HC Deb 28 October 1952 vol 505 cc1865-9

Lords Amendment: In page 7, line 40, leave out Clause 6.

Mr. Hylton-Faster

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House must bear with me because, as a matter of courtesy, at least, to the hon. Member for Leicester. North-West (Mr. Janner), I should say something about this Amendment. The effect of the Amendment is to remove the Clause which he introduced, and the Schedule which goes with it is removed in due course. As the House will remember, it was introduced by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West at a stage when to discuss the matter at all would have involved the fate of the Bill, and he would not have desired that, I know, because—and I am greatly obliged to him—he has in general been a supporter of the Bill all the way through.

Had it been possible to discuss the hon. Member's Amendment with him, it might have been possible to convince him, and to convince the House, that, grateful as we were to him for what was, if I may respectfully say so, a vigorous effort to get rid of an accepted evil, it was not practicable. The evil was the difficulty which arises when a family business has to be sold at a loss on death, it being a business which the widow is perhaps capable of conducting on her own. The hon. Member made a valiant endeavour, by attaching a Schedule to the Bill, to make it possible for that business to be appropriated by the personal representative at her request so that it did not have to be sold.

To put the matter briefly, the position is this. While every possible examination of the position has been made, it has turned out that the hon. Member's suggestion is unworkable in practice. I do not think I need weary him or the House with matters which I am sure he has now had an opportunity of studying at greater length. The suggestion is unworkable, and, unfortunately, in another place, where, although I hesitate to acknowledge it, there are highly skilled persons in these matters, the hon. Gentleman's Amendment was unable to find a friend on either side, including noble Lords on either side of the Morton Committee.

I hope the hon. Member will take the-view that if we ask the House to agree with the Lords Amendment, there will be some mitigation by the Bill of the evil which he has in mind, because the mere increase of the widow's statutory legacy will make it easier for the personal representative to appropriate the business as against her legacy, and there is no need meanwhile for the business to run down because, as he knows, and the House knows, for the time while the matter is under consideration, at all events, it would be open to the personal representative to employ the widow as manager of the business.

I do not think I need detain the House longer. I say this in gratitude to the hon. Member for his endeavours, and in the hope that he will understand upon further examination that it is no discredit to him that I invite the House to agree with the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I beg to second the Motion.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

While I appreciate the very kind manner in which the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) has referred to the Clause which I hoped and still hope—perhaps against all hope—would be retained in the Bill, I should like to point out that it is an unfortunate thing that the fate of a Bill sometimes means that somebody who wants something carried into effect has not to press it unduly in order that the remainder of the Bill may become law. I have a very high regard for the other provisions of this Bill, and I therefore do not propose to wreck it. I hope it will reach the Statute Book. Perhaps, however, even at this late hour, it may be possible for the hon. and learned Gentleman to reconsider this matter.

It is not a simple matter, I agree, to put into words—appropriate words in an Act of Parliament—a provision of this nature. On the other hand, it is highly important that a widow or widower who survives a person who is leaving the business shall have some way of becoming the owner of that business or a partner in the business with any other partner after the death of the spouse. I put this forward before, and I put it forward again on this ground.

In my own experience, I have found that a considerable number of women have been unable to carry on the business which had provided them with their ordinary livelihood, and in which they had themselves, in many instances, been engaged for a very considerable time, in consequence of the fact the business had to be sold and the widow herself was not able to purchase the business without making an application to the court, which, possibly, might have taken a very long time. In the interim period, of course, the business naturally deteriorates, even if she has the funds to apply to the court for permission to buy.

I had hoped that in another place, instead of having no friend at all, I might have had a large number of friends who would have been prepared to put themselves to the trouble of knocking into shape what was, perhaps, an imperfect form of Clause that had been devised by some friends and me. I thought, by adopting as far as I possibly could the words of another Clause which had been proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, I should have been able to overcome any difficulties in that regard, and any objections; but I found, to my great surprise, that learned members of another place stood back with what might have appeared to have been astonishment when they considered that one had used the terms of a previous Clause in order to draft this Clause. I should have thought that in the law it was common knowledge, and commonly accepted, that precedent was not only to be used, but was to be regarded as of considerable value. Apparently, that was not the point of view taken there.

There is much that could be said for this, and I do want to put it as high as this. We are trying at this stage to put on the Statute Book a Measure intended to remove difficulties, injustices that have existed hitherto. Even if it is not accepted now, I hope that at some future time it will be possible to introduce a Bill which will deal with this specific point. It is no good a woman having a roof over her head if she has not the wherewithal to maintain the home under it, and if she is deprived of her business, deprived of the place where she was earning, or her husband was earning, her livelihood for many years, she cannot really be expected, in many instances, to be able to start again, and to provide herself with the wherewithal to live.

I hope that on reconsidering the matter it may be possible for the hon. and learned Gentleman, or perhaps the Attorney-General, to redraft the Bill in this respect at the last moment. If not, as I said before, I do not intend to ask my hon. Friends who are with me on this to press it to a Division, because I am anxious that the Bill itself should pass through.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

I should just like to assure the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) that this matter has been carefully considered but that we find ourselves regretfully unable to assist in the way he has suggested. The Clause was not discussed fully in this House, I am sorry to say, owing to certain rather unfortunate events, when certain hon. Members left the House and prevented us from being able to discuss the matter and get on with it. However, it was considered carefully in another place. It has since been considered, and the only question we can really address our minds to this evening is whether we should accept this Lords Amendment or not. I can only advise the House that we ought to accept it.

I am quite sure that we all recognise the value of the work done by the hon. Member and regret that we are not able to help him. We know that he is raising a point about which he feels strongly, and we would certainly like to express our gratitude to him for having taken so much care about it.

Question put, and agreed to.