HC Deb 22 February 1963 vol 672 cc857-63

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Now, Sir.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I protest at the fact that none of the hon. Gentlemen promoting and supporting the Wills Bill is present today. We all know that this is a Bill which has particular application to Scotland, and we all know the attractions of the Highlands to the people of Scotland. Indeed, we are very glad that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, are able to be here this afternoon.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I think that we should put things in order. I take it that the Second Reading of the Bill was moved by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who said "Now".

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If I am right in thinking that the Bill was duly moved, I will now propose the Question.

Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It will be in order for hon. Members to speak either for or against the Bill.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams

I was hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who has moved the Second Reacting, would explain the implications of the Bill to the House. I am prepared to give way to him if he would care to do so. Apparently he does not propose to do so.

It is a strange procedure when we have a Bill like this that no explanation should be given to the House of its implications. I am very much interested in the Bill and should like to hear what it all adds up to. If I had a speech or two to listen to, I might then be able to find out whether I am in agreement with its provisions or should oppose the Bill. As I understand it, no one is to say anything about it at all and then what will happen is that it will be put to the House. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal—I am sure we are all glad to see him here today—will give us an explanation of the Bill or whether he is concerned with the following Bill. I gather that it is probably the following Bi1l to which he will refer.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell is not going to say anything about the Bill, perhaps I and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) might at least draw attention to some of the points in the Bill before we have to make up our minds whether to let it go through or not.

The Explanatory Memorandum explains that the Bill implements certain recommendations in the Fourth Report of the Private International Law Committee. As I understand the Bill from the quick glance that I have had through it, it seeks to enable wills to be treated as properly executed if they have been executed according to the laws of the country in which they are made—if the person is domiciled in that country.

What I do not understand, and what I should like somebody to explain to me—I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will speak or whether it will be a representative from the Scottish Office—is whether the Bill applies only to Scottish people born in Scotland or to Scottish people born in Scotland who have subsequently moved to England. I have a particular interest in this as some of my relatives were born in Scotland and left it at an early age and returned only to get more relatives to move to the southern part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Perhaps I might point out to my hon. Friend that, apart from the fact that all the promoters of the Bill apparently represent Scottish constituencies, the Bill has no particular reference to Scotland. It seems to me to refer to a will executed anywhere, not particularly in Scotland or by someone of Scottish domicile.

Mr. Dudley Williams

That is the sort of puzzle we shall get into because there is no one to explain what the Bill is about. The Preamble to the Bill refers to: certain testamentary instruments … for the purpose of the conveyance of heritable property in Scotland. I do not know whether this means that if one is domiciled in Spain one can make a will in Spain which can affect the question of the conveyance of heritable property in Scotland. There is not a single Scottish Member here who is capable of explaining to us what this is all about. I personally cannot find it acceptable that we should pass this Bill on Second Reading without having an adequate explanation. I hope that both sides of the House will support me in my determination not to give it a Second Reading until we have had a proper explanation from the people who promoted the Bill.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I did not expect to come here on a Friday and find myself in such cordial agreement with the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams). I do not know what has happened. This is Friday, and Friday is a working day in Great Britain, but a number of Scats Members who by some national coincidence have put their names to this Bill appear all to be away.

One is very anxious to promote international conventions. I would have said that it was the business of the Government to see that effect was given to them. This appears to be a Bill to carry out a Convention which is printed in Command No. 1729. I have no doubt, having read that White Paper and the Fourth Report of the Private International Law Committee, which is Command No. 491, that there is real substance in this matter. It is right and proper that we should carry out conventions and carry out provisions for which, if we go into the history of this a little further, people from this country are very largely responsible.

As one would expect, this is an exceedingly important Committee, with a judge of the High Court, Mr. Justice Wynn-Parry, as Chairman and a number of other distinguished members of the Private International Law Committee. The Convention was a formal one, and at the date it was printed had not been ratified by the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that if anything turns on that rather fine point we shall be told so. There are about a dozen of us assembled here on a Friday afternoon to see whether or not effect should be given to this Convention about testamentary dispositions. I say to the Government with respect that I know that law reform is something that no Government likes. I have never quite understood the reason. There is nothing particularly contentious about this but it is a matter of quite considerable importance. It repeals a very old provision of the Wills Act.

I think that it is poor treatment of the House, if the Government cannot put a Bill through themselves and have to rely on Private Members' Bills, not to make the necessary arrangements for someone to be here, maybe a Member of the Government, to speak to the Bill and tell us what it is all about, what its practical importance is and what the responsibility of the Government is in the matter. One cannot just set up international law committees and entirely neglect their reports. One cannot go into international conventions and then not take the trouble to make the machinery far putting them through this House really work. The Government have been bad about this—and I mean the Government. There are a number of hon. Members present. But the ultimate responsibility lies as I say—

Mr. Dudley Williams

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) must not ride me off by saying that I am criticising the Government. I am criticising the hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the Bill, and that is an entirely different thing. I believe that quite a number of hon. Members who have supported it should have been present in order to explain to other hon. Members what is meant by its provisions. I did not say that this was a responsibility of the Government—this is a Private Member's Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

Nor did I, I hope. I certainly did not intend to. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one or other of the private Members who supported this Bill should be present to tell the House what it is about. But I go one further than the hon. Member for Exeter. I do not ask him to follow me. I say that ultimately this is the responsibility of the Government. It was a Government Convention which led to the Committee whose Report was presented by a member of the Government, the Lard Chancellor, as long ago as July, 1958. There is a member of the Government on the Government Front Bench, and perhaps he would be good enough to tell us how it is that nothing has been done to provide an explanation of this Bill, its purport and its reason, for the benefit of the House. I will sit down in time to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to do so by way of intervention.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

It is extraordinary that a Bill should be presented to the House for Second Reading without one of its sponsors being present. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). I do not think I should be revealing any secret if I said that my hon. Friend had not a copy of the Bill before him.

We are told that this is a Bill to repeal the Wills Act, 1861, which has stood the test of time for 102 years. The Bill comes before the House without there being present any hon. Member who can explain it. Not only does the Bill purport to repeal the Wills Act, but also it purports to make new provision in lieu of it—

Mr. Dudley Williams

They will be abolishing the Navy next.

Mr. Page

The Long Title refers to Scotland. But there is only one Clause in the Bill which actually refers to Scotland—Clause 5. Yet half a dozen hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies, and who usually keep the House extremely busy late at night on other occasions during the week, have not had the decency to turn up on Friday to explain to the House why they wish to change the law of England by means of the other Clauses of this Bill.

The House will see that the provisions of Clause 1 would have a serious effect on the law relating to wills. It may be that it is right, but it is altering the law which has stood the test of time and no explanation is forthcoming. One may forgive the introduction of a Bill to bring into operation the decisions of some international convention if the endeavour is merely to explain ambiguities in the law. But the provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill would alter the law in a considerable respect. Clause 2 (2) states: A will so far as it exercises a power of appointment shall not be treated as improperly executed by reason only that its execution was not in accordance with any formal requirements contained in the instrument creating the power That is saying that it shall be right to excuse certain powers, and I do not see the reason for the subsection. It is designed to alter trusts, which is a thing that this House has always hesitated to do except by—

Mr. Dudley Williams

May I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to Clause 1 (2) which states: A will executed on board a vessel or aircraft of any description at sea or in the air shall be treated for the purposes of this section as having been executed within the territory where the vessel or aircraft was registered or if it was unregistered, with which it was most closely connected. What does that mean?

Mr. Page


It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 8th March.

  2. c862
  4. c863