HC Deb 25 July 1849 vol 107 cc955-60

Order for Committee read.


said, in rising to move that Mr. Speaker leave the chair to go into Committee on this Bill, he hoped he should be allowed to say a few words on this subject, which was one of very considerable importance, and he could only expect the House, at that late period of the Session, to take what he had to say on trust. The Bill came down from the House of Lords on the 8th of June, and was read a second time on the 18th of that month, and it was then determined to refer it to a Select Committee; the Members of which had attended upon almost every occasion, and had attentively examined the details of the Bill, with the view that nothing should be introduced into the Bill which in any way tended to damage it. The Bill came down in the shape of a code with schedules annexed, and in a form differing from the ordinary Acts of Parliament. It at once occurred to the Committee to consider whether the form of the Bill was not such as to render it difficult of working. On this point they had taken the opinions of persons conversant with matters of the kind, without troubling the House for its decision. The result was, it was determined by the Committee, he believed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Leominster, to put the measure in the shape of an ordinary Act of Parliament. He thought, without the House having given directions to the Members of the Committee on the subject, it would think that their proceedings had been right. The Committee felt that it might lead to difficulties of a nature which should be cautiously avoided if they allowed a measure of this kind to be diverted from the ordinary forms without the most ample consideration. The Bill which came from the House of Lords was not only a consolidation and amendment of the law of bankruptcy, but it also contained provisions for the creation of new officers for the performance of new duties, and to which salaries were affixed. It occurred to the Committee that they had not time to enter into that part of the Bill, and they determined if it was judicious to alter the constitution of the court, it would be better to have this done by a second Bill, and, in the meantime, the administration of tins now law should be entrusted to the old court. The Bill, as it came down from the House of Lords, enacted several new acts of bankruptcy. One of these appeared to the Committee to be of an alarming character, and which they thought they had not time to take into full consideration. It was one which enacted that all secret transfers of property should be considered as acts of bankruptcy. There was a further act of bankruptcy specified in the Bill, with which the Committee were not satisfied, to the effect that any person who should levy, by execution or sale, should be held as having caused an act of bankruptcy: these propositions were accordingly rejected by the Committee. The Committee had taken great care to adhere most scrupulously to the enactments of the old law, so as not to unsettle the decisions of the courts. The amendments which they had introduced he would explain, if necessary, in Committee. All that he asked was, that the House should give the Select Committee some credit for anxiety to do nothing to impede or injure the trade of this great country. There were no doubt introduced into the measure certain points of general improvement. Such were the clauses introduced, at the unanimous desire of the retail traders of the metropolis, giving facilities for private arrangements without imposing upon the parties the necessity of coming into court. The Committee had deemed it to be their duty to accede to these alterations, being certain that at the worst they could do no harm. In asking the House to go into Committee upon the Bill, he was conscious that he must ask them to take a good deal upon the faith of the Committee. There were a great number of clauses in the Bill, but the numerical majority of these introduced no new matter, and would not therefore tend, he thought, to provoke anything like extended discussion. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.


expressed his sense of the obligation due to the Committee for the extraordinary labour and attention which they had bestowed upon the Bill before the House. He was certain that as it had come from them it must have received many essential improvements, and that with respect to many of the points to which their attention must have been directed, although there might be a difference of opinion as to these points, yet that on the whole, considering the present state of the law, the Bill before them had come out of the hands of the Committee in a shape which entitled it to the respect and attention of the House.


was glad to join in any tribute of applause which could be paid to the Committee, but at the same time he was bound to say that that which they were now invited to do required more than ordinary deliberation. They were about to enter into the consideration of one of the most important branches of the law which affected the trade and commerce of this country. The words in which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General couched this invitation, were in themselves startling. They were invited to enter into the consideration of a Bill containing 278 clauses, embracing, in fact, the whole bankrupt law, and they were told that they must be content to take a great deal upon the faith of a Committee. He hoped, however, that adequate explanations would be given as the Bill passed through its various clauses in Committee. Admitting the obvious advantages of a consolidation of the law, he thought that in matters of such vital interest great care ought to be taken that under the guise of consolidation there was no chance of anything like real change being introduced. If the time would allow, all the changes actually effected ought to be fully explained to the House; but the fewer the number of these, the greater would be his confidence in the measure. He was willing to go into Committee, but he hoped that the House would not consent to pass the Bill as a mere matter of form, without attention and without care. He was informed that the consolidation clauses were by far the greatest number, and that the amendments were but few. In that case the discussion, of course, need not be an extended one.


said, he proposed in Committee to point out all the important alterations. The repealing schedule had been adopted from the Attorneys and Solicitors' Act as a convenient form; the Committee had delegated to him the duty of examining it, which he had done carefully; and, with one or two verbal alterations, it might be taken as strictly correct.

The House then went into Committee.

Clauses 1 to 5 were agreed to.

On Clause 6,


said, a new principle was introduced in the mode of commencing proceedings. Instead of petition to the Lord Chancellor, the petition would be to the Court of Bankruptcy, with an appeal to the Vice Chancellor's Court. To this alteration the Lord Chancellor did not object.

In answer to Mr. HENLEY,


stated that the remodelling of the offices was to be effected by another Bill. No new officers were appointed, nor were any additional duties devolved on existing officers, except on the chief registrar, at present a sinecure. By a subsequent clause, the 7th, power was given to abolish two commissioner-ships on the death of the commissioners; and by the 9th to make a redistribution of the bankruptcy districts in the country.


asked if any increase of salaries was proposed, or new fees given for additional duties, as had been done in another court?


said, there were no new officers created, or new salaries given. Some fees were reduced, and new modes adopted of charging the fees, by means of stamped papers issued from the board of inland revenue. All foes would go to the funds of the court, and would not be receivable at all by the officers. Parties, instead of paying a lumping fee, as at present, would pay small fees as the business was done.

Clause agreed to; as were Clauses 7 to 13.

On Clause 14,


stated, that Clause 14 gave power for a special case to be stated to the Court of Equity, as was now done to courts of law.

Clauses agreed to; as were Clauses 15 to 19.

On Clause 20,


stated, that certain duties, including the redistribution of the business, had been given to the senior commissioner, only because it must be done by some one. Opportunity had been taken of reducing the number of registrars in the event of death.

Clause agreed to; as were clauses down to 124. In the course of the proceedings,


stated, in answer to questions, that in future there would be but one account in bankruptcy, instead of several, as at present. Fees were now paid in money, which had given rise to some dissatisfaction, and hence the provision for their payment through stamped documents. No fees at all would be received by the officers, the payments being made for the stamped documents, to the board of inland revenue. This applied to the whole of proceedings, except to fees on taxation and other proceedings. No claim for compensation was given by the Bill; it was simply a re-enactment of the old law. The Bill, when it came from the House of Lords, had comprised provisions relating to the bankruptcy of Members of Parliament, which the Committee had struck out, as not coming within the scope of a consolidation of the bankrupt laws. Clause 69 preserved the former period of 15 days between the commencement of proceedings and the issuing of a fiat. Clauses 75 and 76 were new; they made the filing of a declaration of bankruptcy in India an act of bankruptcy in England. Clause 77 related to private arrangements by composition deeds, and made the composition deed an act of bankruptcy, of which any creditor might avail himself.


said, this clause had excited much discussion in the Committee. It was felt a hardship that Members of that House who were traders should be placed in a different position from other Members.


said, that Clause 78, referring to summonses in bankruptcy, required that, in addition to the affidavit of a good defence on the merits, parties should give two securities to answer the claim. But this was left in the discretion of the commissioners. Clause 86 gave the power of inflicting costs where a party was vexatiously summoned. Clause 95 established a register of petitions from the country in the office of the secretary in London. This was new machinery, but would involve no additional expense. Clause 112 referred to intermediate protection between the surrender and the certificate. There were cases where such protection ought not to be given, as in the cases of fraudulent debts, defrauding the revenue, &c.; and in these cases the protection was refused. Clause 118 re-enacted a former Act against the examination on oath of a bankrupt or his wife; a bankrupt might be examined, and if he made a false statement, he was subject to an indictment for perjury. Clause 120 gave the power of arresting a party about to abscond. Clause 124 was new; where a party admitted a debt, on examination in bankruptcy, under the advice of his attorney, it might be made conclusive evidence against him in an action for the debt.

The remaining clauses and schedules were then agreed to.

House resumed. Bill reported as amended.

Committee reported progress; to sit again To-morrow.

And it being Six of the clock, the Speaker adjourned the House till Tomorrow, without putting the Question.