HL Deb 31 August 1914 vol 17 cc569-70

My Lords, the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill has not yet passed through the House of Commons, but perhaps it may be convenient if I take the course which was adopted the other day and state to your Lordships by way of anticipation what is in that Bill which we expect to receive here shortly. The general purpose of the Bill is to prevent anybody being what is popularly called "sold up" when the circumstances are such that the position is not due to his own fault, but due entirely to causes arising out of the war. The Bill embodies four principles. The first is that the Bill is only temporary. It will operate during the continuance of the war and for six months after, with the power by Order in Council to put an end to its provisions. It is obviously not a Bill which the Legislature would desire to continue in normal times. The second principle is that it is operative only if the causes which prevent the debt being paid are causes due to the war. The third principle is that a discretion is given to the Court to look in each case into the circumstances of the person who desires relief, because it is obvious that there is considerable risk of a number of people who do not deserve consideration attempting to make out a case for relief under the Bill. The fourth principle is this, that the mode in which the Code is to act is to be governed by rules made, by a Judicial authority cognisant of and experienced in these matters. That is the general scheme of the Bill. It applies not to the taking of proceedings and to the issuing of the writ, but to execution, including, by way of example, execution in distress for rent, ejectment proceedings, forfeiture of penalties under boads, and matters of that kind. The Bill applies only to contracts made before August 4, the date of the outbreak of war, but with one exception—namely, that of rent; cases in connection with rent may be very hard cases. But the general principle is not to relieve any person from the consequences of contracts which he has made with his eyes open after the outbreak of war. As I have said, it will be open to anybody to issue the writ and to take proceedings, but he cannot proceed to execution to enforce his judgment without the leave of the Judge or of the Court. And by analogy the same thing will apply to ejectments. There are certain things saved—such as pawnbrokers' pledges, which it is impossible to interfere with, and certain things in connection with insurance companies. The Bill has been the subject of long examination by a Committee of experience in these matters, and we have hid the advantage of the advice of the Judges, including that of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice. The Bill is framed so that it will as far as possible meet cases which are required to be provided for, while not meeting the cases of persons not deserving of assistance. I do not suppose that it will be possible to keep out altogether people who are trying to take an undue advantage of the situation, but we have inserted stringent provisions for finding out such people and preventing them getting the benefits of the Bill.