HL Deb 15 May 1888 vol 326 cc279-85

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."(The Lord Ashbourne.)


in moving that the second reading of the Bill be postponed till after the Whitsuntide Recess, said, his object in doing so was to get time for the consideration of its provisions by the great bodies in that country who were interested in the matter. His noble and learned Friend had not given any reason whatever for pressure being put upon their Lordships to force this Bill through the House at this particular time. There was in Ireland a society known as the Incorporated Society of Solicitors. It was a body similar in all respects to the well-known body of the same name in England. He had received a letter from the secretary of that Society to-day, stating that he had only received a copy of the Bill yesterday, and that he had not had time to consider it, and he had not time to call the council of the Society together, as they were scattered throughout the country, and the few members of the Society that he had communicated with had expressed their disapproval of the Bill. It was curious that, with respect to a Bill of this character, they should be asked to pass the second reading without any explanation. Amongst the letters which he had received on the subject of this Bill was one which he had received that morning, in which the writer stated that the Recorder of Cork, who was to be one of the Judges under this Bill, entirely disapproved of it, and that the mercantile community of Cork did not accept it. This, as their Lordships would see, was a Bill to constitute certain Local Bankruptcy Courts in Ireland. When a similar Bill was last before the House of Commons it was opposed by the Public Bodies. The circumstances of the country had since altered; but the alteration of the circum- stances made the case much stronger against the Bill. The proposal made by this Bill involved considerable expense, and it rested upon a wrong principle. Another Bill—the Judicature (Ireland) Bill—had been brought into the House of Commons, which was an adoption, to some extent, of the provisions of a Bill of Lord Spencer's in 1855. It related to the judicial system in Ireland, and proposed to abolish the two bankruptcy Courts in Dublin, and to transfer their business ultimately to the Superior Court. While it was thus proposed to abolish the two Bankruptcy Courts in Dublin, which were at present efficiently administering the Irish Bankruptcy Law, the noble and learned Lord proposed to continue the administration of this condemned bankruptcy system by instituting a number of local Courts with official staffs, necessitating great expense. This Bill proposed to provide a Local Bankruptcy Court for Belfast, including portions of the Counties of Antrim and Down, with a population of 950,000; and it proposed a similar Court for the City and County of Cork, with a population of 750,000; and the Lord Lieutenant would have power, by Order in Council, to establish Local Bankruptcy Courts also in Londonderry, Galway, Waterford, and Limerick, or any of those places. The Bill provided that the Recorders of Londonderry and Galway, as well as Belfast and Cork, should be the Bankruptcy Judges for those towns. The County Court Judges of Waterford and Limerick should also be constituted Bankruptcy Judges for the purpose of carrying out the Bankruptcy Law. These proposals must necessarily involve very considerable expense, because anyone who knew anything about Bankruptcy Law knew that it could only be carried out by a trained Judge and a trained staff. Then there was to be a registrar for each Court; there was to be an official assignee, who was a very important officer, and there was to be such other clerks and officers as the Lord Lieutenant might consider it necessary to appoint. He did not particularly understand those provisions of the Bill by which the Counties of Antrim and Down were to be distributed in such a way that Antrim might become part of Down, and Down part of Antrim, for the purposes of bank- ruptcy jurisdiction, and in Cork in the same way the East Riding was to become part of the West Riding, and the West Riding part of the East Riding, for the same purposes. The Bankruptcy Judges must reside in the places in which they officiated all the year round. It was also provided by the Bill that compensation should be given to the official assignee in Dublin, and it contained a sweeping clause for the appointment by the Lord Chancellor of all the other necessary officials whose appointment was not otherwise provided for, so that their Lordships would see that this was a very sweeping measure of expenditure. In 1883 it was proposed in the House of Lords that Mr. Chamberlain's Act should be extended to Ireland, and the same proposition had been made, he believed, in the House of Commons, but it was thought then that it was better that it should not extend to Ireland immediately, but that they should wait, and if its operation was successful that it might then be extended to it with such Amendments as suited the institutions of the country. But there was no such object aimed at by this Bill. If Belfast and Cork wished to have local Courts he did not object to it, but let the bankruptcy system be put upon a proper basis. He had in his hand a document sent to him by a Dublin solicitor in which he gave an estimate of the bankruptcy business of the whole country. From this it appeared that the total liabilities amounted to £364,457 for one year, of which sum £6,840 represented the bankruptcies that arose in Belfast. That would show that the establishment of a Local Bankruptcy Court there was not so very pressing a necessity. The solicitor further stated that when the Bankruptcy Bill was formerly introduced, he was asked by the Home Trade Association of Manchester to explain its provisions, and the result was that the Home Trade Association arrived at three resolutions to the effect—(1) that the business of the Bankruptcy Courts in Ireland was not sufficient to occupy the time of a single Judge of ordinary business capacity; (2) that if the small business was distributed over the country it would weaken the central Court; and (3) that it would be inconvenient for the merchants to be professionally represented in the various local districts. This Bill was only intended for the convenience of debtors, and not for the convenience of creditors, while it did not provide a small bankruptcy jurisdiction which would enable small traders and small farmers to have their affairs settled expeditiously and inexpensively. The Bill, as he had said, was expensive, unnecessary at present, and not based upon a right principle, and he hoped time would be allowed to examine its provisions before the second reading was taken.

Moved, "That the further Debate be adjourned."—(The Lord Fitzgerald.)


hoped that their Lordships would not assent to the proposal of the noble and learned Lord. The provisions of the Bill were explained when it was introduced, 10 days ago, and had been circulated for eight days. He came over from Ireland last week with the intention of moving its second reading. The noble and learned Lord opposite asked him a few days ago to postpone his Motion for the second reading of the Bill until after the Whitsuntide recess. He told the noble and learned Lord that he could not do that, but that he would, in order to suit his convenience, postpone his Motion until to-day. In these circumstances he thought that their Lordships would agree that he had done all that courtesy required of him in the matter. His time was not his own, and it was not easy for him to be away from his duties in Dublin, and he had done everything he could to meet his noble and learned Friend. With regard to the provisions of the Bill he would remind their Lordships that now-a-days the desire was that there should be a local administration in the case of bankruptcy, and in his opinion it was most desirable that the great places in Ireland, such as Cork and Belfast, and possibly also other places, should have Bankruptcy Courts of their own. He had previously explained that. As far back as 1879, Lord Cairns gave the great authority of his name to a measure practically almost identical with that now before their Lordships. That Bill passed through their Lordships' House with the approval of both sides in all its stages; it passed two readings in the House of Commons, and was only lost in consequence of the close of the Session rendering it impossible that it should be carried. In 1883, a similar Bill was prepared by the Government of the day, and was supported by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Spencer). The present measure was drawn upon almost identical lines with that Bill. In the last Session of Parliament there were three Bills brought in on this subject. They were not confined to one side of the House, and commanded support from politicians of every shade of opinion, and one of those Bills was actually sent to a Select Committee, and it was in its essential details largely identical with the present Bill. How had the noble and learned Lord met the Motion for the second reading? The noble and learned Lord asked that the Motion should be postponed, on the ground that the law societies in Ireland had not had sufficient time to consider its provisions. It would, however, have been very easy for those societies to have obtained copies of the Bill in ample time for them to consider it before the second reading. The principle of the present measure had been known for years. The noble and learned Lord said that he objected to this measure on the ground that it proposed to perpetuate the condemned Irish bankruptcy system. He denied that the present system of Irish bankruptcy had been condemned; on the contrary, it had worked very well, and the noble and learned Lord was the last person who ought to condemn it, seeing that he was the author of it himself. Ireland had been excluded from the scope of Mr. Chamberlain's Bankruptcy Act, because Ireland had an existing Bankruptcy Law, which on the whole worked well, according to the requirements of the country. There was no condemned bankruptcy system in Ireland. The Irish bankruptcy system had worked well, though he did not say that there might not be Amendments made in it. There might be Amendments made it it, but at present he did not know that there was any demand from any considerable section of opinion in the country for anything like a change in the Irish Bankruptcy Law. The noble and learned Lord had referred to the Irish Judicature Bill before the other House, but it proposed to make no change in the bankruptcy laws. It only proposed to abolish the existing Bankruptcy Court in Dublin as a separate Court, handing over the jurisdiction as a going concern to the High Court. He would reserve his answers to the detailed criticism till the Committee stage, and he would be glad if his noble and learned Friend would furnish him with any figures or statements he might have, in order that he might consider and examine them. But he asked their Lordships to say, was it reasonable that great commercial communities with growing populations like Belfast and Cork should not have a local bankruptcy jurisdiction? In order to afford their Lordships time to examine all the details of the Bill, he proposed to postpone the Committee stage till the 8th of June, if that would meet the convenience of their Lordships.


said, that neither he nor any noble Lord, he believed, on the Opposition side of the House objected to the localization of bankruptcy jurisdiction. The Bill of 1883 was not extended to Ireland—though they had been pressed in the Grand Committee by Irish Members, and especially by Representatives from Ulster to extend it—because there was a sufficiently strong minority in the House of Commons to hamper the further passage of the Bill, and it was naturally not considered desirable to import an Irish discussion into the debates upon that Bill. The reason Ireland was excluded was not because the Irish people were satisfied with the existing system, but for the reason he had stated. There had now been several years' experience of the working of the Act in England, which had been sufficient to disclose its advantages and disadvantages. He believed that it would be a great benefit to Ireland if the advantages found to proceed from the English system were extended to her.


said, that what he meant by the condemned system was that the passing of Mr. Chamberlain's Act, which condemned the English bankruptcy system, had also condemned the Irish bankruptcy system, because the two systems were identical previous to the passing of that Act. The former English system was the present Irish system. He spoke of the principle of the system, not of the machinery. It is true that 31 years ago he carried through the House of Commons a Bankruptcy Bill, which continued to be the law; that was much altered by the Bill of 1872, but its principles were condemned by the Bill of 1883, with which he had nothing to do.

On Question? Resolved in the Negative; Then the original Motion was agreed to; and Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday the 8th of June next.