HC Deb 22 April 1863 vol 170 cc526-35

Order for Second reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, it was an attempt to deal with a very extensive and gross system of robbery. According to the existing law an innkeeper was liable for the safe custody of the goods brought into his house by his guests, because it was assumed that they were intrusted to his care. Some responsibility of the kind he ought to be saddled with, for his guests had no control over the management of his house—they knew nothing of his servants, and had no control over the fastenings of the doors and passages of the inn. But if the innkeeper was bound to take care of the goods of his guests, surely there should be a reciprocal obligation on the part of a traveller to pay some little attention to the security of his own property. At present no such obligation was imposed upon him; the law entitled him to recover the full value of any goods lost—and, indeed, to put his own value upon any property which he might choose to say he had lost, and to recover the amount from the innkeeper. The law was different in France, where an hotelkeeper, by giving public notice that he would not be responsible unless the goods were specially deposited with him, could exonerate himself from all liability with respect to them. So, too, in Belgium, an innkeeper could divest himself of responsibility by proving that his customer had not exercised due care. Even in England, if a shopkeeper chose to expose his goods in the public streets, and they were stolen, although the thief was punished for the robbery, yet the courts invariably did their best to discourage such negligence; yet here the landlord was held liable, even if he had given distinct warning. The only person entirely relieved from the care of his own property was the guest in a good hotel. In a case tried at the Maidstone summer assizes of 1862, Mr. Baron Martin told the jury that the question of negligence on the part of the owner of the lost property had nothing whatever to do with the matter, and that they must not, by taking it into consideration, make themselves wiser than the law. The jury found a verdict of £70 for the plaintiff, or £21 less than he had asked; and they also found that the traveller had been guilty of negligence; and the learned Judge refused to take Mr. Lush's exception to his ruling, saying, "This is the law; you must get an Act of Parliament if you desire to alter it." I Now, that was the very thing for which he (Mr. Wykeham Martin) was now asking. That case showed that the negligence of the guest did not exonerate the unfortunate hotelkeeper. But hotelkeepers were exposed to various other risks. Passing over those which arose from the mistakes of travellers, who often declared that they had brought property into their inns when they really had not, and so sought to make the landlord pay, they were also subject to risks from gross and deliberate fraud. Of the former case—he once heard a gentleman say he had lost a parcel, containing jewellery, at an hotel; all the porters declared they had not seen it, but the gentleman was positive that he had lost it at the hotel, and used all kinds of threats against them. While the parties were wrangling on the subject, the railway porters brought the very parcel in dispute, which had been left at the railway, and, consequently, had never been Drought to the hotel at all. Yet, supposing the parcel had been stolen from the platform, the guest, without intention of fraud, would have sworn he brought the parcel into the hotel, and the keeper would have been liable, not only fur the goods of his guest, but for the errors of his guest. In former days, our ancestors, or some of them, thought they found their highest comfort in their inns. We were no longer content with the accommodation of the old-fashioned inns which satisfied our forefathers, and a new class of large hotels had sprung up in answer to the complaints which frequently appeared in The Times and other news- papers. These establishments, founded by companies, and conducted on improved principles, were, however, more exposed than their older and smaller rivals to the arts of the swindler. Indeed, they were quite as defenceless against frauds of that kind as the monster of the deep was against the assaults of the swordfish, and no possible precaution could afford them the least protection. There was great competition in the trade, and unless Parliament provided some remedy for the evil, fraud on the one side would engender fraud on the other, and they would have bankrupt proprietors put in to manage these hotels; and if there were capital behind them, it would be covered by bills of sale or by mortgages on the buildings, and so the public would lose the protection it was supposed to enjoy under the present state of the law. He had known claims to be made against landlords of inns by persons who said they had lost property worth many hundreds of pounds, but which they had afterwards found in their own houses. But there were frequent cases in which, although there had been actual loss, that loss had not been incurred in the hotels, and yet the parties, either to avert disagreeable consequences from themselves or for a fraudulent purpose, claimed compensation from the innkeepers. In one instance two brothers-in-law went to a very respectable hotel at Manchester, where they had a double-bedded room allotted to them, at their own request. They dined together in the coffee-room. Shortly afterwards the single brother went to bed, and the married brother expressed his intention to follow him as soon as he had finished his cigar. That intention was not quite borne out by his subsequent acts, for he retired to a house in the neighbourhood, and there, with his own hand, surrendered £200, in notes, to the "bully" of the establishment. He returned to the hotel, and next morning made a claim for the £200 against the hotelkeeper. To disarm suspicion, the hotel-keeper did not refuse to pay; but asked the single brother when the married brother came to bed, and his reply was, that he did not know, but certainly not while he was awake. The owner of the notes made a circumstancial statement as to his having had them in his coat-pocket, which he hung against his bedroom door. But the landlord spoke about the matter to a detective officer, who went and recovered the notes, and the owner was obliged to sign a statement at the police office as to where he lost them. The delinquent husband, however, was so alarmed lest his wife should come to know the circumstances that he returned the notes to the "bully," who was probably now living on the proceeds. In another instance a gentleman made a claim on an innkeeper fur a pocket-book containing bank notes which he said he had lost at his house. While, however, they were talking about the occurrence, a policeman brought back the pocket-book and the notes, which he had picked up, because the owner had retired, but not to his own couch, immediately after dinner. These were but samples of many other cases hardly fit to be mentioned, showing the hardships under which landlords of inns were placed by their present liability. But a third class of claims made upon hotelkeepers were still more serious. Persons were in the habit of going to hotels and obtaining compensation for the loss of goods which, perhaps, never had any existence at all. In the month of June 1862, a certain lady claimed compensation from the Grosvenor Hotel Company for valuable jewellery, which she said had been stolen from her room. When the police came, she valued the property at £50. Nobody had seen her bring any jewellery to the hotel. She afterwards consulted a gentleman learned in the law, and then fixed her demand at £117 14s. The company were advised that they had no defence to the action, as she swore positively that she had lost the articles while at the hotel, and they paid her the sum of 100 guineas. A little later a gentleman made a similar claim on the same company for £32, and though he could not state what were the articles he had lost, or their value, he had to be paid in full. Six weeks afterwards another gentleman claimed compensation from the same parties for £215 in Bank of England notes, which he said he had lost while staying at their establishment. On his own showing he left the notes in an open portmanteau on the floor of his room, the door of which was open; and if that was not negligence, it would be difficult to say what was. He could not give the numbers of the notes himself, and he added that on reference to the banker who had given him them, the banker could not tell the numbers either. Now, one of the first bankers had assured him the other day that such a thing as the banker and the customer being both ignorant of the numbers of the notes in such a case was scarcely within the bounds of possibility. His own firm belief was that they were not lost at the hotel, and, as a juryman, he would strongly suspect that they had never been lost at all. The remedy he proposed to apply by his Bill was this:—He would generally leave the law as it stood, but would limit the innkeeper's responsibility for the goods or property of his guests at not more than £20, unless the property were deposited with him expressly for safe custody, in which case he would be answerable for its full value. He had taken the limit of £20, because that was the sum named in the Carriers Act; but he was not wedded to that precise amount, and would be willing to modify it in Committee. The hon. Member for Reading (Sir F. Goldsmid) said the interpretation clause was faulty; but that might be amended. The hon. and learned Member for Youghal (Mr. Butt) had introduced a Bill very much to the same effect as his, but he might be excused for preferring his own child. It would be for the House to choose between the two measures, or to say whether they ought not to be amalgamated. But he entreated them not to check the investment of capital in a trade beneficial to the public and most respectably conducted, and he hoped that in common justice and fairness they would not refuse to affirm the principle of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


had great pleasure in supporting this measure, which had long been required for the protection alike of the innkeepers and the public, and he believed it would be a great boon to both. The publicans were unanimously in its favour, and no Petitions, that he was aware of, had been presented against it. He would appeal to the hon. and learned Member for Youghal, who had brought in a Bill nearly identical with the present one, to withdraw his measure, and allow this one to go into Committee. The principal, if not the only, difference between the two Bills was as to the amount at which the innkeeper's liability should be fixed. For himself he cared little whether the limit was £20 or £50. That point, however, like all the other matters of detail, could be satisfactorily arranged in Committee, and he trusted that the House would now give this Bill a second reading.


rose to move that the Bill be read the second time that day six months, and said, that a measure similar in its title and substance was introduced a few years ago by the hon. and gallant Member for York (Colonel Smyth) That Bill was read a second time, but was thrown out at a subsequent stage on the suggestion of one whose loss they all deplored (Sir George Lewis), then the Home Secretary. The present Bill was liable to the same objection as the former measure. The preamble was false in fact. It stated that the facilities given to travelling by railways and otherwise had so increased the quantity and value of property brought to inns as to render the trade of an innkeeper extremely hazardous and dangerous under the present state of the law. Why, the facilities for banking and our unproved police had tended to diminish rather than increase the risks which in ancient times attended the operation of the common law rule in this matter. In Hone's Every Day Book he found a citation from a report of the reign of Elizabeth, in which it appeared that the hundreds objected to pay for the loss sustained by some clothiers who travelled on the highway—first, because they had not joined the great troop of travellers; and secondly, because they carried their money openly in wallets on their saddles. All that, however, was now changed, and he thought the change had diminished rather than increased the risk. The hon. Mover himself spoke of one thing, and the preamble of his Bill of another; because he talked of the frauds committed on innkeepers in respect to goods not brought into and not lost in their houses, while his preamble referred to goods actually brought there. Again, the fact that great capital had lately been embarked in this particular business was not an indication that those who were about to enter into it were much alarmed at the present state of the law. The common law principle as to the liability of innkeepers had prevailed from time immemorial; and it was adopted in substance from the civil law of the Romans, and might fairly be assumed to have something reasonable about it. It was for the landlord to see that he had good bolts and locks to his doors, and that his servants were trustworthy—matters for which his guest could not be responsible. These were reasons why the responsibility should rest on the landlord. The hon. Member had over stated the innkeeper's liability. They were not to look to what a Judge of Assize had decided at Nisi Prius for an authoritative exposition of the law, but to the decisions of the Court sitting in Banco to review his decisions. The difference between the position of an innkeeper and another person was this:—In the case of ordinary bailees in charge of other people's goods the want of care must be shown to make them liable, while in regard to the innkeeper the want of care would be presumed; but if the contrary could be shown, and the loss had been incurred by the guest's own indifference or negligence, the innkeeper was no longer responsible. The law, therefore, was already in the state in which the hon. Member intended to place it, In Smiths Leading Cases, vol. i., on "Calye's Case," decided in the Court of King's Bench, there was this passage— The Judge, Richards, C.B., told the jury, that pimâ facie the innkeeper was answerable for the goods of the guest in his inn, but that the guest might by his own conduct discharge him from responsibility, and left it to them to say whether he bad done so here. The jury found that he had; and on a motion for a new trial the Court approved the direction of the learned Judge, and thought the verdict was correct. But this Bill would absolve the innkeeper from responsibility altogether, except for goods not exceeding £20 in value. It would not leave him in the position of an ordinary bailee, but would convert him, from a bailee with extraordinary liability, into a bailee with extraordinary immunity. The proposed condition as to specially depositing articles of high value could not possibly be fulfilled. How, for example, could a lady deposit with the innkeeper her wearing apparel? How, again, was a traveller to deposit with him a horse, which must necessarily be left in a stable? The innkeeper might be absent, and a servant entitled to receive the deposit of goods might not be found; or if he could be found, this was hardly a case in which they could apply the maxim, Qui facit per alium, facit per se. How was the guest then to act? The interpretation clause of the Bill was a singular piece of legislation. It defined "properly" to mean "money, securities for money, title-deeds, precious stones, jewellery, wearing apparel, goods, wares, merchandise, chattels and effects, animals, and things of every description;" and, not content with these last exhaustive words, the draughtsman added "and the receptacles for the same," as if the box containing a guest's goods were something different from "a thing." What was that but proposing to repeat, in the solemn language of an Act of Parliament, the old joke De omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis? If the state of the law required remedy, a proper remedy would not be applied by a Bill like this, so false as it was in its preamble, so vague and general in its enactments, and winding up with a climax of absurdity in its concluding sentence. He therefore begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, he wished to protect the innkeeper in a fair way, provided equal protection were given to the public; but to require persons staying at hotels to exhibit the contents of their trunks and boxes, or their pocket-books to the prying eyes of an innkeeper, as the condition of being allowed to deposit them with him for safe custody, was a thing quite intolerable. Yet that would be the effect of this measure. On the days of Drawing-rooms ladies would come to hotels with diamonds and jewellery of great value. Was it to be required that they should exhibit all these things to the landlord? Was a man to exhibit all his money and bank-notes to the landlord on penalty of not being able to recover it if it should be stolen from his room.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he had come down to the House for the express purpose of hearing what possible reason could be urged against this Bill. He thought the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Reading (Sir Francis Goldsmid), in opposition to the Bill, consisted of much that was wholly irrelevant. He would brush away all that had been said about the preamble—he did not care for the preamble or the interpretation clause. He would come to the real matter. An innkeeper, as the law stood, had placed on him a responsibility which he believed to be unjust; and the Bill provided a mode of relieving him without doing harm to anybody. An innkeeper was responsible for everything which a traveller said he brought—not only for what he brought, but for what he said he brought—into his house. Well, the difficulty started by the hon. Gentleman who last spoke might be met in this way—The hon. Gentleman was the representative of a fox-hunting country;—if he (Mr. Roebuck) went down into the hon. Gentle- man's county to hunt the fox, which, unfortunately, he could not do, and had in his pocket-book a £100 note, why should he not say to the landlord, "I have such a note in my possession; is it safe in my own room, and will you be answerable for it there, or will you take it into your own custody?" Surely that was no hardship on the gentleman who went to hunt the fox. But he would put another case:—Suppose a suspicious-looking person, perhaps a swindler, alighted at an inn, and said he had a £100 note in his possession, the landlord might say, "Will you have the goodness to let me see it?" There could be no harm in that. If it was a note of the Bank of Elegance, the innkeeper would see it, and that would put an end to all chance of his being swindled. In such a case the innkeeper would be relieved of an unjust responsibility. It appeared to him, then, that this Bill sought a good end by right means. It could do no possible harm to any human being, except the rogue, and that, he thought, was a good thing as far as it went.


, having formerly promoted a Bill with a similar object, begged to state that the necessity for such a measure had since increased enormously; and, if better reasons were not urged against it than those which had been stated by the hon. Baronet, he felt assured the House would not only read it a second time, but give its provisions all the consideration which they deserved.


said, he did not think the technical objections which had been stated to the Bill deserved much attention from the House. Railway companies were protected by Act of Parliament, and so were common carriers. If railway companies were protected in this matter, why should not the proprietor of the railway hotel? He thought, the preamble, which had been found fault with, was extremely sensible, and he should cordially support the second reading.


said, he desired to call the attention of the House to the law upon the whole question on which the Bill turned. It was very well stated in Stephen's Commentaries, vol. ii., p. 133, in these words— Before we quit the subject of bailment, we must advert to two kinds of bailees, distinguished from others, as subject, by the custom of the realm, to a higher degree of responsibility than that which attaches to bailees in general, according to the rule before laid down; and first, a com- mon innkeeper (which includes the keeper of every tavern or coffee-house in which lodging is provided) is responsible for the goods and chattels brought by any traveller to his inn, in the capacity of guest there, in every case where they are lost, damaged, stolen, or taken by robbery, with the exception only of certain instances in which it would be obviously unjust to apply that general rule; as where they are stolen by the traveller's own servant, or companion, or from his own person, or from a room which he occupied otherwise than as a mere guest, or entirely through his own gross negligence; the object of the rule being to protect travellers from the danger of loss, to which they would otherwise be subject in committing their goods to the charge of a person with whom they have had no previous dealing, and with whose character they are presumably unacquainted. The civil law, from which the law of England was derived, laid it down thus— Art. Prætor.—'Nautæ, caupones, stabularii, quod cujusque salvum fore nisi restituent, in eos judicium dabo.' Maxima utilitas est hujus edicti; quia necesse est plerumque eorum fidem sequi, et res custodiæ eorum committere."—Pandects, L. iv., t. ix. .…. In deposito dolus dumtaxat præstatur; ut hoc edicto omnimodo qui recepit teneatur, etiamsi sine culpa ejus res periit vel damnum datum est,. nisi si quid damno fatali contingit. Inde Labeo scribit, si quid naufragio aut per vim piratarum perierit, non esse iniquum exceptionem ei dari. Idem erit dicendum si aut in stabulo aut in caupona vis major contigerit."—Lex ii., ibi. Everything depended on the word recepta. The innkeeper was liable for the things he "received" into his house. A man did not receive a thing without knowing that he received it. Yet the innkeeper was made liable for property although there was no evidence that he had received it. Proof should be given that he had received the property, or he ought not to be liable. He should support the Bill.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday 10th June.