HC Deb 01 April 1919 vol 114 cc1132-5

Where a widow is entitled to the whole or part of the estate of her deceased husband, in terms of the Intestate Husband's (Scotland) Act, 1911 (in this Act referred to as "the principal Act"), she may present in the Sheriff Court of the county in which her husband was domiciled at the time of his death, or, if the county in which he was so domiciled is uncertain, in the Sheriff Court of the Lothians and Peebles at Edinburgh, a summary application in the form of the Schedule to this Act, or as nearly in such form as the circumstances of the case permit, appending an inventory giving such particulars of the estate as are indicated in the form of inventory in the said Schedule.


I beg to move, after the word "Edinburgh" ["Lothians and Peebles at Edinburgh"], to insert the words or in the Sheriff Court of Aberdeenshire at Aberdeen. 6.0 P.M.

Under Clause 1 of this very useful Bill a widow is able to get possession of her deceased husband's estate in a less circuitous manner than she is under the present law. If the husband is known to be domiciled in any county, she applies in the Sheriff Court of that county. If the county of domicile is uncertain, then she has to apply "in the Sheriff Court of the Lothians and Peebles at Edinburgh." This Amendment is to give at least one alternative to the widow who is domiciled in the North of Scotland. There are very many widows who are domiciled in the North of Scotland, and when the decease of the husband takes place it would be necessary for these widows, in a great many cases, to go to the expense of coming South to Edinburgh if the husband's domicile is uncertain, and to consult a solicitor there, and perhaps appear in the Sheriff's Court. The Amendment suggests the alternative that if the widow is domiciled in the North of Scotland and the husband's domicile is uncertain, she should be able to appeal to the Sheriff's Court at Aberdeen. I move this Amendment on its merits and because it offers an opportunity to the Solicitor-General to say a few words in favour of Inverness, and I have no doubt my hon. Friend (Sir W. Sutherland) will say a few words in favour of Oban. At least one alternative should be offered, and a widow should not be forced to incur the expense and trouble of travelling to Edinburgh in order to go through the legal formalities. I think a little more explanation is due from the Solicitor-General. There occurs a variety of legal phraseologies which are unfamiliar to Members who come South of the Tweed. In Clause 3 we have the widow referred to in terms which require explanation, and I hope the Solicitor-General will remember that he is really asking an ignorant—and I use the word in no offensive way—happily ignorant English Parliament to legislate on Scottish legal matters. The widow is referred to as the "executrix dative qua relict." Later in the Bill and in the Schedule she is referred to as the pursuer, and these terms, I think, should be explained to English Members.


I do not know whether the cases are many in which this uncertainty about domicile will arise, but if there be many, and if there be many in the Highlands, it is pretty obvious that neither Edinburgh nor Aberdeen will suit the people very well. To my own Constituency, the Western Islands, and the constituency of the Solicitor-General, Aberdeen is an alternative more difficult of access in many cases than Edinburgh. My hon. Friend who has moved this Amendment is a Lowland Member, and is advancing the claims of what is essentially a Lowland city—the great city of Aberdeen—but in regard to the Highlands there is a very important centre which can be got to much more easily, and that is Oban, the most important town in the Western Highlands, and a very great centre for access and egress for the people in the Western Highlands. I think the Solicitor-General, who is a Highland Member and knows something about the geography of that part of the country, will realise that point.


I am sure my hon. Friends have moved this Amendment from the motive of helping the widows who live in the constituency they represent or in the portions of Scotland in which they are interested. Speaking for the authorities in this matter, we certainly sympathise with every Amendment that would aid the administration of this somewhat technical Statute, but I am afraid there are good reasons why this Amendment cannot be accepted. The number of instances where the application of the Amendment would take place is extremely limited, and is becoming more limited every year. Fortunately, we are able now to ascertain with almost inevitable certainty the domicile of most of the inhabitants of Scotland who die in that country, but there remains a very small class of cases in which there is either some uncertainty about the domicile, or in which no certain domicile can be ascertained. To meet these cases it is necessary to prescribe one Sheriff's Court which will contain all the records pertaining to that class of intestacy. I think the House will see that it would not be desirable that the widow, in a case where the domicile was uncertain, should have the right to apply to one or more Sheriff's Court, because if the widow was not satisfied with the judgment of one sheriff she might then apply to another, in the hope that he might take a more reasonable view. Of course, we cannot have a conflict of jurisdiction in connection with the administration of intestate estates. There is another reason which I think will satisfy my hon. Friend, and that is, that an intestate estate must be administered in one sheriffdom, and in one Sheriff Court, and that must be the Sheriff Court where, to use an English phrase, probate is issued. This is provided for by Statute, in Section 3 of the Confirmation of Probate Act (1858), which prescribes that the Sheriff Court at Edinburgh shall deal with the administration of the estate of all persons who die without any fixed domicile. It seems to us that it is essential that the administration of this particular share of the estate which is given by Statute to the widow, should take place in the same Sheriff Court which issues confirmation in regard to that particular estate. While I appreciate entirely the motives which have induced my hon. Friends to suggest this Amendment, I think I have given good reason why it cannot be accepted.


I am very much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for his extremely lucid explanation. I think the objections he has raised could have been got over by a certain form of words, but after the explanation he has given, and having regard to my desire not to delay the passage of this Bill, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 (Procedure in Application to the Court); 3 (Effect of Decree of Court); 4 (Saving); 5 (Repeal); 6 (Construction, Citation, and Extent), and Schedule ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.