David Lloyd George’s controversial ‘People’s Budget’ of 1910 included a number of measures aimed at taxing Britain’s landed classes. It also contained a clause allowing inheritance tax to be settled by the transfer of heritage assets.
Initially the scheme, now known as Acceptance in Lieu (AIL), was slow to take off because of the Treasury’s insistence that the loss of revenue had to be made up from other sources.
After the Second World War, however, the National Land Fund was established, as a ‘thank-you offering for victory’, and this was used to compensate the Treasury and thereby enable transfers in lieu of tax. The land, houses and chattels accepted by the Governement were then transferred to appropriate museums or heritage bodies.
The first country house to be allocated to the National Trust through AIL was Cotehele in Cornwall.
In 1957 the Treasury withdrew part of the capital of the National Land Fund, and again the scheme seemed to falter.
In 1976 Mentmore Towers with its magnificent contents was offered to the nation by the Earl of Rosebery for £2m, but the Treasury considered the price excessive and the deal fell through. Mentmore and its contents were subsequently sold at auction through Sotheby’s for £6.25m, showing how advantageous the initial offer would have been.
The resulting public outcry led to the transformation of the Land Fund into the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the strengthening of the funding framework for the AIL process.
Country houses accepted in lieu and allocated to the National Trust include Cotehele (1947), Penrhyn Castle (1952), Mount Grace Priory (1953), Castle Ward (1953), Petworth House (1954), Ickworth (1956), Saltram (1957), Hardwick Hall (1959), Shugborough, (1965), Cragside (1977), Calke Abbey (1985) and Seaton Delaval Hall (2009).
Over the years the National Trust has also received large numbers of works of art and other objects relevant to its historic houses through the AIL scheme. The value of these over the last ten years (excluding Seaton Delaval and its contents) was £21,645,000.
The National Trust would never have been able to acquire all of these historic chattels from its own resources.
The current Government is placing greater emphasis on the benefits of private philanthropy. In view of the succes of AIL it would seem to make eminent sense, when public finances permit, to widen the scheme to include lifetime giving.