HL Deb 13 March 1854 vol 131 cc618-21

presented a Bill to permit the Registration of dishonoured Bills of Exchange and Promissory Notes in England, and to allow Execution thereon. He said he wished to call the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack to this very important subject connected with the mercantile law of the kingdom. A few days ago, when presenting the Scotch Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill, he stated that the assimilation of the Scotch and English mercantile law, now under the consideration of the Commission issued by the Lord Chancellor, was of two kinds, either assimilating the Scotch law and practice with the English law, by extending our improvements to Scotland, or improving the English law and practice by importing improvements from Scotland. The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill, which their Lordships were pleased to read the first time on Friday last, was of the first description, its object being to extend to Scotland those great improvements which had of late years been effected in the English law and practice of bankruptcy; but now he desired to present to the House a measure of the reverse kind, namely, a Bill for importing into England certain provisions in the Scotch mercantile law and practice which, in his humble apprehension, would be one of the greatest improvements that could be adopted in this country. The law at present in force in Scotland with regard to promissory notes and bills of exchange dated from the year 1682; it then referred only to inland bills, but, in 1690, it was extended to foreign bills; and, in 1772, it was made complete by being extended to drawers and indorsers as well as to acceptors, to whom it had till then been confined. When in England the holder of a bill of exchange found that he could not obtain payment from the drawer, the indorser, or the acceptor, as the case might be, his only remedy was an action at law, and the party sued naturally took advantage of all the delays and niceties of the law in order to evade, if possible, but, at all events, to postpone, the evil day of payment; and the holder ran the risk of his bankruptcy in the interval. Not so in Scotland. There the holder of a protested bill had only to register it, and the instant it was recorded a stop was put on all dealings with the debtor's property. That security to the holder of the bill was immediate, but in six days after he obtained a much better security; he had execution against the person and goods of the debtor. In order, however, to protect the latter against forgery or fraud of any description, he was permitted to institute a process with the view of staying execution, after which the matter would have to be decided before a tribunal in the regular manner; but, before the debtor could take advantage of that recourse, he must give security to the holder of the bill, not only for the amount of the debt, but also for the costs of the proceedings. The effect of that law had been most salutary to the traders of Scotland; indeed, it was not too much to say that the progress of trade and commerce in that part of the United Kingdom had been materially assisted by the admirable state of the law respecting bills of exchange and promissory notes. He would show how rarely the summary execution was resisted. In 1853 the number of bills protested was 2,470, but that was a year of commercial prosperity, and, in 1849, the number of protests was upwards of 4,700. The proportion of cases in which there was any attempt to stay execution was very small—not more than one per cent, and in a still less number was the resistance successful, perhaps not one case in a thousand. A law of the same sort prevailed in France, though imperfectly; in Holland the law was in some respects even more stringent than in Scotland, while, in all particulars, it gave at least the same security which the Scotch law afforded to the holders of bills of exchange. He believed it was the intention of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack shortly to move the second reading of the Common Law Procedure Bill, and, as it might be possible to introduce this provision into the English law by an alteration in that Bill, he should merely ask that this Bill of his be read a first time then, and should postpone the second reading so as to give his noble and learned Friend an opportunity of considering this suggestion.


said it certainly was his intention, on an early day, to ask their Lordships to give a second reading to the Common Law Procedure Bill, but it was not his intention to proceed to a Committee on that Bill until his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chief Justice had returned from circuit, and could give the benefit of his assistance to that Committee. No doubt their Lordships would give the second reacting to the Bill just presented by the noble and learned Lord, but, after that, the most convenient course would probably be to refer it to the same Committee with the Common Law Procedure Bill. He fully appreciated the importance of the object which his noble and learned Friend had in view, but the alteration proposed to be introduced into the law of England was of so sweeping and novel a character, that he trusted the Bill would be widely circulated in the city of London, in order that those who were in the habit of accepting bills of exchange might be able to express an opinion upon the subject. Meanwhile, he would merely suggest whether, in this mercantile community, differing so much from the great bulk of the people in Scotland, a proposal to put a sort of charge upon all the property of parties would not tend very much to impede the giving of bills of exchange, which, after all, greatly facilitated proceedings on the part of creditors.


said the merchants of Scotland, especially those of the great trading city of Glasgow, were fully alive to the objection taken by the noble and learned Lord; but, notwithstanding, they were convinced that the existing law was productive of incalculable benefits. Its tendency to prevent inconsiderate credit being given was among these.

Bill read la.

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