§ LORD ST. LEONARDS,
according to Notice, rose to draw the Attention of the House to the present State of the Law upon Sales by Auction of Estates; and to give Notice that he shall once more introduce the Bill amending the Law on that Subject. The noble and learned Lord said, he had introduced and passed through the House this Session a Bill on this subject; a Bill which, according to his best judgment and consideration, was calculated to place the law upon a proper footing. The measure would have protected the interests both of owners and of purchasers of estates. It gave to owners every opportunity of preventing the sale of their land at too low an amount, and it protected the purchaser against being compelled to pay an excessive sum in consequence of biddings unfairly made by auctioneers. The Bill was sent down to the House of Commons on the 1st of May; but no notice was taken of it until the 17th of the present month, when it was sacrificed with a number of other "innocents," and the order for the second reading was discharged. At present there was a conflict between law and equity upon the point. The rule 1276 in equity was, that if a bidder were employed for the purpose of taking advantage of the ignorance of a purchaser and running up the value of property, the sale was void; but if a bidder were employed to prevent an estate being sold under its value where the price was limited, that which in law was illegal was perfectly legal in equity. This conflict in the law was a disgrace to the country, and the great object of his Bill was to put an end to it. He wished to give a warning to solicitors and auctioneers as to the course which they might pursue in conducting sales during the recess. If, acting as they had hitherto done, they gave biddings without the knowledge of purchasers, and without any security to protect them against biddings simply to run up the price, every one of those sales would be void. The duty of an auctioneer was to take biddings, not to make biddings, and nothing but mischief could ensue from their adopting the opposite course. Two cases had been decided in Courts of Justice, one of them by his noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Cranworth), showing that Courts either of law or equity would not hesitate to interfere where the auctioneer had acted as a puffer to the disadvantage of the purchaser. It was with the utmost surprise he had learnt that the system existed even in the Court of Chancery, where, if anywhere, a perfectly fair and open sale might have been looked for. From the interest he took in the matter, from his long experience of sales and means of information, he had been as likely as anyone to know what the practice was in such transactions, but till he introduced this Bill he had not the slightest conception that any auctioneer was in the habit of bidding at a sale where, by order of the court, there was a reserved price. If he had been aware of the practice whilst in office he should at once have put a stop to it. As long as attention was not called to the matter a purchaser was ignorant of his right to relief; but now, after the discussions which had taken place, a purchaser wishing to get rid of his bargain would feel no hesitation in repudiating the contract where this had been vitiated by the conduct of the auctioneer. This would throw upon the owner the necessity of bringing an action or filing a Bill, either of which courses must fail when the fact transpired that the auctioneer had made bids without the knowledge of the purchaser. The Bill as it stood at present was mere 1277 waste paper; but he should take the earliest opportunity in his power of again bringing it forward, and, meanwhile, he advised the attorneys and auctioneers to work its provisions fairly, and next year they would be able to tell practically whether these provisions ought not to be adopted.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, his noble and learned Friend did good service in warning solicitors and auctioneers of the actual state of the law; but he had no scruple in telling his noble and learned Friend and the House that since the Bill had passed through their Lordships' House the public feeling in its favour had not increased. Many professional men had warned their clients that this was a buyer's, not a seller's Bill. He did not dispute the great experience of his noble and learned Friend; but he was unable to see the great evils of which his noble and learned Friend had spoken in the circumstance that the auctioneer became also the agent of the seller, bidding up to a certain reserved point and thereby preventing the estate from being accidentally and suddenly sacrificed.