HC Deb 27 April 1995 vol 258 cc629-30W
Mr. Alex Carlile

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the actions of the public trustee in relation to legal proceedings brought by Miss Phoebe Winch. [19998]

Mr. John M. Taylor

I am unable to comment on individual cases where legal proceedings have been brought against the public trustee, who is also chief executive of the Public Trust Office. Whilst she is accountable for her actions as public trustee, she is also an independent statutory office holder and the decisions she takes in exercise of her statutory functions are those of her office and are not taken on behalf of the Government.

As the question concerns a specific case, I have asked the chief executive to reply direct.

Letter from Julia Lomas to Mr. Alex Carlisle, dated 25 April 1995: The Lord Chancellor has asked me to reply to your Question about the actions of my Office in relation to legal proceedings brought by Miss Phoebe Winch. I think you may be mistaken in your reference to Miss Phoebe Winch and mean Miss Mary Agnes Winch who has brought proceedings against the Public Trustee and I am replying to your Question on the basis that it meant to refer to Miss Mary Agnes Winch and not Miss Phoebe Winch. In 1982 Miss Mary Agnes Winch brought proceedings against the Public Trustee in relation to the administration of the estate of her mother the late Mrs Violet Winch. These proceedings were defended. The case was very complicated and the hearing was anticipated to be lengthy and expensive. I therefore authorised in 1994 the payment of £15000 into Court to settle the matter. Miss Winch accepted this settlement which was made with no admission of liability on the part of the Public Trustee. The Public Trustee have always been confident that had the case been fought the Public Trustee would have won, albeit at a disproportionate cost to public funds. The payment into Court was, and remains, regarded by me as a payment to save public funds, rather than any admission as to the merits of Miss Winch's claim.