HC Deb 12 February 1834 vol 21 cc246-9
Mr. Warburton

begged to call the attention of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to a Petition which he held in his hand from Mr. Hatchett, of Belle-Vue house, Chelsea, a gentleman well known in the scientific world, who had a beneficial interest in a fund in the Bank of England, which had stood in the name of the late Henry Fauntleroy, as sole trustee of the property. Upon an application being made to the Bank for the payment of the fund, subsequent to the death of Fauntleroy, and for the appointment of a new trustee in his situation, an answer was returned by the Bank that the property to which Fauntleroy was trustee had, by reason of his conviction, become an escheat to the Crown. As soon as this answer was made to the person beneficially interested, he had resort to the advice of counsel, and obtained the very best opinion in his power. There being a considerable difference of opinion among the counsel as to the right construction of the law in such a case, and it being the opinion of many that the property had become escheated to the Crown, he was advised not to oppose the inquisition on the part of the Crown, but to accept back the property, which was escheated, from the Crown as a grant. An inquest was accordingly held, though he could not say in what manner it was conducted—whether in some dark hole or corner of the city, with a Jury who acted just as they were told by the Crown officers, or otherwise, but the consequence was, that the property was declared to have become an escheat to the Crown, and in conformity with that decision it had been escheated. When the party came to inquire how the property was to be obtained back from the Crown, he found upon an examination of the Stamp Act, that though in all cases of real property the transfer was only subject to a duty of 1l. 15s., yet in cases of chattel property an ad valorem tax of 5l. per cent was imposed. So that in the present case the duty alone upon the transfer would amount to no less than 400l. These proceedings took place in the year 1824. Upon a representation being made to the Treasury of the circumstances of the case, it was admitted that it was an extremely hard one, and a promise was made that in the next Stamp Act an alteration should be made rectifying the mistake, and placing chattel property on the same footing with real property in this respect. The promised Stamp Act had been deferred from year to year, and the petitioner had been anxiously waiting, in the yearly expectation of seeing an alteration made, but up to the present moment no alteration whatever had taken place in the Stamp Act to meet the case of the petitioner. The correspondence which had taken place between the solicitor and the Treasury was set out at length in the petition, and could, therefore, be examined by the Government or any Member of the House. The tenth year had now arrived since the escheat took place, and in case the property was not immediately claimed, it must be paid over to the Commissioners of the National Debt, which would throw another important obstacle in the way of obtaining the money. This was a case in which Fauntleroy was sole trustee. He, would, however, also beg to direct their attention to another case in which Fauntleroy was a co-trustee. An application had been made in this case, since the death of Fauntleroy, to have a new trustee appointed in his room. The payment of the dividends had not been suspended; up to the present moment they had been regularly paid, but the answer returned by the Bank to the request for the appointment of a new trustee, which he confessed he did not understand, was this—the solicitor to the Bank signified the refusal by the Bank to allow the appointment of any new trustee, inasmuch as Fauntleroy's interest in the stock had become forfeited to the Crown, and as the Crown could not be a joint tenant with any other person, therefore the whole had become forfeited. The opinion which he (Mr. Warburton) had formed on the subject was, that the decision in the case where Fauntleroy was sole trustee was consistent with the law, but that in the case where Fauntleroy was only a co-trustee, the opinion of the Bank and the Treasury was inaccurate. In ordinary cases the property became vested in the new trustee, and he saw nothing in the present to distinguish it from any other. The only question to be decided was, what was the best course to be pursued in cases of this kind, for the law of Which the petitioner now complained had been in operation for the last sixty years, and it affected the title of the chattel property of every person where his trustee had been guilty of felony or committed suicide. It appeared to him that the proper course would be that a Bill should be brought in, not as a simple remedy given to those who should solicit a remittance of the duty under the Stamp Act, but a Bill declaring that in cases of a trustee becoming a felon, or undergoing a civil death, the property should not become an escheat to the Crown, but should vest in trustees acting beneficially for the parties interested. It was not in the power of an individual without the consent of the Crown, to introduce such a Bill; but if the noble Lord assured him, that on the production of such a Bill the formal objection to it would not be insisted upon, from the encouragement he had received, he would undertake to introduce such a Bill. A noble Lord, formerly a Judge, had promised to superintend such a Bill in the House of Lords. He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would give him the assurance, that if such a Bill were submitted to the Lords of the Treasury, the pro forma objection to it would be waived, and that he would be allowed to introduce it. He believed that he had gone over all the heads contained in the petition; he would only state that this was not a single case, that there were a great number of individuals with small property who were in a similar situation, who were waiting the result of this petition, but whose properties were so small that they could not go to the expense necessary to obtain them. As this was not a solitary case, but affected a great number of individuals, he hoped the noble Lord would throw no impediments in the way of such a Bill.

Lord Althorp

said, he had not the least hesitation in saying, that the statements which had been made showed a case of very extreme hardship. With respect to the individual, it was well known to the hon. Member, that he (Lord Althorp) had the honour and the pleasure of his acquaintance. The case, however, had not come under his notice before, otherwise he should have felt it his duty to take immediate steps for an inquiry into it, and to have redressed the grievance at the earliest moment. As to the question put to him by the hon. Member, he could only say, that he would give his advice, and he had little doubt it would be acted upon, that no formal objection should be taken to the introduction of such a Bill as that spoken of. If any other individuals had the misfortune to be placed in the situation of the petitioner, who had become a sufferer from the misconduct of his trustee, the case of those individuals was one that ought to receive the commiseration and assistance of the House.

Petition laid on the Table.

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