§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee on the said Bill read.
§ LORD WESTBURY
said, that from such a hasty perusal as he had been able to give to this Bill he had come to the 1159 conclusion that one-half of the clauses were unnecessary, and the other half extremely inconvenient if not mischievous. He would appeal to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cranworth) who had charge of this Bill, whether it was desirable to proceed with it at this late period of the Session?
§ LORD ROMILLY
desired to join in the appeal to his noble and learned Friend. It had been impossible to give due consideration to the Amendments, which occupied three pages and a half, and were only presented that morning. So far as he knew, the great commercial bodies were opposed to the measure in its form as introduced. He had received serious representations from three of the great commercial bodies interested, objecting to portions of the clauses as they stood, and a communication had been placed in his hands from the Incorporated Law Society in which they objected to legislation without due time being allowed for consideration. The argument that the Bill has passed the House of Commons in a case of this description is not conclusive. He remembered the late Mr. Hume in the House of Commons saying, "Don't let us waste time in Committee; we are incompetent to decide how it should be altered; let the Bill go up to the House of Lords; they have judges amongst them, and will do what it is proper." Accordingly, the other House often trusted to their Lordships to set these matters right. If so, they ought to be allowed proper time for this purpose; but he defied their Lordships to give due consideration to a Bill brought in and passed in so hasty a manner that it was impossible to judge what its effect would be. It was not becoming the dignity of their Lordships' House to pass a Bill in such a manner that next Session an amending Act would be necessary. The question of bankruptcy was one which ought to be considered as a whole. This had been done by the Lord Chancellor, but he had, unfortunately, been compelled to withdraw his Bill for the present Session. A fragmentary piece of legislation, however, like the present, was calculated to do a great deal of harm. He trusted that his noble and learned Friend would not press this measure at this time; but if he would not leave the law as it now stood until nest Session, that he would at least postpone the consideration of these Amendments for some days.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the suggestion I am about to offer should appear to be opposed to the progress of the measure, I trust my noble and learned Friend (Lord Cranworth) will give me credit for being quite disinterested. The Bill having been fixed for the Committee to-night, and feeling that the main object of the Bill was desirable, although the composition of the clauses was in many respects defective, I thought it my duty to prepare for the discussion, and I put on the Paper the Amendments that were in my opinion necessary to make this a good and safe measure. With these Amendments the Bill is one which I think it will be proper and advantageous to pass. There are two things to be aimed at in legislation of this kind—first, that any Bill that should be passed should be good; and, secondly, that you should be able to satisfy the public mind that it is good, and to take care that those who are interested in the matter should have sufficient time to lay their opinions before the Legislature. I have observed that various bodies have expressed their surprise that at so late a period of the Session, after a general measure on the part of the Government had been abandoned, one portion of that measure should be taken up and pressed forward with the object of its becoming law. But, in regard to this measure, representations from commercial bodies have been made that objections present themselves, and that they have not had an opportunity of considering them. That being so, your Lordships would run some risk of being accused of hasty legislation if, under present circumstances, you were to pass this Bill, and although its objects are good, and the Bill would, I think, be an improvement of the law, I would suggest that the noble and learned Lord should either allow the Bill to stand over until another Session, or that he should allow at least a week for those representations on the subject of the Bill which persons interested may desire to make. I believe that the adjournment of the Bill until next Monday or Tuesday would be desirable.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
said, that he would postpone the Bill for a few days, although he thought time enough had been given for consideration. The Amendments to be proposed by his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) made a great show upon the Paper, but he should be happy to accept them with, perhaps, one 1161 exception. He could not admit that this Bill was being pressed against the wishes of the commercial community, for he held in his hand a petition from the Leeds Chamber of Commerce in favour of the measure, and the Secretary of the General; Association of Chambers of Commerce had written to state that he had frequently: heard the subject of this small Bill discussed, and that he was confident a very large majority of members of the Chambers: were favourable to it, and expressing a hope that it would be passed into law. It was true it was only a fragment of the larger measure, dealing with deeds of arrangements only. The whole legal profession were agreed that these arrangement deeds, sanctioned under the existing Act, had given rise to the greatest frauds, there being very imperfect security for ascertaining whether the persons executing them constituted three-fourths in number and value of the creditors, and whether the whole of the properly was given up. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons a few days after the abandonment by the Government of their general measure, and he could see nothing in the mode of its introduction, or in its fragmentary nature, that should hinder their Lordships from legislating on this very small point during the present Session. The Amendments of which Notice had been given were chiefly verbal, and with one or two exceptions he entertained no objection to them. He thought they might go through the Bill in Committee that evening, and discuss the Bill with the Amendments on the Report on Monday.
§ LORD WESTBURY
said, that if time were given to certain societies interested in the matter they would be able to suggest most valuable Amendments.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he would recommend that their Lordships now proceed with the Bill in Committee; and then between this and Monday their Lordships and the public would see whether there was any valid objection to be urged to its provisions.
§ House in Committee.
§ Clause 1 (List of Creditors and Property).
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved a series of Amendments of which he had given Notice.1162
§ LORD CHELMSFORD moved that the House be resumed. He thought the understanding had been that only verbal Amendments should be now introduced, and that the discussion on the clauses should be taken on the Report.
§ On Question? Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ House resumed accordingly; and to be again in Committee on Friday next.