§ LORD BROUGHAM moved the Second Reading of the Bankrupt Law Cosolidation Bill. The noble and learned Lord said, that in consequence of the very great interest which the traders of the country, and particularly the mercantile classes of the city of London, had taken in this important subject, he wished to preface his Motion for the second reading of the Bill by mating a statement with respect to the position in which the question then stood. There had been various changes made in the law of bankruptcy: before the year 1825 there had been no less than twenty-one Bankrupt Acts in operation; in that year an Act had been passed for the purpose of in some degree consolidating and systematising those Acts; and since that measure twenty-one other Acts had been 230 passed, making altogether forty-two Acts of Parliament passed on the subject. The consequence was, that the traders of the country had very great reason to complain of the obscurity that exists in the system. That was one reason for consolidation, and in the next place they conceived that the law should be made more clear and systematic. The experience of past years had thrown considerable light on the bankruptcy law, and it was their duty to profit by that experience, if they found they had gone wrong. What was chiefly complained of was, the abolition of imprisonment for debt, and they prayed for a repeal of that Act; but he believed the general impression was, that imprisonment for debt could not be restored, though the present practice might possibly be modified; and they might with very great propriety introduce a better system of punishing fraudulent debtors, and give a better protection to creditors. The subject, as well as some other matters, might be deserving of inquiry. He called the attention of their Lordships to a digest of the system, which be begged to present to their Lordships, and likewise desired to call their attention to the effects it had produced. The digest had been most carefully prepared; but no credit was due to him (Lord Brougham) for the compilation of it. The credit was due to a most worthy and efficient officer of the Bankrupt Court, who understood the working of the system, and who was aided by great practical knowledge in the compilation of this digest—he meant Mr. Miller. The digest extended from the constitution of the Bankruptcy Court to the very end of the system of bankruptcy, and would be found to be most judiciously framed. He had much satisfaction in stating to their Lordships the complete success of the system, and the universal approval it had received from the trading portion of the community. He would remind them that six Bankruptcy Commissioners now did the work which was previously performed by seventy Commissioners. This in itself was an improvement, to which was to be added the extension of the system to the country districts. As a proof of the excellence of the system, he might refer to the benefits resulting from the practice of the official assignee acting as the creditor's assignee. By that means they had been able to realise the enormous sum of 2,400,000l., of what was formerly, and before the establishment of the system, absolutely reckoned as desperately bad 231 debts. When the measure for that purpose was brought forward in the other House, his late lamented friend, Mr. John Smith, in defending it, said, that in supporting the Bill he spoke against his own interest; that the House with which he was connected made 4,000l. or 5,000l. a year by the bankruptcy cases, and in the following year would not make a farthing; but notwithstanding that loss he would support the Bill. He (Lord Brougham) would also remind their Lordships that the next two vacancies that took place amongst the Commissioners would not be filled up, as it was considered that four Commissioners would be found amply sufficient to do the business. He had a return in his hand, from which it appeared that the London appeals from the Bankruptcy Court amounted in the year to five, and the country appeals to nine; and the whole of the appeals in the Bankruptcy Court, both for town and country, were on an average for the last six years fourteen and a half. This small number of appeals did not arise from the scarcity of business in the court; for owing to the distress that unhappily prevailed, the number of commissions issued the year before last were 1,100, and last year they amounted to 1,716.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
was of opinion, that when the Acts of Parliament relating to the law of bankruptcy had multiplied to such an extent, it was highly expedient they should be consolidated. He had no doubt it would be judicious, as suggested by his noble Friend, to refer the subject to a Select Committee, and likewise to decide upon another important question relating to the laws of bankruptcy and insolvency, namely, whether bankrupt cases and insolvency cases should be hereafter kept distinct; they were now subjected to very nearly the same system, though at present administered by separate jurisdictions.
§ Bill then read 2a