Skip to main content

Clause 2

Volume 977: debated on Wednesday 30 January 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 18 at end insert:

'(1A) The initial sum paid into the Fund in the financial year in which it is appointed that section 1(1) above shall come into force shall not be less than the value of the investments in and other assets of the National Land Fund on 1st April 1980 is predicted at the time when that sum is determined by the Ministers.'.

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 39, in clause 18, page 10, line 36, after 'modify', insert ' a)'.

No. 40, in page 10, line 38, at end insert:

(b) section 2(1A) above such that the day appointed by the order shall be substituted therein for 1st April 1980'.

The first amendment is the main one. The other two are consequential and simply allow for any difficulty that may arise if part I of the Bill is not brought into force on 1 April 1980.

The first amendment requires that a sum equal to that in the National Land Fund is transferred to the new fund, not merely £12 million—plus, as envisaged by Ministers. That implies that Ministers will have to find the money for the financing of acceptances in lieu from a higher Vote, presumably at the cost of an additional £3 million.

One purpose in tabling the amendment is to allow discussion of the expenses that will be incurred by the trustees in setting up shop—possibly purchasing accommodation, if not leasing it, unless Government property is to be made available, and buying furniture, equipment and so on, unless that also is to be loaned free of charge.

Another purpose is to allow debate of the difficulties in which the trustees will find themselves over the purchase of investments that will not be earning interest but which will rather, at some time in the future, provide them with income in the form of dividends. If the trustees have to buy investments too close to the dividend date to obtain such income, they will have to pay the more for them. That will whittle away, a little at any rate, of their capital.

All that is quite apart from consideration of whether the Government should make a more handsome gesture and pay the full sum in the Land Fund to the trustees without reducing it by £3 million to cover the cost of acceptances in lieu in the first year.

It is not one of the major amendments but it would be generous if the Government could accept it.

I appreciate the objective of the amendment, which is to try to obtain a further £3½ million from the Government. I have one little point that might please the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).

Many people would be delighted if we could give the additional sum, but, regrettably, we cannot unless we renege on our commitment to continue the arrangement whereby executors can offer works of art in lieu. It would also have to be at the expense of other desirable, necessary and important expenditure programmes. That is financial reality, which perhaps in his commendable enthusiasm on behalf of the Heritage Fund trustees the hon. Gentleman overlooked.

We said that an amount equivalent to the balance in the National Land Fund on 31 March 1980 will be provided for the trustees and acceptances in lieu in 1980–81. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, that is the £12 million in round figures to the trustees and £3½ million kept separate for in lieu. We made it clear from the outset that that available sum would have to cover both kinds of expenditure.

We estimate that £15·5 million will be in the Land Fund at the end of this financial year, and that is why we have taken that figure for discussion throughout the Bill. If the balance is less than £15·5 million, we shall honour our commitment. If it is significantly more, our intention is to make the excess available to the trustees. If the market goes up, we are batting on a good wicket.

5.45 pm

The trustees' share will be about £12 million, which is by no means a derisory sum. It will be supplemented by annual grants and the interest earned on the original sum will be available for the trustees.

It has been suggested that the initial cost of the fund will be disproportionately high in relation to the ongoing costs once it is firmly established and that the grant should be supplemented to take account of that and prevent too rapid depletion of the fund's resources. The cost of setting up the fund's administrative machinery will be met in the current year by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's Department and the Department of the Environment.

In consultation with the chairman-designate of the trustees, when he is appointed, we shall acquire suitable office accommodation and equipment and take steps to engage the nucleus of the administrative staff, so that the fund can be launched as a going concern on 1 April. The costs involved, as I said, will be met from my right hon. Friend's Department and the Department of the Environment. The trustees will assume responsibility for the day-to-day running costs from 1 April, and they will be taking on an office that is in being.

No. We would want to involve the chairman-designate. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with his involvement with the PSA and others, will have a number of suitable offices available in London, which is where I believe that we should all like the offices to be based.

The hon. Gentleman indicated that he believed that it would be some time before substantial income results from investments, but that is not strictly so. It is possible to invest such a substantial sum so that it bears interest quickly. There will be income flowing into the fund in its early days. In practical terms, it will be some weeks or months before there is any major purchase or assistance. We know how long it takes to get lawyers and trustees of estates working quickly towards a conclusion, so there will be that initial period during which income can be earned.

We have been as generous as we possibly can. If the Land Fund is above £15·5 million, that will be to the advantage of the trustees and in lieu.

I do not believe that the Committee understood why the Minister felt it necessary to differentiate in the grant between the first year and later years. I do not believe that it was ever explained. I accept the hon. Gentleman's arguments that there will be investment coming in and immediate decisions will not be taken for two or three months. However, if a crisis should arise in that first year, and the trustees have to eat into capital—which may well occur—will the Government consider putting forward an emergency grant in those unhappy circumstances?

:The greater the emergency, the longer it will take to resolve. A crisis such as Mentmore would not be resolved in a matter of weeks. It would take much longer. I do not make any commitment, but if a situation arose that would dramatically deplete the amount of money available to the Heritage Fund trustees, they should turn to the Government for advice. The sale of Mentmore would have removed half of the fund in one purchase. Now that hon. Members have taken a new look at the Heritage Fund, we shall not operate in that way. We are determined to do better than in the past.

Mentmore and other large estates would have to be discussed with the Government. However, we must hope that such sales will be infrequent as they destroy the objectives of the Bill, namely, to keep country houses, estates and places of historical interest as they are. We do not wish them to be broken up and dispersed because of an unfortunate death or for financial reasons. If a crisis arose, the Government would stand by the Heritage Fund. How far the Government can go will be determined by economic circumstances.

The hon. Member for West Lothian was right to raise that question and it has given me an opportunity to speak about the money available. It has also given me an opportunity to show that the Government are ready to take care of the expense of setting up the Heritage Fund Trust and its staff. If the National Land Fund is above £15·5 million on 1 April, any surplus will be to the benefit of the trustees. If the National Land Fund is not at that level, the Government will stand by their promise to ensure that that sum is available.

We have played our part. I hope that with these assurances the hon. Gentleman will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.

In a previous incarnation, as a senior Opposition Whip, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you had to put up with me for many hours during the Scotland Bill. I often told my own Front Bench that they had no right to go ahead with the Royal high school until the Scotland Bill had been signed, sealed and delivered. In the event, they did not take that advice. That was to the disadvantage of the taxpayer. However, I shall not complain too much as a good building has been restored although its use has not yet been determined.

I am the last out of 630 Members of Parliament to lecture a Government on the need to act quickly and to think about headquarters. I shall not complain that the Government are not forthcoming about where the headquarters of the trust will be. I merely ask that those headquarters are not put on the fifteenth floor of a modern office block. This is an opportunity to set an example. We should take part in a rescue operation and rescue a building of distinction. That building will probably have to be in London.

I merely wish to suggest the Royal high school in Edinburgh. However, I do not do so seriously.

:Perhaps we could shift the Royal high school stone by stone to within the proximity of London airport. Does the building have to be in central London, or is there an argument for putting it within reach of Gatwick or of Heathrow? As trustees will come from all over Britain, there are advantages in having a prestige building near to an airport rather than in the centre of the city. I understand that this will depend on the buildings that are available. I simply ask that that point should be considered. Perhaps some building could be saved that would make an appropriate headquarters for the trust.

I hope that all hon. Members will realise that the headquarters should be modest. There are a limited number of trustees and there will be—we hope—a small office staff. We therefore do not seek anything large or expensive. I suffer on the fifteenth floor of a modern tower block and I entirely sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. It would be an inappropriate place for the Heritage Fund trustees. I can think of some most attractive offices such as those which the Crown Estate Commissioners have in Carlton House Terrace, where trustees would feel at home. Their minds would be able to concentrate on their work in such appropriate surroundings.

:The National Portrait gallery is vacating Carlton House Terrace very shortly. Accommodation will be available that is highly attractive.

:We shall bear that in mind. However, during the Committee stage it was said that no one could find Carlton House Terrace and that that was why no one went there. Perhaps that is a different point. We hope that the trustees will be given surroundings appropriate to their work. However, those surroundings should be of modest proportions. We want to spend money not on offices but on our heritage.

I remind the Minister that there is a block of Government-owned property—owned, I think, by the Foreign Office—in the area adjacent to the Foreign Press Association. There are some beautiful rooms and houses that might be appropriate. With that thought, I happily beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.