HC Deb 29 March 1938 vol 333 cc1962-4

Order for Second Reading read.

10.54 p.m.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill is shorter and less contentious than the one we have just been discussing. It arises in a somewhat similar way. After the passage of time a certain number of weak points have become apparent and it is necessary to bring in a Bill to deal with them. The last general overhaul of our system of conveyancing took place in 1924, when a pretty comprehensive Act was passed. It has worked well, but in the intervening period there have been discovered a certain number of points which have not been covered, and that is not surprising, looking at the complexity of the system. Accordingly, several years ago, the legal societies in Scotland began to examine a number of suggestions for the amendment of the law. They set up a joint committee, which prepared an elaborate report; then a draft Bill was prepared; and then further criticism of that draft Bill was made, both by that joint committee and by a number of other interested persons. As a result, the present Bill was put into shape. I think I am entitled to say that there is nothing in the Bill to which any objection in principle has been taken. It may be that certain persons have thought that some other points which could be dealt with in the Bill have been omitted, but we thought it best to proceed only with those points on which there was substantial unanimity in the legal profession. We have framed this Bill on that footing, and we believe that the objects which it seeks to carry out are desirable, and that the methods it will adopt are the best that can be devised, looking to the number of persons who have given their assistance in the preparation of the Measure. Therefore, I will in a very few words explain the main purposes of the Bill.

The first Clause is for the purpose of saving expense, by saving unnecessary applications to the court in connection with the disposal of heritable estate in certain cases. The second Clause is also for the purpose of saving expense, by shortening deeds in certain cases. The 1924 Act went a very long way in this connection, but we think that we now see our way to go a step further. I will not go into the technicalities of the third Clause, but it is, I think, the only point where we found that in 1924 we went rather too far, and a change which was then made appeared likely to be of very little benefit, and of possible prejudice to a number of people. Therefore, by common consent, we are proposing to take a very short step backwards, because there was no benefit in the step which we took forward.

Mr. Mathers

What was the step?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It had to do with real warrandice. If the hon. Member wants real warrandice explained, that might be done in Committee. The fourth Clause has to do with Acts of Parliament in the fifteenth century. The Act of 1924 dealt specifically only with an Act of 1617. Doubts have been expressed since as to whether it was not necessary to deal with these Acts of the fifteenth century. In order to set those doubts at rest, that is now being done. Clause 5 is almost entirely a matter of re-drafting. A considerable alteration was made in the law of 1924 to deal with the law of terce and courtesy, and this deals with that. Clause 6 deals with the remedy when a feu duty is not paid—the remedy of taking back the land—and puts the procedure in that respect in rather better case than at present. Clause 7 is again mere redrafting, and the eighth Clause is for the removal of prohibitions of subinfeudation. There were certain people 100 years or more ago who thought of introducing something like English ideas. An Act of 1874 prevented further extension of these prohibitions. This Clause is for the purpose of finishing the job by abolishing what took place before.

Clause 9 deals with the right of preemption, and reduces the time in which that right can be exercised, thereby facilitating the making of transactions. Clause 10 deals with the rights of representatives of widows entitled to the £500 which they get if their husbands die intestate, and the Clause is intended to put right a certain difficulty in procedure that has occurred in that respect. Clause 11 deals with a peculiarity of our law—the holograph will. The House will be aware that in Scotland you can make your Will by writing it out in your own hand and signing it, when it is valid without witnesses. Certain difficulties have occurred in the proof of these documents to which there were no witnesses, and some doubt was thrown some time ago on the old-established method of proving these documents. Accordingly, it was thought right to pass this Clause to validate the old practice before this decision was given. An entirely new practice has now been adopted, so that the Clause is really validating only certain things which occured in the past.

I commend the Bill to the House as containing a series of small points, it is true, but points which inevitably are of very considerable importance. I think that I can say that the opinion of the legal profession in Scotland is that when once we adopt these small Amendments there will be very little wrong with our present system of conveyancing.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

The proper time at night to take a Measure of this kind is now, after a long and weary day, and the proper time for the Solicitor-General for Scotland to explain this Measure is 11 p.m. It certainly is not a Measure which lends itself to Second Reading speeches, and we do not propose to make speeches. My hon. and learned Friend sitting behind me assures me that there is nothing politically contentious about the Bill, but if there should be, we shall be sure to raise it on the Committee stage.