HL Deb 27 July 1857 vol 147 cc433-5

presented a petition from Captain L. S.W. Dawson Damer complaining of the interpretation put upon the Succession Act by the Comptroller of Legacy Duties in regard to settlements made before the passing of that Act, and said that the working of the present Act was in many cases productive of great hardship. By the Act imposing succession duties, those duties were fixed at 1 per cent in the case of a son, 5 per cent in the case of a collateral relative, and 10 per cent in the case of a stranger. It happened, however, in practice, that the authorities at Somerset House ruled that when a son took property after his father, in accordance with a previous settlement, the duty which he had to pay was not 1 per cent, but the percentage which would be due had he taken the property at once without the intervention of the father. Lady Caroline Damer had devised an estate to a Colonel Damer for life, with remainder to the first and other sons in tail. Colonel Darner had by a disentailing deed, executed before the Succession Duties Bill came into operation, barred the entail. It had been held that the son of Colonel Darner was liable to pay a higher duty than 1 per cent., and certainly such a decision appeared to him to be an injustice, because it appeared clear that where a new title had been created it was upon that that the duty ought to be levied. It appeared to him that the whole question was one which required revision, or at least that the Act itself should be made clear and intelligible, instead of being left as it was, intricate and confused.


said he thought the word "hardship" as applied to the effect of the Comptroller's decision a harsh one. If a person in the Comptroller's situation was lax in his duty to the Crown, persons were not likely to come forward and complain of that; but any one who had a tax to pay was generally ready to make complaints of the way in which it was levied. The amount of money received by the succession duties went to show that the Act did not press with that severity that some of their Lordships had expected. Mr. Gladstone had calculated the produce of this tax at £2,500,000; but the opponents of the measure said that it would realize a great deal more. However, it now turned out that only a quarter of that sum was received. The amount might increase to one-half in course of time; but even on that assumption he thought he was now justified in assuming that the operation of the tax would be more agreeable than had been anticipated. Forming an opinion on the statement made in Mr. Damer's petition, so far as he (Earl Granville) could judge of it from hearing it read, he thought that the Comptroller's decision was a correct one; for if the act of a father and son joining together in disentailing deeds were allowed to affect the amount of duty, the tax would be evaded in nine cases out of ten. As to the interpretation to be put on the Act, the authorities atSomerset House were advised by a proper legal functionary, and if there were any complaints against his decisions, they should be brought forward specifically. Considering that the Act was of a complicated character, and contained no less than fifty clauses, he thought it extraordinary that it had not led to more litigation. There had been only three cases in which appeal was made to a court of law. In all those the Crown had succeeded, but had refused to take advantage of the decisions by receiving costs. Under these circumstances, he did not think it could be said that there was any hardship in the way the tax was collected.


said, he did not think that his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had taken a correct view of the case stated in Mr. Darner's petition. He the (Earl of Derby) recollected that when the Bill was before Parliament objection was taken to its restrospective character. It was said that it would be a great hardship to make its provisions apply to settlements actually in existence at the time of the passing of the Act, and it was proposed that they should only extend to settlements made after the Act. He did not say that it was unreasonable to object to that proposition, because its effect would have been to defer the operation of the Act for a very long time; but the petition read to their Lordships by his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) applied to a settlement that was null and void at the time of the passing of the Act, and, consequently was not in existence when the Act passed. There was a settlement at one time in existence, but before the passing of the Act the father and son join in cutting off the entail existing under the settlement. Yet, when the heir succeeds, he is charged as if he succeeded under the settlement so done away with. He (the Earl of Derby) admitted that in the discussions on the Bill there was a good deal of objection taken to allowing persons to cut off entail after the passing of the Act; but, that was not the case now before their Lordships, which was one of a settlement put an end to before the passing of the Act, and now held to be revived for the purposes of the succession duty.


said, he would not, of course, presume to give a legal opinion on a case the facts of which he had not looked into; but from the statement in Mr. Damer's petition he thought the decision of the Comptroller a correct one. After the execution of the deed by which the son was to take an absolute estate, the question arose whether the son would not take by virtue of the will under which his father had derived it; and, on the whole, he (the Lord Chancellor) thought the Comptroller had taken the right view of the matter.