HL Deb 12 March 1844 vol 73 cc842-4
Lord Campbell

having asked the Lord Chancellor respecting the progress of the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill, said, the next question he would ask related to a subject of very great importance. Individuals could not administer, so far as personal property was concerned, till probate was granted, which must be granted by the Ecclesiastical Court; and, under the present system, a great deal of hardship was experienced. For example, if a testator died worth 100,000l. in one diocese, a single probate was sufficient for that; but, if he had property to the amount of 10l. or 12l., in another diocese, there must be probate granted with reference to that property. Now, he found in his noble and learned Friend's Bill nothing to remedy this inconvenience. It was, however, of the highest importance that some remedy should be devised to remove this inconvenience with respect to the passing of personal property. What he wished his noble and learned Friend, therefore, to explain to him was, what he intended to do in reference to those cases to which he had adverted? His noble Friend's Bill mired the evil retrospectively, by some very proper clauses, providing that all probates hitherto granted should be valid; but prospectively, he wished to know whether it was intended that hereafter, if probate were taken out bonâ fide, in any Diocesan Court respecting the bona notabilia of a testator, if it happened that of these bona notabilia to the amount of 5l. lay in another diocese, another probate should be taken out in the Court of that diocese?

The Lord Chancellor

said, this was quite a voluntary proceeding on the part of his noble and learned Friend. The Bill was on the Table of the House, and no one was mere able than his noble and learned Friend of reading and construing an Act of Parliament, and he was sure he had, with his wonted industry, read the Bill, and must then be able to answer himself. It was, as his noble and learned Friend observed, a most important measure; and he would take upon himself to say, had not been introduced until after grave consideration. Several successive Administrations had endeavoured to carry a measure of this kind and had failed. This Bill had been framed with great care and attention to the interests of different parties. It had been framed to pass. But if what his noble and learned Friend wished to do was adopted, he was afraid that the Bill would not pass at all. He admitted the existence of the inconvenience which his noble and learned Friend had pointed out, but he was quite sure that if what his noble and learned Friend proposed were adopted, the fate of the Bill would be similar to that of former attempts on the same subject. If his noble and learned Friend would suffer the Bill to pass, he might afterwards introduce another Bill for the purpose of extending it.

Lord Campbell

said, he and others more competent than himself, had read the Bill, without being able to form a precise opinion as to the intention of his noble and learned Friend on the point adverted to, therefore he wished for information as to the intention of his noble and learned Friend. He now learned, that the law, as it stood, was to remain unaltered. He regretted it extremely. He knew that his noble and learned Friend might carry almost any Bill he pleased. But when this Bill was passed, he would probably he told that the time was gone by for the introduction of another.

Lord Brougham

agreed that this was an important drawback upon a very important measure. The Bill had originated with himself in 1831, and he was sure, if his noble Friend who had spoken last was aware of the infinite difficulty of carrying any Bill at all on the subject, he would feel that they must be content with what they could get. He first brought it in as one Bill, then as two, then as six, then as two again, and then again as one, and when he went out of office it was reduced to its original state of unity, and it was the different interests—local interests—that created the difficulty, only exceeded by the extreme difficulty in passing the most useful and important alteration in the law that perhaps had ever been proposed—one in which he and all their Lordships, and all who possessed landed property in the country, had an interest—a General Registry Bill. That measure was defeated by precisely the same interest which defeated the Ecclesiastical Courts Bill—that important body, and as the Americans would call them—influential body of men, the practitioners in the Courts, who were too strong for its supporters. As Cromwell said, "The sons of Zeruiah were too strong for them." The Measure was defeated, whether in the shape of one, two, or six Bills, and therefore he agreed with his noble Friend on the Woolsack. He was glad to receive the great good which was contained in this Bill, and hoped that when it was passed a more perfect Measure would be introduced afterwards.