HC Deb 12 June 1888 vol 326 cc1948-53

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. COZENS-HARDY (Norfolk, N.)

said, that was the renewal of a Bill to which the House assented last Session, but which met with a less fortunate fate in "another place." In now asking the House to assent to the second reading, he did so in the belief that the Bill would effect a substantial improvement in the law, and that it would not be attended by any serious drawback. In support of the measure, there was a large mass of judicial opinion, and it had been carefully considered by a body whose opinion on matters of that kind deserved great weight, the body of solicitors represented by the Incorporated Law Society. That Society appointed a Committee to consider it, and the Committee had come to a resolution, that the Bill would remove much hardship, and that the proposed alteration of the law deserved support. Judge after Judge had declared that the present state of the law was attended with great inconvenience to families without corresponding advantage. He trusted the House would affirm the principle, and he would be content to leave all matters of detail to be dealt with by the Grand Committee on Law, or in any way the House might think right.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Cozens-Hardy.)


said, he trusted the House would not agree to the second reading. The Bill proposed to interfere in a very remarkable manner with the power of disposal over settled property, and to introduce a system that went far beyond anything that had been suggested or justified on substantial grounds in relation to settled property. It would have been just as well if the hon. Member had informed the House what his Bill had proposed to do. It was all very well to say that the Bill dealt with some abuse of the law that had been pointed out by the Court of Chancery; but, with all deference to his hon. Friend's experience and knowledge, he did not think the hon. Member could find a single Judge expressing an opinion which would justify the proposition in the Bill. Whether or not there should be some alteration in the Law of Settlement was quite another thing. Did the House know what the 1st clause enacted? It proposed that after the 1st of January next— No person shall settle or dispose of any property in such manner that the rents, issues, profits, or income thereof shall be wholly or partially accumulated for any longer or other term than during the minority or respective minorities only of any person or persons who under the uses or trusts of the instrument directing such accumulation would for the time being, if of full age, be entitled to receive the rents, etc., so directed to be accumulated. In other words, suppose property left by anybody, or settled by one person in favour of another, who might be 18 or 19 years of age, and although it might be most desirable that the income from such property should be allowed to accumulate for 8, 10, or 20 years, yet that which was done under the existing law should no longer be legal, and as soon as the person in whose favour the settlement was made came to the age of 21, he should have absolute control over that property. The hon. Gentleman had told the House that he had behind him the opinion of some body representing solicitors.


The Incorporated Law Society.


But was the Incorporated Law Society prepared to recommend that there should be no power to settle property for 5, 6, or 10 years, assuming that the person in whose favour the settlement was made came of age within the time? This question was but a part of a very much larger question; it concerned the whole law in relation to real property. If it was desirable that there should be an amendment of the law, then the matter should be dealt with in its entirety, not by picking out one particular point of the law, and saying henceforth any person was prohibited from settling property for a term of years. If the hon. Member would tell the House the grounds upon which he suggested the alteration proposed, then the House would be able to judge his reasons; but it was to be hoped that anybody who took an interest in the matter would realize for himself the scope of the Bill before he gave his vote for it. It was not a measure to prevent unnecessary accumulations it prohibited, without exception, any tying up of property beyond the coming of age of the testatee. Many Members must have known, within their experience, most useful settlements made until a person was 25 or 26 years of age, or even for longer periods; and cases would occur to many showing how desirable it was that the income from property should not be spent, having regard to the interests of young children. He would like to see any statement of the Incorporated Law Society proposing such a change as that in the Bill. They might have enunciated some proposition as to an alteration of the law, and that the law stood in need of amendment he would not for a moment deny; but it would be strange indeed if any Judge suggested that a Bill of this kind should pass.

MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

said, he must be allowed to express surprise at the attitude taken up by the Government in the person of the hon. and learned Attorney General. He was under the impression that last Session, at all events, this was very much a law-reforming Government; and he was also under the impression, though his memory might be deceiving him, that when this Bill came before the House last Session, it was read a second time with the assent of the Government, the Attorney General himself speaking in support of it—


I beg pardon. I did not speak in support of the Bill.


said, then he must be under some misapprehension. But, in any event, the Government did not offer any opposition to the Bill last year. He remembered distinctly its passing through the House, and it was only in the House of Lords that it was stopped, The hon. and learned Gentleman said this was a very odd Bill, and he objected to piecemeal amendment of the law. But, with all deference to the great weight of the authority of the Attorney General, this was not an objection that might fairly be urged against the Bill. The very point the Bill dealt with was dealt with in the existing law by a single Statute which was known as the "Thellusson Act," which was passed to prevent accumulations by testators tying up property to any extent. It gave two classes of periods, beyond which accumulation was prohibited—the minority of individuals, or an absolute period of 21 years. All that the present Bill tried to do was to get rid of the absolute period of 21 years, and to keep testators to the minority. The Attorney General said he should like to hear it supported by any legal opinion of eminence, and he could supply the hon. and learned Gentleman with the opinions of two of the most distinguished conveyancing Judges who had sat on the Bench during the last half-century. Mr. Justice Pearson, speaking in reference to the case "Collins v. Collins," not long before he died, said— To my mind, and with all the experience I have had of the effect of accumulations, I think they are mischievous. In another case, the same learned Judge said— I am steadily opposed to all these practices of accumulations of incomes; they are always more or less mischievous, but, at the same time, they are legal. According to my mind, such trusts for accumulations are always unjust, but I have no jurisdiction to set them aside. Again, the late Vice Chancellor Malins, in reference to the case "Havelock v. Havelock," expressed a similar opinion against tying up incomes beyond the period of minority, an opinion which he said he shared in common with all Judges and, be believed, all counsel of experience; he would always discourage such accumulations, and cut them down as much as possible. That was all the Bill proposed to do, to take away the absolute period of 21 years; there was no rational reason for taking that period independently of any period of minority. He could give, not merely the recommendations of Judges, but of many others who, on the question of real property law reform, had made recommendations to the same effect. This was a very simple Bill; it passed the House last year, and he saw no reason why it should not again. An hon. Friend having referred him to the passage in Hansard, he now found that, after his hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk last Session moved the second reading, the Attorney General was reported to have said— I trust the House will allow this Bill to be read a second time—


Will the hon. Member read on?


said, he was about to do so. The hon. and learned Gentleman continued— Before the question is decided, however, just wish to say that I am not quite sure that the measure does not go too far in reference to the matter of time. If the hon. Member will put off the Committee stage to some period which will give time for the consideration of clauses, and enable us to propose Amendments, if necessary, there will be no opposition to the second reading."—(3 Hansard, [312] 1449.) The Bill was put off as suggested; but no Amendments were moved. The Bill went to the House of Lords, and there, for some inexplicable reason, it was stopped. He trusted the House would assent to the second reading now, as it did before.


said, that this Bill was one of those which, during last Session, used to come on very late, or in the small hours of the morning, and did not excite much attention. Certainly it was undesirable that undue periods of accumulation should be allowed; but it was an open question whether the Bill did not go too far. If his recollection was correct, the case cited in which Vice Chancellor Malins made the observations alluded to had reference to the point of making allowance for maintenance pending the minority of an infant. Of course, that was an everyday matter for the Court of Chancery to determine. The allusion of the Vice Chancellor was to that he thought, and could not be cited as an authority for cutting out the alternative periods now allowed. The hon. and learned Member opposite had spoken of the period of 21 years as irrational; but it was the period in which children just born would come of age. It might be irrational to treat children as coming of age at 21 years, but that was the only thing irra- tional he could see in the period. He did not think any real reason had been shown why the period of accumulation should be cut down as proposed, or that any great inconvenience had resulted from carrying out the Thellusson Act. He felt some hesitation in agreeing to the proposed alteration, and if the Government divided against the Bill he should support them.

Question put, and agreed to.