HC Deb 01 July 1915 vol 72 cc2129-34

(1) This Act shall not apply to any trustee under an implied or constructive trust.

(2) This Act may be cited as the War Loan (Trustees) Act, 1915.


I beg to move in Subsection (1), after the word "shall" ["This Act shall"] to insert the words "apply to any officer or department who holds funds on account of or for the benefit of any persons or class of persons as part of or in consequence of the duties of the department or office, but shall." It will then read on, "but shall not apply to any trustee under an implied or constructive trust." The Committee will remember that yesterday a number of questions were addressed to me as to the powers of particular persons as trustees. We have now put in a comprehensive Amendment, which would give the necessary powers to all the persons who were named. I have had a question addressed to me as to the meaning of why we should exclude a trustee under an implied or constructive trust. The reason is that such a trust would be for a specific purpose, and it would not be a proper proceeding to divert the funds from the particular purpose for which they were intended.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests that this is to define more definitely these powers, but under the Trustee Act of 1893, for example, it states that they may invest in Government securities. This particular Bill is brought in for the purpose of giving these powers, and to suggest that we should also give powers for trustees to borrow seems to me quite opposed to the spirit of the original Trustee Act, because that Act was passed for the purpose of carefully guarding trustees' powers, and people who made their wills in 1894, after the Trustee Act of 1893, naturally made them in accordance with that Act, and I feel that we are here incurring a very grave responsibility. I know it is hopeless to protest against this particular Bill, but I feel that, apart from the advantages, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, I think, allowed his mind to dwell upon too much, there is a great responsibility on this House in tampering with that Act and the definition of the powers of trustees under the Act of 1893. I will conclude by putting on record that protest, and I would say that if we wish these instruments to be guarded in the future, and if people, drawing up their wills now wish that their trustees shall not borrow, they will have to put in their wills in future some provision that they should be indemnified against any risks which a future House of Commons may pass interfering with the instrument under which their will has been drawn up.


I am sorry the hon. Knight the Member for Nottingham, the hon. Knight that belongs to the Liberal party, and who represents the schoolmasters, is not here.


I have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, and I have satisfied him.


Did you satisfy him about the funds of the superannuation of teachers—something like two millions of Consols? Are they all going to be duplicated by a large loan being raised upon them to invest in the War Loan, or is that fund going to be left intact?


That question would not arise on this Amendment. He asked me whether the National Debt Commissioners, who hold that fund, would have power to convert the whole or any part of it under this Bill. I showed him this Amendment, and he was quite satisfied that that did give the National Debt Commissioners the powers which he wished them to have.


I think if the right hon. Gentleman had only got this Amendment out in time to put on the Paper we should have understood and clearly have seen the purport of it. It is very difficult to follow exactly and to think out the purport of an Amendment like this when it is not on the Paper. I hope that in future the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he brings very important Amendments like this forward, that will mean the investing of several millions of money, will do us the courtesy to allow us to see them beforehand.


I do not understand that the Amendment will enable the different offices and departments to apply for as much more War Loan as their funds amount to, and in that case the Amendment will be wholly inoperative and not useful at all in raising any money for the War Loan. With that observation, I would rather protest against the Amendment.

Words proposed inserted.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill, as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the third time.—[Mr. McKenna.]


I would like to refer once again to the way in which this Bill has been brought forward. It is perfectly clear that since it was introduced it has undergone a good number of changes, and I will even say changes of a surreptitious kind, because at the very moment that it was being introduced here copies of the Bill were at the Vote Office and those copies were not distributed. In the last minute or two I have made inquiries in the Vote Office on that point, and I am assured there that though copies were there they were not distributed. I do not want to ask the reason why, that is clear enough, but on the Bill, as now distributed, are these words, "To be substituted for Bill previously delivered." I asked for a copy of the Bill as previously delivered and it was declined, and I was told that they were not to be given. Thus, although we are sent a copy of a Bill to be substituted for a Bill previously delivered, no Bill has been previously delivered at all. There is a mystery about this, and there is some explanation, but what the explanation is I do not know. I venture to think that it is this, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got a great deal more than he can do on hand, and that he has handed it over to some person who has not the same ability as himself, and that such person has made a great muddle of it. I am afraid that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is certainly not to blame, wall get the credit for the failure.


I beg to make a very serious and grave protest about the way business is being discharged here to-night. The construction of an Act of Parliament is a very serious operation and every one of us ought to feel our responsibility with regard to it, especially in regard to such an Act as this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the other day, tried to rush business through the House in all its stages without anybody seeing the Bill, and when every lawyer in the House got up and expressed great doubts about it and wanted to look into it, the right hon. Gentleman was pressed to give another day, and consented to do so. I ask him whether he considers this opportunity an adequate response to that pledge. I think that an important Bill like this can surely wait another day or two. I do not think it is treating the House respectfully or decently. I know perfectly well that the Government like nothing better than to see the back of the House of Commons, and to do all their business without the House criticising it at all. Many years ago my great friend, Mr. Forster, told me that he liked the House to sit very late because everybody went home, and he could get his business through. I am a Member of the House, and I claim the right to criticise. We are losing our liberties one by one, no doubt, and these are exceptional days, but I do object to our being entirely extinguished. Therefore I propose to take the course of calling your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that there are not forty Members present.


If the hon. Member persists in this, I am afraid I am bound to act on it.


Do not persist!


I do not want to put a spoke in the Government's wheel. Now that I have been allowed to have my say I beg leave to withdraw, but I will repeat this one sentence: It is a very serious thing to make an Act of Parliament like this with only a score of Members present, and when the best and oldest men, and the lawyers, have gone home to bed. Men whom we know, and whom the right hon. Gentleman knows, have a great many objections to this Bill, and they cannot raise them now.


It is only fair to say that yesterday, immediately after the Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked leave to introduce this Bill, I went to the Vote Office and obtained a copy of the Bill as first delivered. I had it in my hand when we were discussing this Bill. I know that other Members also had copies.


I am sure the hon. Member did not mean it when he said that the best Members had gone home. We remained here to back him up, and I am prepared to listen to him another hour if he will withdraw that reflection.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.