HC Deb 12 July 1860 vol 159 cc1761-6

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clauses 78 to 83 agreed to.

Clause 84 (Abolition of Office of Accountant).


observed that the office of Accountant was perfectly useless, and ought at once to be abolished. The clause proposed the abolition of the office on the death of the present occupant, but he thought that when an office was to be abolished it was a bad principle to wait till death. This business might very well be done by the Registrar. He, therefore, proposed the omission of that part of the clause which would retain the present Accountant in office.

Amendment proposed, in page 18, line 15, to leave out the words "the person now discharging the duties."


said, the Amendment, so far from promoting economy, would place an additional charge npon the funds of the court, as they could not abolish the office of the Accountant in Bankruptcy without giving the present possessor of it compensation. Besides, he doubted whether it would be prudent to abolish the office of the responsible individual in whose name the enormous sums passing through the court were now paid; but at any rate, the most economical plan was that proposed in the clause, namely, allowing this gentleman to hold the office as long as he lived, and afterwards to entrust the duties to the chief registrar.


said, he hoped the hon. Member would take the sense of the Committee upon his Amendment. The Bill assumed that the office should be abolished when it next became vacant, and he, for one, could not understand why it should not be abolished at once. It was a most flagitious sinecure, and although the holder of it was called an accountant, he kept no accounts whatever. He trusted the Committee, in considering the Amendment, would not be alarmed by the question of compensation, which could be dealt with separately.


asked the Committee to consider that if the office of Accountant was to be at once abolished they would have to pay the present possessor of it his full salary, while they left him nothing to do. That gentleman would, no doubt, in such a case feel that they had conferred on him a great benefit, for he would be relieved from the discharge of his duties, and yet be in the receipt of full salary. It was in these circumstances thought more prudent and more economical to retain that gentleman in his office, and avail themselves of his services, taking care that no future appointment should be made. He was quite willing to admit that there was no necessity for a separate officer of this kind, and therefore it was proposed to abolish such an appointment on the first vacancy that took place.


said, he did not object to give fair compensation to gentlemen in the position of the Accountant in Bank- ruptcy; but under Lord John Russell's Act it was provided that if that office were abolished the Lords of the Treasury should be empowered to determine what was the amount of compensation to which, under the circumstances, the holder was to be entitled; and it did not, therefore, necessarily follow that he should retire on the full amount of his salary—namely, £1,500 a year. He was quite willing to accept this proposition of the Act, and he trusted the House would assist him in procuring the immediate abolition of the office.


said, he wished to remind the Committee that if the office was abolished the present accountant might receive some other Appointment under the Bill; and the amount of his compensation might in that way be considerably diminished, if indeed any compensation at all should be necessary.


said, he hoped the hon. and learned Attorney General would tell them what the duties of this gentleman really were. It was admitted on all sides that such an office was useless, and in these circumstances he should like to know why the present Accountant was to be retained.


observed that great injustice would be done to this gentleman if his office was to be abolished without giving him adequate compensation; and the effect would be that in future great difficulty would be found in obtaining the services of able and efficient public servants for similar offices. He thought the proposal of the Attorney General was the best that could be adopted. It would be better to leave the present Accountant to discharge the duties, instead of dismissing him, and then conferring upon him compensation.


said, he could not characterize the proposal that had come from the other side of the House as other than a most extravagant democratical proposition. The office had been originated by an Act of Parliament, and the duties were designated and the salary fixed by that Act. It was, in truth, a freehold office, and one to which the words of the Duke of Wellington in 1831, when speaking of the proposed abolition of the office of Patentee of Bankrupts, were in every respect applicable. The Duke, speaking of the Rev. Mr. Thurlow, the holder of that office, said in "another place" that he was as much entitled to retain his office as any one of their Lordships was to retain his seat. It would be an outrage on jus- tice and a violent and democratic measure to deprive the present Accountant of the rights guaranteed to him by Act of Parliament, and he believed that the adoption of such a course would ensure the rejection of the Bill in "another place."


denied that there was the slightest ground for the imputation cast on the Opposition side of the House. He had no right to assume that it was proposed to abolish this office without compensation. On the contrary, he had been told by the Mover of the Amendment that he was willing to accept the proposition in the Bill of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) on that point. Neither had the hon. and learned Gentleman any right to charge them with violent and democratic conduct. The hon. and learned Gentleman had not condescended to argue the subject or to answer the question he had put as to what were the duties of this office, but he had heaped upon them the most violent abuse. He would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman if indulgence in that kind of language was the way to get on with his Bill? It was the very way to stop it. He could tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that he would not be permitted to make such charges unanswered if he (Mr. Henley) was present. And he would ask those hon. Gentlemen who were anxious to proceed with the Bill to keep the Attorney General quiet if they expected to do so.


said, he would rather accept the proposal of the Attorney General than give in to the principle of compensation as it had been laid down by hon. Members.


said, he would support the proposal of the Attorney General, but he must protest against being considered in any way favourable to the principle that they were bound to give the full salary to retiring officials. He hoped that in future the banking transactions of the Court of Bankruptcy would be placed on a more satisfactory footing than hitherto they had been.


said, he thought that the same justice which was meted out to the messengers in bankruptcy ought to be applied to the Accountant. He admitted that the messengers had been a scandalous abuse, and that their charges must be moderated. But the messengers did something for their money, while the Accountant did nothing. He trusted the Committee would record its opinion in opposition to these sinecures.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 37; Majority 52.

Clause agreed to; as were also Clauses 85 to 92.

Clause 93 (Official Assignee to take possession of Bankrupt's Estate).


said, that the state of the law at present was this—All the personal property of the bankrupt was given into the possession of the official assignee to be paid by him into the Bank of England on the bankruptcy fund account. There was, therefore, a security that the funds coming into the possession of the officer of the Court would be retained for the benefit of the proper parties. The Bill entirely altered that arrangement, as instead of the official assignee paying the property into the bankruptcy fund account it was to be handed over to the creditors' assignee, who was not an officer of the Court, upon his appointment. What he should propose was—that the property should be paid over by the official assignee to the bankruptcy fund account, there to be retained for the benefit of the persons entitled therein.


said, that the object of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock was that which he himself intended to carry out by a subsequent clause.

Amendment agreed to; the Clause agreed to.

Clauses 94 and 95 agreed to.

Clause 96 (Duties of Official Assignee to cease on Appointment of Creditors' Assignee).


said, he thought it would be much safer to retain the power of getting in the estate in the hands of the official assignee, who was a responsible officer, than to transfer it to the creditors' assignee. He should therefore propose so to amend the clause as to carry out that object.


opposed the Amendment. The commercial community were quite agreed on the propriety of the proposed change.


opposed the Amendment, which was withdrawn.

Clause agreed to: as were also Clauses 97 to 111.

Clause 112 (Disqualification of Officers).


said, he could not understand why the Master of the Rolls and the Recorder of London were eligible to sit in Parliament, and the Chief Judge in Bankruptcy was not to be so.


said, the Master of the Rolls by long custom had been permitted to sit in Parliament, but the course of modern legislation had been to exclude Judges from seats in that House, and he saw no reason why the Chief Judge in Bankruptcy should be excepted.

Clause agreed to; as were also Clauses 113 to 128.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress, to sit again on Monday next.