§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee on the said Bill read.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, this Bill had been introduced for the purpose chiefly of putting an end to the conflict between law and equity, law holding that every appointment of a puffer vitiated the sale, whereas equity, on the contrary, recognized the now almost universal practice of appointing a puffer, so far as this was necessary, to prevent the estate from being sacrificed. The Bill did not introduce any novelty—it was intended rather to con- 881 form the strict letter of the law to the existing practice, and to give protection, as far as possible, both to the owner and bona fide bidder. It therefore provided that the conditions should be read before the sale; it provided that if it was declared in the conditions that the sale was "without reserve," no "puffer" should be allowed; but, if not, a puffer was permitted; but if the biddings did not reach the reserve price, the auctioneer was to declare that the land had been bought in on account of the owner. The Court of Chancery was expressly exempted from the operation of the Act.
§ LORD ROMILLY
said, that although no one could doubt the importance of the measure under consideration, yet he was of opinion that it did not go far enough, and that it ought to extend to personal property. He had intended to explain his objection in detail, before their Lordships went into Committee, to the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill, but he had been prevented by his occupations from doing so, and he had therefore given notice of the Amendments he should propose. No one could doubt the great importance of the object of the Bill, The conflict between law and equity ought to be put an end to, and one uniform system should prevail. But he was at a loss to understand why this measure was confined to sales of landed estates. He ventured to say that not one reason could be advanced in support of this Bill with reference to sales of land by auction which could not be advanced with far greater force in support of a similar Bill respecting sales of personal property. The number of sales of the latter description was far greater, and the property more valuable. Sales of pictures, ships, reversionary interest in stocks, large quantities of goods in bulk, and sales of plant and machinery were continually occurring and realized a very large amount. But the law regulating both classes of sale at present was the same; and it would be a matter for regret if the law were altered in one and not in the other. It had become his duty, quite recently, to order the sale in the Court of Chancery of a large factory, with the machinery; and it was sold in two lots, one the freehold of the factory, and the other the plant and machinery. If the Bill under consideration passed into law, their Lordships would observe that the freehold of the factory would be sold in accordance with one 882 law, and the plant and machinery under another. It might be said that if the principle laid down by his noble and learned Friend were extended to personal property it would bring in all cases of the sale of books, furniture, and stocks, including mock auctions; but if the object of their Lordships was to prevent persons from being deluded into giving a higher price than the articles were worth, there were no cases in which the interposition of the Legislature were more required than in sales by auction of personal property. In case of sales of land the buyers generally employed an agent to bid on their behalf, and this arrangement was attended by this benefit—that an agent was never carried away by his feelings to give a higher price than the property was worth, but acted merely upon the instructions which were given him. In other cases, however, buyers were continually influenced by their feelings. It was a common thing in sales of farming stock to hold a luncheon before the sale, and the bidders were consequently often in a state of semi-intoxication. That was a great evil, and one which ought undoubtedly to be got rid of. The Bill, therefore, only dealt piecemeal with a subject which ought to be, and might be, treated as a whole; and he therefore suggested to his noble and learned Friend that he should postpone the Committee upon the Bill, as they were as yet at the commencement of the Session, and, after framing it anew to meet the necessities of these cases, to proceed with it again at a later period. Another serious objection to the measure was that it had the appearance of class legislation. The upper classes were those most interested in sales of land by auction, and while laying down principles for the protection of their interests, they appeared to be neglecting those of the remainder of the community. He did not, however, intend to take any further step to stop the Bill, and would leave the matter in the hands of his noble and learned Friend. He had, if persevered in, given notice of some Amendments on the Bill as at present framed. It had been found by long experience that in sales by auction by order of the Court of Chancery the auctioneer ought to be allowed as little latitude as possible. An auctioneer should not be permitted to make a declaration, but ought to be compelled to state everything in writing. A person frequently came into Court with ten or fifteen wit- 883 nesses, who swore in their evidence that the auctioneer had not made the particular statement in question; that they were in the room the whole time of auction, and that if he had stated it they must have heard it. The auctioneer, on the other hand, would bring two or three persons who swore that they heard the statement made; and the decision that the Court was consequently compelled to arrive at was that the declaration had been made but that it had been made in such a manner as not to be audible to one-half of those present. He wished, there fore, to have all these matters printed upon the particulars of the sale. He did not understand from the Bill before their Lordships whether his noble and learned Friend intended the omission to read the conditions of sale on the part of the auctioneer to constitute invalidity in the sale; if he did it would create a new source of litigation; if he did not the clause would be complied with or not, at the pleasure of the auctioneer. His noble and learned Friend's measure also provided that property knocked down to the puffer bidding in contravention of the law should be sold to the last bonâ fide bidder, supposing he were willing to complete the purchase. But there would, no doubt, be conflicting evidence as to the last bonâ fide bidder, and, moreover, as property was constantly sold by trustees, if the last bonâ, fide bidder was allowed, to take the property on account of an error by the agent employed to bid, it might be sold very much below its value. What he wished was that there should be an opportunity, by the reserved price given to the auctioneer, to prevent the accidental error of a person employed to bid destroying the property. The only other suggestion he had to make was that a clause should be introduced putting an end to the practice of the Court of Chancery opening biddings after the property had been knocked down to a bonâ, fide bidder at a sum equal to or higher than the re served price. The practice had been condemned by Lord Eldon, the present Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill, and many other authorities. The only two Amendments he had to propose affecting the scope of the Bill were, first, that the declaration proposed to be made by an auctioneer should be put upon the particulars of sale; and, secondly, that the bonâ fide bidder should not be allowed by the mistake of 884 the agent to get possession of property at very much less than its real value.
§ House in Committee.
§ Certain Amendments having been made,
§ After a short discussion,
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
said, the Amendment which had been accepted by their Lordships was entirely at variance with the principles on which the Bill was founded, and he should decline to proceed further with the measure.
§ EARL STANHOPE
trusted they might still have the benefit of legislation on the subject, notwithstanding that the noble and learned Lord had somewhat hastily, as he thought, thrown up the Bill.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
observed, that before the Bill went into Committee, his noble and learned Friend had stated some objections to the principle of the Bill. It did not go far enough, and applied only to auctions of landed property. No one had more experience on this subject than his noble and learned Friend as Master of the Rolls. He therefore hoped his noble and learned Friend would introduce a measure to embrace the objects he had indicated.
§ LORD ROMILLY
said, if this Committee were adjourned for a short period, he would endeavour to frame clauses with that view.
§ House resumed.