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Orders of the Day — Third Schedule. — (Scheme for establishment of district probate registries.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 4th May 1925.

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Photo of Sir Douglas Hogg Sir Douglas Hogg , St Marylebone

I am sorry not to be able to accede to the request put forward. I am afraid the figure quoted by my hon. Friend, how- ever plausible they sounded when they were so ingeniously put forward by him, will hardly justify the request which he put to me. I have had only a short time in which to obtain information as to the last year, but I am told that in 1924 the total grants from Worcester numbered 580, of which 384 were through solicitors by correspondence; and of the balance, some of them, although we have not got details of the precise number, came through Customs and revenue officials, who have as one of their duties the obtaining of grants in small cases. For the Customs and revenue officials and others there was a total of 196 applications. There were employed at Worcester, besides the registrar, four clerks, so that there were five persons in all employed during 300 working days in making something less than two grants per day, or, in the matter of personal applications, something over half a grant a day. As it takes half-an-hour on the average to make a grant, the House can imagine that there is a considerable waste of time in employing five people for this very small amount of labour. Although it is quite true that if you take the salary on the one hand, and the fees on the other, there is a small excess of fees over salaries, that loses sight of two important facts.

The first is that salaries are not the only expense of the registry, as one has also to allow for rent, maintenance, cleaning and all the other office expenses. The second fact is that one of the main reasons why this section of the Bill was introduced, and why the Tomlin Committee made the Report they did, was because it was ascertained, as a result of their inquiries, that the clerks in these registries —I am not referring exclusively to Worcester, but to Worcester and other places —were very much underpaid. Perhaps it was a natural result of there being very little to do that the clerks were paid much smaller salaries than the Treasury would feel was justifiable, and one of the things we intend to do on reorganisation of the work is to see to it, first of all, that proper salaries are paid, and that those who are employed are put on a pension basis, on which at present they are not.

If you were to translate the Worcester figures by adding to the salaries actually paid the amounts that ought to have been paid, and the amounts that should properly be added in order to provide a reasonable pension, you would get a substantial deficit, even by comparing the salaries alone with the fees. Far from failing to appreciate the great importance of Worcester, is it not the fact that it returned both the Prime Minister and our Chief Whip; and a county which has that achievement to its credit deserves of course every consideration? But even if those facts are taken into account, I cannot feel that I should be justified in departing from the very careful recommendations of the Committee.

I would like to assure my hon. Friend that the facts he has brought forward as to the records and the interest which is attached to them will certainly be carefully and sympathetically considered. I am not quite sure that he indicated precisely who it is he suggests should be entrusted with the keeping of the records, and therefore I cannot give him a very definite pledge, but I can assure him quite certainly that if any responsible body locally can be found to be entrusted with the preservation of ancient records, most certainly there is no desire to deprive Worcester of the enjoyment of those records, or to prevent their remaining in the place where they are appreciated. I hope that assurance will satisfy my hon. Friend.