§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central) moved the Second Reading of this Bill, which, he said, had in substance been before Parliament for nineteen years, he having first introduced a similar Bill in 1886, shortly after he entered the House. It was introduced to remedy a very serious evil. They could hardly read the daily papers without seeing a series of cases before the Courts of persons convicted of breach of trust. This Bill affected England far more than it affected Ireland or Scotland. It very rarely happened that there was a case of breach of trust reported from Ireland, and in Scotland there was a very excellent law called the Judicial Trust Act which effectually prevented such a thing as a breach of trust happening. The intention of the Lord Chancellor was to pass a Bill on those lines, and the noble Lord introduced a Bill in 1890 in the Upper House, the legal Members of which all spoke strongly in its favour. That Bill passed through all its stages in the Upper House, but was not proceeded with further. Although there was great opposition to this measure on behalf of the solicitors generally by the Incorporated Law Society, many solicitors were in favour of it, as was evidenced by the letters he had received. The learned Member for Dumfries had taken a very great interest in this matter, and a Select Committee was appointed, of which he was a member, which took a good deal of evidence from Lords Herschell, Halsbury, and Lindley, and from an enormous number of witnesses from the other branches of the legal profession. That Committee had reported 375 that the evidence it had taken put it beyond question that large sums of money were annually misappropriated by private trustees. Although, no doubt, the sum stolen formed a small part of what was placed in the hands of trustees in this country, much loss and consequent suffering was caused by this kind of malversation, those who suffered most being the poor and helpless. The whole case for this change in the law was that it was urgently necessary for the protection of poor persons, and more especially widows and orphans who were persons not accustomed to deal with legal business. In many instances, while they received the income from the trustee they assumed that the fund was all right and quite secure. But a day came when the income ceased and then it was found that the trust property no longer existed. The late Lord Herschell told the Committee that he had long been favourable to the system of a public trustee, not only on account of its security, but because of the reluctance of so many people to accept trusteeship. Lord Lindley t stified to the widespread feeling among lawyers in its favour. The Lord Chancellor also dissented from the opinion that a public trustee, if appointed, would prove a failure.
§ The present Bill was drafted on the model of an Act which had been in force in the colony of New Zealand for upwards of thirty years and, having been amended from time to time, had been found to be of the greatest advantage. It had never involved the taxpayers in any cost, but, on the contrary, had yielded a slight revenue. He recognised the feeling of this country against any excess of officialism, and the force of the criticism that if a public trustee proved to be a 376 despotic, troublesome, or inaccessible official, or became otherwise a failure, it would be a serious matter. Therefore there was a distinct provision in the Bill that if the public trustee were found not to be advantageous to the public the office should be abolished; but with the experience of New Zealand before them, and in view of the absolute necessity of something being done to put an end to the incessant breaches of trust which were constantly occurring, he confidently anticipated its successful working. Practically this was the same Bill as that which was introduced by the Lord Chancellor and passed through all its stages in the House of Lords in 1890. He did not pretend to say that this Bill as it stood would please all the lawyers, but if the House passed the Second Reading by way of expressing sympathy with the unfortunate people who were suffering from breaches of trust, it could be referred to the Committee on Law for such amendment as might be deemed necessary to meet any effective criticism of detail. The result, he felt sure, would be a Bill which would be of the greatest assistance to the public at large without imposing any burden on the Exchequer. He would not detain the House by going into any details; he would only say he was most anxious to meet any objections which might be made and to accept any modifications which the Government or the Attorney-General thought necessary, so long as they did something to get rid of that evil which this Bill was introduced to remedy.
§ Bill read a second time and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.