands to the danger of mutilation and death.

10.30 p.m.

I have at the moment in my mind's eye a house in my constituency where I was taken by the wife of the tenant who is a regular member of the UDR. I was shown the bullet holes on the wall of her sitting room—one of which had gone through a devotional picture—which had arisen from the spraying of the house with bullets while the husband was away, by someone who wished to terrorise the husband into discontinuing his service as a full-time member of the UDR.

I think also of cases where a member of the security forces has been lured into a trap or has been called to the door of his house by a combination of a telephone call and a bogus knock on the door and where the wife, being present and realising what was about to happen, has thrown herself between the assailant and her husband. It is a present fact—it is not a matter of theory—in Northern Ireland that the spouses of the members of the armed forces in the circumstances set out in Schedule 7 are at a similar kind of risk in exactly the same circumstances and for the same reasons. For that reason alone I would regard this new clause as justified and important. It is time that we recognised that the wife is in the front line just as much as the husband where the husband is in the security forces.

There is another extension made by the new clause. No doubt it will be an extension to which the right hon. Member replying will be quick to draw attention. The present code in schedule 7 of the 1975 Act refers to members of the armed forces of the Crown, those associated with them, and certain of their—I was going to say "para-military" but I should not use that word—kindred organisations, described in paragraph 1(3) of the schedule. That is clearly much more restricted than the holder of an office under the Crown or being in the service of the Crown. When the 1975 Bill was going through the House my hon. Friends and I were most anxious, although we failed in our attempt, that the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve should be included in the same manner as the armed forces of the Crown from whom, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland and in the operations in Northern Ireland, they are scarcely to be distinguished. But the matter does not stop there. No doubt the RUC would have been brought within the scope —[Interruption.]—of the measure by the description the service of the Crown. I hope that that is an important conversation that is taking place on the Treasury Bench. It is certainly a loud one. I am sure that it is intended to be helpful and that I shall be grateful for the outcome of it. It is just a little difficult to make headway against the vigour with which it is being conducted. Had I been able to make headway, I would not have interrupted the conversation.

In moving the new clause the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal referred to what I might call civilian and exalted civilian servants of the Crown. Here again, in Northern Ireland, the realities come home to the much more humble. Again I have in mind some active and courageous servants of the Crown who are not in uniform but who are at risk because they are in the service of the Crown.

I think that I can now refer, without causing risk to anyone, to the occasion—it is now two or three months ago—when the head of the social security office in Newry in my constituency, an extremely distinguished civil servant and a man upon whose judgment I have come to rely, certainly a man who performed his duties without fear or favour, was very nearly deprived of his life and was certainly deprived of the full enjoyment of his health for the rest of his life by an attack upon him outside his office. There is not the slightest doubt whatsoever that that murderous attack was made upon him because he was a servant of the Crown performing a task which, although beneficial to all for whom it was performed, brought him into contact with the poplation as, in a sense, the representative of the Crown.

He was, if I may say so, as much the representative of the Crown as Sir Richard Sharpies or Her Britannic Majesty's late ambassador in Dublin. In those circumstances, and for that reason, he was within an ace of being murdered, and I am sure that instances could be produced where those words "within an ace of" would not need to be inserted in the sentence.

There is no doubt at all that the words in subsection (2)(b) of the new clause but for the holding of that office or employment … by the deceased … the death would not have occurred". were fully complied with in that and in many other cases.

It is three years since the necessity of such a code as is embodied in schedule 7 of the Finance Act 1975 was recognised by the whole House. In those three years we have, as the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal said, learned that the scope of this kind of risk is unhappily wider than we had feared, but the arguments are the same and the justification of the exemption is the same. I submit, therefore, that the time has come when a widening of the categories is called for in plain and simple justice and in a realistic recognition of the facts of the world in which we live.

One does not judge these matters very precisely by cost but, of course, one is not here opening up a wide area of potential extension of exemption. The actual deferment of revenue—it is probably deferment, though maybe long deferment rather than loss of revenue—which would be involved is, I feel sure, not important. But what is important is the removal of an inequity, an injustice, as between the men and their wives who suffer in exactly the same way in the same causes and in the same service. I believe that if the principle of the new clause were accepted by the House tonight, that would be something which the public would fully understand and would welcome as right and just.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I hope that the House will look very carefully at the new clause before accepting it. I have listened to many debates in this House where we have sought to give exceptional preferential treatment to limited sections of the community, in tax matters or in other matters. I always wonder, when I listen to those debates, why we should go out of our way to single out people for this kind of special preferential treatment who happen to be, to use the term, in the service of the Crown.

I do not think that that phrase means very much. It does not mean very much to me. People in this country who work in any job are in the service of the nation as a whole. It matters not a hoot to me whether they are serving in Bermuda, in Washington or in a coal mine in Fife They are all doing the job that they see fit to do in the interests of the nation.

Let us take the example of our ambassador in Washington. Let us suppose that Mr. Peter Jay is shot in the course of duty, which is not such an improbable event. Under this clause, the estate of Mr. Jay would be exempt from estate duty and capital transfer tax. If Mr. Jay unfortunately lost his life in those circumstances, why should his estate be treated differently from that of, say, a miner in my constituency who lost his life on a rescue operation? Are his wife and dependants to be treated any differently from and less preferentially than the wife and dependants of Mr. Jay? Mr. Jay has a very handsome salary and a very handsome set of expenses. Miners all over Britain and the dockyard workers who are working on nuclear submarines in Rosyth dockyard are different, apparently. Their wives and relations are to be treated less preferentially than the people concerned in this clause.

The argument then is adduced on the other side—and it is a well-known argument—that it will not cost very much. Always, when there is a weak case, it is said that it will not affect many people and that it will not cost very much. I can imagine, immediately after the granting of an exemption of this kind, having a mining accident in my constituency and a miner's widow writing to me saying "Willie, you are a Socialist Member of Parliament. How do you defend giving that kind of preferential treatment to that well-paid public servant but not to me?" On no grounds at all could I defend that.

I hope that the House will look at this clause with a very jaundiced eye. Once we start exempting people from tax of any kind, we get into all sorts of anomalies. If we draw a line, someone falls just below the line and someone gets above it.

I find this proposal particularly offensive. I am not sure whether our forces in Northern Ireland are given exemption by this or whether the colonels and brigadiers are but not the privates.

Mr. Powell

I can help the hon. Member. Any member of the armed forces of the Crown is covered by the existing code. I do not know whether he voted against it three years ago, but it is on the statute book, and it was passed by this Government.

Mr. Hamilton

That makes the anomaly even more indefensible. I have referred to dockyard workers. I think the people working on nuclear submarines in Rosyth dockyard are just as much at risk as some of the forces about whom the right hon. Member is talking. Why should they be treated any less favourably than the Ulster soldier? There is no possible reason in equity or for any other reason why that should be so. For those reasons, I hope that the House will vote against the clause.

Mr. Graham Page

I do not see this clause as singling out people for some exceptional preferential treatment. It is a very logical and reasonable extension of principles which are recognised already in this part of the law.

It is not necessary for a taxation system to be devoid of compassion. It is not necessary to be entirely logical in taxation. After all, the money is being collected on behalf of the public. It is right that there should be fairness between one taxpayer and another but we have recognised already that those in the service of the Crown are entitled to certain exceptions. Of course, they must be in many spheres of the law, and not only in taxation.

If one is collecting money on behalf of the public, one should remember that the public has a soft heart. That is what I mean by taxation not being entirely devoid of compassion. The public would approve of compassionate treatment in this case. I do not want to go any further than to point out that this is a reasonable extension of something that is already recognised.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Cope

I did not intend to intervene in this debate, but I have been prompted to do so by the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I recognise the sincerity of his views and I respect him for that. But I cannot agree with him.

For a start there was a flaw in the example he gave. He referred to the wife of a miner who might approach him in the circumstances he outlined. But capital transfer tax would not apply in that case between two spouses. However, that is a technical difference, not a difference of principle.

Secondly, there is no difference between the treatment of the private and brigadier, or between the lowest clerk in the embassy and the ambassador if they meet their deaths in the circumstances outlined in the new clause.

I believe that there is a different degree of risk involved in relation to soldiers in the Gloucestershire Regiment, for example, who are currently in Northern Ireland, on a long tour, accompanied by their wives. Daily they are patrolling the streets in their part of Northern Ireland, and they are living in difficult conditions.

They are in the position of many of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I recognise that my constituents are only in Northern Ireland for a relatively short time compared with his. Nevertheless, there is a different degree of risk. All the soldiers who are there—and this applies equally to the RUC and others—are there because they are volunteers, and we need volunteers if we are to keep the peace in Northern Ireland, and win through in this difficult struggle. For that reason it is in the nation's interests that we should pass the new clause.

Mr. Nelson

Is there not an additional difference between the two circumstances that have been described in the debate? In many cases the dependants of a deceased person killed in the civilian sector may be able to obtain civil damages, whereas in the case of service men in many theatres of war—perhaps not Northern Ireland—there is no ability to obtain recompense. The existing legislation takes account of that and the new clause simply builds on the recognition in that legislation.

Mr. Cope

My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. I remember that the 1975 Finance Bill would have phased out such relief as exists for the armed forces. I had the honour of putting down an amendment which led to the relief being continued. That is an episode in my parliamentary career with which I am very pleased. I would be delighted to see it extended in the way envisaged in the new clause.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The new clause seeks to extend relief from capital transfer tax beyond the present relief which is confined to the armed services of the Crown. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentioned Northern Ireland, and will be aware that the statutory relief for the armed services has been extended by concession in Northern Ireland to the Royal Ulster Constabulary because it is felt that its duties are inherently the same as those of the armed forces of the Crown. That is the extent of the relief. It is confined, subject to that concession, to the armed forces of the Crown.

This is an old relief and extends back beyond capital transfer tax to estate duty. The reason is that the job of the armed forces is by its nature inherently dangerous. Indeed, its very purpose is to go into danger, whereas the other activities mentioned, although there may be incidental danger, again subject to the exception of Northern Ireland, are not inherently dangerous jobs in the same way as those carried out by the soldier.

The new clause seeks to extend the relief. One can understand the reason for the clause. We all know of the case involving Sir Richard Sharples and also of the recent case involving the British ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. Representations have been made from time to time about cases of this kind. Governments have always examined them and have come to the conclusion that it is difficult in that area to extend the relief without creating considerable injustices, unfairnesses and anomalies.

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said that the tax system need not be logical. Perhaps one can accept that, but a tax system needs to be fair between one citizen and another whether or not that citizen is a servant of the Crown. This is where the difficulty lies in respect of the new clause. Once one looks at it, one appreciates the difficulty of trying to set some limit on the extension of the relief. The new clause seeks to extend the relief and then seeks to set a limit on that extension. It is at the point of the limit that the anomaly, unfairness and injustice come in. The limit is a servant of the Crown or a Crown servant, which is a fairly narrow description of "employment". Only those who hold an office under the Crown, as I understand it, would be enabled to benefit from the clause.

Yet one could face a position at present where a collection of people could be gathered in a place which might be the object of a terrorist attack. One of those persons might be, shall we say, a civil servant in a Government Department, another might be a member of a nationalised industry, and yet another a director of BP. Two of those three would not be servants of the Crown. The civil servant would be a servant of the Crown, and yet the three people might be carrying out the same function, doing the same service in exactly the same way. But because one happened to be a servant of the Crown and the other two happened not to be, the estate of one would be free from capital transfer tax and the estate of the others would not. I cannot see the logic in deciding, for example, that where a civil servant in the Department of Energy were discussing oil matters with a director of BP, if both for some reason or other were hijacked or attacked in some way, one estate should be free from capital transfer tax and the other not free from that tax.

Mention was made of Mr. Moro. Again, coming closer to this House, if there were some kind of attack on Members of this House, what logic or fairness is there that the estate of a Minister—if he has any estate—being a servant of the Crown would benefit from the clause, whereas that of any other Member of the House would not benefit? That also applies to the public. Therefore, there is no logic, fairness or justice, so far as I can see, about this clause.

Mr. Graham Page

Would not the same situation arise, as the law stands at present, if there were a member of the armed forces serving alongside a policeman and they were both blown up?

Mr. Davies

Yes, but I have tried to explain—and it is difficult to make a wholly convincing case—that the work of a member of the armed forces is inherently dangerous, but the work of a policeman, while danger is incidental to it, could not be said to be inherently dangerous. That distinction may not entirely commend itself to the House, but I believe that it is a reasonable distinction between one case and the other.

Remembering my law studies of long ago, I. understand that policemen are not servants of the Crown and therefore they would not be covered anyway by the new clause.

Mr. Budgen

Does the Minister not agree that we may have situations in the State, such as the continuing state of near rebellion in Northern Ireland, which mean that persons outside the immediate category of the armed services find that their work is inherently dangerous?

Mr. Davies

Absolutely. Section 46 of the Finance Act 1941 was used after the war in certain cases in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus, but the extension was very limited. Generally, the distinction between the armed forces and others is reasonable. The work of firemen is extremely dangerous, especially, as the right hon. Member for Down, South pointed out, in Northern Ireland, but they would not he covered by the new clause—certainly in Great Britain—because they are not servants of the Crown.

There have been at least two hard cases, but unfortunately one cannot legislate on the basis of those hard cases because, as I have tried to demonstrate, it is practically impossible to draw the line between Crown servants and others. Once we go beyond the narrow category of the armed forces, I see no logic or justice in the new clause. It leaves out so many people who, in justice, should be included. But there lies the difficulty. For that reason, I cannot accept the new clause.

Mr. Peter Rees

We have had a short, but important debate. Before coming to the points of substance, may I draw your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that there is a printing error in the new clause as it appears on the Amendment Paper? Obviously, it is designed to be an amendment to schedule 7 of the Finance Act 1975 and not to schedule 1.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

My attention has already been drawn to that error by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell).

Mr. Rees

Since I moved the new clause, I thought it right that I should endorse the point formally in case it should be thought that I had overlooked it. But I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having corrected me, if that were necessary.

I am also grateful to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for having brought the debate down from the perhaps slightly high-flown level on which I launched it to instances that occur daily in the Province of Ulster. Regrettably, they do not seem to have moved the Government Front Bench. The right hon. Gentleman has given vivid instances of the utility, good sense and equity of the new clause as it applies to hundreds, if not thousands, of our fellow citizens in Ulster, even though, in opening, I was disposed to give instances affecting servants of the Crown mainly in posts abroad.

11.0 p.m.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that he looked on the clause with a jaundiced eye. I am sorry about that, because I respect his judgment in some if not all matters. I am sorry that the clause should generate jaundice on either side of the House because it is a matter of considerable importance, and I hope that we can look at it with good sense but also with compassion, without jaundice and without rancour. I hope that no partisan note will be struck, certainly by myself, in this debate.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that had he chosen to look back at the previous estate duty legislation and, indeed, at the current capital transfer tax legislation, which, so far as I know, he supported completely—it may well be that he recorded his dissent, but if he did I have been unable to discover it in Hansard—he would have found that there has been for many years relief from estate duty and CTT for all members of the armed forces—both for private soldiers and for general officers; rank is totally unimportant in this context.

Beyond that, the House may recall that it relates not only to members of the armed forces. I think that it is important to read the list because, since the Minister of State has pinned his case on the practical difficulties of drawing a line, I should like to demonstrate how imprecise the line is at the moment. I shall do so by reading out the categories of persons other than those in the armed forces whose estates at the moment bene- fit from this concession, if that is how it should be regarded.

I do not wish to reflect in any way on the value of their services, which I know are incomparable, but since the Minister of State says that drawing lines is a difficult operation, I would remind the House that at the moment a member of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, or any reserve thereof, has the benefit of the relief from CTT if she is killed on active service or on comparable activities. The list goes on to include a member of the Territorial Army Nursing Service; a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service or any reserve; a woman medical or dental practitioner serving in the Royal Navy or any naval reserve.

Mr. Pardoe

They are all armed forces.

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman, with his acute and precise mind, says that they are members of the armed services. What I am attempting to demonstrate is that not every person who advances into the breach with a rifle in his hand has his estate accorded this particular relief, and it is possible to draw a line so as to embrace a woman employed in the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Army Dental Corps, the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, or women employed by the medical branch or the dental branch of the Royal Air Force, with the relative rank as an officer; a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachments employed under the Admiralty Council, Army Council, Air Council, or Defence Council. The hon. Gentleman will see from that list that the line is nothing like as precise as the Minister would have us believe.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a bad point.

Mr. Rees

The hon. Gentleman says I am making a bad point. If he is pinning his case, as he appeared to do, on the difficulties of drawing lines, all I can say is that he was not over-oppressed in 1972 by the difficulty of drawing a line in that case.

Mr. Joel Barnett

Armed forces.

Mr. Rees

The right hon. Gentleman raises his hand and says "Armed forces", but the principle underlying the new clause as it underlay the relief conceded in 1972 is that those who are exposed to exceptional risks by virtue of their service should be afforded exceptional reliefs.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that a civil servant, perhaps in the Treasury, is in that category, subject to exceptional risks of danger? His clause would cover that kind of person.

Mr. Rees

If it could be shown that he or his spouse were to be despatched to Ulster by virtue of his service, he would be in that category. That is the principle underlying the clause. It is that which moved us to put the clause down and to debate it tonight. If the right hon. Gentleman does not even accept the principle, a large gulf has opened between the Government Front Bench and the Opposition Benches. The Chief Secretary nods his head. It seems that he takes the view that there is a wide gulf. I am sorry that that is so. I thought that we could agree, leaving aside the hon. Member for Fife, Central, that the principle was a good one even though we might find difficulty in clothing it in statutory form.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Are not the Government saying that if someone suffers the tragedy of dying in the service of the Crown, the Crown should tax him?

Mr. Rees

When we analyse the arguments deployed by the right hon. Gentleman, it seems that he was constructing a good case for saying that we should not charge tax by reference to death. That would open up the debate perhaps unnecessarily wide for my purposes. I am sure that I should be in order if I were to take that course, but I do not know whether I should carry the whole House with me if I were to deploy that argument.

I prefer to rest the case for the clause on the narrower ground that those who are exposed to exceptional risks by virtue of their office or duties should be accorded the reliefs set out in the clause.

It could be that in the nineteenth century those in public offices were not exposed to risks, although I recall that Lord Frederick Cavendish was gunned down in Phoenix Park and that Sir Louis Cavagnari with his escort of guides was done to death in our embassy at Kabul. However, those were different times and before the introduction of estate duty, so it is not necessary to draw comfort from those historical instances.

The examples that I have given indicate that we have moved into a different era where those in public offices are exposed to special risks. They are often singled out for the attention of terrorists. It is no complete answer to say that others regrettably will also be exposed to similar risks. It is regrettably true that in Northern Ireland there will be those who are not in public employment who will be exposed to risks. It may be true that those accompanying our ambassadors, and even our Ministers of the Crown, will be exposed to risks. If that is so, the Minister of State is constructing a good argument for extending the ambit of the clause. If he is prepared to say that he will consider the principle sympathetically to ascertain whether it may be embodied in statutory form in a more adroit and precise way, I for one shall not be discouraged.

All I want the House to recognise on this occasion is that there is an old principle at stake that needs to be applied to a new situation. We have not so far extracted even a glimmer of recognition from the Minister of State. The right hon. Gentleman has dwelt, presumably with an official brief in his hands, on the difficulties of drawing the line. If he says that he accepts the principle, that he will take away the clause to ascertain whether it may be refilled and polished and will intoduce it at the next Finance Bill, if he is to introduce another, we shall be happy. For the moment I am discouraged that those on the Government Front Bench are disposed to treat this as a frivolous exercise. The right hon. Member for Down, South found it difficult to penetrate their conversations.

I hope that Labour Members behind the Treasury team who have pondered more carefully and compassionately on this exercise will recognise that there is a point to be made. If the hon. Member for Fife, Central feels that the ambit should be extended, and if he feels that perhaps he was wrong to have supported the relief that was embodied in the 1972 Act on the ground that it was too narrowly drawn, we shall welcome his support. I hope that at the end of the day the House will recognise that an important principle is at stake.

As we recognise the difficulties—I accept that there are practical difficulties we shall not be disposed on this occasion to press the clause to a Division. However, I think that the Minister of State owes it to the House to say that there is a principle at stake. Even if he finds difficulty in the way in which it has been embodied in the clause, I hope that he will accept that the great Department of State that he represents should consider the principle again and rather more carefully than hitherto.

Although we shall not press the clause to a Division, we must put the right hon. Gentleman on notice that if he is unulcky enough to be occupying the Government Bench and to be commending to the House another Finance Bill in the future, we shall have to revert to the principle underlying the clause and on that next occasion we shall press it with a great deal of vigour.

Question put and negatived.