§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (10.7.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Down, whose name stands first on the back of this Bill, I have to move the Second Reading. I am glad 1535 to say the Bill has support from both sides of the House. It is a very small measure of reform rendered necessary by a defect in the Local Bankruptcy (Ireland) Act of 1888, which, no doubt, was due to inadvertence. In that Act it was provided that local bankruptcy proceedings should be taken at Belfast and Cork. That Act was intended to save time and secure the realisation of estates in the cheapest manner by local administration. But creditors or debtors were given the option of going to the Bankruptcy Court in Dublin, which causes great waste of time and money. Thus in one case in Belfast a debtor made an offer in Belfast of 3s. 4d. in the £1, and this being refused took his application to Dublin, and upon inquiry by the Local Court the creditors were eventually paid 17s. 6d. In another instance a principal creditor, a mortgagee, supported the offer of a debtor of 5s. in the £1, but after inquiry by the Local Court the creditors were paid 20s. in the £1. The principle the Bill lays down is that, unless in exceptional cases, a matter of arrangement or bankruptcy arising in the district of a local Court ought to be initiated in that Court, and adjudicated upon within that Court, unless the Court should see cause to remove the proceedings to Dublin. That, I think, is a reasonable proposition, and sufficiently safeguarded by the discretion of the Judge. The fourth, and fifth are the operative clauses, and provide that on the occasion of a vacancy in the office of a Judge of a local Bankruptcy Court, and at any other time with the consent of the existing Judge there shall be power given to the Lord Lieutenant, by Order in Council, to direct that no bankruptcy proceedings shall be taken as to a person resident or having a place of business within the district of a Local Bankruptcy Court except in that Court, provided that the Judge may, in his discretion, transfer the proceeding to the Court of Bankruptcy in Dublin. This the Judge may do on the application of debtor or creditor, the widest discretion being allowed. Speaking as one of the representatives of Belfast I can express my belief that all mercantile and instructed opinion in Belfast is in favour of the Bill. The Chamber of Commerce has 1536 petitioned in its favour. I am glad to observe from the affirming ejaculations of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Johnston) that this is one of the few occasions upon which we agree. I believe opinion in Cork is equally unanimous with that in Belfast in favour of the Bill, and I trust the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ (10.11.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
In rising to support the Second Reading, I do not think it is necessary to detain the House beyond adding the expression of my opinion that an absolute unanimity exists in Belfast in favour of the Bill, as it does throughout the whole district connected with the commerce centred in that important town. I have hardly anything to add to what has been succinctly stated by the hon. Member for West Belfast. The evils the Bill proposes to remedy have been felt keenly by the commercial community, and I believe the Bill provides a remedy that will in no way inflict any injury upon bankruptcy proceedings. The Judge of the Local Court is a man to be thoroughly trusted, and I have no doubt that he will exercise with discretion the power conferred upon him of sending a case to Dublin.
§ (10.13.) MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)
I can testify to the fact that the opinion in the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and among influential persons in commercial circles is that the Bill will confer great advantages on the trade and industry of Belfast. With such an unanimity of opinion, I hope the Government will not oppose the Bill.
§ (10.14.) SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I took some interest in the Bankruptcy Act passed for the United Kingdom, and I am quite satisfied from my own knowledge and from what I have learned of the feelings of Chambers of Commerce that the entire commercial community is in favour of the localisation of law, and I am equally satisfied that that principle ought to be acted upon as far as possible in regard to bankruptcy. Estates often pay little enough, and there is every reason for avoiding all possible 1537 expense in their administration; and increased expense there must be if proceedings take place at a distance from the locality in which the suit arises. I am also inclined to support, whenever I find the opportunity, proposals for assimilating the law in England and Ireland, which must lead to a feeling of unity. The provisions now sought to be applied to Ireland exist in this country. These are sufficient reasons why I should support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
I also express the hope that the Government will agree to the Second Reading. The opinion of Belfast has, I think, been sufficiently expressed, and I do not think I need say more.
§ (10.15.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. MADDEN, Dublin University)
The Government have already given proof that they realise the importance of providing a suitable system of local administration in bankruptcy affairs by passing the Act of 1888, which the present measure seeks to amend. I cannot altogether accede to the proposition of the hon. Member that there has been an oversight in the preparation of that Act, which the present Bill proposes to remedy. The intention of the framers of that Act was to provide an optional system of local administration for bankruptcy in Belfast and other large towns. It was not intended to provide that all proceedings in bankruptcy should be commenced in the locality where the debtor resides, nor do I think, if this Bill went to that extent, I could on behalf of this Government accept the Bill. Our experience in Ireland of local administration in bankruptcy has been very short. I do not say that it has been unsatisfactory, but I think it will be necessary to consider this subject in connection with the position of the Dublin Court of Bankruptcy in relation to the general judicial system in Ireland. This Bill, however, leaves it in the power of the Lord Lieutenant in Council to do what I believe will be ultimately necessary in Ireland, namely, to localise to a great extent the administration of bankruptcy, and, therefore, as the Bill goes to that extent, and it enables the Executive to safeguard its application, 1538 I think that, in those circumstances, I can recommend the House to agree to the Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.