§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time."
MR. BLAND moved as an Amendment, that the order be discharged, with a view to its being recommitted. By a recent order of the House, new clauses could not be brought up on the third reading, and it was only by inadvertence that he had been unable to move Amendments in Committee. The Bill, he said, was one which involved a great general principle, and which to a considerable extent affected vested rights. It had passed through its previous stages almost without discussion, and he was anxious, therefore, that a further opportunity of considering its provisions should be afforded, before it passed into a law.
Amendment proposed, to leave ont from the words "That the" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "Order for the Third Reading of the said Bill be discharged," instead thereof.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, it was impossible for him to vote for the third reading of the Bill. He found the Civil Estimates on the paper last night, and was informed that they would probably occupy the House two or three hours at least; but when he returned he discovered, to his great surprise, that this Bill had passed through Committee. The Bill was a piece of patchwork legislation, the object of which was to enable contributories to get a person to whose instrumentality they might compromise their liability for five shillings. It was said, however, that the Tipperary Bank and the Royal British Bank would carry this Bill against common sense and common justice. He was quite sure the Attorney General could not be aware of the injustice the measure would perpetrate. The object was not to reconcile any conflict between the Bankruptcy Court and 1489 the Court of Chancery, but to enable the shareholders in the Tipperary and British Banks to get rid of their liability. Last year a similar Bill had been promoted by the Tipperary Bank shareholders, but when the House learned the object of the measure the Bill was rejected. Under an old Act of the Irish Parliament, every shareholder in a joint-stock bank was liable to the whole extent of his property; in the event of the bank failing, every atom he possessed at once vested in trustees for the benefit of the creditors. When the Agricultural Bank of Ireland failed some years since, Sir M. O'Loghlen, the Master, decided that the Act applied; and the result was that every creditor got 20s. in the pound. The shareholders took the opinion of the then Attorney General for England, Sir John Campbell, but he advised against an appeal. When the Tipperary Bank failed, the creditors thought they had the same remedy; but the Lord Chancellor of Ireland dismissed the Bill. An appeal was now before the House of Lords, and a petition had been agreed to praying their Lordships to fix an early day for the hearing of the appeal. But while counsel were ready to argue this question, the Government brought in a Bill which swept away existing rights. He was glad the Attorney General for England had made up his mind to prosecute the directors of the Royal British Bank, and he should rejoice to see them where they ought to be. He wished also that some gentlemen who wore writing letters from Paris were given up by treaty, and while the hon. and learned Gentleman was prosecuting criminally, he should like to see Mr. James Sadleir receive a share of his attention. But what right had the House to say that any suitor who was likely to get twenty shillings in the pound should not have his appeal heard, and should be compelled to compromise his debt for half-a-crown in the pound? He believed that if the House agreed to the third reading of this Bill, they would be making a precedent of which they would be hereafter heartily ashamed. Let a clause be inserted, saying that the law should not affect existing rights, or apply to existing liabilities, and he should not object to the Bill. He was willing that it should apply to the British Bank if the creditors desired it, but the creditors of the Tipperary Bank objected.
§ MR. MALINS
said, as far as his knowledge went, there had been only one Bill 1490 before the House which affected the Tipperary Bank) and as he (Mr. Malins) had had charge of that Bill, he felt bound to repel the insinuation that he was the agent of the Tipperary Bank, or had come forward in the matter for any sinister or improper purpose. He (Mr. Malins) regretted that his Bill did not pass; but it had been defeated chiefly by the strenuous opposition of the hon. and learned Member; and although he was willing to introduce a clause excluding from its operation all concerns respecting which suits were pending, it was not adopted. He now supported the Bill before the House because he believed the shareholders of the British Bank would have been able to pay all the debts of that establishment if they had not been so harassed. The Royal British Bank stopped payment in September last year; the debts then were £500,000, the assets one half that amount; there was, therefore, £300,000 at the utmost to be paid by the shareholders; and if, at the closing of the bank, the shareholders had been equitably taxed, they would not have had to pay more than £100 a share. As matters stood, the debts were bought up for the purpose of commencing actions against shareholders. A general in the army was liable as a shareholder for £5,000, and he offered £20,000 for exemption, but he could not obtain it; and he was now a fugitive abroad. It was the same with several others, solicitors, tradesmen, and merchants, who were obliged to sell their respective businesses and fly the country, where they would remain until the Bill before the House should become law, as it was impossible to protect them in England. There was no novel principle in the Bill, for at the present moment the official assignee in bankruptcy had the power of compounding for the benefit of the creditors in each instance. The Bill would not in the slightest degree affect the appeal before the House of Lords alluded to by the hon. and learned Member, while it would give the power of buying peace in preference to going on with compulsory legislation.
§ MR. BAGWELL
said, that the creditors of the Tipperary Bank believed that this Bill would deprive them of their just rights against the shareholders of that Bank, who were able to pay much more than twenty shillings in the pound. He therefore entreated the Government not to pass it.
§ MR. SPOONER
asked the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General whether this Bill, if passed, would interfere with the appeal now pending before the House of Lords in the case of the Tipperary Bank. If it did he could not support it.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
was very sorry that he had not the honour of two minutes' conversation with the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen, because he was perfectly confident that such a conversation would have entirely changed his opinion of this Bill. The appeal now pending was against the decision of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who had held that the old statute of that country had no application to joint-stock banks. If that appeal were successful, the shareholders of the Tipperary Bank would be liable to the full extent of their fortunes. This Bill would not affect that appeal in any single particular, unless the creditors of the Tipperary Bank chose to compromise it and settle the action. Let the House receive the assurance that the creditors either of the British or the Tipperary Bank could not by means of this Bill be stripped of one farthing, save by their own consent, and with the approbation of the Judge.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
promised to convey to his noble Friends in the other House the opinion expressed by the Attorney General, for which he had the greatest respect, although he could not altogether subscribe to it.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 3°, and passed.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock.