§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SPEAKER
There is no Notice of objection to the second reading on the Paper; therefore, the objection cannot be taken.
§ MR. MONK
said, the Act of 1878 came into operation on the 1st of January, 1879, and the result of the passing of that measure had been that the number of bills of sale given bad enormously increased; he found, indeed, that the number had increased until there were something like 1,000 issued per week, many of them being for an extremely small sum—for sums of £20, £10, and even £5—and those bills of sale for the most part got into the hands of a low class of money-lenders, whereby the public had been very much injured. It was principally the poorer classes who gave these bills of sale. Well, then, the object of the Bill was to amend that Act of 1878, and to require that every bill of sale should have a schedule attached to it containing an inventory of all the goods which passed under it. If the measure was favourably received and read a second time, when it got into Committee it was his intention to move an Amendment which had been placed on the Paper by the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon), requiring that the absence of such schedule should make the bill of sale absolutely void. There were other provisions in the measure, which was a very short one. The measure was simply an amending Bill, and he was happy to find that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) was favourably disposed towards it, and intended to support the second reading. After the Bill had been read a second time, he should be anxious to have it committed pro formâ, in order to admit 526 of the insertion of certain Amendments, which, he believed, would make it more useful and more acceptable to the Government; and he would meet any objections which might be raised by other parties. Especially he was ready to accept the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury. He saw that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. B. T. Williams) had placed a Notice on the Paper of his intention to move, after the second reading, that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. As far as he (Mr. Monk) was personally concerned, he should be glad to see this Bill, and the measure promoted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury, referred to a Select Committee; but that was a matter which he would rather leave to the decision of the Government. He hoped to be allowed to proceed with the Bill, giving a a sufficient time for the consideration of the Amendments which he proposed to have inserted.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ MR. WARTON
quite appreciated the motive of hon. Members who had put their names on the back of this Bill, and had brought it in. No doubt, the motive was a good one; but the goodness of the motive would not make up for the badness of the Bill. No doubt, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had heard of cases where certain evils occurred under bills of sale. No doubt, certain transactions had taken place which were anything but honest or proper, and he had no doubt that this Bill would prevent all such transactions; but, while it would do that, it would practically have the effect of destroying bills of sale altogether. He was perfectly certain that if hon. Members looked at the 8th clause, they would agree with him that no man in his senses would ever lend money on a bill of sale after the passing of that provision. The 8th clause was the essence of the Bill; and though there might be a great deal of talk about amending in Committee, he would point out that no amount of alteration in the Committee stage could make a measure acceptable when it was radi- 527 tally wrong. If any hon. Member—he did not say any hon. and learned Mem- ber, because this was a matter which any layman was quite as well able to understand as a lawyer—would only look at the 8th section of the Bill, he would see that the provision it contained was such as to effectually put a stop to bills of sale. Of course, the borrowers who wished to raise money on bills of sale were persons in needy circumstances—no man who was not in needy circumstances would think of raising money in such a way—but if the lender was liable to this danger, that if, within three months after advancement upon a bill of sale the borrower became bankrupt, he would not be able to recover, no man would be found foolish enough to lend on such doubtful security. Why did not the hon. Member for Gloucester at once say that he intended to abolish bills of sale altogether? Such a statement from him would have been intelligible and reasonable. As far as he (Mr. Warton) was concerned, he should call this measure, not an Act to amend bills of sale, but an Act to abolish bills of sale altogether. According to the Bill, a man who lent money on a bill of sale, instead of getting the full return, might only obtain a half-penny in the pound after the attorneys and others had melted away the bulk of the borrower's assets.
§ MR. SERJEANT SIMON
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken, was a man of such supreme power that one was almost afraid to approach him. He had told them three times over that no man in his senses would lend money on a bill of sale if this measure passed, and that its effect would be to abolish bills of sale altogether. Well, under the present conditions on which bills of sale were given, it seemed to him that it would be a great improvement and a great benefit to many persons if bills of sale were abolished. The persons who for the most part advanced on bills of sale were money-lenders, men who preyed upon the poverty and helplessness of persons in embarrassed circumstances. These people took enormous interest, while they had as well the best possible security—namely, the property of the debtor, which, in most cases, was the property of his creditors. That property was often seized in a very short time after the 528 granting of the bill of sale, the lender having made himself secure of his interest—for that he generally kept in hand. In place of the hundreds of pounds to be advanced, he gave, perhaps, only 60 or 80 per cent, taking enormous interest, ranging from 20 to 40 per cent, and even more. The moneylender pounced upon the property of the trader, and took everything that he had, which properly ought to go to the creditors; therefore, it seemed to him that bills of sale, under such circumstances, had better be abolished altogether. If the effect of the Bill was to put a stop to the issue of those bills of sale, it would be a great boon to the insolvent and embarrassed trader, and certainly a great benefit to the injured creditor. The only person who would deplore the abolition of that form of security would be the money-lender. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) had another Bill upon the Paper upon the subject; but it had been blocked—he did not know why, because the Gentleman in whose name stood the Notice of opposition, as far as he could see, had no interest whatever in the matter. The Bill now under discussion was the Bill of the Chamber of Commerce, which was introduced last Session by the late Mr. Whitwell. His (Mr. Serjeant Simon's) Bill was the same Bill as that of Mr. Whitwell's, and the one before the House, with certain additions, which he had proposed last Session and the year before in the form of Amendments, which Mr. Whitwell had accepted. He should be quite content if the present Bill went into Committee. His hon. Friend had agreed to accept most of his Amendments; therefore, he should be satisfied. The only Amendment, as far as he knew, to which the hon. Gentleman objected was with regard to a matter which he thought they would be able satisfactorily to arrange. Whether the Bill went into Committee in the ordinary course, or was referred to a Select Committee, he should be prepared to support the second reading. If it were referred to a Select Committee, he would ask that the Bill he had introduced should be also referred to the Select Committee. The subject was one of great importance to the commercial world. For a long time these bills of sale had been a crying evil to business men, who found themselves suddenly deprived of property which ought to be a security to 529 them in the course of honest trade. That property, as had already been pointed out, was swept away by money-lenders, who preyed upon embarrassed people, and brought about their ruin. He was glad to hear that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade agreed to the second reading of the Bill; and whether it went into Committee in the ordinary course or not, he should be happy to give it all the support in his power.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
said, the Board of Trade accepted the second reading of the Bill on the conditions stated by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monk)—namely, that it should be committed pro formâ, in order that certain Amendments should be introduced; but the Government would not hold themselves bound to accept any further stage until they had considered the effect of those Amendments. With reference to the Amendment on the Paper, that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, the President of the Board of Trade did not think it desirable to agree to such reference, as he did not think the measure contained materials of sufficient importance to warrant its being considered by a Select Committee. The Board of Trade itself had a Bill on this subject "on the stocks," and it would be as well that it should be before the House before the question was remitted to a Committee.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, that after the announcement of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that the Board of Trade had a Bill "on the stocks," it certainly seemed to him unwise to proceed further with the present measure. He (Mr. Fowler) had one complaint to make in regard to this Bill, as he had with regard to some other measures delivered. There were the names of five eminent Members of this House on the back of it; but those five names were the names of Gentlemen who all belonged to the Party opposite. If this were a non-Party Bill, and to be considered aside from Party politics, it would only have been courteous on the part of the hon. Member in charge of it to have got some hon. Member on that (the Conservative) side to have put his name on the back of it. As the Government were dealing with the matter, he thought it desirable to move the adjournment of the debate.
530 Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. R. N. Fowler.)
MR. B. T. WILLIAMS
said, that, no doubt, great frauds were perpetrated throughout the country by means of bills of sale, and at the present moment the subject was one of great importance. ["Question!"] He did not wish to speak on the subject of adjournment, but on the subject-matter of the Bill—in fact, on the second reading—
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 19, Noes 93: Majority 74.—(Div. List, No. 116.)
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
wished to call the attention of the House to the very peculiar position in which it stood in reference to this Bill. The Government had announced, through their Representative the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ashley), that they had a Bill of their own on the subject which they were prepared to present to the House. ["No!"] At any rate, it was "on the stocks;" and yet they proposed to accept the second reading of the present Bill. There was, however, a foreshadowing that if the Bill of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) was read a second time, it would be referred to a Select Committee. He (Mr. Lewis) believed it would be found that Her Majesty's Government were a Government of Select Committees. Two Bills on Friday, on very small matters, were referred to Select Committees, and he had no doubt that the present Bill would meet the same fate. His own opinion was that when the Government measure was submitted, it would be time enough to deal with the matter; and until that time arrived he should oppose the second reading of the present Bill.
§ MR. ONSLOW
was unwilling to stop the Bill of a private Member, knowing the enormous difficulties which private Members had experienced this Session in bringing anything before the House. But after the announcement of the Government that they looked upon the present Bill as a crude measure, and that they were themselves going to introduce another Bill on the same subject, he thought it was playing with legislation to ask the House to read the 531 Bill a second time. He would, therefore, appeal to his hon. Friend opposite (Mr.Monk), who had had much experience in these matters, whether he considered that it would further his interests to take the second reading. He might tell his hon. Friend honestly that the progress of the Bill would be stopped on any further stage, and that he would not be allowed to proceed further than the second reading. Indeed, he believed that the Government themselves would oppose every further stage in every way they possibly could. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; but he gathered that from what had been said by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, who spoke on behalf of the Government, and who said that the Government themselves intended to bring in a Bill on the same subject, and that they regarded the present measure as crude and imperfect.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
thought there was a little misunderstanding on the subject. Considering the few opportunities which private Members had of proceeding with a Bill, the Government did not wish to throw any obstacle in the way of the second reading of the present measure. But the object of reading the Bill a second time, had already been stated by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary to the Board of Trade—namely, that it was intended to introduce Amendments into the Bill; and, in order to do this, it was proposed that the Bill should be read a second time and then committed pro formâ, in order that the Amendments might be inserted. When these Amendments were introduced, the Government would be prepared to give their best consideration to the Bill. He thought the Bill was one which the House might consent to read a second time. It would be highly objectionable for the House to oppose the second reading simply because the Bill was introduced by a private Member. If the Bill were not satisfactory the objections to it would be pointed out, and the measure would be stopped. But to stop it now at the present stage, would be to interfere with the opportunities private Members had of proceeding with Bills, and he, therefore, hoped that the House would agree to the second reading. He believed that if the names of some hon. Members on the opposite side of the House were 532 placed on the back of the Bill when it was re-committed, that all objection to it would be removed. The omission to do this was, however, an offence which he trusted might be easily forgiven, if his hon. Friend would promise that it should not occur again.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the House had already negatived a proposal to adjourn the debate upon the second reading.
§ MR. WHITLEY
remarked, that a Bill of this kind was one that was very much wanted and very much needed. He thought there ought to be a register or schedule of all articles included in a bill of sale. That would be a very important step. He hoped the House would accept the second reading of the Bill; and he was quite satisfied that if they did so, clauses might be inserted which would make it a very serviceable measure.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.