HC Deb 03 May 1907 vol 173 cc1185-91

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire),

in moving the Second Reading, said the Bill was non-controversial and was supported by the Scottish Members of the House. All it did was to make a small alteration in the Law of Intestacy. At the present time, if a husband died, leaving no children, his property was divided into three shares if it was movable property, and the widow was entitled to one tierce or third of the amount, the remainder going to the husband's relations. While this might be perfectly fair in the case of large estates, it was extremely unfair in the case of small ones. If only a small amount was left it was highly probable that the widow had had a greatdeal to do with the saving of it, and it was extremely hard upon her that the bulk of it should pass away to other persons. In the case of heritable property, as it was termed in Scotland, or real property as it was called in England, the case might be even harder. In that case she was entitled to only one-third of the value of the cottage it might be, unless it was registered as the property of her husband, and it generally happened that a poor man was precisely the sort of person who was not likely to register property of that sort. That had been found very hard in cases of small property, and all the Bill proposed was to do for Scotland what was done for England by the Act of 1890—that was to say to enable, in small cases below £500, the widow to take the whole, and in cases above £500, for the widow to take £500, and that for the rest she should rank as she did at present and take one-third. He begged to move.

MR. J. M. HENDERSON (Aberdeenshire, W.),

in seconding, said the existing law on this point caused great hardship among the poor labouring people. He knew cases where working men, when they saved money, rather than risk their relatives coming in and taking it from their, widows, gave their wives the money to bank in their own names. In such cases matters often became complicated owing to the wife dying first of all instead of last of all according to the Biblical law. It did not very much affect cases where only a little furniture was left, but where there was a little money in the bank the husband's relatives usually asserted their right to take their share. It was only right to assimilate the law of Scotland to the law of England in this matter. He begged to second the Motion.

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


said the object of this Bill was one to which few could object, but it was unfortunately another example of the evils which were likely to arise when private Members brought in Bills of this sort. Such a Bill, dealing with an important question with regard to property, ought not to be brought in except by a responsible member of the Government, for the reason that private Members were actuated by sentimental motives. Because they knew of grievances they rushed into legislation without having regard to the fact that, while that legislation might reduce the grievance they had in mind, it might bring about other grievances not contemplated by them. It was one of the many fatal objections to private Members bringing in important Bills that they were apt to consider only the particular grievance put before them. He was informed, in the first place, that the memorandum of this Bill was incorrect The memorandum said "one-third of the heritage"; he was told it was not one-third of the heritage, but a life rent of one-third of the heritage. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion said the Bill was to deal with the cases of poor people, but the hon. Member must remember that it would apply not only to poor people but to everybody. What would happen under the Bill in cases where there were marriage settlements? Notwithstanding the fact that there was a marriage settlement the widow would have £500, and the remainder would be divided, and she would take her share to provide for herself, although she was already provided for. It might be that the husband was maintaining a sister in ill health, or a brother who for some reason or other was not able to work, and that he had made no provision for the allowance he had been making to his brother or sister. Under the law as it at present stood they would be provided for but under this Bill the brother or sister would be deprived of the money which they would otherwise have inherited, and,£500 would go to the widow already well provided for.


It is the same provision as in the Act of 1890 for England.


said he had not that Act before him and could not say whether that was so or not, but he heard it contradicted by an hon. Member below him. But supposing it was so, what had that to do with it? Was it suggested that, because there was injustice in England, injustice should be perpetrated in Scotland? The proper course to take in that case would be to bring in a Bill to remedy the injustice in England and not one to perpetratethe injustice in Scotland. In Clause 5 an arbitrary provision was made as to the number of years purchase at which the value of the property was to be taken. Why should twenty years purchase be taken? He was informed that in many cases, especially in such cases as the mover and seconder had in mind, the heritable property was in a very dilapidated state and not worth anything like twenty years purchase. Why had a number of years been taken instead of the market value of the property at the time of the husband's death? The Bill would in many cases deprive the heirs of any proportion which they would be entitled to receive. Had he been a lawyer, he would, no doubt, have been able to detect many more defects in the Bill, and he, therefore, hoped the Government would introduce a properly drafted measure in lieu of the one now before the House.


said he didnot think the hon. Member for the City of London need apologist: for not being a lawyer, because he had advanced his objections in a plain commonsense manner which might not have been the case had he belonged to the legal profession. Still, every one of the points raised by the hon. Baronet was answered by the procedure in the English Act of 1890. That Act was introduced by a private Member, and the only speech delivered on it was that by the most non Party man of the last generation, Lord Bram-well. Some complaint had been made of the draughtsmanship of the measure. He had looked into that matter and averred that the Bill was framed in the proper legal terminology. He hoped that before the Committee stage was reached the learned societies in Scotland would do him the honour of reviewing it, and on behalf of the Government he would be glad to attend to all matters of draughtsmanship. As to the hon. Baronet's point regarding the twenty years valuation, it was highly important that in a matter of succession and valuation of real and other estate in Scotland, the law of the two countries should not be different. This Bill had been drawn on the lines of the Act of 1890. He entirely agreed that the time had come for assimilating the laws of the two countries. As to the hon. Baronet's allegation of injustice, the matter was all the other way. In small estates of this kind, where the total value was £500 or under, what was proposed was not to interfere with the discretion of the testator—he could leave the property to whom he liked subject to the ordinary law of Scotland. It was proposed to interfere when there was a direct issue of the deceased, and to deal with the hard case where collateral relatives came in in order to take away one-half of the property from the widow. If the estate was £500 or under, England had said it was a fair thing that, confronting, as she might do, very distant relatives of the husband, she should be entitled to at least £500. That would avoid hardships sometimes of a serious kind, and he could hardly imagine there would be any serious objection to it. As to the question of marriage settlements, they were prepared in Scotland on the footing that the rights granted to the relict were exclusive of other rights of succession which she might have. If a wife was provided for by marriage settlement that marriage settlement was held to be part of the law of contract and was enforced against all distribution of the estate after the testator's death. On that point no trouble would arise. The Bill was a sound Bill; it was small,

but it dealt with certain injustices, and he hoped the House would agree to the Second Reading.


said that although the measure dealt with Scotland, questions would arise in regard to property in England, and therefore he hoped the Bill would not be sent to the Scottish Commitee. He appealed to the Speaker to say whether the Bill would in the ordinary course of things go to the Scottish Committee.


said that somebody must decide, under the new standing order, what Hills should go to the Scottish Grand Committee, and he had come to the conclusion that he was the only person in a, position to decide. It would be his duty to decide, if this Bill were sent upstairs, whether it related exclusively to Scotland or not; and if he decided in the affirmative, a notification of the reference of the Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee would appear in the Votes and Proceedings.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House." —(Lord Balcarres.)

The House divided: —Ayes, 8; Noes, 91. (Division List No. 155.)

Acland-Hood,Rt Hn.SirAlex.F. Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Ashley, W. W. Duncan, Robert (Lanark,Gov'n Lord Balcarres and Sir
Banner, John S. Harmood- Smith,F.E, (Liverpool, Walton Frederick Banbury.
Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N. Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Ashton, Thomas Gair Donelan, Captain A. Jowett, F. W.
Barnard, E. B. Duffy, William J. Joyce, Michael
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Esslemont, George Birnie Kekewich, Sir George
Beale, W. P. Everett, R. Laccy Kennedy, Vincent Paul
Benn, W.(T'w'r Hamlets,S.Geo. Fenwick, Charles Kettle, Thomas Michael
Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon) Flynn, James Christopher Lundon, W.
Boland. John Gill, A. H. Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)
Brodie, H. C. Ginnell, L. MacVeagh,Jeremiah(Down,S.
Brooke, Stopford Glendinning, R. G. MacVeigh,Charles(Donegal,E.
Burke, E. Haviland- Grant, Corrie M'killop, W.
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas Gwynn, Stephen Lucius Maddison, Frederick
Byles, William Pollard Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Meagher, Michael
Cameron, Robert Hayden, John Patrick Meghan, Patrick A.
Cawley, Sir Frederick Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Menzies, Walter
Corbett,C.H.(Sussex,E.Gr'st'd) Hodge, John Mooney, J. J.
Crean, Eugene Holland, Sir William Henry Morgan,J. Lloyd(Carmarthen)
Crooks, William Hudson, Walter Murphy, John
Delany, William Jones,Sir D. Brynmor (Swansca Nicholls, George
O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) R ogers, F. E. Newman Ure, Alexander
O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford) Wardle. George J.
O'Doherty, Philip Samuel, Herbert. L.(Cleveland) Watt, Henry A.
O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.) Seddon, J. White, George (Norfolk)
O'Grady, J. Shaw, Rt. Hon. T. (Hawick B.) White, Patrick (Meath, North)
O'Hare, Patrick Sheehy, David Whitley.John Henry (Halifax)
O'Malley, William Shipman, Dr. John G. Wilson. P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Smyth, Thomas F.(Leitrim,S.) Wilson, W.T. (Westhoughton)
Parker, James (Halifax) Stanley,Hn.A.Lyulph(Chesh.)
Redmond, John E.(Waterford) Steadman, W. C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Richards,T.F.(Wolverh'mpt'n) Stewart, Halley (Greenock) Mr. Crombie and Mr. John
Ridsdale, E. A. Thorne, William Henderson.
Roberts, G. H. (Norwich) Torrance, Sir A. M.
Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside) Trevelyan, Charles Philips

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.