HC Deb 24 November 1983 vol 49 cc252-3W
Mrs. Currie

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the Harper Crewe trustees offer of Calke abbey in Derbyshire in lieu of death duties.

Mr. Macfarlane

Calke abbey its contents and adjoining land were offered in lieu of tax in March 1982. The trustees of the estate also offered in lieu of tax substantial holdings of agricultural and other property on the basis that these might provide an endowment and a source of capital for the future preservation of Calke Abbey.

We have indicated that provided satisfactory arrangements can be agreed to secure its future maintenance and preservation we would in principle be willing to accept Calke Abbey its contents and park in lieu of tax. The Government will not, however, accept in lieu of tax property not itself of heritage quality and which is intended to be used solely as a source of capital and income.

Before making their offer to the Government the trustees had consulted the National Trust to ascertain the capital and endowment requirements if Calke were to be given to the trust. The offer of agricultural land was intended to meet those needs. However, if the Government had agreed to accept all this land in addition to Calke itself, it would have had to forego further tax revenue—possibly £7 million to £8 million or more in tax revenue. Passing that property to the National Trust once it had been accepted would have been no different from incurring public expenditure more directly; the cost would have fallen on my Department's Votes and those of the Office of Arts and Libraries.

My Noble Friend, the Minister for the Arts, and I share the view that the resources available for the acceptance of property in lieu of tax should be reserved for the acquisition of items of national heritage quality and not for financing endowments of capital funds which could be provided in other ways and from other sources. The National Trust did in fact approach the National Heritage Memorial Fund for financial assistance but the Trustees of the Fund did not consider that Calke was of such a high priority as other cases then before them such as Belton House in Lincolnshire.

My officials and officials of the Inland Revenue have explored at some length with representatives of the trustees and other interested bodies, a number of possible alternative approaches which could secure the future of Calke. It remains the Government's view that the trustees should take steps to develop a solution which is not dependent on public funding of an endowment for Calke. It is still open to the trustees to claim conditional tax exemption for the heritage property and to explore the possibility of a maintenance fund for its future upkeep. If they followed such a course there could also be significant grant aid for qualifying expenditure notably for the much needed repairs to the buildings.