HL Deb 15 May 1854 vol 133 cc298-301

said, that he had to present to their Lordships a petition in favour of this Bill from the most important Chamber of Commerce in the kingdom—that of Liverpool. It comprised nearly 2,000 members of the mercantile body of that great port, and although the petition which he held in his hand, according to their Lordships' rules, could only be taken as that of their chairman, by whom it was signed, it was, in fact, their petition. A noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) near him, informed him that he had also a peti- tion to the same effect from the Guardians of Trade in the same borough, a body which numbered amongst its members nearly 1,800. The interest in favour of the Bill was not confined to the mercantile body of England, and a statement which had been made in that House last week with respect to the discontent which this Bill was said to have excited in Scotland was very inaccurate, indeed wholly groundless. The other day his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack presented a petition against this Bill, with eighty or ninety signatures, purporting to be those of merchants, bankers, and traders of the city of Glasgow. Now, he had since ascertained that at least twenty-eight of the persons were not what they professed to be —that they were, in fact, sailing under false colours, and that, while stating themselves to be merchants, bankers, or traders, they were accountants, writers, or law agents, who thought, and perhaps justly so, that the Bill in question was inconsistent with their interests, and who were therefore canvassing Scotland against it. That in thus mis-describing themselves they had committed a breach of the privileges of the House was undeniable. He did not, however, mean to deny that the names of a considerable number of respectable persons, who were really members of the mercantile and trading classes, were affixed to that petition. He wished also to mention another instance of the impositions which had been practised upon that, and he believed also upon the other House of Parliament. Last October a public meeting, attended by 200 or 300 of the most respectable mercantile men in Glasgow, was held for the purpose of considering this Bill. It so happened that a gentleman, not a merchant or trader, but a lawyer—one of those writers, agents, or accountants before referred to, attended. This individual addressed the meeting in a long speech, which he read from a written paper. And the consequence was that by the time he had concluded, the meeting dwindled down to thirty-two or thirty-three persons, the rest having been dispersed by the reading. A division then took place, and it was found that there had been a great discrimination in the departures from the meeting, the writers, accountants, and lawyers had remained, while the merchants and traders had gone away; and accordingly a resolution approving the general purport of the Bill, which was made by a respectable merchant, was rejected by a majority of four; the numbers being, twenty-one against, and seventeen for it. Of this majority of twenty-one no fewer than seventeen were accountants or law agents. The next day 250 members of the mercantile class met, and appointed a committee, composed of twenty of the most influential members of their body, to examine the Bill in all its details. That committee reported that they had gone through it, clause by clause, and that they had proposed certain minor alterations, but that without a dissentient voice they were in favour of the leading principle of the Bill—the introduction of local judicial control—and that they looked forward to its adoption most anxiously, and with the greatest expectation of the benefits it would confer upon the country. They stated that the only part of the Bill which they felt any great difficulty in affirming was that relating to the appointment of official assignees; the majority of their number being, not against the appointment of official assignees in the abstract, but against the particular provisions of this measure on that subject. He had already presented to the House petitions in favour of the Bill from Glasgow, signed by 700 merchants and traders; from the Chamber of Commerce at Dundee, from the county of Fife, from merchants in London who had capital to a vast amount embarked in trade with Scotland, two from Manchester, from the Chamber of Commerce at Leeds, Bradford, Nottingham, and Huddersfield, and one from Carlisle. These petitions might be said to represent the united sense of the great mercantile body in both parts of the island, and therefore it was with the greatest possible reluctance that he postponed, even for a short period, proceeding with the Bill. He felt, however, that in the present state of the inquiries respecting the amendment of the English and Irish bankrupt law, he should do best in not pressing immediately —that was, this week or next—the further procedure with the Bill. Not only, however, would he not abandon it, but he would not postpone it indefinitely; being resolved not to put it off for more than a short period, and until he had seen the course taken with regard to those other measures with which it had an intimate connection. For the present then, for this week and the next, and until he saw what was done with the other inquiries, he should not further proceed with this important Bill. He must add one remark with respect to it. It had been said that it was a measure for altering the whole Scotch bankruptcy and insolvency law, and for introducing the English law in its stead. Now, the fact was, that this Bill of 260 clauses reenacted word for word the whole of the important provisions of the Scotch Bankruptcy Act, commonly called Professor Bell's Act, passed eighteen or twenty years ago, and the changes introduced related to procedure.


was glad to hear that the noble and learned Lord did not intend to go on with his Bill at present, and he hoped it would be withdrawn altogether. [Lord BROUGHAM: No, no!] As the noble and learned Lord knew, deputations on the subject bad been in London on more than one occasion, and were now here, and it would be a very inconvenient course for him to say he postponed the Bill, not for two or three weeks, but until he thought fit to proceed with it. He trusted, therefore, he would either withdraw the Bill or postpone it for some definite period. Several of the petitions presented against the measure by the Lord Chancellor came from some of the most influential parties in Scotland. It seemed to him (the Earl of Eglinton) that the two bodies likely to be the best judges of the proposed alterations in the law were lawyers and mercantile men; and he believed he was justified in saying that the lawyers in Scotland without a single exception were opposed to the noble and learned Lord's Bill, and he was perfectly convinced that an enormous majority of the mercantile men of that country were of the same mind. He hoped the noble and learned Lord would therefore act in accordance with the opinion of the great majority of the people of Scotland, and withdraw the Bill.


maintained that the noble Lord was misinformed when he said that the bulk of the mercantile community was against the Bill. He could put into the noble Lord's hand a list of the names of 250—not writers, law agents, and accountants, under the disguise of mercantile men—but real mercantile men, traders, bankers, and manufacturers, all resident in that part of Scotland to which the noble Lord had referred —namely, Glasgow; and that would convince the noble Lord how misinformed he had been as to the bulk of the mercantile community being adverse to the Bill.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.

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