Major Hicks Beach:
In supporting the Amendment I had better begin by saying that there is nothing better than a sinner who repents. I was astonished this morning, when I saw the Notice Paper, to find that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) had prima facie. done a complete volte-face and were now supporting my Amendment, which was very fully discussed in Committee. At that time both hon. Members were quite definite that in no circumstances could they accept or support it.
That means that we must look into this very carefully. The object of the Amendment which originally stood in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) was twofold. First, it was a scheme to put right what I regard as some unusual and bad drafting in the Bill. I ventured to say, on Second Reading, that I thought that the Bill was badly drawn and unnecessary. I regret to say that in Committee nothing convinced me that I am not absolutely right in that contention.
I also ventured to say in Committee that I thought that the Bill was being rushed through and that insufficient consultation had taken place with the various interested bodies, such as the Law Society, which normally should have been consulted. I think that it is fair to say that the Law Society has now been consulted and I have no grumble on that score, but the further investigations which I have now had time to make into the Bill have again convinced me of how badly drafted and inconsistent it is in many of its Clauses.
These two Amendments—as the hon. Member for Gainsborough said, the second one is consequential—are intended, first, to put right what I believe to be probably a drafting error.
The short Title of the Bill is "Wills, &c. (Publication)". The long Title is
A Bill To restrict the publication"—
I stress the word "publication"—
of particulars as to the estate and as to the contents of the will or of any codicil or any testamentary disposition of any deceased person where such publication is contrary to the wishes of such person as expressed in such will, codicil or testamentary disposition; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.
I stressed "publication". I think that I am correct in saying that when drafting a Parliamentary Bill it is usual to try to follow as closely as possible—it may not always be possible—and so far as is consistent its short and long Titles.
In Clause 1 (1) we find the words "print or," which I am now seeking to delete, and also the words "printed or." To make the Bill consistent with its short and long Titles, I submit that those words should be deleted. Frankly, this is only a drafting point, and the other grounds on which I support the Amendment are very much more important.
By putting in the word "print" we create two offences—publishing and printing, and though I have made very considerable research I cannot see how the Bill's purpose is not carried out by simply adding the word "publishing." To refer to printing creates a separate offence, and I believe that it may lead to very considerable difficulties.
If contrary to this Measure, a printer prints the particulars of a will, is it proposed that he himself should be prosecuted? Is it proposed that the printer— the man who turns the wheel to make the machine go round—should be prosecuted, or is it to be the director of the firm that runs the printing business—or who? Or is everyone physically concerned with the printing to be prosecuted? I was very surprised that this word was not taken out in Committee, but, as I say, there is nothing better than a sinner who repents.
To implement the terms of the Bill, surely it is necessary only to have reference to publication. Then the person who was subject to prosecution would be the person responsible for the publication. There was some discussion of this point in Committee, but I do not think that it was altogether satisfactorily cleared up. The person to be prosecuted should be the person responsible for publication.
I suggest that the Amendment improves the drafting, and makes less wide and rather more clear what the promoters of the Bill seek to do, though I must confess that I myself have found very great difficulty in understanding it.
We welcome seeing the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) standing forth in the role of the repentant sinner, but the House must view what he says in that capacity with some care and caution. In Committee, he himself moved an exceedingly important Amendment, to meet objections, and it was written into the Bill. We now find that he has become the repentant sinner in respect of his own Amendment. That being so, when we find him rushing in with such alacrity to support this Amendment we need to look at it with some care to see how it will affect the Bill.
Originally. the Amendment now before us appeared in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major 1-licks Beach) and one of his hon. Friends, but, as we have seen, his hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has added his name to it, with the result that it is he who has moved it. Tribute has been paid to the modesty of the hon. Member for Gainsborough, and he has certainly exemplified that characteristic by the way in which he moved the Amendment. Indeed, he did so with such modesty that I think most Members had considerable difficulty in understanding what it is all about or what it is designed to achieve.
I must, therefore, deal with the Amendment as it has been rather more fully explained by the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham. He dealt with it in two ways: first, as a drafting Amendment—and I will return to that later—and secondly, as an Amendment of very great substance. As I understand, what he wishes is to exempt printers from liability to conviction for offences against the provisions of this Bill.
I understand his intention is that where, contrary to the provisions of the Bill—assuming that it becomes law —a newspaper publishes some of the prohibited particulars of the will or of the estate of a deceased person, only its publisher, in the accepted sense of the word, or the editor of the newspaper shall be liable to conviction. That does not arise, of course, in regard to matters published by means of wireless telegraphy, television or the like, and a later Amendment deals with the reference to "master printer" in subsection (2).
We have to speculate, because we have not been told, why the words "print or" were originally inserted. We may assume that it was done rather on the analogy of the kind of proceedings that can be taken against a printer in respect of, for example, the publication of a libel—under the ordinary law of defamation—or the publication of an obscene publication under the law relating to that sort of publication.
In those cases a printer is liable equally with the publisher, and in some cases it is important that he should be. Where a libel leads to an action for damages, it may well be—and often is—the case that the author, or the publisher in the accepted sense of the word, of the particular document is a man of straw, a man of no means, and one whom it is not worth suing at all, whereas the printer may be some one, or a company, of real substance, who may be sued. This liability of the printer himself provides a very strong and important additional check on, and protection against the publication of libels and of obscene matter. The intention is carried through from the civil taw to the criminal law in dealing with criminal libels—in such matters as criminal prosecutions relating to obscene publications.
We are here dealing with a proposed extension of our criminal law in order to prevent certain publications taking place. If the protection that I have prescribed has been found necessary in the other branches of the law—making the printer liable—I should like to know why that protection is not necessary here; that is to say, if it is the true intention of the Amendment, as the hon. and gallant Member has said, to make the printer no longer liable.
It may be argued that, looking at the matter from a practical point of view, the kind of cases and circumstances in which this sort of matter is published are not the kind in which the publisher, in the accepted sense, is a man of straw. This kind of publication normally takes place either in the national and local daily Press or in the weekly Press—and, particularly, in the local weekly Press. I suppose that in most such cases it may be argued that it would be a sufficient protection to make the publisher and the editor responsible without any need to make the printer responsible as well. But one does not know what might be the effect of a Bill of this kind if it becomes law. There are some very curious publications in existence.
There is, I believe, a publication produced periodically which publishes the names of small debtors and persons against whom county court judgments have been recorded. That publication, of course, is of interest to traders, shopkeepers and people of that kind. I believe there is a well-known leading case in the law of libel in which someone's name wrongly appeared in that publication. If this Bill becomes law someone might seek to evade its terms by producing at greater intervals than thirty-six days, which is the period specified in the definition Clause, a publication containing particulars of wills and nothing else. In that way, the publishers might try to satisfy the curiosity of people who are interested in these matters.
Yes. I am suggesting that this might be the effect of the Bill. Suppose that such a publication came out but that it was produced at too great frequency so that it was not brought outside the terms of the definition Clause. In such a case the publisher might well be a man of straw. If it is really necessary and in the public interest to pass a law of this kind, ought not the protection, if it is to be a real one, to extend to the printer?
For my part, I do not like the Bill at all; I say so frankly, and I made it clear on Second Reading. I do not wish to see it extended. I suggest, however, that before we accept this Amendment we should consider it and its implications. So much for the substance, or the intended substance, of the Amendment.
Let us now come to the other point, the drafting aspect, to see what would be the effect of the Amendment. I should be interested to hear the views of the Solicitor-General on this point, and I hope that he will give us the benefit of his advice, because as I read the Amendment, I think its effect would be precisely nil. I do not think it would make the slightest alteration in the law if the words "print or" were omitted.
If we accepted the Amendment we would then have to look at the meaning of the words which were left, namely
… to … publish or cause to be … published.
There is no definition of the word "publish" in this Bill. Therefore, it is to be assumed that the word will be construed in the same way as the courts construe it in other branches of the law, in relation to the law of defamation, the publication of obscene libels and matters of that kind. Any making public of a document, any communication of a document to a third person, is in law a publication, and a printer who prints a document publishes that document within the meaning of the term "publish" in law. That is why in the law of defamation a printer can be sued because he does, in fact, publish the document.
Therefore, as I understand the law, the effect of this Amendment would be precisely nothing. If the hon. Member for Gainsborough is a sinner in this respect, I think his repentance counts for very little. If he wishes to repent in the sense of exempting a printer from liability, I suggest that it must be done in some other way. Perhaps it could be done by leaving out these words and by adding a definition at the end of the word "publish " which would exclude printing and would make it clear that the publisher here was meant not in the technical, legal sense of the term but in the ordinary sense in which it is understood in the journalistic world, as the person who is the publisher of a document as opposed to the printer. That is something which we cannot do today, but the hon. Member may he able to persuade someone in another place to look at it and deal with it if his Bill gets that far.
However, for various reasons I would recommend to the House that as the matter stands this Amendment is in many respects unsatisfactory and should not be accepted. I oppose it.
I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) for not being here when he moved the Amendment. As a matter of fact, if he will not mind my saying so, he moved it so quickly that I did not have time to get back into the Chamber to hear him. I thought, having listened to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), that I understood what the Amendment was about, but. having listened to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot), I am now very confused indeed.
I think this arises from the extraordinarily had way in which this Bill is drafted. We are faced now with a dilemma which may take us some little time to resolve. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North said that he understood that the purpose of this Amendment was to relieve the printer of the penalties which might otherwise fall upon him under this Bill. Certainly at first sight that would appear to be so, but I have not noticed any Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough or of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham or any other hon. Member interested in this Bill to remove the words "master printer" from the penalty provision, the proviso at the end of Clause 1 (2). We do not know, and no printer in the country will know, until this matter is tested in the courts, whether or not a master printer would be liable to any penalties under the Bill if he were to publish details of a will such as would be prohibited by the Bill.
We must have an explanation of why this extraordinary procedure has been followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough in adding his name to someone else's Amendment thereby getting the right to move it, and then not seeking to remove a pair of important consequential words, the words "master printer". I would be dubious of the wisdom of accepting this Amendment, even though I have great respect for the judgment of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham.
I think the secondary point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North is also of some importance. What does the word "publish" mean in this respect? If we take out the words "print or" it is bound to be necessary to know what we mean by the word "publish" An explanation of that is necessary in view of the fact that the word "publish" is not in the definition Clause. In those circumstances, unless I receive some further explanation of the effect of the Amendment, I could not support it.
The position is becoming very involved and confused. I do not know whether what I shall say will increase the confusion.
The first point I want to raise concerns you, Mr. Speaker. It will be observed that when the Amendments to this Bill were last published, up to and including 8th April, 1959, the Amendment which we are now discussing stood in the names of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling).
This morning we obtained from the Vote Office a new list of Amendments, or new to this extent, that suddenly the name of the hon. Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) appears at the head of those who support the Amendment, and the name of the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) also appears. This, of course, is quite in order, because if he added his name last it should appear last. I should like to know how it is possible for an hon. Member to arrange for his name to be inserted at the. top of the list of those who have submitted an Amendment because, if that is so, there are many Motions and Amendments appearing on the Notice Paper which I had not thought of previously and which I should like to sponsor. If, in those circumstances, I can arrange for my name to be published right at the very top of them, it is a privilege of which I shall not hesitate to avail myself on future occasions. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you can advise me how it is possible for the order of names to be altered in this way.
The name of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) appears at the top of the list of those supporting the Amendment, because he is the promoter of the Bill. If the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) wishes to achieve the same amount of priority in future, he must first promote the Bill to which the Amendment relates.
In the light of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I shall refer to various publications which deal with the rights of the promoter of a Bill in this House, with a view to finding out to what extent this kind of thing has happened on previous occasions. I have no doubt, in view of your Ruling, it has happened on previous occasions, but it will be of interest perhaps to many of us to find out when this very curious exercise of the privilege that you have mentioned, which apparently adheres to promoters of Bills was first exercised.
I come to the point that was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot). He was very doubtful whether this Amendment would make any difference at all. He seemed, in my own submission, to overlook the fact that printing or publishing would have to be in a newspaper for the purpose of coming within the terms of subsection (1), as I understand it. Therefore, to print or publish details of a will in vacuo or outside the columns of a newspaper would not come within the terms of the Bill.
Let us be clear about this. The term "newspaper" is not used in this Bill in its ordinary sense as the public understand it. The term has a definition and, therefore, any document which falls within that definition is a newspaper. If my hon. Friend will look at the top of page 3 he will see that definition is:
…any paper or other periodical containing public news or observations thereon which is printed for sale and is published in Great Britain either periodically or in parts or numbers at intervals not exceeding thirty-six days;
Clearly, we could get a document which was not a newspaper in the ordinary sense of the word but which fell within this definition.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to Clause 2, the definition Clause. But that raises another problem, because it seems to me that if particulars of a will are printed not in a document for sale then one can drive through the terms of this Bill a carriage and pair because, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, a newspaper means
…any paper or other periodical…
and those conditions have to be satisfied. It has to contain public news, or, if it does not contain public news, it has to contain observations thereon, and it has to be printed and sold and published in this country before it can come within the terms of the Bill. Therefore, in my submission—
This is a very important point. In his interpretation of the Bill as a solicitor, would the hon. Gentleman say that if one gave away with a newspaper a free supplement containing particulars of the will that would, in fact, defeat the terms of the Bill, because it would not be for sale?
That is a question which I should like to hand over to the Solicitor-General when he deals with the discussion on this Amendment. The hon. Gentleman has quoted what seems might be a borderline case, because it occurs to me that an ordinary member of the public would not be able to obtain this supplement unless he bought the newspaper, and it would, I think, be necessary for the newspaper to give away the supplement quite unconditionally without compelling the persons interested in the supplement to buy the newspaper as well. However, these are all additional points which I think ought to convince the House that in this respect, as in so many other respects, the Bill is so loosely drafted and so incompetently presented—
Will my hon. Friend deal with another point which is not unimportant? Supposing a periodical is circulated to members of a society who subscribe to that society, and in return for that one of the things which they receive is regarded within the terms of this Bill as a periodical, is that a newspaper for sale within the terms of the Bill?
In those circumstances I should have to examine the rules of the society and all the surrounding circumstances before I could venture to give a ruling on the interesting but complicated point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South has just drawn attention.
I apologise to my hon. Friend. Although I know Sunderland very well, the confusion arising in this Amendment has confused me even as to the part of Sunderland that he represents.
This kind of thing will go on and on if the House rather foolishly decides, with or without this Amendment, to allow the Bill to go to another place. I think that the hon. Member for Gainsborough, for whose quick-fire methods in handling this Bill I have the utmost respect, would be well advised to say, "I am so impressed by the arguments that I have heard this day in the House that I think that the interests of all concerned would best be served if I, at this stage, withdrew the Bill for further consideration with a view to submitting it perhaps at a later date."
I find myself in this position. It seems to me that it does not matter twopence whether we accept this Amendment or not. The only effect of having the Amendment on the Notice Paper suddenly adopted—I will not say legitimised —by the name of the hon. Member for Gainsborough is to make it quite clear that the Bill ought to be dropped or have its throat cut at the earliest possible moment.
I should like briefly to return to the question why these words "print or" originally were put into the Bill and why, having been put into the Bill, it is now proposed by the promoter of the Bill that they should be taken out.
The reason why the House needs a little more information on this subject is that the matter, not quite on the same point but substantially on it, was discussed in Committee. when my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) was not prepared to accept an Amendment and my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General on that occasion, while preserving his neutrality, which he has been so careful to preserve throughout the proceedings on the Bill, advised the Committee on the effect of these words.
What my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said was:
My recollection is that this pattern of wording: 'print or publish or cause to be printed or published' is the exact formula we put into the statute which governs our restriction on reporting divorce proceedings and it has worked perfectly satisfactorily."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 17th December, 1958; c. 35.]
With that, apparently, the Committee was satisfied and the Amendment was negatived without further discussion.
The House should know whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General is in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough, the promoter of the Bill, in changing his mind on the use of these words.
Another analogy in the discussion was the words used in the Bill limiting publication or printing of divorce proceedings. In the course of his speech on the Amendment, however, the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) referred also to the liability of the printers as well as of the publisher in connection with libel proceedings. That seems to me to be an entirely different case, because, as the hon. Member said. usually in those circumstances the publisher and the printer are two entirely different people or companies and in many cases the publisher may be relatively a man of straw while the printer is the powerful and wealthy corporation.
Any such analogy as that is quite out of place in considering the Bill. Here we are dealing only with the printer or the publisher of a newspaper. The printer of a newspaper is normally not a separate company, but is a person employed by the publisher. Indeed, the intention of the use of the word "print" as well as "publish" in that sense is made clear enough by the words in subsection (2) of the Clause which limit liability for conviction under the Bill to certain people. They are evidently meant to be individuals, not corporations. Subsection (2, a) uses the words:
a proprietor, editor, master printer or publisher of the newspaper".
I agree with what one of my hon. Friends said, that if the Amendment is accepted and the word "print" is taken out, there should be a consequential Amendment to subsection (2) which renders the master printer of a newspaper personally liable to conviction under the Bill.
I would have been quite willing to accept the judgment on this matter that was given to the Committee by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. I have been shaken by many of the subsequent speeches at this stage and, frankly, I now find it difficult to know what to do. I take comfort, however, from the thought that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, who is an authority on these matters, has satisfied himself that it will not make any difference. If that is so, we can either reject or support the Amendment as the judgment of the House may seem to go. Whether or not the Amendment is accepted, however, having adopted and supported it my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough should deal with the personal liability of the master printer under subsection (2, a).
If I find myself in a more than unusual state of confusion, I am not as much to blame as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who sponsors the Bill, because in coming to the penitent stool he has stumbled and fallen over it. What he has done is, as the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) said, to put into peril the master printer, probably inadvertently, because he does not know what a master printer is. If I describe to the hon. Member what a master printer is, perhaps he will reconsider whether it is right eventually to introduce an Amendment to safeguard this man from the innocent results of his own work.
I am in this difficulty. Subsection (2) contains a reference to the master printer as being a person who is liable to be convicted. The Amendment deals with the work of a master printer. There appears to be no Amendment excluding the master printer nor any indication of intention by the sponsor of the Bill to exclude the master printer. For that reason, I was addressing myself to the position of the master printer under the Amendment and to the provisions of subsection (2, a).
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker.
Because there is no later Amendment to exclude the master printer, I should like to put to the hon. Member for Gainsborough the way in which he puts the printer in difficulty. The printer of a periodical or newspaper is not the publisher. As the hon. Member for Harrow, Central said, he is an employee. He is a compositor. He is the man who receives the written or typewritten material. He gives it to his staff of compositors, of whom he is the master, to set. There his responsibility ends, utterly and completely. He has to see, of course, that the men do their job properly. He has to see that the corrections are made. He has a purely technical job to do.
By the Amendment he is being put in peril for an act with which he has nothing to do. He does not distribute the paper and, technically, does not print it. This is done by an entirely different man. Yet the purpose of the Amendment is to put a head compositor, the head printer, of a newspaper or periodical in considerable danger. I am sure that that is not the hon. Member's intention and that he does not wish to put this quite worthy technician in this position. It would be better, therefore, for all concerned if the hon. Member withdrew the Amendment, because it serves no useful purpose except to put men like this in jeopardy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) falsely accused me, with great courtesy, of having expressed a view in Committee on whether we should keep the printer in. With respect, however, that is not right. My blameless appearance of neutrality I desire to preserve and for that reason I have to take up the point.
What we were discussing in Committee on 17th December was an Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) to leave out the words "or cause to he printed or published". The emphasis on our discussion then was whether we should retain the words "cause to be". It was in the context of keeping those words in as opposed to dealing with printing or publishing that I referred to the publication of reports of divorce proceedings.
It is true that if we accept the Amendment something would have to be done about line 25 in page 2. I do not think that any hon. Member has yet mentioned a point on the merits of the Amendment which I should have thought the House should have in mind. After all, what the Bill will prohibit is the publication of prohibited particulars in any case in which the will contains an express wish that such particulars should not be published. It is a little difficult to think how in practice the printer of a newspaper will know, or is to be required to make the right inquiries which would cause him to know, whether the will contained a prohibition of that kind. I would venture to suggest, without expressing any view about the merits of the matter and appearing as grossly neutral as I can, that the House, in considering whether it should accept the Amendment, should bear that point of substance in mind.
Will the Solicitor-General say why the same argument does not apply to the publisher of a newspaper and indeed to the editor. because he no doubt knows that the way they receive this information is through agencies who specialise in this work? They do not themselves look up every case, but take the information from the agencies. If they can take it from the agencies, why cannot the printer? Where is the difference?
I do not propose to descend into the arena. I merely indicate that the point is valid in relation to the printer, perhaps the House may think more valid, in the context of the promoters of the Bill of whom I am not one, than in relation to the publisher.
I have been asked about the meaning of the word "publish" in the Bill. I do not fancy having an extemporary shot at pronouncing upon that matter before the courts have done so, and it may be that my hon. Friends, as the Bill goes along, may think it wise to consider whether they would facilitate matters by a definition. The hon. and learned Member
for Edge Hill indicated his view on this topic in column 25 of 17th December:
My understanding is that the word 'publish' in the Bill would have the sense in law of making public certain material and will not have the narrow sense which attaches to it under the law of defamation"—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, Standing Committee C; 17th December, 1958; c. 25.]
Today, we heard the hon. and learned Member for Lewisham, North present the opposite view. If I am invited to decide between them, I should think that under the terms of the Bill there was some likelihood that the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill was right in his view about what the courts would say, but no doubt the promoters of the Bill will think it right, if the matter goes further, to consider whether the situation would not be clarified by adding some kind of definition of what they mean by "publish".
As the Solicitor-General has referred to what I said on this point, would he agree that if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edge Hill is right and an even wider meaning is to be attributed to the word "publish", it makes my argument all the stronger? The wider the definition the more likely it is to include the printer. Even on the narrower definition, if it is a narrower definition, publishing meaning publishing in relation to the law of libel includes the printer. If a wider meaning is to be attributed, would not the Solicitor-General agree that the point which I have made is perfectly valid and that the effect of the Amendment would be precisely nothing?
I should have thought that it worked the other way, but I am not sure whether it is right for me to descend into the arena to this extent. I think that I had better stop speaking about the Amendment. The point of substance which I wanted to make concerned the difficulty of the person involved not being able to know what the contents of the will were.
I am a little diffident about intervening in this discussion between the legal luminaries on both sides of the House. I listened to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) and I thought that he explained very clearly why, in his view, the words "print or" should be left in. He made the speech that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) should have made, but did not make, in Committee.
It has been asked why my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and myself put our names to the Amendment. I can tell the House quite simply. We were anxious to show an accommodating spirit to those on both sides of the House who did not see eye to eye with us in Committee on various parts of the Bill. To me, at any rate, as an amateur, the Amendment seemed to be not of any substance at all. If it was meant to be an Amendment of any substance, I suppose that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham would have later tabled an Amendment to deal with the master printer, but he has not done so.
As I have said, the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough and myself put our names to the Amendment was in an attempt to be accommodating to those who do not agree with us on a matter which seemed to us to be comparatively unimportant.
When I went to bed last night I thought that I was seconding this Amendment. When I came to the House this morning I found that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) had put his name above that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) and that my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) had put his name beneath mine. I found myself in a position of complete confusion.
My confusion is even greater having listened to the hon. and learned Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) and the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), and, not receiving any real guidance from the Solicitor-General, I would add still further to the confusion by saying that I would like to withdraw my name from the Amendment and vote against it if it comes to voting.
|Division No. 80.]||AYES||[1. p.m.|
|Beswick, Frank||Herbison, Miss M.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Jones, David (Ths Hartlepools)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Lindgren, G. S.||Storey, S.|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Lipton, Marcus||Stross, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Teeling, W.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Mcinnes, J.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mitchison, G. R.||Willey, Frederick|
|Gibson, C. W.||Peart, T. F.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hastings, S.||Redhead, E. C.||Mr. Kirk and Mr. MacDermot|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Reid, William|
|Atkins, H. E.||Hunter, A. E.||Russell, R. S.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Jeger, George (Gooie)||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Kimball, M.||wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maddan, Martin|
|Foot, D. M.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Sir. C. Mott-Radclyffe and|
|Hornby, R. P.||Rippon, A. G. F.||Mr. Fisher.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
Major Hicks Beach:
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am much obliged. The purpose of the two Amendments is, in one respect, similar to the purpose of the Amendment with which we have just dealt, in that it is designed to improve the drafting of the Bill and make it workable.
I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and I have not been joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) in putting down the Amendment to leave out "a deceased" and to insert "any". I venture to suggest, from a commonsense point of view rather than a legal approach, that there is no necessity to have the words "a deceased" at all. Presumably, there will be no opportunity to publish the particulars of a will before a person dies. In order to make the Bill read properly, I should have thought that the word "any" should be inserted in substitution for "a deceased" I do not at the moment see how there could be publication of a will until someone died. It will be interesting to hear from the promoter of the Bill why he drafted it in this way.
My hon. Friend has been so agile and hasty to join me in the Amendment with which we have just dealt—eventually, I had to vote against it for the simple reason that it was badly drawn, although it was my own—and I am wondering now whether he will come to my rescue and support me on this Amendment. I hope he will explain why the Clause was drawn in this way and will indicate in what circumstances he envisages a person's will being published before the person dies. It is quite beyond me. I am only a humble practising solicitor, but it may be that a more agile mind can outline a case where this would arise. It is quite a simple point on which hope I shall hear something from the promoters of the Bill.
On a point of order. On your direction, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) was moving the Amendment, in page 1, line 9, to leave out "a deceased" and to insert "any", with which is also being discussed the Amendment to line 9, to leave out "deceased person" and insert:
person dying after the commencement of this Act ".
I may have got this wrong, but I cannot see how those two can be taken together and I was wondering whether we could straighten that out in some way.
With respect, I understood both these Amendments were being discussed together. They cannot be moved and put together. When it is said that they will be discussed together, does not that mean that the opportunity will be given to decide on the second Amendment independently of the first, because, with respect, it seems to me that if the first Amendment were defeated, it would still enable the second Amendment to be put. The Clause would then read:
any particulars of the will of a person dying after the commencement of this Act.
I cannot see why the question whether the second Amendment should be put depends on whether or not the first Amendment is carried.
I have only just come into the Chair, but I understand the first Amendment is to leave out "a deceased". If it were carried, that would be left out and it would read like this:
Any particulars of the will of a person other than dying after the commencement of this Act.
That would not make sense, would it?
Major Hicks Beach:
May I endeavour to clear up the point? I apologise for the complication of the Amendment, but it simply shows that it is an extremely complicated and important matter needing ample consideration.
As I was saying a short time ago, the purport of the first Amendment standing in the name of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) is, in page 1, line 9, to leave out "a deceased" and insert "any" This is a simple point. The word "deceased" seems quite unnecessary because presumably there would be no opportunity of publishing the particulars of a person's will before that person had in fact died.
That is quite clear. When I was addressing the Committee before, I said that it might well be that there was some point I had overlooked. I was hoping to hear from the hon. Member for Gainsborough the exact reason why he drafted the Clause using the word "deceased" and not the word "any," which seems to be the correct word.
The second Amendment which stands in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion is to leave out "deceased person" and to insert:
person dying after the commencement of this Act.
Again, this is a drafting point, and I hope that we shall have some assistance on it from the Solicitor-General, who has been so helpful in the course of our discussions oil the Bill. As I understand it, an Act of Parliament operates strictly from the date of the commencement. The phrase deceased person might possibly be construed to mean only persons dying before the commencement of the Act. All we are seeking to do is to make it clear that the Clause will apply to the wills of people dying after the commencement of the Act, and not only to the wills of those dying before the commencement of the Act.
When I first studied the matter, I was in some doubt about whether this was a proposal which I could feel justified in putting forward, but having gone into the matter, I now feel that that might easily be an interpretation. I hope that the matter will be cleared up by the hon. Member for Gainsborough.
The next Amendment with which I am concerned is that in page 1, line 10, after "than," insert:
the name of the deceased person.
This, too, is a drafting Amendment, but it is a difficult point. The Bill as drawn would allow the publication of the date of the will, the names of the executors and other details, but would not allow publication of the name of the deceased person. That seems to be a peculiar approach. A newspaper will be able to say that Mr. X died worth so much and that the executors were Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith. I cannot believe that that was the intention of the promoters of the Bill, but here again is something for the hon. Member for Gainsborough to make clear.
Those are three simple points and I not propose to detain the House longer. I conclude by apologising for the difficulty which the Amendments have created, but this is a very difficult Bill to interpret.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do not know whether I am entitled to second the third of the Amendments, because once again the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has come in to put my name in third rather than second place. My only reason for putting my name to the Amendments is to show how bad the Bill is and how unnecessary it is in many ways. Why on earth should anyone think of publishing a will before the death of the person making it? It is unnecessary and ridiculous.
I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) for the work he has done on the Bill. I only wish that he had came to see me before this morning so that we could have arranged for these things to be done in Committee rather than take up the time of the House.
In order to try to facilitate matters, I added my name to as many Amendments as possible, and I would have added by name to that proposing to leave out "a deceased" and to insert "any", except that I wanted to be quite certain what was in the mind of my hon. and gallant Friend. There was the point that someone might have read about the Bill and might have made a will between December and January and, in the hope that the Bill would become law and that they would not die until after that date, they might not have included a clause in the will to the effect that the will should not be published. We felt that the possibility of someone acting like that was extremely small. My hon. Friends and I are prepared to accept all three Amendments, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham will not find it necessary to vote against the Amendments.
I am very grateful for your clarification, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for I was becoming very confused.
The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) explained that the reason the first of the three Amendments, to leave out "a deceased" and to insert "any", was put forward was the fear that the expression "a deceased" might be construed to mean a person already deceased at the time the Act was passed. I confess that I should have thought it doubtful whether the courts would have put that construction on the words, but in any event the Amendment is an improvement and it makes clear what is intended. The phrase "the will of a deceased person" is somewhat ungainly, since taken literally it would mean a will made by a deceased person. The wording, "the will of any person" is clearer from that point of view.
There is another possible difference in meaning. Supposing a newspaper were to get hold of a will of someone who was still alive. That would not be the will of a deceased person, and the newspaper would be entitled to publish it. As a matter of fact, a newspaper is entitled to do so now, but I do not think that any mischief or evil has arisen in that connection.
If someone were so foolish as to get off a bus and drop a will which contained interesting particulars, and if that will were taken to a newspaper office, there would be nothing to stop the newspaper publishing it. If the Amendment were accepted, the newspaper would not be able to publish the will. That is somewhat hypothetical, but that is the effect of the Amendment.
The second Amendment in the suggested manuscript form would then insert after the word "person" the words:
dying after the commencement of this Act ".
That seems to be of some substance and of some importance, because we are told that there are already cases where people express a desire in their wills that the contents of the wills should not be published. Those words have no legal sanction and the Press is perfectly free to publish the contents of such a will. However, people who may have liked to have inserted such words may have been advised by their solicitors that they would
have no effect and that there was no point in including them and such people may have taken that advice and refrained from including those words. It would be unjust to have the Bill operating retrospectively when, at the time the will was made, people did not know what the law was to be.
Of course, there are many cases where newspapers have already published the contents of wills. Unless the Amendment is passed, the effect of the Bill would be to make it an offence in any way later to publish something which had already been published. That really would be a quite ludicrous state of affairs. It seems to me that on that ground the case for the second Amendment is also very strong.
The third Amendment, which is to authorise the publication of the name of the deceased person along with the other accepted particulars which may be published is, I think, too obvious to call for comment. It is, perhaps, a matter for comment on the drafting of the Bill that it is only at this late stage that, thanks to the assiduity of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), this defect in the Bill has been brought to light.
These are the sort of things, of course, on which normally we rely on the skill of the expert Parliamentary draftsmen to detect for us. This is one of the difficulties that arise when a Private Member's Bill dealing with a great number of legal and technical complications, as this one does, is introduced. I have no doubt that if the Bill goes forward it will be found on its later stages that there are other gaps of errors in it which no one had noted before.
For all these reasons, I agree with what has been said by hon. Members who have already spoken in support of the Amendment, and I would also urge the additional argument which I have put forward.
Major Hicks Beach:
This, again, is a rather complicated point which arises owing to the difficult drafting of the Bill. It might, perhaps, be helpful to the House if I read out the Clause—there being so many Amendments to the subsection—as it will read after the last three Amendments have been inserted.
Subsection (1, a) should now read—and I am sure that my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—as follows:
any particulars of the will of any person dying after the commencement of this Act (other than the name of the deceased person, the date of the will, the name of any executor or administrator or particulars relating to a charitable bequest or to a bequest to Her Majesty's Government or any department thereof or to any public or local authority)
The purpose of the Amendment is to delete the words:
the name of any executor or administrator
In my submission, it may be questioned whether, if it is desirable to restrict the particulars of wills for publication, it should be possible to publish the names of executors or administrators who may be beneficiaries under a will. That is the real purpose of the Amendment.
The second Amendment which we are discussing is, again, on a similar point. It would exclude the publication of the name of an executor where he is a beneficiary. I do not propose to magnify this point to any large extent, except to say that I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) is again coming to my assistance. If we proceed as we are going I shall be able to congratulate myself on having practically drafted the whole Bill.
The points raised in these Amendments seem to me to be valid points, and I very much hope that the promoters of the Bill will give consideration to them. Even if they cannot accept them at this late stage, perhaps they could accept them when the Bill goes, if it does, to another place.
I must confess that as we proceed with the Bill, and the afternoon draws to its close, I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough whether he would not consider it wise, even at this late stage, to withdraw the Bill in order to try to get the matter sorted out and to proceed again at some future date.
I do not propose to detain the House for long in view of the slow progress that we have made this morning, but, as I understand, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) advanced no argument in support of his Amendment at all. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) will not accept the Amendment.
I think it rather important that the name of the executor or administrator should be known. It would be rather ridiculous if it were not. We get cases where relations of a deceased person may have settled abroad, in the Commonwealth or somewhere else, or even at home in the United Kingdom, and lose touch with the family. It can certainly do no harm to anyone to publish the name of an executor, and in many cases it would be a useful and convenient thing to do.
It may be that a testator has promised a friend or relation a personal memento, perhaps a piece of furniture or a pair of cuff links. The friend or relation may, after the death of the testator, want to know whom to contact. He may want to ask, "What happened to the silver snuffbox which old Tom promised me?" or something of that sort. There is no harm in that. There seems to be a case for including the name of the executor on grounds of convenience and no case at all for excluding it. Certainly, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham gave no grounds for so doing when moving his Amendment.
The second Amendment, which I understand we are discussing together with this Amendment, seeks to insert:
not being a beneficiary under the Will.
I think that it would be quite wrong to insert those words because, as we all
know, persons often leave an executor a small sum of money for the trouble of being an executor. There is really no harm in that. If we are right in resisting the first Amendment, and if we think that the name of the executor should be published as a matter of general convenience, which is my view, then there seems to be no purpose at all in whittling away the decision which I hope we shall take on the first of my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendments by accepting the second Amendment.
The fact that the executor may himself receive a small sum under the will is not, as far as I can see, relevant to the principle of the Bill or to what it is trying to achieve. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough will resist both Amendments.
I confess that I share the difficulty experienced by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) in following the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) in support of the first Amendment. I can see that the argument which he advanced explains the reason for the second Amendment which we are discussing at the same time. Were the Amendment accepted, the effect would be that the power to publish the name of the executor or administrator would be qualified or limited to an executor who was a beneficiary under the will.
The argument is that it would seem anomalous and unfair that one class of beneficiary should have his name published and, in effect, not enjoy the protection of the Bill, whereas other beneficiaries would. I am not saying that I support that argument, but I understand it. The effect of the first Amendment would be to leave out the name of any executor or administrator altogether. In no circumstances would their names be published. If that Amendment be accepted, I think that the second Amendment would fall automatically. I will gladly give way if the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham has anything to add in support of the first Amendment.
That Amendment is opposed by the hon. Member for Surbiton on the ground that it is a matter of convenience to allow the name of the executor or administrator to be published. I am a little confused by the word "administra- tor". This is not a branch of the law on which I profess to be an expert, but I thought that administrators were concerned with cases of intestacy. Perhaps I am wrong.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That explains it. We, being English lawyers, are constantly confused by Scottish legal terms, but in English law I do not think that it would have any meaning.
It is said that it is a matter of convenience to allow the name to be published because then the relatives of the deceased person, who may be living some way away, will be able to read of the death and the fact that there is a will and, also, they will know who are executors or administrators and be able to get in touch with them. I am wondering whether that argument has any substance. Assuming that the Bill becomes an Act, when will a newspaper have any reason to publish the name of the executor or administrator or, indeed, to publish anything in relation to the will, except in the case of a charitable bequest? Such a bequest may be something of sufficient news value for a newspaper to publish it, but even in that case I do not think that a newspaper would find it of any interest to say that "Mr. Snooks" was the executor. The charity would not know it. So I do not see the circumstances in which the name of an executor or administrator would get published.
There is the further point, that the executor or administrator would, presumably, know who are the beneficiaries under the will and whether or not he was in touch with them. If he was not and desired to get in touch with them, provision is made in the Bill for that. He is given power under Clause 1 (3) in such circumstances, and if he wishes to do so, to put a notice in the personal columns of newspapers, or something of that kind, or to advertise for the beneficiaries. If the executor or administrator does not need to exercise that power, he will be in touch with the beneficiaries already. So, again, from the point of view of necessity and of all these arguments about convenience, I cannot see how in practice the power to publish the names will help.
I wish, further, to inquire what is the point of including the executor or administrator? The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham has not adduced any reasons in support of his Amendment to leave them out, but why are they there?
In his last sentence the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) has made the point which I was proposing to make when seeking to interrupt him. It is all very well to endeavour to destroy my argument that there is some ground for including the name of the executor or administrator, but that is largely irrelevant, since we are discussing an Amendment for which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) has not given any reasons. Although in his delightful speech the hon. Member for Lewisham, North has done much to put me in my place, he has done nothing to support the terms of the Amendment.
I will gladly move on to that, encouraged by those words from the hon. Member for Surbiton.
Let us assume—although perhaps it is a rash assumption—that I have carried the House with me so far. We often hear about a probing Amendment, the object of which is to ascertain the meaning of some words which may appear in a Bill the purpose of which is not plain or understandable. I have often heard it said, "This is a probing Amendment and we want to know why it is that the sponsors of the Bill desire to include these words." I am prepared to take up the torch from the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham and support the Amendment which was seconded with some brevity by the hon. Mernber for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) and to put this forward as a probing Amendment.
I ask what purpose is served by the inclusion of these words. If there be no purpose, let us not waste time, ink and paper by including them. If the Bill is to become an Act—I sincerely hope that it will not—let us at least have it shipshape and in proper form and order.
I put down an Amendment which would very nearly have the effect of leaving out paragraph (a), but it was intimated to me that it was in the nature of a wrecking Amendment and I understood that it would not be called. That is the answer on that point.
What I am probing is not what is the meaning of those words, but why those words have been written into the Bill. To put it another way, why do the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) and the supporters of the Bill feel that newspapers should be allowed to publish the name of the executor or administrator when they will not allow anything other than the exempted particulars to be published? Is there any real purpose in giving the power to include in the particulars the name of the executor or administrator? We have heard only one argument for doing so, and that was the argument of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who thought that it would be convenient in the circumstances he described. I have dealt with that point and I do not feel there is substance in it. Is there any other reason why it is thought it would be helpful to have those particulars published in newspapers? If not, then I urge that these words should he left out of the Bill, and I support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham.
The second Amendment raises much greater difficulties. I can understand the motives which led the hon. and gallant Gentleman to put it down, but its effect might be undesirable. He is saying that it is rather unfair that one lot of beneficiaries should be protected from publication but that another person should not be protected just because he happens to be the executor or administrator. My answer is that I think the inclusion of those words in the Bill would produce a greater evil, namely, the danger that the passing of the Bill would make it easier for evilly disposed persons to bring undue influence to bear upon testators.
Regrettably, it is true that cases occur where people find an aged, and perhaps infirm, person of substance with no near relatives and induce that person to make a will in their own favour. When that is done, to preserve the shroud of secrecy for that evilly disposed person, it is necessary to write his own name into the will as the executor. This is a subject which, presumably, we shall be discussing at greater length when we consider a later Amendment on the Notice Paper. It is relevant to this Amendment, however, because if there were written into the Bill an exemption from publication of the name of the executor or administrator who was a beneficiary, the result would be that it would be precisely in the case when publication might have given some protection that the protection would be taken away—that is, the protection of the aged testator against the evilly disposed person. We are not dealing here with the beneficiary, because we are dealing with a class of beneficiary who ought not to be protected.
This is not a new development. There are cases to be found in the law courts, going back over the centuries, where executors have brought undue influence to bear on testators to have dispositions made in their own favour; so much so, that a whole body of case law has developed on the subject. The latest is the Wintle case, which was decided in the House of Lords recently. It is apparent from that and other cases that the law in its wisdom has found it necessary to scrutinise most carefully any will which makes a substantial bequest to the executor, particularly in a case where the executor is also the legal adviser of the testator. Indeed, in one old case the phrase was used that those circumstances should "excite the jealousy of the court." That was the emotion which was sup- posed to be aroused in the court when it heard of these things.
There is no doubt that the publication of large bequests to executors in such circumstances may well excite the jealousy of other persons, and it is a perfectly proper anxiety, which may lead to action being taken to have the will set aside to prevent a serious injustice. If, however, these words were written into the Bill, they would afford a protection of that kind to an evilly-minded person. So, for my part, even if the first Amendment is carried, I sincerely hope that the second Amendment will not be accepted. For the reasons I have given, unless we hear a better explanation of the reasons for the first Amendment, I would be disposed to oppose it.
I will address myself to the first Amendment only because I hope that it will be defeated and then we need not consider the second one.
The only argument advanced so far in favour of the first Amendment is that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot), who said that, in any event, no one will publish particulars of a will, or the name of the executor, because there will not be publication, and should the executor or administrator desire to trace the relatives, they can under Clause 1 (3) advertise in the newspapers, so that right is preserved to them.
There are circumstances which can easily be imagined in which persons other than the executor or administrator might well desire to draw the attention of the public to the fact that the will exists, in an effort to discover whether they can obtain any information about the making of it. Therefore, if such a person desired to give publicity to the existence of such a will, it would be essential that particulars of the will giving the name of the person, the date of the will and the name of the person appointed as executor in England should be published, so that if an attack were made on that executor he could be identified. If he were the kind of person to whom the hon. Gentleman referred as being one who had procured the making of the will in his favour, and had made himself the executor, that would be just the occasion on which it should be possible for such facts to be published in the newspapers.
This subsection envisages that there are certain circumstances in which the fact that the will existed should be disclosed, though not the details of the personal bequests or the amount of those bequests. That is why it is necessary to identify the will, to show what is stated in it and who is the executor. That is why it is not desirable that the words proposed by this Amendment to be left out should be deleted.
The two Amendments were discussed together and if the first Amendment had been defeated the second could have been put, but, as the first Amendment has been carried and these words have been left out, does not the second Amendment fall automatically because the words in that Amendment were only to qualify the words which now have been left out?
I beg to move, in line 11, after "to", to insert:
a bequest of a work of art or literature or of the copyright in any such work or to".
As you say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this Amendment might be discussed with the following Amendment in my name, in line 11, after "to" to insert:
a bequest of any article or collection of articles the disposition of which may be of interest to any section of the public by reason of its intrinsic value or of its historical, artistic. or local associations or to".
If necessary, could they be voted upon separately?
The effect of the first Amendment would be to permit any particulars to be published of
a bequest of a work of art or literature".
If the second Amendment were also accepted, particulars could be published of
a bequest of any article or collection of articles the disposition of which may be of interest to any section of the public by reason of its intrinsic value or of its historical, artistic, or local associations".
I agree that these two Amendments go closely together. The reason I divided them was that I thought my hon. Friends and the House might conceivably think differently about the specific case of a work of art or literature and the more general terms in the second Amendment. If that were so, I did not want to risk losing half a loaf in the effort to obtain more. I hope that it will not he necessary to face that problem and that my hon. Friend will feel able to accept both these Amendments.
I think that the Amendments speak for themselves. They are based on an argument which I am sure will be accepted by both sides of the House and by all hon. Members. It is that there are certain forms of property which, although they may be privately-owned, are, nevertheless, property in which the public has a legitimate interest and, therefore, a right to information. There are still a great many houses in which there are valuable, sometimes unique, collections of pictures, furniture, libraries and so on, which are privately-owned. I am in favour of that and not at all in favour of the idea that everything of this kind which has a national value and is of interest to the public as a whole should find its way into public museums.
Houses in which these treasures remain are one of the features of this country which we shall do well to preserve. I am sure all my hon. Friends would agree with me in that. One of the essential conditions of the private ownership of great works of art or great collections of silver, furniture or books is that the owners, in a real measure, regard themselves as trustees for the public of treasures in which the public as a whole has an interest.
Therefore, the public has a legitimate interest in what might happen to those articles when the owner dies and bequeaths them in his will. In many cases, no doubt, they pass as heirlooms and are not within the control of the individual under his will, but that certainly is not the case in every instance. It is with those instances in which he may have within his power the disposition of treasures of this kind that these Amendments are designed to deal. I do not want to put the case on the basis of articles which may be of interest to the public as a whole because of their character or value. There are many cases in which same limited section of the community may have a perfectly legitimate interest and a right for information.
I shall give one or two instances of the sort of things these Amendments are designed to cover. I have not made any sort of systematic research. I have not looked into the kind of newspapers which, in discussion on various stages of our debates on the Bill, have been accused of wounding private feelings by unnecessary intrusion into private matters. During the last two or three weeks I have noted in The Times, which I read at breakfast every morning, some items which illustrate and justify the purpose of these Amendments.
Almost every day The Times gives a paragraph headed "Wills and Bequests", or "Latest Wills". In the examples I have with me, it gives brief statistics of recent wills and picks out for mention items it considers to be of interest, without any desire for scandal or to build up some artificial story which could be wounding to people. It gives facts which the news editor of The Times considers should be published. Presumably, they are obtained from an agency such as the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) mentioned, and they are items of genuine interest to some of the readers of the newspaper.
Looking at just a few of the cases reported in The Times in the last week or two, I see that on 21st February there was a reference to a lady who left £45,000 gross—not very much—and who left her picture the "Magnificat," by Botticelli, as a bequest under her will. I will not mention the names in these cases unless I am particularly asked to do, although they have been published. I do not know what was the value of this picture, and I may add that it is not a case which would justify my argument because the bequest was made to the Newcastle Corporation and presumably, therefore, under the Bill it would have been permissible to mention it. If it were in her free disposition, as presumably it was, it might equally well have been left to a private individual, however, and in that case it would become illegal under the Bill for The Times to mention the bequest, if, for any other reason, she included in her will a request that the details should not be published.
I do not think that anyone can question that the disposition under a will of a picture by Botticelli is a matter of legitimate interest to considerable sections of the public, and to suggest that the newspapers of the country should be prohibited from mentioning such a bequest appears to me ridiculous. In view of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has put his name at the top of some other Amendments which have been put down to the Bill, I am disappointed that he has not put his name at the top of these two Amendments. Had he done so, he would have been able to move them himself, and I am sure that he could have done so very much better than I.
I will proceed with one or two examples, from items which could be of interest to the public concerning the disposition of some great picture or some great collection of pictures or some library or some famous collection of manuscripts to items which are not of that character but which, nevertheless, it is equally justifiable, I think, for newspapers to mention. While speaking of pictures, perhaps I may recall that on Second Reading of the previous Bill, two years ago, I referred to certain portraits which an ex-member of a famous regiment had bequeathed to the then commanding officer of the regiment.
Although that may not be a matter of general public interest, it is a matter of considerable interest to a limited number of people, perhaps scattered over the country and even abroad. Ex-members of that regiment would be interested to be told that certain portraits which had been collected of former commanding officers of the regiment had been bequeathed to then commanding officer so that they could be shown in the mess room for all time.
I have another case to mention from The Times of 1st April. I hope that the date is in no way significant. It is an item which The Times has picked out for mention in connection with the will of lady who left a small estate of gross value £7,586, net £7,374, duty paid £221. Those are the basic figures which The Times gives, and although it would be out of order on this Amendment I should be prepared to argue, if the opportunity arose, that it is right and reasonable that those bare statistics should be published by a newspaper of any will.
In this will The Times picked out for mention the fact that this lady left
the teaset given to my mother by Queen Victoria
to her daughter Antoinette. Against the background of the matters which we are discussing that may sound relatively trivial, but I hope that the House will not take that view of it. If the news editor of The Times picks out such an item as being worthy of publication, we may reasonably conclude that he knows what he is doing and has good reason for doing it. He does not do it for any reasons of scandal or of seeking to promote the sale of his paper. He will certainly not acquire additional readers by publishing such an item. He publishes it for the reason that he knows from his experience that somewhere in the
country, or possibly in other countries, there are a few people to whom that simple item of news may well be the most interesting and most important in the paper that day.
Anyone who has had the advantage, which I have had, of being brought up in a large family with widespread connections, and especially where there were any Irish connections, can well understand the implications of the publication of such an item. When the old lady passes on there are a number of people all over the world who are interested in knowing not the amount of the estate—in this case it is only £7,000, which in itself is of no particular significance—but what happened to the famous teaset which as children they knew was the treasured item in the household, the famous teaset often referred to as "presented to my mother by Queen Victoria".
If the news editor of The Times, rightly or wrongly, thinks it of sufficient interest to some of his readers to pick out that item to mention, why should we challenge his judgment and why should the House be asked to say that it should be made illegal for him to publish little items of news of that sort? I suggest that it is a matter which the House can well leave to the discretion of The Times rather than seek to impose censorship.
I have referred in discussing these two Amendments to articles such as pictures, collections, libraries and manuscripts and the interest of the general public, or it may be only a limited section of the public, in knowing what happens to these articles when the owner of them dies and they are bequeathed under a will.
There is also mentioned in the first Amendment the copyright in any work of art or literature. That also is a matter which we ought to consider. Where copyrights pass under a will, it is of considerable interest and importance that some means should be available to the public or to those who may be interested in the disposition of the copyright for finding where they have gone.
It is not a sufficient answer to this to say that anybody can go to Somerset House, pay 1s. and obtain the information. The interested people may be a long way from Somerset House. They may not be accustomed to the kind of procedures that have to be followed to obtain information of this kind. Unless the Press is allowed to draw attention to these matters, these people may not even become aware of the death that has caused a disposition of these rights.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has provided in his Bill that bequests to a charity or to a public authority may still be published, I do not know why he could not have made some provision for bequests of the kind that I am now referring to, which have nothing to do with the amount of a person's estate, the beneficiaries or the financial provisions of the will. They are concerned solely with the disposition of articles of genuine interest, either to the public as a whole or to some specific group of members of the public.
Although I am formally moving only the first Amendment, I hope that my hon. Friend, although he has not taken the opportunity of putting his name to the Amendments, will be able to say that he can and will accept them.
I beg to second the Amendment, which has been so fully and ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop).
It is quite clear, and it will be accepted by everybody, that certain works of art or of literature, though they belong—and we all acknowledge that they belong—to private persons, are held by those private persons as it were on trust for the country as a whole. I know that some people think that all such works should be held by the country and be freely accessible. I do not go anywhere near as far as that, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central that it is good and right that some of these works of art should still remain in private hands.
But I agree also with the thesis behind the Amendment that disposal of such works is very much a matter of public concern and therefore it is right that no hindrance or bar of any kind should be placed on the general public knowing where they are and who has them at any particular moment. The Bill, as at present drafted, means that if any work of art—my hon. Friend cited the case of a Botticelli "Magnificat"—were to change hands after the publication of the Bill it might even go outside the country and the general public would not know anything about it. That is of some concern to everybody.
May I point out that a work of art could go outside this country now if the owner were to sell it? He need not say anything about it and no one would know anything about it.
My hon. Friend is quite wrong. It could not go outside this country now without anybody knowing anything about it, even if it were bequeathed under a will, because of the export restrictions upon works of art.
The point is that a work of art can change hands and go out of the country. If that happened now, it would be done in nearly every case—I cannot conceive of a case in which it would not be done in this way—at a public sale where the details of the auction or however it changed hands were published, because such sales are held at places like Christies or Sothebys. If a work is bequeathed under a will, I know of very few cases where there have been private transactions of this kind.
Would my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk) care to comment on the position when it is done by way of gift, which very frequently happens, in which case there certainly would not be any publicity during the lifetime of the testator or afterwards?
Let us leave aside the work going out of the country. If the work were given during the lifetime of the donor, there would be no publicity. If it were given within five years of his death, the question of Estate Duty might arise on the gross estate. That would not mean that the actual fact of the gift could be publicised unless those concerned wished it.
That is not a correct statement of the position. The newspapers are perfectly free to publicise in any way they want the fact that a gift has been made by one person to another. There is no kind of restriction or prohibition upon that. If their reporters discover that a gift of a valuable work, say a Botticelli painting, has been made, whether outside or inside the country, they can publish it. There is no statutory prohibition upon that. I cannot see the parallel.
I think that the interruption of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) was levelled more at me than at my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk). There is no legal bar upon it, but publication need not take place regarding a gift if it is the wish of the donor and of the recipient. If the terms of the gift provide that they do not wish publicity, there is no method at present by which newspapers can extract that information, if it is withheld from them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) speaks wildly when he says that there is no way by which the newspapers can obtain the information. Newspapers are constantly obtaining information which people do not want published. Sometimes it is a good thing. Sometimes it is a bad thing. In this case I happen to think that it would be a rather good thing.
As the hon. Member for Lewisham, North has rightly pointed out, if a picture were given from A to B and a newspaper discovered that and published it, provided that the newspaper made no misstatement of fact or cast no aspersions upon it, there is no legal redress by anybody.
For the first time, the principle is being introduced that these works, which are of public concern and interest, can be transferred from one owner to another owner and the newspapers cannot and dare not publish the news, and if they publish they will be subject to the penalties stated in the Bill.
That is a very serious innovation and one which must be justified on some ground or other. So far we have had very little justification for the Bill as a whole. I acknowledge that as regards money a faint case can be made out. Where works of art of national importance are involved, a very special case must be made before the House should willingly consent to an absolute ban for twenty-five years on publication of the whereabouts of pictures which are the concern of all of us.
For that reason, I warmly welcome the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central and I very much hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
One of the strongest points in favour of the Bill was raised on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). It was that it would do a great deal to stop the prying of the Press into the private lives of, perhaps, little people living in the back streets of our cities who were left a quite insignificant sum of money—a sum which, by its very smallness, indicated that the person leaving the money held the legatee in some sort of disfavour.
As my hon. Friend said, it is quite wrong that people getting such a tiny benefit should be hounded by the newspapers. My hon. Friend put that point with some strength but, having listened to the speeches of the hon. Members for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) and for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), and having read the Amendment. I can see absolutely no objection to it, because it does not give anybody the opportunity to pry into anybody else's private life or to subject them to a sort of behaviour referred to by my hon. Friend.
Those of us who rose early enough this morning, heard on the radio that £500,000 was left some time ago to the British Museum by someone living in Switzerland. That was a piece of news. The British public are entitled to know who left the money, to what purpose the British Museum put it. and so on. I am well aware that, under the terms of the Bill. if a similar sum were left to the British Museum it would be permissible for that fact to be published, but there are other analogous things that the British public are entitled to know.
One result of the Welfare State, so ably introduced into this country by the party to which I have the honour to belong, is that the ordinary people now have more than a nodding acquaintance with a great many large and magnificent buildings, and a great number of pictures, works of art and objets d'art. Every week throughout each summer they fork out their half-crowns, put them into a ducal hand and are guided over the great ancestral home. They therefore have an interest in what is going on there. Whatever happens to that building is then a matter of public interest.
If there is one obligation that our Press possesses above all else, it is the obligation to publish news. The interest in these buildings means that they have a great news value, and if a duke, on being called to his fathers, wills his property away, the people who have some acquaintance with that property ought to know to whom it has been left, or should know its intrinsic value. The Bill would prevent them from having that knowledge.
These buildings are largely part of our heritage. What happens to Blenheim, what happens to Chatsworth, what happens to Longleat, affects not only those who temporarily own them but every single person in the country; and is particularly of interest to those living on the estates or in the vicinity, and to those who have in the past visited and enjoyed the splendours that those buildings represent. It is a complete negation of the liberty of the Press to prevent it from performing its obligation to tell its readers exactly what has happened to property of such national public interest.
There is also the question of copyright. When Mr. George Bernard Shaw left the copyrights in his plays to the Authors Society they were, intrinsically, worth a huge sum of money. I believe that it was his wish that the value of the copyrights should be used to tinker with the alphabet—a wish now upset by law. Is it not the concern, and the very proper and legitimate interest of those who have seen Shaw's plays, or who have read his plays and prefaces, to know what he did with the copyrights? Indeed, a certain technical point arises here, too. Copyrights die, and the works come into the public domain. We should know to whom copyrights are bequeathed in this fashion.
This is not merely a question of the possessions of people who are very much in the public eye. The hon. Member for Harrow, Central, spoke of people who may own one particular object which is of very considerable importance.
I know of a man who, the other day, with great shrewdness bought one of Constable's paintings for a few guineas. He was able to do so because he knows a good deal about that painter's work and could distinguish from the painting of the sky that it was a painting by Constable over which another picture had been painted.
This is a very important picture to have. The disposition of the paintings of Constable is of some considerable interest, if not to the general totality of the public, certainly to art lovers, art students, art critics, and so on. It may be a comparatively small circle, but it is an important one. When we have a painting of such imperishable interest and value as this, why should it be decided that people ought not to know to whom it has been left?
The real danger of the Bill is that it interferes with the right of the people to know what they are entitled to know. I am not asking that anybody should pry into other people's private lives. We on this side have argued over and over again that there has been an abuse of the privileges of the Press in its prying into things—
Perhaps my hon. Friend will answer something that arises from that, in relation to works of literature. I suppose that any of the writings of the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) might be regarded as works of literature. Would it not be better to provide some qualification to that definition to safeguard reference to all such writings, which might be bequeathed to the hon. Member's family?
If it were a work by the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) it would, I am sure, be imperishable literature—golden literature, at any rate—so one knows that anything he left would have a good deal of public interest—
I am much flattered by the attention suddenly concentrated upon me. I can only say that if there were ever to be any great value in my manuscripts it would be if there were a shortage of paper, when they could be sold by the ton. I am sure that they would have little value otherwise.
The hon. Member belittles himself. I am sure that we all await his memoirs with bated breath, and hope that they will be published long before his demise.
To answer the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), I would accept as literature, broadly speaking, anything that had been published, though that, as the House will appreciate, is a snap reply. If I had a Gothenburg Bible, I would regard it as a great literary work. If I had the manuscript of a work by Bernard Shaw, for example, I would regard that as a great literary work. If I had the manuscript of a work by Marie Corelli, I would not bother to leave it to anybody. I think that we could easily define what constitutes a literary work and what constitutes a painting.
Nor need we argue about whether the painting be good or bad for it to be regarded as a work of art. Contemporary judgments differ. What is accepted as a work of art is clearly definable. If necessary, it could be based on a valuation. We could say that anything over the value of, say, £5 or £10 would, for the purposes of this Bill only, constitute a work of art.
As I was saying, we on this side have made considerable complaints about the interference by the Press in the private lives of people who, for some reason or other, have been dragged into the news. This Clause would not empower the Press to do that. It would enable the Press and broadcasting and television authorities—both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A.—to make comments on matters which are of legitimate public interest and which, therefore, are well within their terms of operation. It is for that reason, and because I believe that this Amendment improves what at the moment is a confused and not very good Bill, that I give the Amendment my support.
I have considerable sympathy with the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop). We all like to see a work of art, whether a piece of furniture or a collection of pictures or books, retained in private hands. To that extent, I am 100 per cent. with my hon. Friends.
I also have considerable sympathy with the argument used by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). If I thought this Amendment really achieved what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central set out to achieve, I would support it, but I am in one difficulty. The Amendment is drawn too widely. I beg my hon. Friend to believe that this is a perfectly genuine objection and that I am not just being tiresome.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. That is about the only compliment that he has ever paid me.
The Amendment as at present drafted is drawn too widely. Who defines what is a work of art or a work of literature? Who defines its intrinsic or historic value? How is the dividing line drawn? If the matter were to be left to the judgment of the art correspondent of The Times I would be perfectly happy, but that is not to be the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central mentioned a picture by Botticelli. Let us suppose that every picture in the United Kingdom painted by Botticelli is of sufficient artistic importance that the public ought to know where it is. I give that argument to my hon. Friend. I know that he likes pictures, and so do I. Would my hon. Friend apply the same principle to all pictures painted by Canaletto? Would he say that all Canalettos are of such artistic merit that the public ought to know where they are?
Surely my hon. Friend realises that I was not basing my argument upon the intrinsic value of a picture. May I cite as another illustration the case of a portrait, I believe of the Duke of Cambridge, which was bequeathed to the commanding officer of a certain regiment? That picture may be worthless as a picture, but it was of interest to the regiment. That bequest should have been published.
I think that that would anyway have been excluded from the Bill as a charitable bequest. I think my hon. Friend must face the difficulty which I have encountered, namely, that I do not know where the line is to be drawn. Who defines, when looking through a list of bequests, what is or is not of intrinsic historical or artistic value?
The hon. Gentleman says that he is in some difficulty over this question of intrinsic value. The Inland Revenue is able to put a value on everything that a man leaves. Surely, if the Inland Revenue put a certain value on a picture, say, £5,000, that is good enough for the purpose of this Amendment. There is an intrinsic value.
But, as the hon. Member surely knows, the publication of a will precedes the detailed valuation. Sometimes valuations are not made until two or three years later. What is the editor of a newspaper to do? Is he to telephone the testator's solicitor and ask for a valuation, pointing out that if the probate valuation is £5,025 he can publish it but if it is £4,095 he cannot?
Major Hicks Beach:
My hon. Friend says that valuations are sometimes not settled for some years, and that it is only necessary to put in an estimated value. I am a little surprised at my hon. Friend's ignorance. The value is estimated and is settled with the district valuer later.
I am not quite so ignorant as all that. If an estimated value is put in, it may vary in the next two or three years by as much as 50 per cent. or 60 per cent.
The hon. Member for Deptford was talking about bequests made in respect of royalties from books and in respect of copyright. I am not an expert on this matter. How does one decide whether the royalties from a book are of sufficient value to be included? What is the value of a piece of literature? Is it the amount of public attention which it attracts? Is it its literary merit? I do not know how the line is to be drawn.
Will the hon. Gentleman, who is placing great emphasis on this point, say in what respect any of these admittedly difficult issues to which he has referred are less justiciable, less appropriately submitted to Her Majesty's judges than, for example, the issues of policy for which his own Government have made the Restrictive Practices Court responsible?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It was the hon. Member for Deptford who brought in the financial consideration, and not I. The financial test is probably the worst yardstick of all. I do not think it is always possible to judge a work of art—a picture or a piece of furniture or whatever it may be—solely by a nominal value which may be placed upon it. I am with my hon. Friend on that.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford also referred to the news on the B.B.C. that someone had left £500,000 to the British Museum. He thought that that was a legitimate item of news. I agree. It would not be in any way restricted by the Bill. Fears on that score, I think, are groundless.
My objection to the Amendment which has been moved and seconded by my hon. Friends is that, in certain cases, the fact that a collection of pictures has been left to a particular individual, perhaps to a child who has another six or seven years of minority to run, might very well attract precisely the publicity that the Bill seeks to prevent, and to that extent very largely destroy the whole purpose of the Bill which my hon. Friends and I are seeking to bring in.
I have one final word to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central. I cannot conceive that anyone who includes in his will works of art or literature in the sense which my hon. Friend means could normally have any objection to its publication. If he specifically states in his will, as this Bill allows him to do, that he does not want the contents published, and if that includes works of art, the testator would clearly have some very strong reasons for excluding from publication in his will those works of art.
If that were the case, I would respect the right of any individual to withhold the publication of any items in his will for any reason which he might have, whether right or wrong. That is really my objection to the Amendment.
I hope that we shall have the benefit of the assistance of the learned Solicitor-General on the interesting legal points which have been raised by the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe). He suddenly developed, in the last few moments of his interesting contribution to our debate, a somewhat different line of argument. Until then, I understood him to be in sympathy with the Amendment and, indeed, he went so far as to say that if he thought that it would achieve the result which the hon. Member who moved it had wanted, he would vote for it. I find that a little difficult to reconcile with his closing words, but it is my recollection that that is what he said.
Until that moment the hon. Member had been basing his arguments as to why he thought it would not achieve the purpose which the hon. Member who moved the Amendment wanted to achieve on the grounds that it was impossible for anyone to draw the line. He elaborated those difficulties by instancing cases of works of art and he asked the question rhetorically: who could say whether or not a particular work was a work of art? He accepted that all works by Botticelli were, and he was prepared to accept that all works by Caneletto were. He then confronted the House with the conundrum about works of art by a pupil called Samuel Scott. That left the House severely silenced.
For the sake of argument, I said that I would agree that Canelettos were, although I would not personally take that view—there are too many very doubtful Canalettos knocking about.
I thought that I detected a note of doubt in the hon. Member's voice concerning Canaletto. I think that for purposes of his argument he was prepared to accept it and that only to bring home his Parthian shot afterwards did he bring in Mr. Samuel Scott. Whether some hon. Members, like myself, who are not very familiar with those works and are much better acquainted with the work of Botticelli find it difficult to make up their minds, I know not; at any rate, they were silenced.
But surely that is not the point. In respect of any matter of this kind, where we in our wisdom lay down the law that something or other would be an offence, we can find a borderline case and say that it is difficult to decide on which side of the borderline a particular instance falls. It is very fortunate that that should be so. Otherwise, I and other hon. Members who belong to the legal profession would find it difficult to earn our living. It is in determining these matters that the courts are kept busy.
The hon. Member did not like the example given by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hil (Mr. A. J. Irvine) referring to the Restrictive Practices Court and asked him to compare like with like. Rather tentatively, I will seek to do so, and I draw for an example upon an Amendment moved by the Solicitor-General in an interesting Committee we had upstairs on the Obscene Publications Bill.
The Solicitor-General moved an Amendment suggesting that it should be a defence to a charge of publishing an obscene publication to show that publication of the work was for the public good by reason of the fact that it was in the interest of science, literature, art or other questions of public concern. Exactly the same question as has been posed by the hon. Member for Windsor can be posed in relation to that defence concerning a particular work. A particular work which was on everyone's lips in Committee upstairs was "Lolita". There are many other examples with which hon. Members who have followed the discussion on the Obscene Publications Bill will be familiar. Whether the publication of any work of that kind is in the interests of literature or, in the case of a picture, in the interests of art, obviously might be a difficult question to decide in a borderline case. That is not, however, a reason for rejecting the Amendment or rejecting the setting up of a defence of that kind in that Bill.
Here is an example which is comparing like with like. The fact that there are difficult borderline cases is in no way an argument against the Amendment which we are discussing. We are here dealing with a matter of public interest which is comparable to the interest shown in charitable bequests. An exception has been made in the Bill about charitable bequests so that even if a testator decides to leave a vast fortune to the cats' and dogs' home, or whatever the charity is, and even though he expresses in the will a wish that that bequest is not to be published, nevertheless, if the Bill is passed and becomes law, the newspapers will be allowed to publish it in spite of the declared wish to the contrary of the testator.
Why should that be? Why do the promoters of the Bill allow that exception to be made? It is presumably because they consider that the public interest in such a case of a charity should overrule the wish of the testator. I suggest that on that point they are quite right. I do not like the Bill at all, but if we are to have it, clearly that is a right principle. If it is a right principle in relation to charitable bequests, surely, equally, it is a right principle in relation to works of art or literature or historical association, and so on, which, again, are in the public interest.
The hon. Member was a little rash in that intervention, which caused merriment, even on the part of his right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. If there is one phrase more than another which serves to keep lawyers alive it is the phrase "charitable bequest" One of the most difficult things to determine in the law is whether a particular bequest is a charitable bequest. Every year, I suppose, there are cases which go right up to the House of Lords to determine that question.
We shall have an opportunity, perhaps, of considering the matter a little further in relation to the next Amendment, if it is called. I assure the hon. Member, however, that that is an exceedingly difficult matter to decide and that he cannot draw any support or encouragement for his argument from the fact that there is an inclusion in the Bill of an exception relating to charitable bequests.
The hon. Member avoided my hon. Friend's question. Can he give us the benefit of his great legal knowledge by telling somebody who has no knowledge of the legal profession what is his idea of a work of art?
It would not be of the slightest relevance for any court which had to decide the matter to know my view of what was a work of art. Even if I were briefed in the case my personal opinion would be of no relevance. The only lawyer in the court whose opinion on that subject would be of any importance would be the learned judge. Nobody else's would matter. Whether a bequest was a work of art is something which the court would have to decide with the assistance of such expert witnesses as might be called before the court on the subject. In such a case, either party to the proceedings would be allowed to call as expert witnesses persons who had, through their experience, special knowledge of artistic works and who would then be able to tell the court whether, in their view, a particular work was a work of art and the reasons why they held that view.
The hon. Member appears to be directing all his remarks towards the first of the two Amendments dealing with works of art. Is that because he is coming to the second one later? So far, nothing that the hon. Member has said gives any reason to suppose that he supports the second Amendment. The purport of his argument appears to be in favour of the first and against the second Amendment.
I am trying to deal so fully with interventions that I have had no opportunity yet to come to the second Amendment. I am, however, encouraged by the fact that I appear to have the interest of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and that he appears to be interested to know my views on the second Amendment.
I do not think that the Amendments themselves are contradictory. They overlap. Clearly, many works of art would be articles which were of interest to a section of the public by reason of their intrinsic or artistic value. Clearly, examples could overlap. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any work of art properly so called which would not fall within the category of the second Amendment. I prefer the second Amendment, although I do not think that there is any harm in the first, because it explicity states the principle which should justify the publication, namely, the fact that the disposition of the article or collection of articles is something of public interest.
I was seeking to explain why I thought the second Amendment was better than the first, although I do not think there would be any harm in both of them being passed. They would overlap. My own view is that the second Amendment is preferable because it draws attention to the public interest. Also, it goes a little wider in that it deals not only with works of artistic or literary merit but with works which have historical or local associations. These and their disposition can be a matter of very great interest locally. Without wasting the time of the House by enumerating examples, one can well imagine many objects with a strong local association and of strong local interest so that when the owner of them dies and bequeaths them to someone else in the locality the local Press would be well pleased to be able to publish that bequest. It would be a matter of considerable local interest to do so.
In those circumstances, irrespective of the intention of the testator, the Press should be allowed to publish and the public should be allowed to have that information in exactly the same way as they would be allowed it in the case of a charitable bequest if the Bill becomes law.
I share his neutrality, but I am anxious to know what we are asked to vote about. I have taken the luxury of hearing the debate in order to be better advised on how I should vote on the Amendments. I have heard the arguments for the Amendments, which I think are clear enough, but I think that they are unrelated to the Amendments themselves. I find the greatest difficulty in knowing what a work of art or, in particular, what a work of literature is. On reading them, I thought that the purpose of the Amendments was to provide a guide to burglars. On the merits, they have this disadvantage, too, that if other bequests are not revealed a misleading impression can be created. A child may receive a bequest of a Botticelli, but other bequests may be made to other children and a wrong impression may be created if this is the only bequest revealed.
I assume from the debate that the main purpose of the Amendments is to wreck the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—or to express disapproval of the Bill. As worded, they present us with very real difficulty. It is no good talking about works of art in relation to valuations for this purpose. This is a decision which has to be taken at the time.
What is a work of art? I should have thought that this would be extremely difficult for anyone to define in the circumstances of the Bill. As I have said, it would be extremely difficult for works of literature. Again, it might create quite wrong impressions if particular bequests were made, for quite proper purposes, by an author. It might put some people to whom such bequests were made in an invidious position if this were provided as the only exception. I am not discussing the general merits behind the Bill and the opposition to it.
The second and alternative Amendment I concede at once recognises, in effect, the objections I make to the first Amendment. It represents an endeavour to reformulate the exception in more understandable terms. But again, what on earth does "any section of the public" mean? I should have thought that it would be the easiest thing in the world to prove that some disposition may be of interest to any section of the public. I cannot think of any disposition—it is only "may be"—'which would not come under the umbrella of
may be of interest to any section of the public".
To pursue the Amendment a little further —by reason of what? The Amendment says
by reason of its intrinsic value".
Intrinsic value means just value. That is all. I cannot imagine any bequest of any specific chattel which would be outside the ambit of the proposed Amendment.
I hope, therefore, that the Solicitor-General will rise, with patent neutrality, and tell us quite frankly how he sees the effect of the Amendments, or either of them. It would certainly help me, speaking as someone who hitherto has been equally neutral, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could advise the House upon that matter. I do not know whether we can have an assurance from the promoter of the Bill that, if he accepts the general purpose of the Amendment, he will ensure that in another place he will see that more appropriate Amendments are inserted.
A dark suspicion has, for the first time this day, entered my mind. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) may be a very skilled fisherman, a caster of flies, but he was going a little far when he rose and said that he wanted some guidance about what to do on this Amendment and then made the speech which he did. I speak for this purpose only as the Government spokesman. As the Government do not wish to express any view about this Amendment in any way, I am not in a strong position to assist the House.
I will venture to summarise the discussion by saying that, of course, the destination to which valuable works of art go is a matter of great public interest, and it would be a disaster if they became lost to sight through some lack of information as to where they had gone. On the other hand, I should think it would be highly embarrassing to be a magistrate charged with the duty of deciding aye or no whether a criminal offence was committed when the criterion was governed by the vague factors contained in these Amendments. Such help I give, Mr. Speaker.
There has been a great deal of latitude and, I imagine, longitude in the debate which has taken place so far. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I should like your guidance in allowing me to make a speech which I thought about this morning and which may not strictly be apropos the Amendments. If I may be allowed to read the opening paragraph, I shall probably finish much earlier than I should otherwise.
Hon. Members who read the leader column of the Daily Express this morning will have learned that we should be discussing a "foolish" Bill in the House today. That made me feel very sad this morning, but to some extent the prophecy, if not the spirit, of the Daily Express leader has turned out to be fairly accurate. The Bill certainly does not lack good intention, but it perhaps lacks a little of the skill of the expert.
Under the heading "Talking Point", there was this:
Never mind about happiness. Do your duty.
It is possible to do one's duty and be happy, but apparently the Daily Express thinks that to do one's duty is to do away with happiness. However, I am extremely fond of that newspaper—from time to time. I find myself ready to take the advice of his Lordship and his newspaper.
It is too bad that in this Bill we have wandered too far from the point we all want. If we could have confined the debate, and the Bill, perhaps, to the publication of wills, that would have been an objective we might have attained.
Every day one picks up a morning or evening newspaper and sees the little story of somebody who has died leaving an estate of £12,000, £18,000, or £6,000, and there it is. The person concerned has worked hard to establish a little position in his community and suddenly the covering is off and people say, "Ah, there he is". If a man dies and leaves £12,000 to his widow and children, I do not see what business it is of ours. It is, after all, part of the struggle of life. People try to create a good impression.
I understood, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you would give me unusual latitude.
I want to add another phrase or two to the question of publication. This is rather good. In the theatre, the fourth wall is done away with and, by its abolition, we are able to see the failure and foibles, the comedy and tragedy, of the human story. That, however, is the theatre which, by its nature, is pretence. Why should the act of death in the world of reality resemble the fourth wall?
No, it is mine, although it may become the Daily Express.
Why should the curtain be torn down so that not you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but everybody else can peer through the window? That is the effect of the Clause. Quite apart from the humour, with which I am delighted, it is cruel and true. We should have concentrated more on that. If the Daily Express—this is the last time I shall mention it—believes in publishing wills, why should we not publish the incomes of people while they are alive?
Obviously, you have never edited a newspaper. Sir. Many newspapers are works of art. However, you have been unusually patient, but it seems, to come back to the only logical point I want to put to you, that if we had maintained the central idea of the abolition of the publication of wills that would have been a valuable contribution to the life of the country. It is rather a pity that we have gone into art galleries, highways and byways, and even Fleet Street. As the Bill is apparently not going through, I will give it my strong support.
Like many other hon. Members present, I was deeply touched by the speech of the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter). There was one justification for his speech. He appeared on the scene as a late stage in our deliberations and it has been most unfortunate that we have not had the advantage of his advice earlier. Perhaps what he said was relevant to the extent that his remarks have now been preserved for posterity and may be regarded by future generations as a work of art, and enjoyed accordingly.
It was a little difficult to follow his argument, but he was not alone because the Bill is a jumble of illogicalities and it is therefore not surprising that an hon. Member like him, with his usually clear and analytical brain, should find himself arguing one way and deciding to act in another. That is the dilemma in which many of us have been placed all along. I hope that before we pass the Amendment we shall have further contributions from both sides of the House from those hon. Members who might be able to define a work of art and to what extent anything is of interest to anybody else.
It seems to me that that would open a subject which could be fruitfully discussed. We have few opportunities on the floor of the House to discuss artistic problems. The Amendment provides that opportunity. One way out of the difficulty of defining a work of art might be to refer questions of this kind to the Fine Art Commission, a body consisting of people of the highest possible repute and whose advice is treated with the utmost respect by Government Departments. It surprises me that neither the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) nor the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) saw fit to include a reference to the Fine Art Commission, whose opinion would be of the utmost value in helping us to decide on the practicability of the Amendment.
It is not my intention to delay proceedings this afternoon. Some hon. Members want to get on with the Bill, with all its faults. There are other Amendments which will require our attention and which are of even greater importance than this. I was wondering whether the hon. Member for Harrow, Central, having heard the various criticisms and other remarks made about his Amendment, would like to give the House the benefit of his summing up on the Amendment which he has so thoughtfully introduced on Report.
I hope that, as possibly there are other hon. Members besides the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) who cannot make up their minds about it, we may have the opportunity of listening to a wise and final word from the hon. Member for Harrow, Central before deciding whether or not to divide on the Amendment.
I can only respond to the invitation of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) by leave of the House. In any case I do not intend to take up any more time on the matter, but simply to reply to the point that has been put to me.
I recognise the difficulty about defining what is a work of art or literature, and it may be that the House may feel that the difficulty is too great. I do not
know. I only wish to emphasise the point which I made. I hope the House realises that it was not the intention in this Amendment to describe a work of art or literature in qualitative terms at all, that is to say, not to suggest that the matter should be decided by what in the last resort may be the financial value of such a work.
I was much impressed by what was said by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) on these matters. He thought that the second of the two Amendments was probably the better one to give effect to what was in my mind when I put down these Amendments, in that it defines the test in terms of a principle, namely, that the test should be something which is of interest to any section of the public by reason of its intrinsic value or historical, artistic or local associations.
Nothing that has been said in the debate changes my view that a newspaper ought not to be prohibited from publishing particulars of any bequest of that kind. Inasmuch as the first Amendment would probably be embraced by the terms of the second, I would be quite content, if that were what the House felt, to withdraw the first Amendment and to press the second Amendment. I am entirely in the hands of the House, and there I must leave the matter.
Major Hicks Beach:
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, after "a" to insert:
bequest which the person so printing or publishing the particulars has reason to believe is a".
The purpose of this Amendment is to overcome a real difficulty over the definition of charities. There might be a prosecution under the provisions of this Bill, the defence to which was that the bequest, of which particulars have been published, was a charity. Therefore, we would reach the condition where the point at issue before the court was whether or not the bequest was a charitable one. On this point, during the Committe stage of the Bill an Amendment was moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine). who drew the attention of hon. Members to the difficulty of defining a charity, which has been shown by decisions of the courts over many years.
All I am seeking to do by this Amendment is to ensure that it will be a defence to a prosecution under the Bill where the person prosecuted can show that he had reasonable ground for believing that the bequest, particulars of which were published, was charitable. It is a simple issue but one of far-reaching importance, because gross hardship might arise. I was hoping very much that even at this late stage my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) would once again swing over to our side and say that he would be prepared to accept this Amendment. I notice with some interest that when this matter was discussed in Committee we did not have the benefit of a reply from my hon. Friend, so perhaps we may hear from him in detail why he is not prepared to accept this Amendment, which is put forward to overcome a real legal problem.
I beg to second the Amendment.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) how difficult it is to know exactly what a charitable bequest is. As there are so many lawyers present ready to talk on the subject, and as I am anxious to hear what the promoter of the Bill has to say about this Amendment, I merely second it and await his comments.
I beg to move, in line 14, to leave out from "authority" to the end of line 17.
The effect of this Amendment would be to leave out paragraph (b):
the amount or estimated amount of the estate of a deceased person or of any duty or estimated duty payable in respect of such estate;
The Bill as drafted proposes to prohibit, in effect, the publication of two things: first, the particulars of the will, with certain exceptions and, secondly, particulars of the amount or estimated amount of Estate Duty. Those two things are separate and there is no need for them to be considered interdependently. It would be perfectly logical to pass the Bill with paragraph (a) left in and with paragraph (b) taken out.
In the Amendment there are two points to consider: first, the amount of the estate; and, secondly, the amount of duty. On the question of the amount of estate, in my view this Amendment is an acid test of the true intention of the promoters and supporters of the Bill. We have been hearing a great deal about cases in which a man leaves a wife and dependants with a small estate of a few hundred pounds. That gets published in the papers and gives rise to undesirable gossip, which might lead to misrepresentations and misunderstandings as to the amount of the testator's bequest, what were the reasons for his bequest to a particular person, why someone was left out of the will, and so on. There may be good reasons for what the testator did which do not appear manifest on the face of the will.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), on Second Reading, gave an example of a bequest of £800 made by a testator to a daughter. The other parent was a serious invalid. There were other children who were left nothing and the whole estate of about £800 was left to one daughter. My hon. Friend said this gave rise to rumours and gossip that the other parent and children had been cut out because there had been family quarrels and this was done to favour the daughter, whereas, my hon. Friend told us, the true facts were that there had been a sort of family conference and, because the other parent was ill and was looked after by the daughter, it was thought best to give her the whole of the estate to manage as she was the best able to do that. This was given as an example of the kind of evil against which the Bill is directed.
If paragraph (a) remains, but paragraph (b) is taken out, all the protection required for that kind of case is retained. Newspapers would not be allowed to publish particulars or the amount of any bequest to any particular person. They would not be allowed to publish who was the residuary legatee, the general inheritor, of the estate. What they would be allowed to publish, under the Amendment, is that the estate of someone who has died amounted to a certain figure and that Estate Duty of another figure was payable. Apart from the exempted particulars in paragraph (a), that is all that they would be allowed to publish.
I looked through the Second Reading debate to see what arguments, if any, were directed to paragraph (b) dealing with the publication of the particulars of the amount of the estate or the amount of duty. There were remarkably few arguments directed to that subject. Nearly all the arguments were concentrated on paragraph (a). I think that the reason is that whereas some substantial arguments can be put forward in support of paragraph (a), very little argument can be put forward in support of paragraph (b).
In moving the Second Reading the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) put up a cockshy which he then proceeded to knock down. He said that the Income Tax and Surtax authorities did not need publicity about a man's income to be able to levy Income Tax and Surtax, and asked why the Estate Duty Office should require publicity to ensure that it obtained its just dues on a man's death. As far as I can recollect, that argument was not adduced by anyone in opposition to the Bill. No one suggested that it would in any way impede the Estate Duty Office in its work if the Bill were passed. That was merely putting up an Aunt Sally in order to knock it down, and it is no argument in support of the restriction of publication of the amount of the estate.
The hon. Member also brought to the attention of the House some representations which he had received from a former Liberal hon. Member in the Division which he represents that the publication of very large estates was often a matter of public interest. I do not imagine that any hon. Member would challenge that. It is a matter of the 'greatest public interest, and in my view it is also a matter of public importance, that we should have newspaper reports of the fortunes being accumulated and passing on the death of wealthy people. If it is in the public interest to know these facts, then it seems to me that strong arguments must be brought forward before we pass legislation which would prevent them from being published.
It was also suggested that the figures published are misleading, and this was perhaps the only argument directed to the support of this part of the Bill. It was explained that where application is made for the grant of probate of a will, there is a provisional assessment of the amount of the estate, which is sworn to by the solicitor handling the affair. For example, the estate may be provisionally assessed at £50,000 or £60,000.
At that stage a grant of probate is made. It is at that stage that the publicity takes place, because the agencies which examine the records at Somerset House and obtain particulars take the figure from that provisional assessment at the time of the grant of probate and that is the figure which is published, together with the original estimate of the amount of Estate Duty which will be payable.
It is true that it occurs quite frequently that when, finally, the whole estate has been got in it is found that that estimate is considerably in error. It is usually an under-estimate. Usually, it is found that the value of the estate is greater than that which was published as being the provisional assessment. It is said that in those cases it is undesirable that people should be misled about the value of the estate.
I concede that there would be some force in that argument in a case where the name of the person to whom the estate was going were to be published because it could give a misleading impression of that person's means and wealth. We were given the example of the young daughter, the undesirable publicity about the poor little rich girl, as she was referred to on Second Reading. If her name is not to be published any more, and there is to be no mention of who she is, what harm can there be in a somewhat inaccurate figure being given? It is inaccurate only in the sense that it is not the accurate figure of the final value of the estate, but it is not published as being that.
Where it is only the estimate and only the provisional figure, that is stated in the newspapers as being what the figure is. In any event, it is usually an understatement. so no harm is likely to result from anyone thinking that whoever is to he the beneficiary or inheritor of the estate will receive more money than is the fact.
My own suspicion, which I expressed on Second Reading, is that one of the objects which the promoters of the Bill are seeking to achieve is to prevent publication of the fact that large estates are being devised and passing on at death. It is of the very greatest importance that people should be aware of that, so that they know the nature of our society. In these days we hear much about a property-owning democracy. We are told that the incidence of the ownership of property is being wider and wider spread. If it can never be possible to publish, when a millionaire dies. the fact that he was a millionaire and that a fortune of a million pounds, or whatever the fortune is, is being passed on, people can get a very misleading impression of the true nature of the society in which they live.
One can see what the number is, but one does not know who they are. One does not know from what they have made their fortunes and what activities have been so profitable that when they die they are worth £1 million, and leave £1 million.
Again, when one comes to Estate Duty—this is an argument which may appeal, for different reasons, to hon. Members on both sides of the House—it is important that the public should know and have examples brought before it through the newspapers of the amount of money being paid by way of death duties. I know that some hon. Members opposite think that the sums are much too high—some of them think that they are outrageously high. Others of us. on the other hand, think that the levying of Estate Duty is one of the best ways we have of achieving the object—on which we all, presumably, agree—of ensuring that the ownership of property should become ever more widely spread.
There is another aspect that is of great public interest. Many people who are known to be exceedingly wealthy so arrange their affairs, these days, as to ensure that no substantial part of their fortune reaches the Inland Revenue when they die. They make various kinds of dispositions, and then they go a bit carefully for the next five years in the hope of surviving for that period. If they do survive, duty is not payable on those dispositions.
Again, it is of interest and importance to find that someone known to have been a very wealthy man, perhaps controlling important industries, has so arranged matters that only some quite small sum passes to the Inland Revenue by way of duty. If that continues to happen on an increasing scale—as it is—people may be led to think it desirable that we should so alter the law as to ensure that it is not so easy to escape the net and that when property passes to another generation a due proportion of it passes to the Estate Duty Office.
There is no way in which public interest in this matter can be aroused, or in which public intelligence and information on the subject can be developed, unless the facts can be published. The Bill would prevent those facts being published. To my way of thinking, to that of some of my hon. Friends and, I am glad to see, to the way of thinking of many hon. Members opposite, that is another and major reason for saying that this is a bad Bill. It will be interesting to hear—and I shall now sit down so as to leave a minute or two for it to be done—whether the promoter of the Bill is prepared to accept the Amendment.
We are all very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Sir B. Baxter) was not able to make his valuable contribution on this Amendment rather than to the previous one. The arguments he then used would have been very valuable now. I should also like to say how sorry we are that one of my principal supporters, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), is missing. We would have valued his support today and we have missed him very much indeed.
Acceptance of this Amendment would undermine the whole principle of the Bill. In this debate we have, perhaps, rather lost sight of the simple purpose of the Bill. It is that the reporting of wills must be accurate. If we were to accept the Amendment the reports could not be accurate, as they would publish only half the truth about someone's will. That is a fundamental principle of the Bill, so it will be appreciated that I cannot possibly accept the Amendment.
Another very simple principle, and one that has certainly been forgotten, is that our purpose is to give to everyone who lives in this country the right to the same privacy over their affairs when dead as they had when they were alive. It is important that no loopholes should be left, but they would be if the Amendment went through.
I will not refer now to the debate on Second Reading, but if the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) looks at column 784 of the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that all these points were then very fully discussed. He has said that a probate figure is published as soon as probate is lodged, but is there a record of any paper at the end of, say, five or seven years, when eventually the value of a large estate is ascertained. publishing a correction—
I quoted it as an exception to the rule, but is it the general principle? I think that the hon. Gentleman would be forced to agree that it is not one of the general principles at present. If we succeed in ensuring a general practice of always reporting wills correctly, and reporting the true—