§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR,
in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, it was one which was likely to be favourably received in Scotland. He had himself presented a petition in its support from the Scottish Trade Protection Society, signed by 1,500 merchants, bankers, manufacturers, and tradesmen; and a noble and learned Friend near him had also presented a petition in favour of it from the Chambers of Commerce in Scotland. He was not aware that any petition had been presented against the measure except one; but the interests of the law agents in Scotland—whose opposition was not unnatural—he was convinced would not be injured by the change. The provisions of the Bill, their Lordships would find, were very simple. Under the Small Debts Act in Scotland, the Sheriff had a jurisdiction 1700 to the extent of £12. These powers of the Sheriff Court had, he believed, been very efficiently exercised; and there had been in consequence a great desire felt in Scotland that the jurisdiction of the Sheriff in the recovery of debts should be extended to the amount of £50. The present Bill was introduced for the purpose of meeting that wish as to a certain class of debts—those, namely, where the creditor was compelled to bring his claim within three years. This class of debts was very well known, and had been established by judicial decisions, and included merchants' accounts, servants' wages, and other matters of that sort. Under the law as it stood, the decision of the Sheriff, whether principal or substitute, was final; but there was an appeal in some cases from the Sheriff Substitute's Court to the Sheriff, whose decision was final. It was proposed in this Bill that the same summary jurisdiction which exists under the Small Debt Acts should be extended to £50; but it was also proposed that there should be still an appeal to the Sheriff from the Sheriff Substitute in cases where debt was between £12 and £25; and with regard to cases in which the claim was over £25, there should be an appeal to the Court of Session. With regard to appeals from the decision of the Sheriff Substitute to the Sheriff, it was provided by the Bill that there should be no appeal unless either of the parties, before any evidence has been taken, shall make requisition that a note of the evidence be taken. He believed that the extension of jurisdiction would not only be extremely satisfactory to the classes of Scotch people interested, but that the expenses also of recovering small debts would thereby be considerably diminished. He was told that obtaining a decree, in absence of a defence, costs under the present system 40s.; whereas, under the provisions of the present Bill, should it become law, it will be obtained for a debt of £20, at the cost of 5s., if no law agent should be employed, and an additional 5s. should the services of an agent be retained; and 10s. for a debt between £25 and £50. It was proposed that this extended jurisdiction should not be compulsory, and that if a Sheriff, before whom a claim might be brought, should think that the case was not one which ought to be dealt with in a summary manner, then he would have power to remit the case to his ordinary jurisdiction, as though this Bill had not become law. There were 1701 other details of a technical character; but he need not trespass on their time by discussing them, especially as there was ample evidence before their Lordships of the existence of a very general, almost unanimous, desire in Scotland in favour of the measure.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2ª accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.