THE EARL OF CARNARVON ,
rising "To inquire of the Lord Chancellor whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce any Bill for the appointment of a Public Trustee and Executor," said: My Lords, there is a Bill, I believe, before your Lordships' House at this moment which deals with the question of disabilities in connection with companies; but that is altogether apart from the subject matter of the question which I desire to put to my noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack. I will, if your Lordships will allow me, say but a very few words on the subject. There was some discussion upon it last year in this House, and I think some words passed in another place, and I hope that the answer of my noble and learned Friend to-night may be a favourable one. I will not at any length go into the question of trusteeships, because I think the vast majority of your Lordships who are not Law Lords must be 342 perfectly well aware of the hardships and expense by which a trustee is constantly surrounded. I have felt it myself over and over again, and I have no doubt the majority of those whom I am addressing have had bitter experience of it. It is no answer whatever to the objection that it is in the power of a man to say whether or no he will accept the trusteeship. It constantly happens that for private and domestic reasons that objection is absolutely impossible, and that a man is obliged to accept the trusteeship and with it all the hardships to which I have referred. Besides that, there are certain obvious inconveniences; if the trustee dies it is very difficult sometimes to replace him; if a trustee goes abroad for a very lengthened period, or becomes in some other way incapable of acting, it is expensive and difficult to replace him. All these difficulties would be overcome by the appointment of a Public Trustee. Public Trustees have been appointed in many of our great Colonies with eminent success. I rather think that the first of our Colonies which adopted this practice was New Zealand. I only wish to add one word with regard to expense. I know it is sometimes said that the appointment of a Public Trustee means a considerable expenditure. I cannot myself follow that argument. Of course a certain sum of money is needed to establish such an office, but there would, of course, be a regulated scale of fees for the administration either of a will or a trust, and I should think myself that the public would be well disposed to take advantage of the offer of a Public Trustee, and that before long there would be a very considerable surplus over and above the incidental expenses. But, my Lords, be that as it 343 may, I am perfectly satisfied that this is a reform to which private individuals look forward with very great interest, and which would meet with almost unanimous welcome. I will not weary your Lordships by going into lengthened argument on the subject, but I would ask my noble Friend, at the same time, whether he proposes to conjoin with any measure for the appointment of a Public Trustee one for the appointment of a Public Executor. I apprehend that all the advantages that can be urged in favour the appointment of a Public Trustee can be equally urged in favour of the appointment of a Public Executor; and that the office of a Public Executor would have this additional advantage, that, as all executorial duties are bound to be wound up within a limited period, it would make it even simpler than the appointment of a Public Trustee. I hope my noble and learned Friend will be able to give me a favourable answer to my question, and that he will be able to state that there will be no long delay in the introduction of this measure. I am quite confident that amongst all the valuable Acts which may be attributed to him there will be none that will command greater public gratitude than the granting of this small reform.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
Before my noble and learned Friend answers this question, I would like to say one word in support of what the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Carnarvon) has said. As my noble and learned Friend knows, this is a measure in which I have been long interested and which I have long advocated. I do not believe that it is at all inconsistent with the measure which is now before your Lordships to enable public companies to become trustees. I think there are a great many cases in which, if a Public Trustee existed, those who have to dispose of Trust Funds would sooner put them under the administration of such a company than they would entrust them to a Public Trustee. But there are many cases, on the contrary, where it would be invaluable to the public that there should be a Public Trustee who should give absolute security for the trust money, and that would, on the on the other hand, relieve very many members of the public from the intolerable burden of trusteeship. The truth is—and it is certain that many of your 344 Lordships must have experienced it—it is almost impossible to resist the applications that come to one to act as trustee. The appeal is made—"somebody must act as trustee," and it is in many cases very difficult for anybody to say that he will not do so. According to the decision of the Courts, although an individual trustee can get no profit or advantage or remuneration for anything that he does, nevertheless he is subjected to a far greater burden than people who undertake duties for monetary reward. I say that that is a condition of things which constitutes an intolerable burden, and I am sure it will be a matter of great rejoicing if my noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack announces his intention to introduce a measure to deal with this matter.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, it cannot be expected that I should answer the question of the noble Lord in the affirmative without giving some little explanation. I hope that I may very shortly be able to introduce such a Bill as is desired; but upon the question as to the union of the character of Public Trustee and Executor, I will not undertake to say that it is absolutely certain that that can be done. The two questions are very different. Whether the public should undertake the duties of an executor is one thing—quite different from whether they should undertake the duties of a trustee. But with reference to both questions I can only say that the matter is under the anxious consideration of Her Majesty's Government at the present moment. The noble Earl mentioned one of the qualities of a Public Trustee, which I regard as most valuable—namely, his inflexibility. One of the great difficulties which have arisen is the fact that trustees will be good natured and will do what their cestui que trusts urge them to do contrary to the trust. The Courts of Law can only decide according to the law, and they must, therefore, if the trusts have not been properly carried out decide accordingly. I think a Public Trustee would not be open to any pressure of the kind. He would look to the terms of the trust, and would absolutely refuse to do anything that was not thereby authorized. That I take to be a circumstance of very great value in favour of a public 345 trustee. I can only say that as soon as the decision of the Government is arrived at, I will inform my noble and learned Friend here, and I trust the noble Earl will consider that the Bill satisfies his desires.