HC Deb 11 May 1964 vol 695 cc125-8

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 9, leave out from "affect" to "and" in line 13 and insert: legal rights or the prior rights of a surviving spouse".

7.50 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lady Tweedsmuir)

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

I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss with this Amendment the Amendments numbered 7, 9, 15, 23, 26, 27, 28, 32, 35, and 1, which has just been postponed.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

They will have to be put separately as they are reached, but if it is agreeable to the House they can be discussed together now.

Lady Tweedsmuir

When we were discussing this in Committee, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), during the debate on 16th January, said that he thought it unfortunate that the term "legal rights" had been applied in the Bill to those rights of the surviving spouse which arise only on intestacy. The hon. Gentleman suggested that this might lead to confusion, because "legal rights" is an expression which by long usage has been applied to claims which can be made on the estate of a deceased person, whether or not there is a will. At the time I expressed sympathy with the point which had been made but said that I believed that the drafting of Clauses 8 and 9 was clear enough on this point to avoid the confusion the hon. Gentleman suggested.

However, when the Bill was in another place attention was again drawn to the point. We also had observations on the matter from various legal societies. They were anxious to keep the traditional meaning of "legal rights". We therefore gave further thought to the possibility of devising a new term which could be used to describe the rights which arise only on intestacy under Clauses 8 and 9, keeping the term "legal rights" to be used, as hitherto, for claims arising whether or not there is a will. The result of all this was the series of Amendments I now present.

The key Amendment in the series is perhaps No. 28 which applies a new term—"prior rights"—to the rights conferred on a surviving spouse by Clauses 8 and 9. These, as the House will recall, are the surviving spouse's rights to the house and to the furniture and plenishings under Clause 8 and to the sum of £2,500 or £5,000, as the case may be, under Clause 9.

I stress that this series of Amendments involves a change in name only. The Amendments, will make no difference whatsoever to the distribution of any estate which has to be dealt with under the provisions of the Bill. I should have liked to say to the hon. Member for Craigton, if only he were here, that I rather wish I had accepted his suggestion in Committee.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

What the noble Lady has said bears out what most of my hon. Friends and I thought about the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) delved into the Bill and the attention he gave to it. Much of his advice was accepted. My hon. Friends had the feeling that the noble Lady would have been well advised to have accepted all his advice. My hon. Friend welcomes the fact that the noble Lady has at this late hour accepted the advice he gave in this respect. My hon. Friend is unable to be here this evening. He has asked me to thank the noble Lady on his behalf for having accepted his suggestion and to say that he welcomes these changes and improvements.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I did not have the good fortune to be a member of the Standing Committee when this matter was considered. Perhaps the Standing Committee ought to be considered fortunate rather than myself. I do not know that I would have accepted this argument. I am still left wondering why a prior right which is specified in Clauses 8 and 9 is not a legal right. Of course it is a legal right. I am left wondering what a prior right is. If a prior right is different from a legal right, the noble Lady has not made clear to me what the difference is.

I came into the Chamber especially to hear what the difference would be. I have been told it is a right of the spouse under Clauses 8 and 9. If the Bill is enacted, it will be a legal right that the spouse has. I am puzzled as to why something in an Act of Parliament is not a legal right. I did not have the benefit of hearing the obviously learned discussion on this matter in Committee. As a simple layman, one who is not likely to be faced with an estate of £20,000 to £25,000 to dispose of but as one interested in this matter and as one who may be called upon to give some advice in these matters, I should like to know what the difference is. Why is something which is in an Act of Parliament not a legal right?

Lady Tweedsmuir

It is very good to see the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) back with us again. He asked me to define the difference between "prior rights" and "legal rights". Legal rights arise whether or not there is a will. The prior rights under Clauses 8 and 9 arise only in cases of intestacy.

Mr. Willis

The noble Lady has not answered my question. Why is something which is in an Act of Parliament not a legal right?

Lady Tweedsmuir

The point was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), that the term "legal rights" as used in Scotland has become very well known and understood over a great number of years. They can be claimed whether or not a will has been made. We are introducing in the Bill new rights. We therefore thought that it was right, as these apply only on intestacy, to make it absolutely clear. We therefore use the term "prior rights", which I suggest to the House may very well in time be used with as much familiarity as "legal rights" is today.

Question put and agreed to.