HL Deb 24 April 1947 vol 147 cc125-8

4.10 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It amends in two respects the provision made by Parliament in 1806. In the first place, it terminates the annuity payable to the holder of the title of Earl Nelson after the deaths of the present Earl Nelson and his heir, who is his brother. In the second place, it relaxes for the benefit of the present Earl and his successors the provisions of the Trust, under which the Trafalgar Estates are now held. Nothing in this Bill detracts in any degree from the immortal glory of Nelson. There is no likelihood of our people, who so recently were themselves faced with the danger of the threatened invasion by Hitler, forgetting what is owed to the brilliant sea Captain who did so much to protect our island home from invasion by Napoleon nearly 150 years ago. The record of the services of that great fighter of battles will continue for ever to be an honoured chapter in the history of our island. As Mr. Pitt himself said at the time, "Nelson's fame is coeval with the British name."

The first thing that the Bill does is to terminate the Nelson annuity of £5,000 a year. I noticed that in the discussions in another place it was said that this pension had been granted in perpetuity to Nelson's descendants. That is not so. No descendant of the great Admiral has ever held his title, enjoyed the pension, or lived in Trafalgar House. None of the beneficiaries has been a direct descendant of the famous Lord Nelson. All have been collateral descendants. Parliament was not unanimously in favour of the Act of 1806. Doubts were expressed at the time as to the desirability of paying a pension not to direct descendants but to collateral ones. Mr. Francis said at the time: Lord Nelson's collateral relations personally are unknown to the public, and can have no claim but what they derive from the accidental honour of bearing his name and from services in which they had no share. The gratitude due to his memory would, in my opinion, be better expressed with less profusion. Notwithstanding these and other doubts that were expressed in Parliament, a perpetual pension of £5,000 a year was voted and a further sum of £99,000 was provided to purchase the Trafalgar Estates. The pension has now been paid for 141 years.

The Nelson annuity is the last outstanding annuity of its kind. Noble Lords will be aware that for a long time perpetual pensions have been regarded as objectionable in principle To-day such a pension is regarded as an anachronism. In 1887 a Select Committee of another place was appointed to consider perpetual pensions, and it recommended that no such pension should continue beyond the lifetime of its then holder. In 1889 an offer was made to commute the Nelson pension at twenty-seven years' purchase, which would have involved the payment of £135,000. That offer was refused. Since that time the family have drawn £285,000 gross under the head of perpetual pension—over twice the proposed commutation lump sum. The question of commutation was re-opened in 1904, but as neither Earl Nelson nor the Treasury made any definite proposals, nothing was done.

The proposal in the Bill does not follow either the recommendation of the Select Committee of 1887 or the commutation offer of 1889 which was refused by the Lord Nelson of that time. The Bill proposes that the pension should be terminated at the end of two lives—that is, the lives of the present Earl and his heir, who is his brother. Since the pension was first instituted, a sum of £700,000 has been paid, not to Lord Nelson's direct descendants but, as I have said, to descendants of his collateral relatives through successive generations. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in another place in the discussion on the Bill: The link with the great sailor has now become so distant and tenuous, that there is no longer any justification for continuing what modern opinion must regard as a strange anomaly from other days. The second thing that the Bill does is to relax the conditions of the Trust which now govern the Trafalgar Estates. Under the Act which was passed in 1813, which was one of the series of the Trafalgar Estates Acts, it was definitely laid down that no holder of the title could bar the entail, and therefore the Estates have been entailed to successive holders of the title since that date. At present the tenant in tail—Lord Nelson—has not the powers of a tenant for life under the Settled Land Act, 1925. He cannot sell or exchange the property subject to the proceeds being held by the trustees, and even the trustees themselves cannot sell or dispose of the mansion house and its park. Clause 2 (1) will enable Lord Nelson to appoint new trustees in place of the official trustees. The Trust will not, in the sense that it is now, be a public trust. Clause 2 (2) gives Lord Nelson the powers of a tenant for life. Clause 2 (3) removes the special restriction on the alienation of the mansion house and park, and on the legal obligations imposed by the original Trafalgar Estates Act to re-invest in land the proceeds of sale of any land forming part of the Estate. In future the proceeds may he reinvested in trust securities if desired. Reinvestment will not be limited to land. These relaxations will be beneficial to the present Earl Nelson and his successors, and I believe are welcomed by the present family. Their effect will be to put this somewhat peculiar estate on the same footing as an ordinary settled estate, save that the tenant in tail cannot bar the entail.

There is just one other matter, not directly connected with the Bill, to which I propose to make a brief reference before I conclude. During the discussion on the Bill in another place my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he felt it would be most suitable if Trafalgar House and grounds were to pass into the hands of the Admiralty and were used for some naval purpose which the Admiralty might think fitting. This possibility was then being considered by the Board of Admiralty. I understand that the First Lord has since informed Lord Nelson, in a personal letter dated April 2, that the Admiralty have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the age of Trafalgar House, its layout and situation, so far from the nearest town and railway and from any other naval establishment, are insuperable obstacles to its use for naval purposes. I feel sure that there will be general regret and disappointment that the suggestion of taking over Trafalgar House for some naval purpose cannot, for practical reasons, be brought to achievement. Having explained the purposes of the Bill I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Henderson.)

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed.