HL Deb 15 May 1906 vol 157 cc313-6


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it will, I am sure, be generally admitted that it is desirable as far as possible to have one law, at any rate for the United Kingdom, if not for the Empire. The Bills of Exchange Act did something to assimilate the laws of England and Scotland as regards Bills of Exchange, but so far as the procedure on unpaid Bills of Exchange is concerned, they are still very different. The Scottish people are, I understand, quite satisfied with their system, and would resist any change. In England the contrary is the case. We consider the Scottish law preferable to our own, and I have brought in this Bill at the request of the Association of Chambers of Commerce, which comprises practically all the Chambers. It is also supported by the bankers, and I understand the Irish banks will also welcome it. Those who have had experience of both systems seem to be unanimous in desiring the change. The Scottish system is simpler, more expeditious, less expensive, and there is one other difference which is still more important. In England and Ireland the liability on bills is sometimes disputed, not because there is any real defence, but simply to gain time, in which perhaps property may be secreted or made away with. Under the Scottish law, in such circumstances security has to be given. This removes the great temptation to dilatory proceedings, which, as a matter of fact, are so rare as to be almost unknown. The Scottish system which we desire to adopt was introduced as long ago as 1681. At first it was confined to foreign bills, but was found so useful to merchants that in 1696 it was extended to inland bills, and subsequently to promissory notes. We now desire to extend it to England and Ireland, which, moreover, will have the collateral and additional advantage of assimilating and co-ordinating the law of the three kingdoms. I trust your Lordships will grant a Second Reading to the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(Lord Avebury.)


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will be content to allow this Motion to stand over for a short time to allow an opportunity for conference between himself and those who agree with him and representatives of His Majesty's Government. The Bill is intended to assimilate the law of England and Ireland to that of Scotland. That would not necessarily give rise to any objection, but there are points where I foresee difficulties may arise.


My Lords, as I come from Ireland perhaps your Lord, ships will excuse my saying a few words on this Bill. The Bill seems to have a very extensive operation, and I am not aware that there has been any demand for the proposed change on the part of anybody in Ireland, either the bankers or the Chambers of Commerce. If I am wrong in that the noble Lord will correct me. The circumstances in Ireland are somewhat different from those in England and Scotland, and though I approve very much of the general argument that it is desirable to assimilate as far as possible the laws of the three countries and should be glad to see that universally adopted, still, in this particular case I would not like to make a beginning. In the remote parts of Ireland there is a very numerous class of moneylenders in a small way who are known, in the language of the country, as "gombeen" men, and the effect of this Bill would be to enable them to take execution against debtors suddenly and without giving them ample opportunity of raising their defence. The Bill enables a protest bill or a promissory note, no matter how small, to be registered, and on that registration execution to be issued, and the consequence is that the unfortunate debtor who, in the stress of circumstances, may have agreed to pay a most usurious rate of interest, will be sold up before he knows anything about it. As it is there is a very summary method in Ireland as well as in England in the Supreme Court of enforcing bills of exchange unless there is some good defence. But under this Bill everything would depend upon an affidavit being made after the mischief had been done. On the whole, therefore, I think it would be premature to pass such a comprehensive measure as this affecting Ireland without any knowledge on the part of that country. Until I saw the notice on the Paper and took up the Bill, I had never heard from anyone in Ireland that so comprehensive a change in the law was about to be made. I therefore trust the House will not assent to the Second Reading without, at all events, further inquiry and investigation into the merits of the proposed change.


My Lords, I think that what my noble and learned friend has just said in reference to this Bill is entitled to every consideration. I understand that one of the objects of adjourning the Second Reading, which was suggested by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, was to enable the attention of the country to be directed to the proposals in the Bill before they are passed. I am generally in favour of assimilation of laws for the United Kingdom, though I think some further consideration should be given to this proposal. If the Second Reading is adjourned the provisions of the Bill can be looked into and considered in Ireland and elsewhere, and we shall be able to judge whether this would be an appropriate change in the law.


My Lords, in reply to what was said by the noble and learned Lord opposite, I should like to point out that there are a good many Chambers of Commerce in Ireland very ably represented at the meetings of the Associated Chambers of Commerce. They have always supported this measure, and there has never been any opposition from any of them. On the contrary, they have given it their hearty support, and I venture to think he will find that in Ireland as well as in England there is a desire that the law should be amended. I quite feel that the Bill is not one which ought to be hurried, and I shall be glad to fall in with the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and allow the Second Reading to stand over for a short time.

Debate adjourned to Tuesday next.