HL Deb 07 March 1856 vol 140 cc2034-6

, in moving the second reading of these Bills, stated that he did so with the view of afterwards proposing that they should both be referred to a Select Committee.


said, that he entirely approved of these Bills, which effected a material improvement, and were an important step towards the assimilation of the mercantile law in the different parts of the United Kingdom. They originated in the Report of a Commission which had been issued by Lord Aberdeen's Government, at the instance of the great Conference held in November, 1852. That Conference was assembled by the Law Amendment Society, was holden at its rooms, and was attended by delegates from all the great trading cities and towns of England and Scotland, and some also of Ireland. Its object was to promote the assimilation of the laws of the three kingdoms—or rather of England and Ireland on the one hand, and Scotland, in which, the diversity exists, on the other. He had presided on the first day of the Conference, and his noble Friend opposite the Lord Privy Seal (Lord Harrowby) on the second. Lord Harrowby accompanied a deputation to Lord Derby, then at the head of the Government, asking, on the part of the Conference, to examine the whole subject, and report on the best means of effecting the assimilation. Lord Derby inclined strongly towards issuing the Commission; but as he quitted office almost immediately after, his successor, Lord Aberdeen, was applied to, and immediately issued the Commission. Its Report was, as the Lord Chancellor stated, the origin of these Bills, which did by no means contain all the measures recommended by the Commission, but certainly a material portion of them. The laws of the two countries differ in many important particulars, in some of which our English law is better, but in others the Scotch. He would not, in the presence of his noble Friend (Lord Aberdeen), who had such prejudices against amending the Marriage Law, repeat what the Lord Chief Justice had lately urged on that subject. But well knowing the great candour, as well as acuteness and sagacity, of his noble Friend, he ventured to hope that these qualities combined would lead to the removal of one of the very few differences of opinion between them. On another subject, the facility and cheapness of the conveyance of landed property, the English law might greatly benefit by taking a leaf out of the Scotch law book. But on the mercantile law, the subject of these Bills, it was otherwise, with some exceptions, however, such as the remedy upon bills of exchange and promissory notes by summary execution, part of which we had happily borrowed from Scotland by the Act of last Session; and he hoped we should ultimately adopt the whole of the Scotch practice. In various other respects the systems were different, and nothing could be more inconvenient, indeed more seriously hurtful, to traders than such great diversities on matters of every-day occurrence, as bills of exchange, contracts of guarantee, purchase and sale of goods, stoppage in transitu. The desire expressed at the great Conference to which he had referred was strong, and it was unanimous in favour of an entire assimilation; and until the Law Amendment Society issued a statement setting forth the differences in the two systems, he could assure their Lordships that many of those differences were unknown to eminent members of the profession. He had found men in Westminster Hall, some even who had occasionally practised in Scotch cases, who could not believe that on points of very ordinary occurrence there were such differences between the two systems. One class of persons, however, were well aware of these differences, and felt them to their cost, the mercantile body, who had met from all parts to urge the assimilation, and would gladly receive the measures now propounded by the Government as a considerable step towards that desirable end. On the part of that body, and of the Law Amendment Society, he must express his thanks to his noble and learned Friend for these Bills; they would, of course, now be read a second time and their provisions considered, as his noble Friend proposed, in the Select Committee.

Bills read 2a, and referred to a Select Committee.

House adjourned till To-morrow.