HC Deb 01 August 1919 vol 118 cc2496-8

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a second time. The object of this Bill, which is a short measure and has passed through all its stages in another place, is to amend the law with regard to the mother's rights to succession to her intestate child. At common law in Scotland the mother has no right of succession to her intestate child, but under the Intestate Moveable Succession (Scotland) Act, 1855, she has a right to one-third of the moveable estate if the child dies intestate without issue pre-deceased by its father. The hardship involved in that limitation to one-third of the moveable estate has been a matter of complaint, particularly with regard to the estates of deceased soldiers during the course of the War. For example, in many cases there may be a very small sum left and the mother may he the only known relative. Notwithstanding that fact, while one-third is payable to her under the existing law, the remaining two-thirds may have to be held up for a considerable time, in case of claims being made by probably distant relatives upon the husband's side. It has been thought proper that where a person dies intestate without issue and pre-deceased by the father, the surviving mother should have her rights assimilated to those of the father, had he survived. Clause 1 of the Bill is intended to give effect to that view. The rights of the father, to which it is proposed to assimilate the mother's rights, are these: If a person dies intestate without issue his father, if he survives, is entitled to one-half of the moveable estate in virtue of the Intestate Moveable Succession Act, 1855. The other half went to brothers and sisters or their descendants, and if there were no brothers or sisters or descendants, the father is entitled to the whole of the estate. It is proposed under this measure to give the mother precisely the same rights under Clause 1 as the father at present enjoys. Clause 2 provides that the Bill shall not be retrospective in every particular, but it directs the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Air Ministry to dispose of any funds in their hands which are undisposed of at the passing of the Bill and which belong to any deceased soldier, sailor, or airman, in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. Unless the Bill were made in that particular retrospective, I do not think that the hardship, of which experience has been felt, would be fully met. Clause 3 repeals the provisions of the Act of 1855 to which I have referred, which impose the limit of one-third upon the rights of the mother. It is now proposed, as I have explained, to extend that to one-half. The remaining Clause is really a formal Clause designed to save the rights of the surviving husband or wife of the intestate, where those rights arise at common law or under the Act of 1855, to which I have referred.


I desire to give expression to a feeling which I cannot conscientiously say is very widespread among Scottish Members—at least, so far as their presence here would indicate any feeling in the matter. I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed most cordially in all parts of Scotland, where the condition of the law which it is now proposed to amend has been felt as a very severe hardship upon a country where a great deal of sorrow and suffering has been unavoidable during the War, but to which, owing to the state of the law, there has been added financial misfortune in many cases which it is now proposed to remove. I would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one point in Clause 2. I approach the matter as a layman with some diffidence, because it is mainly a lawyer's point. Clause 2, which is intended to cover the cases of men already dead whoso estates have not been fully distributed, should be made as widely operative as possible in the direction of embracing every class of estate any portion of which may remain in the hands of the authorities. There are cases such as the right hon. Gentleman quoted of a widow who has lost her only son in the War, upon whose education she has probably spent a great deal of money, but she only obtains one-third of the estate while two-thirds may go to distant relatives who may never have seen the son. This is a manifest injustice which even English laymen will readily grasp. This Bill will be very much appreciated, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can to get it put through its remaining stages, because it is a measure long overdue, and I trust we shall not have to wait for it to be carried into law.


I desire also to welcome this measure. We heard the other day from the Financial Secretary to the War Office that in certain cases where soldiers have died leaving a small balance to their credit that the effect of the present law in Scotland is that one-third of that balance is handed over to the mother, supposing her to be the only near relation alive, while the rest has had to be invested by the War Office for the benefit of some other relations. Apparently that is an accident of Scottish law which ought to be altered as soon as possible. I desire to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Sturrock) in welcoming this alteration in the law.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the" Bill."— [Colonel Sanders.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir E. CORNWALL in the Chair].

Clause 1 (Mother's Eights in the Succession to an Intestate) ordered to stand part of the Bill.