That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session relating to Finance, it is expedient to authorise the issue during the current financial year from the Consolidated Fund of the sum of fifty million pounds to a National Land Fund to be established under the said Act and used to make good any duty satisfied by a transfer of property under section fifty-six of the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, and for such other purposes as Parliament may hereafter determine.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Captain Crookshank
There are one or two comments which I should like to make on this Resolution. I would recall to hon. Members the words with which the Chancellor opened his Budget. Tonight we have learned that the words "ramp" and "racket" are in Order, but I am not quite certain whether the word "humbug" is in Order. So as to keep away from that danger, I will just make the comment that this behaviour on behalf of the Government is very odd. The Chancellor on 9th April explained to us, with obvious relish, that he was going to set aside, which is what this Resolution does, the sum of£50 million for a special Fund, to be called the National Land Fund, to be available for a variety of purposes all designed to increase the national estate. He pointed out that it would be possible, if it was considered in the public interest, for land to be transferred through this Fund to the National Trust or the Youth Hostels Association—a most extraordinary combination of bodies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "] Because, up to now, I understood that the National Trust looked after properties and houses handed over to them, whereas the Youth Hostels Association was more concerned with little huts—I do not say that in any derogatory sense—used by young men and women on 2837 hiking tours. It seemed to me that they were in quite different categories; but never mind, the idea is that the Chancellor should find various associations into whose charge he could put these various properties. I am not quarrelling with that. The Chancellor then went on to make the lyrical peroration which so surprised us, because it was rather out of context with the rather harsh realities of the financial situation with which he had regaled us for one and three quarter hours. One detected in the final passages of his speech a real affection for the beauty of our countryside, and, apparently, a fervid desire to do what he could to conserve what it was possible to conserve. I cannot begin to do that with the emphasis of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I would quote this to make the point of which I want the House to he aware, and that is the "oddity" of the behaviour of the Government—that being a word which is orderly. The right hon. Gentleman said:There is still wonderful beauty to be found in our country. Much of it has been spoiled and ruined beyond repair; but we still have a great wealth and variety of natural scenery in this land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1946; vol. 421, C. 1844]Much of this land has been spoiled and ruined beyond repair, as the Chancellor agrees, and his colleagues agree. What on earth, then, is the Minister of Fuel and Power doing at this very moment? That is why I say the behaviour of the Government is odd. We have the Chancellor coming down here a fortnight ago with his lyrical description of how beautiful the countryside is, asking this House to vote £50,000,000 towards conserving it. And then, in spite of all the protests from South Yorkshire, in spite of all the protests from the present owner of the property, in spite of all the propositions which he made to try and save one of the most magnificent beauty spots in South Yorkshire, in spite of all these descriptions from the Chancellor in his Budget speech, the Government—who, after all, are collectively responsible—are now—
§ Captain Crookshank
No, Sir, with all due respect. This money is to be voted because there is still beauty to be found 2838 in our country. The right hon. Gentleman said:Much of it has been spoiled and ruined beyond repair…The best that remains should surely be the heritage not of a few private owners but of all our people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1946, Vol. 421, C. 1844.]To achieve that, might have been the first fruits of this Fund, instead of which, the Minister of Fuel and Power, who is a Cabinet colleague of the right hon. Gentleman and has Cabinet responsibility, has been allowed by this Government to desecrate South Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is going right outside the Resolution. Might I remind him of what it says:… a National Land Fund to be established under the said Act and used to make good any duty satisfied by a transfer of property under section fifty-six of the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, and for such other purposes as Parliament may hereafter determine.It is not for the preservation of Wentworth.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must speak to the Resolution, not about what the Chancellor said.
§ Captain Crookshank
What aboutsuch other purposes as Parliament may hereafter determine "?Are we to take it from your Ruling, Sir, that the Clauses of the Finance Bill which will be founded on this Resolution can deal only with the transfer of property as the result of death?
§ Captain Crookshank
With all respect, Mr. Speaker, that, I thought, was the point I was endeavouring to make because—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] Certainly. As I understood it, during the recent negotiations one of the proposals was that this property should be transferred to the National Trust, and the Fund was to finance just that kind of transaction. I understood that the £50,000,000 was to be used in part in that way, but, of course, if I am entirely wrong, if I am out of Order, I naturally say no more about it. If, however, it is possible for the Chancellor to keep in Order in replying, I hope he will 2839 set our doubts at rest because that is what we had understood. I am very sorry to have transgressed.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
Is not the operative fact of the remarks that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been making that the property to which the Chancellor referred has been damaged beyond repair, whereas the property from which coal is now being removed will be completely and thoroughly restored after the operation?
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not know how far we can go into those operative facts, but I imagine it is for the Minister of Town and Country Planning to express a view on that, and I hope that he has been consulted by the Government collectively on this issue. If I cannot pursue that any further, Mr. Speaker, may I invite the Chancellor to be quite specific as to what he intends by this? Then perhaps, if it is found that the "other purposes" cover exactly the point which I had deduced from his Budget speech, while I may have exhausted my right to pursue this subject, without the leave of the House, perhaps some of my hon. Friends will be able to probe the matter further.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
I hope I can clarify the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The proposal in the Finance Bill will be closely linked with the provision in the previous Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, whereby, under certain conditions, land may be tendered in payment of death duties. As I sought to explain in my Budget speech, although this has stood upon the Statute Book as the law of this country since 1910 it has in fact been practically unused. I propose to make it operate on a considerable scale subject, as the law now stands, to the agreement of all parties, namely the executors of the estate of the deceased on the one hand and the Board of Inland Revenue on the other. As I informed the Committee of Ways and Means when I was making my Budget speech, so far as the Board of Inland Revenue are concerned I have instructed them that, henceforth, wherever suitable land is offered by the executors in payment of death duties, they are to show willingness to accept it. This is a voluntary arrangement. I hope in the future there will be a larger number of cases than there have 2840 been in the past in which this mode of payment will be acceptable to the Board of Inland Revenue, on the one hand, and the executors, on the other hand. In the Finance Bill this provision is wholly linked with the payment of death duties in the form of land.
I might perhaps mention that it is intended that land so tendered may be accepted by some department of the Government, in which case the Land Fund will not be drawn upon—for example by the Forestry Commission in cases where land, which is suitable for afforestation is handed over by the executors of some deceased person. I am anxious to make it clear that in such a case the Land Fund will not be drawn upon as the Board of Inland Revenue will be reimbursed by the Forestry Commission out of their Vote. The total Vote for the Commission would not be increased, except with the authority of this House, but of the money voted by this House for the Commission some part would be paid back to the Board of Inland Revenue in return for the land so acquired. Similarly with regard to other Government Departments.
I contemplate, however, in addition, that there should be provision in the Finance Bill whereby—I am not bound by the words I am going to read out but this is the first attempt at a suitable phraseology—if any society, or body, not trading for profit and having as its object, or one of its objects, the preservation of amenities enjoyed by the public, or the acquisition of land to be used by the public, that such a body,should also be eligible to receive land from the Board of Inland Revenue, subject perhaps to certain conditions, or subject perhaps to part payment of the value of the land. Such a body, which might be the National Trust, the Youth Hostels Association, or other bodies which fall within the same definition, should be eligible to receive land.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether care will be taken in all these transactions—and here I apologise for using a rather pompous term—to preserve the rare fauna? Most of the trust societies already take care to preserve these fauna, and in connection with this proposal, I think this is most important.
§ Mr. Dalton
I agree with the Noble Lord. I do not think this is a matter on which there will be any controversy or 2841 dispute among what I might describe as knowledgeable persons in all parts of the House. I think we are all agreed about that. I entirely accept the Noble Lord's observations. We are very anxious to preserve, so far as we can, what he has referred to as rare fauna.
I add one other point. This sum of money which is being set aside for this purpose is being loosely linked, in not too pedantic a fashion I agree, with receipts accruing to the Revenue in the form of payment for war stores. I remember the discussions which took place at the end of the last war in which criticism was made by a number of very competent authorities in the House of Commons at that time, of the way in which receipts from war stores were flung into the ordinary stream of revenue. Many people said that that was not the proper way to deal with this exceptional situation and these exceptional receipts and that they ought to be treated in an exceptional fashion. It appeared to me and to my colleagues in the Government that it would be a reasonable provision to take some part of the proceeds of war stores and put them into this fund for this purpose, linking it, in the first instance, with the death duties on land and also making provision for the future, in the next few years, in legislation on the subject of amenities in general, and on National Parks in particular.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning has made it quite clear, with the authority of the Cabinet, that in due course, when the legislative programme permits, he will introduce legislation on the subject of National Parks and I hope that this will not be controversial between the parties. It appeared to me that it would be advantageous when this legislation comes along, whether it be next session or whenever it comes along, that there should be what I might describe as a nest egg, set aside, which could be used to finance some of the operations necessary in order to give to the public permanent access to the National Parks—Snowdonia, or the Peak District, the Lake District, wherever you wish, or any place where a man, not too pot-bellied, could still walk. I do not contemplate that this£50 million will all be spent at once. It would perhaps be spent over a period of four or five years and it would be possible to replenish the 2842 fund if it were exhausted. Meantime, I feel that this is about the right kind of sum to set aside, having regard to the claims that might be made against it.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, I wonder if he would be so good as to answer the point I made on Second Reading about this Fund. It does seem to me an entirely vague sort of financial arrangement, because it will be found, when the time comes, that the Chancellor is not setting aside any money at all. The Treasury has always taken the greatest objection to setting up any special fund, and the Chancellor has not made any attempt to justify the use of procedure of this kind.
§ Mr. Keeling
I should like to say a word or two on how this Fund will affect the National Trust. I am on its Executive Committee. It will affect the National Trust in two ways, as the Chancellor has explained. The National Trust would like to discuss the details with him. I presume they will be free in the future, as in the past, to accept or decline land which is offered to them under either of the two schemes. The National Trust is one of the largest landowners in the country, thanks to the public spirit of landowners and other benefactors, and I am very sorry that, while holding out this helping hand to the National Trust, the Chancellor is stabbing it in the back by discouraging seven-year covenants. I hope that in the Finance Bill he will make provision for exempting the Trust on that point.
There are three questions which I should like to put. First, will the Fund be available to transfer to the National Trust not only land but also historic and beautiful houses? I imagine that the answer is "Yes." The second point I want to make is that the National Trust has no large revenue and has in the past been bound to refuse properties unless accompanied by a maintenance fund. Will the Chancellor provide in the Finance Bill, if not to include specifically, at least not to exclude that when a property is handed over under his scheme, there shall be some maintenance fund to go with it? Thirdly, what about land which he receives in lieu of death duties but which has no special landscape or aesthetic value or historic interest—land which the National Trust does 2843 not want? What is the Chancellor going to do with it? Is he going to sell it, or is he going to join the ranks of the Government Departments which are becoming large landowners? Is he going to become, as the Minister of Fuel and Power said he was becoming the other day, a large farmer on his own account?
§ Mr. Howard (Westminster, St. George's)
I should know perhaps what the Chancellor's hopes and intentions are, but I do hope he will explain the financial procedure in connection with this matter. I understood we were budgeting for a deficit for this year. Now I understand that the Chancellor is going to set aside out of this deficit a reserve, and is asking his shareholders—the taxpayers of this country—to support this reserve for a purpose he has not specified.