§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I beg to move, in page 17, to leave out the words from the first word "to," in line 7 to the word "and," in fine 11.
This is purely a drafting Amendment. In consequence of an alteration made in Committee, any reference to Section 16 of the Bankruptcy Act, 1914, has disappeared from the Bill, and therefore it is necessary to take out these words.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I beg to move, in page 17, line 12, to leave out the words "that Act," and to insert instead thereof the words "the said Act of 1913."
This is also a drafting Amendment, to make it clear that the reference is to the Bankruptcy Act of 1913.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. WELLS
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
This and similar Bills have been before Parliament for some time, and this subject has received very full consideration. The question has been considered by a Select Committee, and Bills on the subject have on more than one occasion passed through all stages in the other House. I do not think any hon. Member can say this Bill has been hurried, or that it is vindictive, nor do I think anyone can call it grandmotherly. The main features of the Bill divide themselves into three. One is the granting of certificates to moneylenders and the licensing of moneylenders. The second is the prohibition of circulars. The third is, if I may put it in this way, the limitation of interest. It may be thought that a Bill on those lines might have been a very much simpler one, but on going into the matter we found that we had to accept advice from different departments, and the Bill is much more complete than it was expected it would have to be. The 837 Bill will place some limitations on the business of moneylending, and it gives far more consideration to the borrower than the borrower has ever had before. It is said that a fool and his money are soon parted. Some people think that borrowing is wrong in any circumstances, but we cannot change human nature and we do not seek to do so. This Bill is not nearly so stringent as the Pawnbrokers Bill of 1872, but, in spite of that Bill, in which everything was laid down by rules and regulations, that business has flourished, and pawnbrokers to-day have a very high reputation. We hope that this Bill will follow on similar lines. We do not attempt to prevent the borrowing or lending of money; we cannot restrain the foolish and the ignorant; but we do say that, if a man is going to borrow money, he should know what the conditions of his borrowing are going to be, and, knowing them, if he likes to go on with the transaction it is open to him to do so. To my mind this Bill is a comprehensive Measure of social reform, and it is an honest attempt to relieve what has been a public scandal. I would like to offer the thanks of the promoters of the Bill to all those Members of the Opposition and other Members of the House who have helped us through with it, and we all hope that it will very soon become the law of the land.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I beg to second the Motion.
I desire to support the Third Reading, as I have supported the Bill through all its stages. I think that the hon. Gentlemen who are responsible for the Measure are to be congratulated on their courage, for it required a great deal of courage, not only to bring such a Measure before the House, but to pilot it through all its stages. I agree that some Measure for dealing with this problem is very necessary. Without wearying the House with details of harrowing cases, I should like to mention one which hon. Members will have seen in the Press quite recently, and which I think is a classic example of what is transpiring from day to day in the Courts of the land. It is a case in which a woman who had borrowed £3 had paid 5s. a week as interest on the £3 for 52 weeks, and still she owed the £3. If one case of that kind can come into Court, what number of cases must there be that 838 never emerge into the light of day? I will give just one other reason why I support this Bill. I have made no secret of the fact that I wanted a very much stronger Measure than this, and I am hoping that this is only a beginning in the tightening up of legislation in connection with the lending of money.
I am far from satisfied with the Bill as it stands, and, as I have said, I wanted a very much more stringent Measure to deal with the problem. For instance, I do not think we ought to allow a rate of interest of even 48 per cent. I would call the attention of the House to the fact that that rate of interest will be allowed under this Bill. Some hon. Members wanted to make it 60 per cent., but, surely, 48 per cent. is a very high rate of interest on a loan, and, even now. the moneylender need not confine himself to 48 per cent. If he can prove that even 100 per cent. is not harsh and unconscionable, he can call for 100 per cent. on the money that he lends. In any case, the figure in the Bill is a guide to the Judges in the Courts as to what they may regard as a fair and reasonable rate of interest. I must—just between brackets as it were—say that I was very sorry that the Home Secretary never helped us in our deliberations. He just did one thing, and I think that this ought to be recorded in the annals of the House. He did come into the Committee on one day to make up a quorum, and I thought that that was really a very undignified thing for the Home Secretary to do.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am very sorry to have to correct my hon. Friend, who is usually so accurate. It was not in the case of the Moneylenders Bill that I came in to make up a quorum. It was in the case of another Bill dealing with seditious teaching, when I found the hon. Gentleman and his friends hiding in the Lobbies so as not to form a quorum. I then went in to form a quorum, and then the hon. Member and his colleagues trooped in and took part in the discussion.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Whatever error I may have committed, I have succeeded in my object, which was to get the Home Secretary on to his feet, because he has been very silent on this Bill—too silent for my purpose. He is very 839 eloquent outside the House of Commons and I repeat that we are entitled to have some of that eloquence even on a Bill of this kind.
The House has made it clear at any rate that we shall not be troubled, once this Bill becomes an Act, with those vicious circulars any more. That in my view is a very important point indeed, because it was an incentive to some persons to to secure money when in fact they should never have borrowed at all, and from that point of view I think this will be a very useful Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney), who has taken a very great interest in it, would argue that the moneylending business fell into the ordinary category of commercial transactions. I want to dispute that, and I am very pleased to have the backers of the Measure on my side on that score. I have never regarded money lending as in the same category as selling ordinary commodities. It falls into an entirely different category, and if I had my way the moneylender would not be allowed even to put an advertisement in a newspaper or on a placard. I should put him in the same category as the legal and medical professions. They do not advertise their wares. You never see an advertisement by an hon. and learned Member of this House that he is willing to give you advice at 6s. 8d. a time, and in any case you would not get it at 6s. 8d. even if he advertised it. There have been differences on small details in all Parties but I feel sure that every Member of the House wanted to do something to deal with the evil that arises from moneylending on the scale on which it has been carried on in the past and I want, for what it is worth, to give my blessing to the Bill and I trust it will pass through the other House without any Amendment whatsoever.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
I think this is an excellent Bill. My only regret is that the Home Office, either by mistake or by obstinacy, have lessened its efficiency by some 25 per cent. by not accepting an Amendment on Clause 5. Anyone who has practised in the Law Courts and seen the working of moneylenders tactics and the way their business is conducted will 840 know that one of the greatest abuses is the principle they adopt of preventing the borrower knowing the terms of his contract until they have got him bound. This Amendment would have taken a very powerful step by requiring a copy of the contract to be given him at the time he signed it, so that he should know the terms on which he was borrowing. The Clause provides that he shall have the terms of the contract sent to him seven days after he signs it. What is the good of that? I will not go further into it. I was not able to be here at the time the Amendment was called, but five out of the six names down to it are lawyers who were on the Committee. I would ask the Home Secretary—I did not see much of him in the Committee—to consider this point very carefully and see whether he cannot, in the interest of 25 per cent. of efficiency for this Bill, alter this in another place. From my experience in the Law Courts years ago when I did this sort of work, I can assure him that it is really of vital importance to increase the efficiency of the Bill in this particular and I would ask the Home Office particularly to consider it.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
Personally, I think that this Measure is one of the most useful things that Parliament has done. I have been hoping year after year that some measure of this sort would find its way to the Statute Book. Therefore, so far as we on these benches are concerned, like Members below the Gangway, we give our blessing to the Bill, for what it is worth, and offer our congratulations to the promoters for carrying it through. That is quite sincere. I would like to support what has, been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley). I do not suppose there are many Members of this House who have not from time to time had brought to their notice the consequences of the action of the moneylenders. I know of one case, and so far as I know the conditions are still existing, of a man occupying a responsible position, not in a Government office, but a responsible position in a local authority, who has been, I believe, for nearly 10 years now, living a terrible life, scarcely ever being able to sleep at night. Everything he had has been pledged to pay back a loan borrowed from a moneylender, and, from first to last, he has not 841 really Known what are his liabilities. From the beginning he did not know what he was entering into, and for 10 years he has been suffering this kind of life. Two years ago, when he approached me, I begged him to allow the matter to go to Court, and I said that I would get responsible Members of this House to go to the authority concerned in order to see that no bad consequences followed through the publicity of his affairs. So great was his fear of what might happen to him with regard to his employment and his family that he refused to allow me to take any steps whatever, and he is still in that condition. That man for nearly 10 years, from first to last, has never known what was the total sum of his liabilities. I do not know whether there are legal or technical difficulties in the way, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will see whether some such provision as the hon. and learned Member has suggested cannot be inserted in another place.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It is very unusual, as it is very pleasant, for me to hear that the Home Secretary's speeches are so popular that it is desired that I should speak this afternoon. This is all the more so when this is said by my political opponents. I should like to say one word with regard to the appeal made to me by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley). I wonder if he realises why I was not able to attend this Committee. My hon. and learned Friend kept me at another Committee by his persistent and very relevant criticism of a particular Bill of which I was in charge. It is not even possible for a Secretary of State to attend two Committees at the same time. I wish I could. I think the House ought to realise that the Amendment stating that a copy of the contract should be forwarded to the borrower within seven days was part and parcel of a second Amendment inserted in Sub-section (3) of Clause 5. That Amendment inserted in Committee provides that before the actual signature of the borrower is affixed to a document the moneylender has to deliver to the borrower a statement in writing signed by the moneylender saying that the rate per cent. per annum represented by the interest charged calculated according to 842 the provisions of the first Schedule of the Act.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I did not want to go into the details of the point. That only refers to Sub-section (3) of Clause b where the rate of interest is not stated. It does not apply to the whole of the contract. I only ask the right hon Gentleman to reconsider that.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That was part and parcel of the kind of compromise arrived at in regard to the matter. I admit that there is something to be said for the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) and, as some responsibility in the matter rests upon the Home Secretary, I will consider that point between now and the time when the Bill is dealt with in another place.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
It is not only a question of the rate of interest. It is a question also that the borrower shall have clearly in black and white before him what will happen if at any time he should be in default.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Under the provisions of the Bill, he knows that within seven days. It may be possible to shorten that period of seven days. I will consider the point. I do not think it is necessary for me to go into the details of the Bill, because they have been sufficiently discussed by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and other hon. Members opposite to prevent the second Bill on the Paper—Seditious and Blasphemous Teaching to Children Bill—being reached this afternoon. That is probably the reason for the great interest that has been displayed in the details of this Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member and his friends opposite on the success of their manœuvre.
I should like to congratulate all those who have been concerned in the passing of this Bill. It is a Bill which has been required for a great many years. It is a Bill which has been demanded by many anxious fathers whose sons have got into difficulties through moneylenders. It is a Bill which has been demanded by the conscience of the people of this country, and has been promoted by hon. Members in this House, and the two Noble Lords in the other House, Lord Carson and Lord 843 Darling, who are to be congratulated on the interest which they have taken and the efforts which they have made to get the Bill through. The question was made the subject of a Bill in 1925 and of another Bill in 1926. Subsequently, it was considered by a Committee of this House presided over, I think, by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn), or, at all events, he took a, great interest in it. It has come forward this year as a private Member's Bill, piloted by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Burman). It passed through Committee after a very full investigation, and I think one may safely say that, as it leaves this House, coupled with the Acts of 1900 and 1911, it forms a very real charter of useful legislation which will effect very great improvements in the law relating to moneylenders, and will prevent many of those abuses which have obtained in the past.
I wish to pay a personal tribute of gratitude to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Commodore King) for the part which he has played. This has been an exceedingly busy Session for the Home Office. We have had a great number of private Member's Bills, all of which seem to impinge upon the duties of the Home Office. I wish some of my hon. Friends would bring in a Bill relating to foreign affairs, and then I should not have to attend to it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs might have to do a little Committee work in that respect. Hon. Members' Bills seem mostly to touch the Home Office. It was impossible for my colleague, the Under-Secretary, or for myself to attend the Committee on this Bill, and my hon. and gallant Friend very kindly undertook the duties of piloting the Bill through Committee, in conjunction with the hon. Members in charge of the Bill. I want to pay him my personal tribute of gratitude for the efforts he has made, the successful work he has put in, and I also wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Duddeston upon the success which has attended his efforts.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
I, too, wish to congratulate the promoters of the Bill upon their success and their persistence, because I believe they have done a public service. I was a very active member of 844 the Committee, and had a good deal to say in opposition to some of the proposals in the Bill; so much so that other hon. Members were inclined to think that there were ulterior motives. Now that we have reached the congratulatory stage, I am sorry to have heard the Home Secretary say that we have taken a keen interest in the details of this Bill to-day for some purpose other than that of trying to straighten out the Bill. I assured the Committee, and I assure this House, that I was not influenced by anybody either inside or outside this House. I criticised my own Leader on more than one occasion. I opposed the arguments he put forward because I did not agree with his illustrations and his conclusions. I said from the first that a, Bill of this sort was required in order to deal with what has become a public danger. I prefer this Bill to no Bill at all, although I should like to have seen the present Measure deal with some of the cases we put forward. All sorts of motives were imputed to those who served on the Committee upstairs, but I have never served on a Committee which was more like a Committee. No one could forecast, before a Division, which way any particular group of people would vote, and the hon. and gallant Member who was in charge of the Measure must have felt dismayed at times by the number of his own supporters who voted against the proposals he brought forward.
The promoters of the Measure also accepted Amendments which they did not like and, speaking on behalf of my colleagues, we appreciate that consideration. It is true that discussions became rather heated at times and things were said on both sides which it would have been better to have left unsaid, but when we got outside the Committee Room we realised that we had said things which we should not have said. The Committee did its work well, not withstanding the fact that there were five legal gentlemen on it, we certainly needed further legal help at times. After we had heard the lawyers arguing the proposals of the Bill one, wondered what was the real interpretation and effect, and we should have been glad if someone had told us in plain English what it was so that we could understand it. The promoters of the Bill, and the hon. and 845 gallant Member in charge of it, did admit on occasion that it was time they consulted some other person, and at those times we should have been pleased to have had the presence of the Home Secretary or the Solicitor-General. Not that they would have been right in their interpretation because we should have stuck to our own point of view, but we should have accepted them as an authority. I am pleased to have been able to serve on the Committee. It required a little courage. If you expressed your own opinions it was easy to incur suspicion, because there are many stories going round the House as to what happened on similar occasions in times past. I think the promoters of the Bill have done good service in bringing it forward, and those who have criticised it have done so believing that they were doing a good service.