Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th November 1949.

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Photo of Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite Lieut-Commander Joseph Braithwaite , Holderness 12:00 am, 7th November 1949

It was inevitable that this Measure should attract hon. and learned Gentlemen on both sides of the House, many of whom have addressed us with their usual ability and eloquence. I am in agreement with the plea of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) against continued legislation by reference, which is very difficult for those who have to refer to old Acts of Parliament. I wish to address myself however not so much to the legal as to the financial aspect of the matter, from the point of view of the Exchequer.

The hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) comforted herself with two reflections. The first was that this was good feminism and second, that large numbers of married women in small or reduced financial circumstances will benefit. Whatever may be said for the first of those contentions, I dispute the second.

Without doubt, the Bill will benefit primarily and almost entirely very large estates. It is almost a Surtax payer's Bill. I say that because where small incomes and small amounts of capital are involved, such as envisaged by the hon. Lady, they are not tied up in this manner; it is not worth while. The object of those wills, bequests and marriage settlements is to provide a considerable income, and one cannot provide a considerable income without considerable capital. I think it unlikely that there are many cases of the kind envisaged either by the hon. Lady or by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I shall adduce further evidence in support of that in a moment.

The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) reminded us that no one could claim that the Government have any mandate for this Measure. I have searched in vain the pages of "Let us Face the Future," what has now become an almost pre-historical document, and I also searched the Gracious Speech from the Throne delivered at the commencement of this Session. I have read both documents again in vain. There is apparently some urgency about this Measure. It is being introduced just after the official announcement of our economic crisis, and one wonders whether it is the first of the Government's measures for restoring our financial equilibrium. I find it a little difficult to believe because when my hon. Friend the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage), in moving the Amendment, gave it as his opinion that had the Mountbatten Estate Bill passed through both Houses this Measure would not have been introduced, I noticed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman nodded, as he does now. I thought it was rather a destructive nod, because, if that is so, what becomes of the claim made by him and the hon. Lady that this is a Measure which will help all married women with small incomes?