HL Deb 26 March 1912 vol 11 cc624-6


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill perhaps it is only right that I should explain that I undertake this duty at the special request of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom. The Bill embodies no new ideas. Literally for scores of years the Chambers of Commerce have been clamouring for it, and so have Bankers Institutes and Trade Protection societies in various parts of the country. The principle of the Bill has also been accepted again and again by various Presidents of the Board of Trade. Its object is the very simple and the obviously fair one of keeping a register of the names of individual partners in a firm, so that when one firm is asked to give credit to another firm it may know whom individually it is asked to trust. The Bill would only affect those firms who are trading under names other than their own. It is not proposed to advertise the names of individual partners on the housetops or even in the newspapers, but merely to have the information available to interested parties who make application to the registry office and who pay on making that application a very moderate fee.

In the past it has frequently happened that firms when requiring credit have as their references made mention of other firms, and the replies that have been received have been altogether satisfactory; but on investigation it has been found that the firms referred to have consisted of identically the same partners as the original firm which asked for credit. This Bill would have the effect of ending what is known as the "long firm" business. The practice of concealing the identity of the partners in private firms facilitates fraud and prejudices the honest trader. Various Parliamentary Committees have investigated this subject from time to time with a result invariably favourable to the principle of this Bill. So long ago as the year 1872 a Select Committee on Trade Partnerships reported as follows— Your Committee have arrived at the conclusion that it is expedient that the real constitution of all firms should be known and that it is practicable to effect that object by a system of compulsory registration. Then, again, a quarter of a century or more later a very important Departmental Committee sat to investigate our Bankruptcy Laws, and in the course of their very valuable and exhaustive Report there occurs this sentence— We are of opinion that the compulsory registration of the names of all persons carrying on business in other than their own names would tend to prevent the giving of credit to persons who are not entitled to it, and to that extent to diminish the causes of insolvency.

So far as the practice of other countries is concerned, a Blue-book was published some four years ago which contained a Report on the practice in regard to the registration of firms obtaining in other countries. The inquiry was set on foot at the special request of the Board of Trade two years previously. The question was investigated thoroughly, and when the Report was finally presented it was found to contain these words— From the replies received it appears that all the foreign countries concerned have legislation on the subject with the exception of Abyssinia. So that, my Lords, it is left to us with the biggest trade of the world, as measured per capita anyhow, to be classed with Abyssinia, and alone with Abyssinia to suffer under this disability. It is because the commercial opinion of the country thinks that that condition of timings should be remedied that I hope the House will consent to the Second Reading of this Bill. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, this Bill, as my noble friend has correctly stated, has been before the country for many years. It was considered by a Select Committee in the year 1900. My noble friend said that all opinion was invariably favourable to this Bill, but I am afraid I must dissent in some way from that, especially as regards the Select Committee of 1900. For that Committee said— The Committee are of opinion that the principle of the Bill should only be accepted in a measure more complete and practical than that referred to the Committee, and they are therefore not prepared to advise Parliamentary sanction being given to it. But the Committee expressed the opinion that the subject was well deserving of consideration. That happened in the year 1900. I think there is no doubt that there is a great deal to be said for the principle of the Bill, but I think sonic of its details are open to criticism. It might, for instance, be very hard to keep the register of these firms up to date, and, in addition to that, it is always difficult to technically say who is a partner and who is not. Also as regards the particular financial point in the Bill such as the registration, I am not prepared to say that the sum of 5s. would adequately pay for the incidental expenses. Consequently some expense might fall on the country. While the Board of Trade and the Government agree with the principle of the Bill, I think it is only right that after a lapse of twelve years it should be again considered by a Select Committee in view of the finding of the Committee in 1900, which was in no way unanimous in favour of the Bill. If the noble Lord will allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee, the Government will offer no opposition to its being read a second tune to-day.


In reply to the observations of the noble Earl, I may say that I am quite prepared that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to a Select Committee.