§ Order for Committee read; House in Committee.
§ Further progress resumed at Clause 4.
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he hoped the Bill would not be advanced further; for, looking to its principle and the manner in which it was drawn, it did not reflect any credit on legislation. It was, besides, unnecessary, as it professed to give a bore summary process for recovery of sums due on bills of exchange when the process under the existing law was sufficiently rapid. Many of its details were also very objectionable. He objected also to the proposed registry, as well as to the provision which took away the conduct of process under the Bill from attorneys, and vested it entirely in notaries. It also created this anomaly—that whereas the provisions of the Bill affected Ireland and Scotland, as well as England, a person in Scotland or Ireland defending a suit must come to this country for the purpose of doing so, He found that there were sixty-two Amendments by hon. and learned Friends of his, which alone was a proof of the imperfection of the Bill, and was an additional reason why no attempt should be made to pass it this Session. There was another reason for delaying this Bill. It proposed to give a more summary process for execution on bills than now existed; and it was the opinion of several gentlemen, whose opinions were of weight, that it should be accompanied by some measure which dealt with fraudulent transactions in bills of exchange. Such a Bill he had introduced in May last, and, after long delays, it had received a third reading that evening; but, in consequence of the Resolution passed by the other House it bad no chance of becoming law this Session. He thought that the two Bills ought to go together, and if one of them was to be cast into the limbo of next Session, the other ought to accompany it. He should, therefore, move Quit the Chairman do leave the Chair.
§ MR. GEACH
said, he thought it undesirable that the House should legislate without further inquiry. The operation of this Bill upon the small tradesmen and shopkeepers of the provinces, who might fall into temporary difficulty, would be to drive them into irretrievable bankruptcy. 1354 There were abundant means of recovering bills of exchange; there might, he would allow, be vexatious pleas, but they were, he believed, very few. He objected more particularly to the Bill because it gave a great advantage to holders of these bills over every other kind of debt. The effect would be, that it would be impossible that my creditor, with a due regard to his own interest, should show any forbearance, because he would not know whether, if he did not put the law into force, the next creditor who had it bill backed would exercise the seine forbearance. He thought the Government ought not to give their aid to a Bill of this kind not introduced by themselves, and ought not to back it up with the majority at their command. He begged, therefore, to support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sunderland (Mr. D. Seymour).
§ MR. MASSEY
said, he also should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Sunderland. This Bill had a very important effect upon the law of bankruptcy, because it seemed to him that it affected very deeply and very closely the law of fraudulent preference. The main cardinal policy of our bankruptcy law was to effect au equal distribution in the property of the bankrupt among the whole boy of his creditors; but if you passed a Bid of this sort, which favoured one species of security, enabling the holder of that security to realise immediately his debt, you induced every powerful creditor to come down upon, his debtor, and to insist upon his giving bills. Possessed of these bills, the creditor would immediately realise them; he would seize upon the property of the debtor, and would thins, in point of fact, obtain a fraudulent preference. Now, he thought it was too much to expect the House, at this period of the Session, to consider the provisions of a Bill which went to change the whole bearing of the bankruptcy law of this country, and which would affect persons in almost every condition in life. Without saying, therefore, that it might not be expedient, at some future time, to provide a more summary remedy for the recovery of money upon bills of exchange, he was certainly of opinion that this measure went too far, and that its provisions were too crude to meet with their approval.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he looked upon this as one of the most unjust and oppressive Bills that ever was introduced into that House, and for his part saw but one reason 1355 for bringing it forward, which was to create ate a job. Somebody or other, no doubt, wanted to appoint a registrar. Who wanted this Bill, and who asked for it? There was no difficulty now in recovering upon these bills of exchange, but this measure would make anybody liable in six days to be made a bankrupt if he did not take up his bill. It was one of the grossest jobs ever attempted to be palmed upon the public, and he should certainly, therefore, support the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. D. Seymour).
§ SIR ERSKINE PERRY
said that, so far from the Bill having been got up in a hole or corner, it had emanated from several influential public meetings held in the greatest seats of commerce in this country—such as London, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Bradford. These meetings were universally in favour of obtaining a more summary remedy on bills of exchange than at present existed. In consequence of these meetings, the bankers of the City of London formed themselves into a body, and it was from them that the Bill emanated. The measure had passed through as severe an ordeal as it could undergo; it had passed through a Select Committee of the House of Lords, attended by the law lords, who were unanimous in thinking it was a measure which was sound in principle, and which would be a valuable addition to the English law. The Bill merely proposed to effect this—that, whereas by the law of England at present, a person was enabled to set up false defences with regard to bills of exchange which set the creditor at defiance for months, these false defences were now prevented and a summary remedy provided. The object of the Bill was to prevent any debtor, who had got no defence whatever, from interposing any delay between himself and his creditor. Was this a reasonable principle for the Legislature to act upon? The Bill had no doubt met with legal opposition, but he had been occupied with law reforms for many years, and he found that the lawyers were not, as a body, favourable to law reforms. This was certainly not an attorney's Bill, and it would most probably hate the effect of diminishing the business of attorneys upon bills of exchange. Was it not a good end to aim at, to enable parties to call in the assistance of a court of law in the most speedy and economical manner possible? The Bill was not the visionary creation of some theorist, but it followed 1356 the example of one of the most practical countries in the world—namely, Scotland—where it had worked most beneficially for 150 years. The same summary process was also in operation in every commercial country in Europe. At the same time, if the Committee should think fit to reverse the resolution which was come to by the House the other day, he was prepared to how to their decision, and kiss the rod with humility.
§ MR. JAMES MACGREGOR
said, he must contend that the practice as to bills of exchange in Scotland was not adapted to the circumstances of this country. The system of banking there was quite different to that here. In Scotland a paper currency prevailed, banking was carried to a great extent, and bills of exchange did not circulate as they did in England. They were absorbed by the banks, which endeavoured to replace them by 1l. notes. It was the paper of the banks which passed from hand to hand, and not tradesmen's bills of exchange. The trade of a country like England could not be carried on upon the stringent principles which this Bill laid down. When the great convulsion took place in our commerce with the United States, if a process like that provided in this Bill had been adopted, no one could tell the ruin that would have been produced, or where it would have stopped. The commerce of the country he felt assured did not require such a measure; and if meetings had been held in its favour in different commercial cities, the parties who agreed to it ought to be stated, that they might be known. If the Bill was to be proceeded with, it ought, at all events, to be referred to a Select Committee.
§ MR. GLYN
said, the Bill had not been introduced without the concurrence or knowledge of the mercantile body—indeed, the subject had occupied the attention of the mercantile world for some time past. The principle of the Bill was good, but he could not help thinking that the scope and tendency of it were not sufficiently known, and he should, therefore, recommend the hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to accept the expression of feeling on the part of the Committee as an evidence that suitable legislation at the proper time would meet with proper consideration.
§ SIR ERSKINE PERRY
said, after what had occurred he should be sorry to take up the time of the Committee by proceeding further with the Bill, and there- 1357 fore with the permission of the Committee he would assent to the Chairman reporting progress, with a view of withdrawing it for the present.
§ MR. CAIRNS
said, he thought that, under the circumstances, the advice of the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Glyn) was extremely sound. The Scottish principle of summary execution appeared to him unobjectionable; and he hoped that some time or other it would become law in a carefully considered measure. He would suggest, however, that the question should be taken up by the Government.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, the vice of the Bill was, that it would inflict more inconvenience on trade than was foreseen; as the supporters, keeping but one object in view, lost sight of the inconvenience of issuing executions against every man who did not take up his bills at once. The matter was of much importance, and required great consideration, and though it was said that meetings had been held in favour of the Bill in several great towns, yet it did not appear that much benefit had been derived to the discussion from the circumstance, as several of the representatives of the largest towns were evidently against the Bill. He thought as the measure did not appear to be well understood, it would be by far the wisest course to postpone it.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
sail, the mercantile community of the City of London certainly did petition in favour of the Bill, and a great meeting had been held in its favour. The decision to which the hon. Gentleman had come—namely, to postpone the Bill—was the right one. Judging from the opposition likely to arise, both to the principle and some of the details, it did not appear possible that the Bill could go through the House that Session. But he thought the principle of the Bill ought not to be condemned, and he hoped the Chairman would be allowed to report progress, and that would only be postponing the Bill for this Session.
§ MR. VINCENT SCULLY
said, the Bill had been approved of by practical persons in England, and by a Scotch lawyer of eminence, Lord Campbell. It was monstrous that a man entering into a negotiable contract, such as a Bill of exchange, could put another man, to whom he agreed to pay a specific sum of money on a particular day, to the delay of several weeks, even when he had no real defence to set up. He was surprised that any mercantile man could oppose the introduction of the 1358 law of summary jurisdiction. He had no doubt had the hon. Member (Sir E. Perry) gone to a division he would have carried his measure two to one. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would introduce a similar Bill next Session, not only for England, but for Ireland.
§ MR. MURROUGH
said, he objected to the Bill because it was uncalled for, and bore the stamp of amateur rather than practical legislation. It had been said that this was not an attorney's Bill; but he doubted it, for as the law now stood, judgment might be got in an undefended action in sixteen days at a trifling expense, whatever might be the amount of the Bill, but this would not be the case if the measure passed. The Bill was not fitted for the meridian of this country, and every practical man knew it would not work.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he also must enter his protest against the Bill, as there was in the law as it now stood abundant means of recovering upon Bills of exchange. He had heard great complaints of the Bill, and had been requested by many commercial traders to oppose it. The remedies were ample, and the Bill was objectionable in principle and in detail. He was glad, therefore, it was disposed of.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again this day month.