§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for the Second Reading, moved by Viscount Esher on February 28 last.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ LORD TEYNHAM, who had given Notice that he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, in moving the rejection of this Bill I should like to make it quite clear at the outset that I fully appreciate the very great work that is carried on by the National Trust and that I am in full sympathy with the main objects of the Bill. I hope that my noble friend the Marquess of Zetland will realise that my opposition to the Bill is in no way directed towards the activities of the National Trust, more especially as the noble Marquess has pointed out that as a member of the Government it is a little difficult for him to express an opinion on a Private Bill. Both the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, the Chairman of Committees, pointed out in the earlier stages of the debate on this Bill that this Private Bill proposes to make very great alterations in the general law in regard to settled lands. I would humbly suggest that it is not the usual practice in your Lordships' House for a Private Bill to be permitted to make such large and important alterations in the general law, although I understand that in this particular case the authorities of both Houses of Parliament have ruled that it is not out of order for this Bill to proceed as a Private Bill. I would suggest that, while it is not out of order for this Bill to proceed as a Private Bill, there are strong reasons on general public grounds why your Lordships should not give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Perhaps I may be permitted to remind your Lordships that the Bill enables a 531 tenant for life to grant, gratuitously or otherwise, to the National Trust in fee simple the mansion house and land of which he is only the tenant for life, without the consent of those persons coming after him who would be entitled to succeed to the property, providing that the consent of the trustees is obtained or an order of the Court. I would like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that under the Estate Bill procedure, by which already such transfers may be made, the consent of the trustees and of the remainder men and of all the parties must be obtained. It is, of course, true that this Bill does not apply to all properties, but I would suggest that parts of this Bill are capable of very wide interpretation.
§ I would like to draw your Lordships' attention for a few moments to Clause 3 (2) of the Bill. Under this subsection the Commissioner of Works is the responsible authority for certifying that the principal mansion house affected is of national interest, or architectural interest, or historic interest, or artistic interest. I would suggest that these four denominations cover very wide categories and are capable of very wide interpretations. Perhaps some of your Lordships will feel that they are far wider than the real need of this very excellent body the National Trust. The Chairman of Committees has already pointed out to your Lordships that there is already a well-known procedure by way of Estate Bills, which I have already mentioned, under which all interested parties can appear and give their consent or otherwise. I am given to understand that this procedure is not very expensive, and I would suggest that it is not more expensive than an application to the High Court, which is envisaged by this Bill.
§ I suggest that this Bill is unnecessary and that it is also objectionable. It is objectionable because it gives limited owners of property the power, in certain cases and subject to the restrictions I have already mentioned, to give away property in which other persons have an interest without the consent of those persons and perhaps to the grave and unjust injury of those persons. I consider that the very large and important principle raised by this Bill is of too great a magnitude to be dealt with by a Private Bill. It may be that if the proposal contained in this Bill 532 were introduced in a Public Bill and framed somewhat differently, and with suitable safeguards, the objections I have endeavoured to point out would be met. The Bill as a Public Bill would, of course, receive the full consideration of your Lordships on the floor of the House. For that reason and for the other reasons that I have mentioned, I hope that your Lordships will not give this Bill a Second Reading.
Leave out ("now") and at the end insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Teynham.)
§ 4.22 p.m.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Teynham, in moving that your Lordships should not give this Bill a Second Reading, mentioned that the principle of the Bill, the idea which underlies it, had the sympathy of most of your Lordships, if not of all. He went on to say that if the matter were put before Parliament in the form of a Public Bill and every opportunity for consideration and amendment were afforded to your Lordships, a solution of the difficulty might possibly be found. Perhaps your Lordships may permit me to suggest a course which might meet the objections that have been voiced by my noble friend and by which full consideration might be given to the Bill in the same way as if it were a Public Bill. The procedure is a little complicated, and perhaps your Lordships will allow me to explain it. I will not repeat what I said the other day, but your Lordships will remember that this is not an opposed Bill—that is to say, it is not a Bill which is opposed on Petition—and in the ordinary way it would come before the Unopposed Bill Committee and not be considered by a Select Committee upstairs. I suggested, in order to meet the difficulty which arose the other day, that I should make use of Standing Order No. 110, which I will read to your Lordships again:The Chairman of Committees may, if he thinks fit, report to the House his opinion that any unopposed Bill on which he shall sit as Chairman should be proceeded with as an opposed Bill.That was the course which I suggested might be followed in this case.
Of course, as I said just now, there is no Petition against the Bill, and therefore the objectors do not have the same 533 opportunity of stating their case as they would if they were opposing a Bill on Petition. It is, however, a practice which is very commonly followed that the Chairman of Committees should write a letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee bringing forward certain points that have been raised and to which it is suggested that a full consideration should be given by the Select Committee. That course is very often followed even on Bills which are opposed on Petition, when there is no Petition against the particular point. That would be the course which I should suggest. If your Lordships agree, I propose that I should follow that: course, and that the letter which I should address to the Chairman of the Select Committee should draw his attention to the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House and to the various points which have been raised, and should recommend that the Committee should give full consideration to them.
Since the debate which we had last month, I have been informed—and I think I may inform your Lordships, because the promoters have been in consultation with other members of your Lordships' House besides myself—that certain Amendments have been suggested which might meet the points raised by the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack and by other noble Lords and myself in that debate. Of course those Amendments are pot before your Lordships now, so it would not be possible to consider them in detail; but if your Lordships would agree to send the Bill to a Select Committee upstairs, the Committee would go into the whole matter, consider those Amendments and any other Amendments which might be put forward, and then reproduce a Bill which might again come forward for consideration by your Lordships.
The objection which has been raised—a very proper objection, if I may say so—is that it could only be discussed on Third Reading; and of course there are difficulties in amending a Bill on Third Reading. As your Lordships are aware, the Amendments have to be printed on the Paper and there is no opportunity afterwards to alter them. There is a Standing Order which again I will read to your Lordships, and which I think perhaps might meet this case. It is Standing Order No. 170, and runs as follows: 534The Chairman of Committees may, if he thinks fit, propose to the House that any Local Bill shall, after it has been reported, be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. But no Local Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House under this Standing Order shall by reason of such commitment be allowed to proceed as a Public Bill.If your Lordships agree, I would undertake to make that proposal to your Lordships: that the Bill as amended by the Select Committee upstairs should be recommitted to your Lordships' House in the same way as every Public Bill is committed, and that your Lordships should then consider it in Committee of the Whole House.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
Yes, it is a Local Bill: I have been into that point and it is a Local Bill. It would then be considered on the floor of the House in the same way as any other Public Bill which is before your Lordships, and then, of course, any Amendment might be made on Report; and afterwards, if your Lordships wished to alter those Amendments or to put in new Amendments, there is a further opportunity on Third Reading. I venture to suggest that this course might meet the views of noble Lords who have their doubts about the propriety of all the questions in this Bill, and I therefore recommend it to your Lordships.
Of course I ought to say to your Lordships that, as Chairman of Committees of your Lordships' House, I feel that it is desirable that Private Bills should have an opportunity of consideration before a Select Committee. We have, not very often but occasionally, Motions for rejection on Second Reading, but I think that everybody who has occupied the position that I do at the present moment has represented to your Lordships the desirability of allowing such Bills to have the opportunity of being considered by a Select Committee. I and my predecessors have reminded your Lordships that such Bills can be thrown out or amended on Third Reading. This Bill is a somewhat complicated one, but to allow the Bill as considered by the Select Committee to be recommitted to your Lordships' House will give the same safeguard as is enjoyed in the case of a Public Bill.
§ LORD HASTINGS
May I ask the Lord Chairman a question? The Lord Chairman proposes that if and when this Bill is 535 given a Second Reading it should then automatically go to a Select Committee and be considered, and then come back here and be considered in Committee of the Whole House, exactly as if it were a Public Bill. It would then have Committee, Report, and Third Reading stages, in which it could be dealt with in all particulars.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
It would go upstairs under Standing Order 110—I should of course use the powers given me under that Standing Order—and it would be considered by the Select Committee upstairs in the same way as an ordinary Private Bill is considered. The Select Committee would make any Amendments, or deal with the Bill as they thought proper. Then, under Standing Order 170, I should recommend to your Lordships that it should be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House, just like any Public Bill. After that it would proceed through the ordinary stages of Third Reading, and "That the Bill do pass," and so forth. I think that would give every opportunity for full consideration of the Bill. It will be the same procedure as your Lordships have followed in a case such as the Rooks and Rabbits Bill, which was considered, amended, and brought back again. The Birds Protection Bill was practically a new Bill when it came back, and it was recommitted and considered by your Lordships, and then went to Third Reading. Of course that was a Public Bill, but this is really the same procedure.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, it is not quite clear whether we shall get three stages in which we can consider details—namely, the Committee stage, the Report stage, and Third Reading. The noble Earl mentioned only Committee and Third Reading.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
We should have a Second Reading, then the Bill would go upstairs for full consideration, and it would come back. I presume there would be a Committee stage in the House, and afterwards Report and Third Reading.
§ 4.32 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading, and allow it to go forward according to the procedure 536 which has now been outlined by the Lord Chairman, which the promoters cordially welcome. There is really no difference of opinion about the merits of the general principle of this Bill. The only dispute really is as to the method by which protection will be secured for certain remainder men's and reversioners' rights. It is clear that owing to the great and increasing taxation the number of these mansions to be brought under the hammer and broken up is increasing, and therefore it is in the public interest that steps, reasonably in accordance with the rights of others, should be taken to preserve these houses in perpetuity, or as long as possible. The procedure outlined by the National Trust is, I think, by general consent, the best practical proposal for securing that that will be done. The advantage of that procedure has been seen in a number of cases, and probably will be seen in more if this Bill is allowed to become law in a modified form. As I am advised, the number of houses which would be certified by the Office of Works as being of the character mentioned in the Bill is probably not more than 300, but they are houses it is most important to preserve, and for which it is necessary to make provision. The number of cases in which this procedure will be applied is strictly limited, and I do not think the Bill would have the very wide application that the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill indicated.
The real substance of the objection, as I understand it, was explained to your Lordships' House on the last occasion by the Lord Chancellor. He told us that the Bill had a wider scope than appeared at first sight, and that it did not sufficiently protect the interests of remainder men and reversioners—they were not sufficiently considered and protected. It is not, I understand, permissible for me at this time to indicate to the House the details of the Amendments which the promoters propose to introduce on the Committee stage, or in the Select Committee upstairs, but broadly speaking the intention is to give to the remainder men and reversioners the same consideration and protection as they would get under the procedure of the Settled Property Act. The objection to the ordinary procedure under the existing law, that is, by means of an Estate Bill in this House or in the other 537 place, is that it would be extremely expensive, amounting to from £500 to £1,500 in each case, and that the Parliamentary procedure as indicated by the Lord Chairman in the debate a week or two ago requires that all sorts of people-trustees and remainder men and others—have got to appear in a formal way before him. Therefore while the protection is to be the same, the proposal under the Amendments will be that it should be administered by the Court on principles to be laid down by Parliament in this Bill.
That I think meets the substantial objections which were raised last time—objections with which the promoters of the Bill fully sympathise. If it is agreed that full protection must be given to the rights of remainder men, then I submit that, in view of the general assent to the general principles of the Bill, the detailed way in which that protection should be given is a matter appropriate to the kind of procedure suggested by the Lord Chairman. When the details have been considered by the Select Committee, their proposals can be brought back to this House and considered by the whole House. The discussion can range over the whole subject. Then there will be a Report stage and Third Reading. That seems to me to ensure in effect the same procedure and discussion as if it were a Public Bill. Therefore I do most strongly urge your Lordships not to reject this Bill, with all the trouble and expense involved, but to allow it to go forward under a guarantee that the points which have been raised in discussion will be brought to the attention of the Chairman of the Select Committee, will be considered again in Committee here, and finally, on the Report stage and Third Reading. I urge your Lordships not to accept the Amendment moved by Lord Teynham but to allow this Bill to go forward to Second Reading.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, the interesting procedure which was explained to your Lordships by the Lord Chairman seemed to me to give to the opponents of the Bill, if so they can be called, ample opportunity to have an expression of their views explained both to the Select Committee upstairs and in Committee on the floor of this House. I would certainly suggest to my noble friend 538 who moved the rejection that the new conditions which have been presented by the Lord Chairman should be accepted by him and that the Bill should be given a Second Reading. But that of course brings us to a consideration of the Bill under ordinary Second Reading conditions, and I would, if I may, propose to deal with it in that light. Before this debate was adjourned a great deal had been said about the neglect of the remainder man's interest—it has been dealt with again by my noble friend Lord Lothian—and Lord Teynham has raised the point that this Bill ought to have been presented as a Public Bill. That appears to have been got over by the Lord Chairman, who I hope has precedent for the action which he is proposing, but there was a point which has not yet been touched upon which I should like to endeavour to explain to the House.
We are all fully cognisant of the good work that the National Trust does in the interests of the public at large, and nothing that I would say should be taken as being in any way a reflection upon that work. But it is a fact that the National Trust, being in the possession of no funds other than those which are voluntarily subscribed, or which it can obtain from the letting of the properties which have passed into its hands, is therefore compelled, before it can take over any property which will entail expensive maintenance, to secure an endowment fund to enable it to function. Now that endowment fund has to be found by the donor of the property which is to be taken over by the National Trust. There is no question of that; it is merely a statement of the fact. But I think it is a fact which is not really very well understood by the public, and it is also a fact which is not usually understood by the prospective donor of property.
I am approaching this matter not from the point of view of an owner, because this Bill is purely permissive. Nobody suggests that an owner should do other than that which he wishes to do. I wish to approach it purely from the standpoint of a trustee of a settled estate, and many of your Lordships are in the same position as I am in that regard. Now the tenant for life expresses a desire, for perfectly good reasons, to hand over this property to the National Trust. He may obtain the consent of the remainder man, 539 and the National Trust proceeds to invite the consent of the trustees. The trustees are confronted with a very remarkable situation. They are in charge of an estate with a great historic mansion situated upon it, a mansion which is taking probably to-day the whole of the surplus income of the estate to maintain. Trustees are appointed in order to conserve the financial stability of the estate. They are concerned to provide an income not only for the tenant for life but for the remainder man or men, and the trustees in that particular capacity may feel that the subtraction of the historic mansion, so expensively maintained, from the estate would enable them to perform their trust more effectively than they now can; and to that extent it is unlikely that the trustees would object to the transfer, particularly when trustees, like other well disposed persons, realise how desirable it is from the State point of view that the particular mansion should be preserved.
But the trustees are then confronted with the necessity of permitting the transfer of a very large part, and possibly the whole, of the estate which they administer to the National Trust, in order to provide the endowment out of which the historic mansion is to be preserved in perpetuity. That may serve the purpose of the tenant for life very well, for he is to receive the option of a lease, but how about the trustees? It is an accepted fact—I think your Lordships will accept it—that, divested of its great and expensive mansion, there would be few estates which, if put into the market, or even retained, would not provide some surplus income out of which both the tenant for life and the remainder man may live. But the trustees would under this measure be invited to deprive both the tenant for life and the remainder man of the particular income which they are purposely set up to preserve. How could a trustee without a breach of trust justify his action in consenting to make over to the National Trust the property whose income is required to provide for the maintenance of the historic house in perpetuity?
The estate might be ripe for development. "Development" is a word which personally, as a rural landowner, I regard as retrograde rather than progressive, but that is not the view that is taken by 540 everybody; and as a trustee I am bound, as other trustees are bound, to make the best I can out of the properties which I hold in trust. The trustees may be responsible for a property—and I have a particular one in mind—where, by waiting for a few years, large sums could be obtained by its sale for that particular purpose. Are those trustees to be held justified in allotting to the National Trust that property, in order that a sufficient endowment may be found for the maintenance in perpetuity of the historic house? It is very greatly to the interests of the State that the historic house should be maintained, but it is definitely not to the interest of the trustees that they should contribute towards its maintenance. Their duty is a wholly different one: they are commissioned with the duty of providing an income for the tenants for life in succession to that estate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, very courteously supplied me some days back with proposed Amendments to the measure, as it is now printed and before your Lordships. I took the opportunity which offered itself of presenting those Amendments to two organisations with which I am concerned, and both of which are intimately concerned with the consideration of this particular measure. We all admitted—and I readily acknowledge it here—that those Amendments go a very long way towards meeting the perfectly legitimate complaint that the interests of remainder men had not previously been sufficiently well considered, but they take no account of the particular difficulty which I have endeavoured to explain to the House in the matter of trusteeships and the trustee's duties. This particular point is not one which, in the special circumstances which have been presented to us by the Lord Chairman, would justify me in inviting my noble friend Lord Teynham to go to the length of challenging a Division and throwing this Bill out on Second Reading, but I wished if I might be given the opportunity, to raise the matter in this debate, because if noble Lords, who are anxious, just as I am anxious, that this Bill should become law, content themselves only with making the Amendments which they have already suggested to meet the claims of remainder men, they will not get that Bill through this House when it comes back into Committee, because this particular point, the 541 duties of trustees, is one which cannot be ignored, and in some way or other it has to be met.
How it is to be met I find difficulty in suggesting because of the limitations now placed on the National Trust. Had the Trust funds which would justify it and enable it to maintain these historic houses out of those funds, the objections of the trustees would fall to the ground, but it has no such funds, and I am not able to see how in many cases these historic houses can be taken over when they are held in settled estates, and trustees, in fulfilment of their trust, object to the particular procedure, which is necessary under this Bill, of parting with the greater part, if not the whole, of the estate in order to provide the endowments without which the National Trust is not able to take over the historic mansion. I feel I have said quite enough on the subject to make certain that this particular point will be considered in the Select Committee upstairs; and if it is not, and if it cannot be met, I shall be bound to reserve to myself the right to move an Amendment when it comes down again on to the floor of the House, and even to go to the length of moving the rejection of the Bill on Third Reading, unless that particular point can be met.
§ 4.50 p.m.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, there is one question which I would like to put to the noble Viscount in charge of this Bill, and that is in connection with Clause 3 (3) in regard to the lease that is to be granted for a period not exceeding 150 years. The question I want to ask is: To whom does the property revert at the end of that time? It may be of course perfectly clear to those who, having English property, which I have not, have a greater knowledge of English legal terms, but to my possibly ignorant mind it would seem that after 150 years the property would revert entirely to the National Trust and that the original donor of it would therefore be merely making a final present of it to the Trust, thereby to some extent at any rate depriving his heirs. I should be much obliged if the noble Viscount would answer that point.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD MAUGHAM)
My Lords, I do not propose to repeat what I tentatively put before 542 your Lordships on the last occasion. Perhaps I may excuse the attitude which I take on this Bill by the confession that for a number of years I was in the Chancery Division, and there had to deal with quite a number of cases of the same nature as this one. We had to consider whether particular proposals, chiefly dealt with in chambers, as regards settled estates, were in the interests not only of the tenant for life but of the remainder men born or unborn who were going to come into existence after that time. It is a perfectly definite rule of equity in the Chancery Division that no such applications ought to be accepted unless the interests of the children are preserved or compensated for, and unless the people who are of age, and are entitled in remainder in the estates, consent or, if they are of unsound mind, somebody on their behalf consents. So I admit I started, when I examined this Bill, with the notion that we are confronted with a wholly new proposition which can only be justified, as I think, by the very strong interest of the public.
Having made that sort of apology for what I am going to say, may I be allowed for a few minutes to tell your Lordships how I look upon this Bill, what the nature of the proposals, as I see them, is, and what safeguards are suggested? As the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has pointed out, the proposals as to the powers of the tenants for life by no means extend only to the house or to the lands occupied or enjoyed whether for the purposes of agriculture, sport, or afforestation, but they also extend to any lands, buildings, hereditaments, and so forth which in the opinion of the Council it may be desirable to hold as investments with a view to the provision out of the rents of funds applicable for the maintenance and preservation of the principal mansion house which the tenants for life are willing to grant. That particular subsection, which no doubt is necessary from the point of view of the National Trust, is just the same as if the proposal was that the tenant for life should be entitled to sell or hand over, without consideration, any investments forming part of the property—for instance, Consols. It is exactly in the same position as Consols which are held by the trustees to go with the mansion house, or in such a way that they do go with the mansion house.
543 I can well conceive that the mansion house itself, charming as it may be—and I often feel that mansion houses of this character, which are perfectly glorious specimens of English architecture, are of great interest from the historical point of view—ought in some circumstances to be secured for the nation if it is possible to do it without injustice. I can conceive no better way of doing it than by vesting it in this admirable Trust, the National Trust for Places of Historical Interest and Natural Beauty, as suggested by the Bill, but what occurs to me is this, that there can be, so far as I can see, no real justice in the proposal that the tenant for life shall be able to hand over not only one of these gorgeous places, which are extremely difficult to keep up and entail in some cases the expediture of a millionaire, but also property which is readily saleable and, if you like, in the same position as Consols. One mansion house which I have often visited is one with which there is a large quantity of most valuable building land. This Bill proposes that the tenant for life can sell that mansion to the National Trust subject to the safeguards contained in the Bill.
It is true that the Bill seeks to disarm criticism by providing that there must be a lease under Clause 3, subsections (2) and (3), for the benefit, it is said, of the family for a very long period. The noble Earl who has just asked a question pointed out that after 150 years it all goes back to the Trust and then the family, if it still exists, has got no rights under the lease. Now 150 years is a very long time, and I am not going to trouble your Lordships with that grievance. I am going to trouble your Lordships with a rather different point. In order to explain what I mean, I am going to suppose there is a tenant for life whom I shall call A, after him there is another tenant for life B, and on his death there is a tenant in tail C, who can of course disentail the property and become absolute owner of it. A is the owner of one of these beautiful places, and he may be old or young, but he is willing and anxious, perhaps from purely high motives, to convey the property to the National Trust. He then gets a lease, subject to conditions that people are entitled to go there twice a week and go round and see this lovely spot and these beautiful rooms.
544 There is said to be this advantage for the next tenant for life, that there will not be Estate Duty payable on the death of A. B will have to pay some Estate Duty on the death of A, but it is said that he will not have to pay Estate Duty on the value of the property granted to the National Trust. I use cautious language about that, because having looked at the matter and ascertained that the opinions of counsel on it differ, I am not quite sure that the question has been settled. However, I will take it that it is likely that the persons who are charged with the collection of Estate Duty will not claim Estate Duty on the valuable property which A has parted with in consideration of getting a lease certainly for 150 years. But your Lordships will mark that after the death of A, B has a right as lessee to occupy the house if he so desires, but he no longer has a right to the income of the property in paragraph (c) of Clause 3 (1), which I described as being in the same position as Consols, and therefore he may have nothing with which to keep up the house and to live there.
He has got his lease and it is true that he might be able to assign it during his life and he might get some rent out of it. That all depends on the premises, and whether he can find a tenant for it. But that is the only chance he has, assuming that practically the whole estate has gone together with what I have described as the property in paragraph (c), which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, pointed out, is not really part of his mansion house or land adjoining but is an investment. That is bad enough for B, and I do not know whether it is suggested that B in an ordinary case as things are, would be likely to be able, with the income not taken from him, perhaps to keep twenty servants. I do not know whether it is suggested that he would have enough money to pay the rates or the gardeners. I cannot myself conceive that he would be able to occupy the premises without paying any rates but in any event he would have to pay the servants.
As regards the premises I have in mind or the premises which have been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lothian, I tremble to think what the charges of upkeep may amount to. The tenant for life, instead of being in the position he was in before of having an income from 545 the investment property and being free to let the premises, is in the position, as I see it, of having a white elephant, and not an income with which he could live in the house in any useful manner. Moreover, he may be a person who has come to the conclusion that his life must be one of work, not necessarily work in the neighbourhood of the mansion house. He may have to go elsewhere and lead a laborious life to provide for his wife and children, so that such advantage as he is going to get from the right to reside in this house is worthless to him.
Now comes the hypothetical C. He comes into possession on the death of B. His position is this. If there had not been any grant to the National Trust, he would be entitled by a disentail to obtain the whole value of the estate; that is, he would be entitled to a gorgeous house or what he could get for it and also entitled to take and use all the property in paragraph (c), and to do what he likes with that property. He might, therefore, by sale or otherwise, get enough to start a wholly fresh life in some other place if he were so inclined. Now his position, having regard to what has happened, is a curious one. Unless within six months he chooses to disentail the property, the lease is going to be forfeited and he is going to be left with nothing. In that event not only has his income been taken away, but he will not even be left with a right to reside in this house.
That I think is rather strong, though I am by no means saying that there are no provisions that could be put in for the benefit of such a person by way of compensation—provisions under which he would have some pecuniary compensation when he came into possession if he found that what I have mentioned had happened—namely, that the lease was forfeited and taken away. But I do contend that it is absolutely unjust to take away that land and property and the prospect of enjoying that property when he becomes tenant in tail without his consent. If he does consent no harm is done—volenti non fit injuria. If he is an infant, he cannot consent and it does not seem to me according to ordinary principles of justice to allow such a thing by Private Bill and without having heard somebody on the infant's behalf to take away all this interest, which may amount to half a million pounds, and to leave him with nothing. I cannot see that that 546 is right and I do venture therefore to ask your Lordships to hesitate before you come to a conclusion now or at some other date that this is a Bill which should be allowed to pass at any rate in the condition in which it now is; that is, without some sort of clause or clauses which contain conditions which a Chancery Judge would certainly insert in the ordinary case before he would allow people to be disinherited in this way.
I say no more about that, but I think there is great weight in what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has said regarding the trustee's position. It is however true, as I see it, that the trustees will hardly ever be able to consent to the grant to the Trust under the clause in this Bill, because it is so worded that the trustees cannot give such a consent if there are any persons entitled in remainder who are infants or if they cannot get the consent of all the persons in remainder who are of full age. Therefore I think the trustees will have a comparatively easy task except in exceptional cases—namely, to refuse consent. Then under the Bill as it stands you have to get the order of the Court, which has to consider certain matters. I have told your Lordships what I think the position of the Court is, and I think that it will be very necessary that this Bill or a Public Bill taking its place shall be examined with the greatest care, including the provisions you are going to insert in regard to the duties of the Court if it is to be allowed to disinherit infants or unborn persons who may have a chance ultimately to become entitled to property of this nature. Although I am not at the moment concerned to tell your Lordships my objections to the clauses which are suggested for the examination of the Court and for the use of the Court in determining whether the proposals should be permitted or not, I must say that at the present time I think those proposals are by no means sufficient to safeguard those entitled to the remainder.
I am afraid I have detained your Lordships too long, but may I say one word on the question of whether this should be a Public or a Private Bill? I accept the view of many of your Lordships that the proposals made by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees remove a good many of the objections which I have entertained to this Bill proceeding as a 547 Private Bill, but I have two doubts which I will mention for what they are worth. Having referred to the Standing Orders, I must say that I cannot myself see that such a Bill as this can properly be described as a Local Bill. I have looked at the long list of classes and subjects which make a Bill a Local Bill. They are to be found under the heading of 1st Class in Part I of the Standing Orders relating to Private Bills. It is quite true that there are words there which seem to refer to a great many things. For instance, one of the subjects is "Company." But who would suppose that a proposal to amend the Companies Act, 1928, which gave a power to companies generally all over the country, to every limited liability company, could properly be termed a Local Bill? You surely have to read this with a little care, with some regard to what the Standing Orders are dealing with, and I confess I should doubt very much whether this Bill, which relates as we know to all the owners of property of the kind described all over the country from Lands End to, I think, John O'Groats House, is to be treated as a Local Bill.
It seems to me to be straining the meaning of the words, although I would not put my opinion against that of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees and his advisers as to what is a Local Bill. But if this Bill proceeds as a Private Bill, as it is at the present time, it is a Private Bill of a most peculiar nature because it is going to affect 200 estates and all the people entitled to those 200 estates, and practically none of them will know that their interests are being affected. When it goes upstairs, instead of people whose interests are likely to be affected being able to come and object and to point out their particular interest in the property, nobody will be in that position at all. The Select Committee will not have the personal objections of, we will say, a tenant in tail—perhaps a distant cousin of some tenant for life—who wants to come and say "It is absolutely monstrous that my second cousin, who dislikes me, should have a right to disinherit me altogether." This hypothetical second cousin does not even know that his property is being affected.
Accordingly, my suggestion to your Lordships is that the absence of notice to 548 these people whose interests are affected is a vital matter to be considered in determining whether this Bill should proceed as a Private Bill. But I agree that that is a matter entirely for the discretion of your Lordships. If you are of opinion that having regard to the provisions of Standing Order No. 170 the present Bill should proceed, I should be content, as far as I am personally concerned, because there will be full opportunities of debating the clauses in this House, and the main objection would perhaps be remedied, but that course would not remedy the objection that the people who should be heard before the Select Committee before the Bill passes will hear nothing about the matter. I would merely add this in conclusion. Like all your Lordships, I am personally very greatly in favour of the National Trust operations, and I am most anxious that something of this sort should be effected. Believe me, nobody more dearly wishes that these magnificent mansion houses, historic houses, should be preserved, but speaking as Lord Chancellor, with very long experience in matters closely analogous to this, I think also that you must not, when doing that in the supposed public interest, deprive people of interests without hearing them and without compensation.
§ 5.17 p.m.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, when I was a young Member of Parliament, I suppose nearly forty years ago, I passed through Parliament to the Statute Book a measure amending the Ancient Monuments Act which dealt with dolmens, long barrows and megalithic remains. May I assure the noble and learned Lord Chancellor that in those days the Chancery interests of the remainder man were almost identical with those we heard from the Woolsack this afternoon, but were even more violently expressed? The remainder man and the infant were going to be robbed because megalithic monuments were going to be scheduled under my amending Bill! Since that time I suppose 1,500 or 2,000 of them have been scheduled, and so far from there being any sense of grievance or of injustice, more of these monuments are being offered for scheduling than the Ancient Monuments Board can afford to take.
I venture to say that when this Bill is more carefully examined on broad 549 grounds, rather than on the technical grounds which the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has followed, it will be found that the number of cases involved is really infinitesimal. None the less increasingly great interests are concerned. The interests concerned are national interests—that this country shall in the future possess buildings of historic, architectural, artistic and national interest, which day by day are being destroyed and being ruined, actually pulled down, deliberately pulled down, because the owners cannot afford to keep them up. Now this Bill gives an alternative to that horrible process of destruction, and it is that the National Trust shall take over the object of most historic interest, architectural interest and national interest—namely, the mansion house—and preserve it. It is already doing that in dozens and scores of cases; it is already doing it with the assent of the trustees, if necessary by permission of the Courts of Law. The Lord Chancellor did not do justice to the Courts of Law. They come into this Bill. They do their duty to-day, and will continue to do their duty, to look after the remainder men under this Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I did not say that they were left unfettered in looking after the remainder men. There are some clauses in the Bill with which I did not deal, and there is absolutely nothing about the Court having to consider the disadvantages which the remainder men will have to undergo—not a word.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
There are trustees who have to give assent, and presumably they will have acted on their trusts.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Indeed they have not. If the trustees decline to consent, the matter goes, as the Bill stands to the Court, and it does not require that the trustees should consent.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Well, I am confident that the Court will do its duty by the remainder men; that is what I meant. Am I wrong in saying that? I am not arguing the legal point, for that would be improper, but I ask the Lord Chancellor a question: Am I wrong in saying that the duty will remain with the Courts to look after the infant or the remainder men?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The duty will remain of carrying out the Act, and if the provisions of the Act in regard to questions which the Court has to consider are so limited that the disadvantages suffered by the remainder men are not matters for the consideration of the Court the Court will not be able to consider them.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Then the Court will have to take into account the fact that every possible remainder man has been circularised and has been informed of the proposal, and if one of them has refused the Court will give its veto.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Earl really cannot say that. He is not following the words which are proposed. The infants have not to be served. It is quite true that this is a Committee point.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I think it would be improper on my part to pursue that argument any further, and for the purpose of argument I will accept what the Lord Chancellor says. There are infants to-day; there may be dishonest trustees to-day or disagreeable second cousins, but somebody is in charge, and I believe it is the Courts of Law. If it is not the Courts of Law, I hope that in Committee it will be ensured that the Courts of Law shall give due attention to this point. Is that not a fair suggestion to make?
I pass to another aspect of the case, which I think the Lord Chancellor has completely ignored. I want to bring him back to the realities of these national monuments. The owner of the historic building is being steadily squeezed out of existence to-day. His houses are falling into disrepute—I mean disrepair, but they are actually falling into disrepute. It is very common: the historic character of the house is falling into disrepute simply because it is tumbling into hits. Relatively very few of these houses can be saved. The safeguards that are 551 placed in the Bill against any improper action by the National Trust are very large. There is in the first place the limitation of finance alone, which makes it almost impossible for the National Trust to-day to carry out the duties which it would like to carry out and which owners of property would like it to carry out. I am confident that we are in danger of losing one of the very great assets of our historic past. In France the movement to which this is an analogy is working very satisfactorily, and the French are determined, so far as lies in their power, to preserve the character and personality of France of the past as shown in la demeure historique, as the French call it. I do not think the Bill applies to Scotland at all.
The value to the community of this historic and artistic evidence of the past is incalculable. It is so regularly being destroyed, diminished, that I hope your Lordships will take every possible step to assist the National Trust in what is, after all, a very modest effort in this direction. But unless something can be done, of this I am perfectly certain. We have been talking a great deal about the interests of the remainder man. The remainder man in many cases is doomed unless he can get some of the advantages, so far as his historic residence is concerned, which this Bill provides. I am a trustee, and I think that in many ways this Bill will help trustees very much indeed. It seems to be argued that this Bill takes everything away. If I had a historic house and could get it rent-free or at a peppercorn rent for 150 years, I should consider that my trustees had done me and my son, my grandson and my great-grandson a very good service indeed. I therefore press your Lordships to accept this Bill and to accept the proposal which was made to us by the Chairman of Committees.
I think that his suggestion has given your Lordships more opportunities of discussing this subject than we should have enjoyed had it been an ordinary Public Bill brought in by ordinary procedure. Is that not so? It gives us an extra stage, and moreover it gives us what otherwise we should not have enjoyed: that is, a careful examination of the Bill upstairs by a Select Committee, which, as your Lordships know, in this kind of case is far more drastic, far more cogent, 552 than the conversations in Committee across the floor of the House. I therefore ask your Lordships to accept the proposal made by the Chairman of Committees, which is cautious in its character. I presume that he himself, as he indicated at an early stage on the Second Reading, will be able to communicate to that Committee any views that he thinks necessary for the guidance of that Committee. If there are any more Amendments necessary to look after the remainder men, I hope that the Committee will ensure that they are inserted. Under those conditions the Bill will be subjected to a closer scrutiny than it would have in ordinary circumstances, and I do not think this House can do better than accept that proposal.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, while I think we all have the greatest possible sympathy with the work of the National Trust and the strongest desire to help the National Trust to acquire monuments of national interest and preserve them, I am bound to say that I think this Bill and the way in which we are being asked to treat it raise issues of public importance even wider than the maintenance of the national buildings themselves. It is quite true, as my noble friend the Earl of Crawford has said, that if the procedure proposed by the Lord Chairman is followed the Bill will receive very full consideration. It goes to a Committee upstairs, and then we have a Committee stage and a Report stage in this House. That is true, but it does not at all touch the point which I should have thought—and I speak with some diffidence as a newcomer in these matters—your Lordships would have been very careful to consider, and that is the precedent you are creating by using this Standing Order in this extraordinarily curious and extended manner.
Certainly in another place we were always extremely vigilant to see that matters which ought to be dealt with by public legislation were not introduced under the guise of a Private Bill. Constantly, I remember, in the other House, and also in this House, proposals have been brought forward—never mind whether they were meritorious or not—by local authorities that they should engage in some form of enterprise, and over and over again both this House and another place have taken the strongest 553 possible exception to a Private Bill dealing with large principles of public law. Over and over again Bills have been thrown out, quite irrespective of whether they were reasonable or not—Bills relating to questions of municipal trading, and so on—because it has been held to be unconstitutional (so far as it could be held to be unconstitutional in this country, where both Houses are omnipotent) and contrary to precedent, that a matter of public law should be dealt with by a Private Bill.
What is being dealt with here obviously is a matter of public law, and it is by means of a Private Bill. It really does not satisfy the point by creating a had precedent in the use of a Standing Order which, with great respect, I feel certain was never intended to be used for this purpose. This certainly is not a Local Bill, or whatever the words of the Statute mean. The Lord Chairman has had to go back to a precedent before he was born, and I am not at all sure that the precedent is on all fours with the proposal which he is now making. I think therefore that there is great objection to stretching this Standing Order for the purpose of putting this Bill into this House and getting it considered.
There is another point. I listened, as all your Lordships did, with the greatest interest to the very authoritative speech made by the Lord Chancellor just now. My noble friend who spoke last said that the Courts would look after everybody's interests. The Courts are called upon to do that when a matter is taken before them, and my experience of Courts is that they expect to have represented before them those people whose interests they have to consider. In the case of infants, who are to be made parties, there is to be nobody appearing for the infants and the Court is to be left to be advocate for the infant without any assistance.
I have a much greater objection, in a sense, than that. Over and over again the Courts have protested against their being given a general sort of power. Your Lordships will very well remember some public legislation in the form of the mining legislation, where the Courts had to decide whether something was in the national interest. The Courts found the greatest possible difficulty is arriving at a decision, because they said that Parliament ought to decide what is in the national interest. 554 The Courts should not be given a general discretion, which should be exercised by Parliament itself, and if your Lordships decide upon this rather curious procedure, I hope that very great care will be taken, and careful Amendments framed, in order to direct the Courts as to what are the principles upon which they should proceed. Otherwise, it will be quite impossible for the Courts to deal with the matter. I venture to think it would have been better if this Bill had been brought forward as a Public Bill, and had been brought forward, if I may respectfully say so, with much more care taken in the drafting.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
I would just like to explain the position. This Bill has been, under Standing Order No. 88, certified by the Examiners that Standing Orders have been complied with. As it has been introduced as a Private Bill, the suggestion which I made to your Lordships was that we should make use of the two Standing Orders which I quoted, and ensure that the fullest possible consideration might be given to the Bill, if your Lordships give it a Second Reading. If you think it ought not to proceed as a Private Bill, the only course open to the House is to accept the Amendment of my noble friend.
§ 5.35 p.m.
My Lords, I have very much pleasure in associating myself with what was said by Lord Lothian with regard to this Bill, and I trust that the Motion to reject the Bill will be with drawn. I think one of the most important statements which have been made this afternoon was that made by Lord Hastings, when he said that it is in the interests of the State that these houses should be maintained. I rather take my cue from that remark. It is now a little over three years since a meeting was held in one of the Committee Rooms of this House to discuss the future of these country houses, which many of us considered to be of sufficient national importance to warrant special efforts being made for their preservation. This meeting led to the formation of a National Trust Committee, of which I happen to be a member, for the express purpose of discussing this matter and formulating a scheme. The first fruits of our deliberations were the compilation of a list of houses of national 555 importance, and subsequently the National Trust Act of 1937. That Act, as your Lordships are aware, gave the National Trust the power to acquire such houses by gift: but the great majority of the houses that fall into the category embraced by the country house scheme are entailed, and therefore lie outside the scope of the 1937 Act. The present Bill gives the National Trust power to acquire by gift classified houses that are held in tail, but I do agree that every possible consideration should be given to the remainder man and all parties interested.
If this debate has shown nothing else, I think it has shown how necessary it is that this Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, as so many obvious difficulties appear in the way of it as it stands at present. What I should like to emphasize is that, for reasons that are only too well known, the days of the fine country houses dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the houses of Inigo Jones and of Adam, are numbered, unless something is done fairly soon to secure them for the nation. We spend—very wisely—large sums annually on public museums and on public galleries, which in some cases, as in the case of the Wallace Collection, have all the charms of a private house. Only recently at Bristol a furnished house, dating from the latter part of the eighteenth century, has been presented by its owner to the corporation, and has been opened to the public. But for the most part they are arranged as we are used to having museums arranged, for the student or for the connoisseur, rather than for the average person to visit and relax and feel the contentment of a well-arranged period room, with its original decorations, furnishings and historical associations.
Only the other day I happened to be at Kettering, and chanced to go over to Kirkby Hall, which I had never yet seen. What a miserable fate for a house to suffer, a house built by one of our greatest architects! It seemed to me to present a standing rebuke to what at times appears to be a certain indifference, or even callousness, on our part to things of beauty. Shorn of its roof about 120 years ago, this lovely pile is now but a sorry ghost of its former splendour. The Office of Works has this ruin in hand as it has many others—it is only allowed, 556 I believe, to own empty shells—and can stop the rain and the frost going any deeper into the structure, but the damage has long since been done.
I cannot think the public itself is indifferent to the deterioration of what has survived from our greatest period in architecture. I feel convinced that there is a strong body of informed opinion in this country that wishes to see these country houses, together with their amenities, preserved for the nation. Together with their contents many of them have a great educational value; and let it be said to the credit of owners that this factor has usually been recognised by giving the public access on certain days in the week at a nominal charge. Linked with our public museums and galleries they form an important addition to our country's artistic treasures. And, looking into the future, is it too much to hope that in time some of the great parks may be zoned as private open spaces, and under the ægis of the National Trust become centres of attraction, oases of leisure and relaxation for men, women and children who are obliged to spend most of their lives in our large industrial towns? Such parks are peculiarly English, a heritage left to us by Launcelot Brown, Humphrey Repton and others, and are things we may well be proud of.
Last year when some fifty delegates of the French and Belgian Demeures Historiques Societies visited us in the West Country, what pleased them most, I think, were some of these lovely parks, such as the one they saw at Longleat. The countryside is rapidly changing and filling up. But if we can manage to retain the majority of the country mansions that have been scheduled under this plan, together with their amenities, we shall have saved for posterity what personally I consider most representative of our culture in England. Artificial some of it may appear: but it is the artifice of great thinkers who planned for posterity in order that we might enjoy their creations in their prime. This Bill may have technical weaknesses: I do not know. Surely these can be overcome under the wise management of the Select Committee, and I do appeal to your Lordships to give it a Second Reading, so that it can go to the Select Committee and there be given, if it requires Amendment, a shape that will allow us to 557 legislate about these national treasures so that posterity may one day say "Thank you."
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I hesitated just now to plunge when the legal intricacies seemed to be very, very deep. I think on the Select Committee there will be a perfect orgy of legal argument, because we have reached the pitch where the Lord Chairman and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack differ even as to the interpretation of our own Standing Orders, and it really seems courageous for me to intervene in the debate at all. But I want, if I may, inhuman as it may appear to many, to take the point of view of the house, and not of the owner. There are plenty of people who look after the owners and the second cousins and the remainder men. But if we are going to delay what it seems to me everybody desires to do, these houses are going under the hammer of the auctioneer and the pick of the housebreaker while we are wrangling. I do not think that people appreciate the rate at which these places are being destroyed. It is not only the magnificent palaces that there are in this country, but the wonderful smaller houses. One sees them one day, the next one finds the Ministry of Transport is driving a main road through the grounds; one then finds the jerrybuilder coming along to put a frill of bungalows round the estate; and the next time you come along the man with the pick is at work and the house is being pulled down. That is going on very rapidly. Utilitarian commercialism is a very great enemy, and the National Trust is putting up a very fine fight against the inroads that are being made, not only in our houses but in our countryside.
The procedure that has been outlined by the Lord Chairman seems to me to give a perfectly fair chance to all concerned of putting the points by which, as the Lord Chancellor has indicated, injustice may be done to certain people in posterity. But to accept the advice which has been given in some quarters, that we should withdraw the Bill and reintroduce it as a Public Bill, well, that kills the measure straight away, and there would be absolutely no chance whatever of anything being done within the next few years. It is on the plea of urgency 558 from the point of view of the house, which I think matters very much, that I think our legal luminaries ought to get together and advise us in what way we can best safeguard the interests of all concerned. But in the meanwhile let us do our utmost by the quickest procedure we can to save these beautiful things in the country.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, I should not have risen but for some remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. He referred to the great vigilance in the House of Commons lest alterations in the general law should be made by Private Bill. I will not say that it has always been so, but during the years when I was Chairman of Committees in another place the type of Bill he referred to was certainly generally, if not always, where a corporation or some other local authority tried to alter the general law to suit its own particular wishes or requirements. Although of course the utmost vigilance is required, this Bill surely is not on anything like the same footing, and indeed, as the Lord Chairman has pointed out, it has passed the Examiners. The procedure suggested is no doubt unusual, and it is certainly very cumbrous, but from the point of view of people who are affected it seems to me to combine the benefits both of private legislation procedure and of public. If this had been a Public Bill I understand that no exception could have been taken to it, but all those affected would have had to study the newspapers and so on, and see if they had any objections to make. Well, now it is going to be treated as a Public Bill, with the additional advantage of special expert examination in Committee; and although it may not be good precedent from the point of view of hasty legislation, from the point of view of the parties interested I cannot see that they have anything to complain of.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for the tribute which he paid to the work of the National Trust. I rather hope that he is going to place me under a further debt of gratitude by agreeing to the procedure in regard to this Bill which has been proposed by the 559 Chairman of Committees. He called attention to the fact that when this matter was before your Lordships two or three weeks ago I had refrained from speaking on the merits of the question, on the ground that it was not customary for a member of the Government to express opinions upon the substance of a Private Bill. But in view of the fact that another member of the Government has already spoken, not once but twice, and at suitable length on each occasion—not by any means at too great length, but at some length on each occasion—that may perhaps provide me with an excuse for saying a few words on this Bill, in view of the particular position which I occupy with regard to it—namely, that I am Chairman of the National Trust which has promoted this Bill.
The Lord Chancellor rather suggested, unless I entirely misunderstood him, that as a result of this Bill, if it became law, the National Trust would be disinheriting the remainder men, not perhaps of a very large number of estates, but at any rate of some estates. It is not the National Trust which is disinheriting remainder men, it is the State itself. It is quite impossible, under our present system of taxation, for the owners of properties of this kind to maintain them. We all know that. On all sides of us we see these great historic buildings, buildings often of great architectural beauty, features of the national life of this country, passing out of the hands of their owners and into the hands of the housebreakers; houses being broken up, woodlands being destroyed, cut down, sold for what they can fetch—whole properties being turned into a desert. The whole object of the National Trust in promoting this Bill is to enable it, if the owners decide—and let me remind your Lordships again that there is no compulsion under this Bill, the initiative must come from the owners themselves—
§ THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND
The Lord Chancellor says the tenant for life. I am coming to that in a moment. The object of the National Trust is to enable them, as the result of the provisions of this Bill, to see their residences and their grounds and properties maintained and to continue to occupy them. Under the provisions of this Bill they will be entitled to a lease, as has been pointed out, for 560 a period of 150 years. Let me give your Lordships an example as to how this measure would work. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has referred to certain Amendments which, as a result of the discussion that took place on this Bill on the previous occasion, the National Trust have had drafted to meet some of the objections which were raised to it. It would not be proper for me to go in detail into the question of these Amendments, but let me assure your Lordships that the main effect of the chief Amendments which we have drafted would be to secure that the trustees would not be entitled to take action under this Bill unless they had the consent of all those of full age who in normal circumstances would have any likelihood of succeeding to the property. In other words, the consent of the remainder men would have to be given before the trustees could take action at all. As my noble friend Lord Crawford pointed out, in the case of an infant or lunatic the matter becomes one for the Courts.
I said I would like to give your Lordships an example of the way in which this measure would work. Take a typical case, which is by no means wholly imaginary, the case of a house of great historic interest, at the present time in possession of a tenant for life whom I shall call A. There is a son, a direct heir, whom I shall call B. The son is not married, and therefore the third successor is the brother of A, whom I shall call C; and eventually of course the son of the brother—namely, the nephew of the present tenant for life, whom I shall call D. All these persons realise that they cannot maintain the property and the house. They know it is bound to go. All of them wish to see it preserved, all of them are anxious to take advantage of the provisions of a Bill of this kind. Why should they not do so? The Lord Chancellor will say because it is conceivable that at some future time B may marry and may have a son. He possibly may marry an heiress, and would therefore in these circumstances be in a position to maintain the property for a short time. It would be only for a short time, because I can assure your Lordships that under our present system of taxation no fortune can last for long. He would be in a position to maintain for a short time the property in the ordinary way. In other words, as the noble and learned Lord 561 would say, this constitutes an invasion of the rights of property.
I have not noticed any backwardness on the part of your Lordships to invade the rights of property if your Lordships have been satisfied that it is in the public interest you should do so. Though I spent a great deal of time listening to the very interesting, sometimes rather acrimonious, debates which took place on the Coal Bill, I did not observe any great tenderness expressed by the noble and learned Lord for the remainder men or indeed for the tenant for life, who in that particular case was, against his will—not at his request, as would be the case here—deprived of a considerable measure of his property. Therefore I am not absolutely impressed, as I ought to be, by the arguments on these grounds which the noble and learned Lord brought forward this afternoon.
Of course I agree that this is a matter which requires the most careful investigation. It is only right that everybody who is interested should have an opportunity of being heard, and I suggest that the procedure which has been proposed by the Chairman of Committees is the procedure which will give the best opportunity for that being done. I hope very much therefore that the noble Lord (Lord Teynham) will agree to that procedure being followed, realising as he must that it will give him ample opportunity after the provisions of this Bill have been thoroughly examined by a Select Committee, if he still desires to do so, to move a Motion for the rejection of the Bill. We have come in this matter to a parting of the ways. I look forward with feelings really of horror to the day, which I see approaching, when England will become the paradise of the bungalow builder and when everything of beauty, whether natural beauty or the handiwork of men born and nurtured in a less Philistine age, will be remorselessly swept from the face of our country. This is a small effort on the part of a body of men, the National Trust, who for forty-five years have been working, giving their services, their time, and their thought tree, gratis, and for nothing, to save some of the natural beauty, some of the artistic heritage, some of the historic buildings of this country—the pride of our English life—for the people of this country.
§ 6 p.m.
My Lords, I do not wish to stand in the way of your Lordships coming to a decision on this question for more than a moment. I will only say that the promoters of the Bill are most anxious not to antagonise any section of public opinion, but on the contrary, to carry with them the confidence and good will of all the interests concerned. We are well aware of the complicated legal problems involved in the Bill which were summarised by the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, and also of the importance of securing the rights of the beneficiaries to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has drawn attention. But it is clear, I think, from the whole of this debate, especially from the dialogue which took place between the Lord Chancellor and the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, that these complicated legal problems cannot be really suitably discussed on the floor of your Lordships' House. The legitimate apprehensions and anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and others can be more effectively set at rest by Amendments in Committee, and by the procedure suggested by the Lord Chairman, which, I may say on behalf of the National Trust, would be welcomed in every way, and we would do our very best to produce this measure to the House later on in a satisfactory condition.
§ 6.2 p.m.
LORD DARCY (DE KNAYTH)
My Lords, the noble Marquess has urged that there is great need for the protection of these houses. I quite agree, but that is not what we are discussing here now. That has ceased to be the issue. Although everybody wants a Bill of some sort, what we do say, and what the noble Marquess in his eloquent speech never contradicted for a moment, is that this Bill has got into an intolerable muddle. What is the point in trying to send it through this complicated machinery upstairs? We have to face the fact that this Bill has got into an intolerable muddle. The promoters would get a Bill through very much easier by producing a new Bill based upon the information that has recently come to light. People have got the greatest sympathy with the National Trust for the work they have done, and nobody is going to regard it as in any way derogatory to them to find that their Bill has got into 563 the mess it is now in. The reason why we regard rather suspiciously the proposal to refer it to a Committee upstairs is this: If it were to be dealt with in Committee upstairs now there would be an absolute waste of money. The advantages of these Committees upstairs are that they are addressed by Counsel appearing for the parties. Now nobody knows who the parties to this Bill are to be, and, therefore, it is utterly impossible to get the advantage which otherwise would be obtained from the procedure upstairs. Moreover, if the Bill goes to a Committee upstairs, when it comes back to this House we shall be told: "Ah! what you say is all very well, but these matters are very complicated, and you really ought not to discuss them here because they have been already discussed upstairs." I venture to think that it would be very much better if the National Trust could see their way to withdraw this Bill and bring forward another. If they did that, they would certainly have the good will of this House, whereas their case might possibly be prejudiced if they took another line.
§ 6.4 p.m.
My Lords, I fully appreciate the procedure suggested by the Chairman of Committees, but there appears to be a slight difference of opinion between the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the Chairman of Committees as to whether this Bill could be classed as a Local Bill in order to come within the Standing Order.
I thank the noble Earl for his explanation. As I am now assured that the Bill can go forward as a Private Bill and then be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House, so that it can be discussed on the floor of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ Committed: the Committee to meet forthwith.
§ Bill re-committed: The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.