§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware of the expense and inconvenience caused to persons settling up small estates of between £500 and £1,000 gross, due to the fact that Somerset House is closed for probate registration, and there is no district probate registry anywhere near London thus necessitating a long and expensive journey or the employment of a solicitor; and will he take steps to obviate this hardship?
§ The Attorney-General
It became necessary to remove the Principal Probate Registry from London in September 1940, owing to the damage caused by enemy action to the Estate Duty Office, with which this Registry acts in the closest collaboration. The very fact of removal combined with the resulting separation from the bulk of the records, which remain in London, inevitably throws additional burdens on the staff. The staff of the Registry has also been seriously depleted by the calling up of the younger members for service with the armed Forces. In these circumstances it was necessary to absorb those officers who are normally employed in the Personal Application Department into the general body of the Registry staff, and it would be impossible to detach them as a separate 819W unit for work in London without seriously impairing the efficiency of the Registry as a whole. No improvised substitute for this Department would be satisfactory, as it is a specialised branch which combines, in effect, the functions of a solicitor to the applicant with those of an Officer of the Registry. Accordingly by the Principal Probate Registry (Non-Contentious Business) Order 1940, of the 17th September last this Department of the Principal Probate Registry was closed and my Noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is unable to hold out any hope that this decision can be reversed. The facilities for dealing with estates not exceeding £500 through officers of His Majesty's Customs are not affected by this Order. It is not understood why the figure of £1,000 is mentioned in the Question, as no such limit is imposed on the operations of the Personal Application Department. As regards the statement in the Question that there is no district probate registry anywhere near London, there are in fact within less than 70 miles of London, five district probate registries, Ipswich, Oxford, Winchester, Lewes and Northampton, at all of which facilities for personal applications are still provided.