HL Deb 13 March 1884 vol 285 cc1310-3

said, he rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether in the case of Irish estates which had paid succession duty prior to the Land Act of 1881 on net rentals which have been since largely reduced by the Land Commission, the Treasury will be prepared to make a proportionate return of the duty already paid; and, whether succession duty will henceforth be payable by tenants in Ireland upon the value of their interests as fixed by the Land Court? That question involved a point of very considerable interest to the smaller landlords throughout Ireland. He would first take the case of a landlord whose property previous to the passing of the Land Act had been assessed for the purposes of succession duty at a net rental of, say, £400 a-year. Supposing him to be a man in middle life, that net rental would be valued as an annuity of 15 years, and the duty would be assessed oil a capital sum of £6,000. Since the passing of the Land Act the owner found himself in this position—taking the deductions made by the Sub-Commissioners at an average of 25 per cent—and that was a much lower figure than was frequently obtained on properties on that amount—he would find himself, having paid succession duty on a capital sum of £6,000, entitled only to an income of £300 a-year, representing, under similar circumstances, a capital sum of £4,500. In that case that difference in value had been substracted from him and from his I income by an Act of the Legislature. He could not have anticipated it; in all probability he had no share in fixing the rental, having succeeded to the property on which the duty was assessed. Had he taken the best professional advice at his disposal he would probably have I been informed that the rental was a fair one as things went. The consequence was that he was a sufferer from no act of his own, but from the Legislature having directly intervened in the management of his affairs. He (Viscount Midleton) wished to know whether, in the circumstances, and bearing in mind that the rent was valued for 15 years, the Treasury would be prepared to grant a drawback equivalent to the difference which had been made in his rental; or, secondly, supposing the answer to be that the Treasury never gave up anything that it had once annexed—which he believed to be a fair and correct statement of its usual practice—what, then, would be the course which the Succession Duty Office would be likely to adopt in case of similar circumstances occurring, except that all the instalments had not been paid at the passing of the Land Act? He had a case before him at the present moment which had been sent to him by a person in Ireland with whom he was wholly unacquainted, and which stated the circumstances of a property with which the writer was connected. In that ease the actual deductions made from a property in Donegal and Antrim had been about 23 per cent. The instalments which had been paid had been so paid upon the footing that the rental remained untouched; and now the landlord asked the pertinent question whether it was necessary for him to continue paying upon income which he no longer possessed, or whether any deduction would be made in the instalments subsequently due, or the deductions which had been made from the income by the act of the Land Commission. It seemed to him (Viscount Midleton) that a fair case had been made out for a drawback being allowed. No option remained to the owner. He must submit to the rent which was now imposed upon him by law, and for 15 years he knew that he could ask for no increase of rent. The other question had reference to the tenants, and not to the owners. He would give a specimen case which came within his own knowledge. A farm was taken about two and a-half years before the passing of the Land Act by a stranger at an agreed and not at a competition rent. The moment the Land Act passed he applied for a substantial reduction. That was refused, and he filed an originating notice. When the case came on for hearing the Sub-Commissioners decided that the rent was a fair rent. When the tenant applied further to have the value of his interest in the land fixed, although it was not pretended that he had done anything to have improved the land beyond taking the ordinary crop out of it and paying a year's rent, the value of his interest in the land was assessed by the Sub-Commissioners at six years' purchase of the net rental. Now, he (Viscount Midleton) wanted to know, supposing succession took place, would succession duty attach to the tenant's interest as so defined and settled by the Sub-Commissioners? He had no idea what answer he would receive. He hoped it would not be that the Courts were open; that he knew already. He ventured to say that in connection with the Land Act of Ireland they had already had far too much law. Whatever benefits any class of the community had received from the passing of the Act—and he would not discuss that question at present—there was one class which had been most unmistakably favoured, and that was the local attorneys throughout the length and breadth of the country. There was scarcely a single case in which the landlord was taken into Court which he could expect to get out of without an expenditure of £5; and, if the case went up for appeal, the sum was often doubled. He knew of one case involving a question of 50s. in a rent of £70 or £80 a-year, which cost the landlord and tenant upwards of £50 to get settled; and when the decision was finally announced it settled no principle, but only the particular case out of which it arose. Therefore, he hoped the Government might be able to give some information for the benefit of those concerned with respect to the question whether, when succession duty was demanded, those concerned were to be compelled to engage in an extensive lawsuit on a question not of detail but of principle? The Government had actually extracted either the whole or a portion of a succession duty, which was fair on the assumption that the larger sum was at the disposal of the life tenant; and it seemed to him only fair that some consideration in the form of a Return of what had actually been paid should be made, and that the Government should cease in the future to demand a payment which could no longer be said equitably to attach to the estate upon which it was levied.


, in reply, said, the Treasury were advised that it would not be competent for them in strict law to make a Return of Duty in the circumstances mentioned, for the reason that succession duty was payable according to the annual value of the property at the time when the interest of the successor accrued. But acting under their general powers, and in view of the special condition of Irish affairs, they had issued an authority to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to reconsider any outstanding cases the succession to which opened in or after the year 1879, and with regard to which the valuations then fixed had been reduced by the circumstances of the country. As regarded the future payment of succession duty by tenants in respect of their interests, the Commissioners of Inland Revenue would in due course of law be bound to assess the duty upon the annual value shown to exist at the time when the duty became assessable, which in the circumstances might possibly vary from that fixed by the Land Court, to whose decision, however, due regard would be paid. The noble Viscount would, therefore, see that in both the cases to which he had referred the Treasury would be prepared to take them into consideration.