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Clause 66

Volume 82: debated on Wednesday 10 July 1985

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Relief For Disposals By Individuals On Retirement From Family Business

I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 63, line 31, at end insert—

"(2) Where an individual who is a partner with his spouse in a business has retired on ill health grounds below the age of 60, and his spouse is thereby compelled to withdraw from the business, such part of the spouse's gains on the withdrawal shall qualify for relief as appears to the Board to be just and reasonable.".
I express my gratitude to Mr. Speaker for selecting the amendment. He has a great and deserved reputation for solicitude for the position of Back Benchers and in selecting this amendment he has demonstrated that qualify yet again.

Any examination of Mr. Speaker's provisional selection of amendments indicates that a total of 120 amendments is to be discussed tonight. No fewer than 100 are Government amendments. Taking into account the amendments proposed by the official Opposition, that indicates very clearly that the result of our present arrangements for dealing with the Finance Bill each year inevitably tends to mean that the point of view of the Back Bencher is being increasingly crowded out. Remembering the undertakings given and the suggestions made in 1967, when our arrangements were changed and Standing Order No. 42 was altered, in particular the suggestion that a more careful examination of the Finance Bill would be possible, it has to be admitted that, in practice, the result has been thoroughly disappointing.

In recent years there has been a tendency to allow the general membership of the House of Commons, if anything, a lesser opportunity to discuss the Finance Bill in detail. It is nearly half past midnight and this is no time to examine statistics in any detail. Taking the first 10 years after the arrangements were changed and examining the number of days available for Report, there were in fact 11 Finance Bills. On six occasions three days were allowed, on two occasions four days, on another occasion two days and on two occasions only one day. The average number of days allowed was three. Since then the average has dropped dramatically to between one and two days.

I repeat that the net result is that the private Member is becoming increasing disfranchised when it comes to an opportunity to test an idea, to propose an amendment or a change, unless it attracts very widespread support. Remembering how unsatisfactory is the general shape of our Committee stage—because opinion is becoming, in my view, absurdly polarised between the parties—

Order, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will come to the amendment.

I shall come to the amendment immediately, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am merely saying that it is time that our arrangements for the examination of the Finance Bill were looked into.

There is a new principle in the Bill, in clause 66, which is very much to be welcomed. This allows retirement relief from capital gains tax to be claimed when an individual has to give up his business on grounds of ill health. That is a great step forward, but the arrangements as presently proposed involve a problem, which relates to a problem common in small businesses such as a farm or a shop where a husband and wife jointly own a property and run the business in partnership. If the business has to be sold owing to the ill health of the husband, his part of the gains would qualify for retirement relief, but there would be no relief for the wife's share.

I am advised by the National Farmers Union that it has already seen three cases of husband and wife partnerships, which are common in farming, where one spouse is having to give up on ill health grounds, and it is not practicable to continue the business as before. The matter came to my particular attention because I had a constituency case in a farm just outside Taunton, where a constituent found himself in real difficulties. His wife had had a severe stroke, and the medical report is that she will be unable to take any part in the business in future.

The amendment suggests a discretion to the Inland Revenue in such circumstances to allow reasonable relief to the other spouse. I cannot say whether the form of the amendment will be acceptable to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary. To return to my first point, it is a pity that one has not had the chance in Committee to test that, so that there would be an opportunity, if the wording of the amendment is not suitable, to promote something better on Report. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to say what his feeling is about the real problem that I have described. If he is unable to accept my wording, I hope that he will be able to suggest that next year my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be able to introduce such an improvement to clause 66 that will help what is a real difficulty for a number of individuals.

The Opposition are not unsympathetic to the purpose of the amendment. However, if the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) is willing to give the Inland Revenue such discretion, and if the Government are willing to accept it in the case of illness that the right hon. Gentleman so well described, could not the Inland Revenue be given the same kind of discretion to give tax relief on work-place nurseries for lone parents or low-paid workers?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) has clearly identified a problem that I am sure commands sympathy from both sides of the House. It will reassure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who spoke earlier and said that that was the only time that the particular problems of agriculture had become the subject of debate either in Committee or on Report. Here is a second occasion, although my right hon. Friend would say that the amendment is not confined to agriculture.

We view the problem with sympathy, but the amendment is not satisfactory. The unsatisfactory nature of it could not have been demonstrated more clearly than it was by the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald). I do not know whether that was her intention, but she demonstrated the inadvisability of giving the Inland Revenue a discretion which, to be fair to it, it would not want to exercise.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept what I have to say in the spirit in which it is offered. We should like to keep this problem under review.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will accept that the precise form of his amendment would not meet the full circumstances of the case. He has, however, identified a problem which we should like to keep under review and I hope that we may come back to it, if not next year at least on some later occasion when we have better evidence about the scope of the problem and how best it should be tackled. I hope he feels that justice has been done to the case which he so ably advaced and he will not feel obliged to press his amendment to a Division.

In the light of that very clear undertaking from my right hon. and learned Friend that he will be good enough to keep the matter under review, and that a remedy will be sought and introduced, I am happy to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.