« PreviousContinue »
of Lord Malmesbury-Earl Grey proposes a Bill to alter the mode of Electing Scotch and Irish Representative Peers, but it is not proceeded with-Protection of Property of Married Women-A Bill for this purpose is brought in and carried through the House of Commons by the Recorder of London-It is taken up in the House of Lords by Lord Penzance, supported by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Romilly, Lord Cairns, and Lord Shaftesbury—The Bill is read a Second Time, but is not proceeded with- Mr. Locke King renews his attempt to assimilate the Succession of Real to that of Personal Property in cases of Intestacy-He obtains a majority for the Second Reading of his Measure, which is then withdrawn-Marriage with Deceased Wife's Sister-Question again mooted by Mr. Thomas Chambers, who brings in a Bill, which is carried by a large majority on the Second Reading, but meets with repeated postponements, and is finally abandoned- The Permissive Bill restricting the Sale of Liquors—Again introduced by Sir Wilfrid Lawson, but thrown out on a division by a great majority—The incident of the Mayor of Cork-Extraordinary conduct and intemperate language of that functionary--His sympathy with the Fenian cause, and expressions respecting the attack on the life of the Duke of Edinburgh- The Government determine to take proceedings to deprive and disqualify the Mayor, and propose a Bill of Pains and Penalties - Various opinions expressed by Members of the House of Commons upon that mode of procedure-Leave given to bring in the Bill – Further proceedings are put an end to by the voluntary resignation of the Mayor-Foreign and Colonial Policy - Paucity of Discussions on these topics—The Alabama Controversy-Rejection of the Reverdy Johnson Treaty-Brief allusions to the subject in the two Houses by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer- Answers of Lord Clarendon and of Mr. Gladstone, who deprecate discussion-Debates on Imperial Policy towards New Zealand - In the House of Lords Lord Carnarvon, and in the Commons Viscount Bary, bring the subject under discussion-Summary of opinions expressed in both Houses— The Prorogation of Parliament on the 11th of August by CommissionHer Majesty's Speech-Retrospect of the Session and of the principal events of the year--The Disestablishment of the Irish Church, and other leading Measures of the Session-Serious increase of disturbance and disaffection in Ireland-Release of some of the Fenian convicts by the Government–Their return for the indulgenceStrengthening of the Military Force in Ireland-Review of the Commercial features of the period - Continued dulness of Trade, and increase of destitution in some districts— Partial agitation against Renewal of the French Treaty, and in favour of Commercial Restriction—Similar agitation in France on the same subject-More hopeful Commercial Prospects for the New Year-Symptoms of Revival of Trade, and greater confidence in the Employment of Capital - Board of Trade Returns of Imports and Exports-Fluctuations in the Public Stocks, the Bank Rates of Discount, and the Prices of Staple Commodities - Public Losses by Death during the Year-Decease of the Earl of Derby–His career and character.
The question of the Irish Church, though it overshadowed the whole Session by its magnitude, did not, however, so entirely absorb the time of Parliament as to preclude legislation on some other subjects. Several useful Acts were passed, and other subjects were advanced, though not carried to their consummation in a legislative form. Of the former class the Bankruptcy Bill deserves prominent notice. For several Sessions the difficult questions involved in this branch of the law had demanded solution, and attempts had been made to grapple with them, but it was reserved for the Session of 1869 to pass an Act embodying what was regarded as promising experiment in the right direction, if not a satisfactory settlement of this difficult subject. The Attorney-General, Sir R. Collier, is mainly entitled to the credit of this achievement, he having introduced and carried the Bill through the House of Commons, where it was very fully discussed, but was not materially altered in its progress from the original draft. The first step of moving for leave to bring in the measure was taken on March 5,
when Sir R. Collier made a statement explaining the leading provisions which it would contain. Having reviewed the failure of former measures, he said the main object should be to collect and distribute the estate of a bankrupt as fairly, cheaply, and speedily as possible. In the first place he proposed—but by a separate Billto abolish imprisonment for debt, though the power possessed by the county courts would be still continued, placed, however, under stringent regulations. The main Bill, which made a clean sweep of the present system, would to a great extent be based on the Scotch system. When a man had been adjudicated a bankrupt his creditors would be summoned together, and there would be a preliminary proof of debts to determine the right of voting. The creditors would then have three courses—to accept a composition, to agree to a deed of arrangement, or to proceed in bankruptcy. If they chose the latter, they would appoint a trustee—not an official of the court, but any one they pleased; they would also nominate inspectors from their own body, the accounts would be andited by an official auditor, and the whole operation would be conducted under the superintendence of the court. A debtor would not be allowed to make himself a bankrupt, and after his release his subsequently acquired property would be liable for his debts for six years, unless he had paid a dividend of 108. in the pound. Five-sixths, however, of his creditors would have power to release him. Criminal offences in bankruptcy would be sent to the ordinary criminal courts, including quarter sessions and magistrates, and the stringency of the criminal law against fraudulent debtors would be increased. The administration of the bankruptcy law would be entrusted in the country to the County Court Judges, the present jurisdiction of the Bankruptcy Commissioners being retained until they died off; and in London one of the judges of the superior courts would be constituted Chief Judge in Bankruptcy, with power to make rules and regulations, and in certain cases to summon a jury. Appeals would go to the court from which the judge came, and in a few instances to the House of Lords. The funds of the court would suffice to pay all the necessary compensations, and the Bill—though only half as long as that of last year-would be a consolidating statute.
The reception of the Bill by members representing commercial interests was favourable. Mr. Jessel, however, a leading counsel in the Equity Courts, made some critical observations upon its provisions. Leave was given to bring in the Bill, and also another which accompanied it, having relation to the same subject matter, the abolition of imprisonment for debt.
On the second reading being moved, Mr. Jessel again stated his views on the subject, and laid down three main requisites for a good system of bankruptcy law—that it should facilitate arrangements between creditors and honest debtors who could not pay their debts, should secure the fair division of a debtor's property among his creditors, and the protection of the after-acquired property of a
debtor. Under the first head he complained that the majority of creditors necessary for an agreement was increased from threefourths to five-sixths, and he held it to be a shortcoming in the Bill that it failed to exclude persons who were not bona fide creditors from voting, and that it was the debtor, and not the creditors, who drew up the agreement. He was strongly opposed to relieving a debtor's after-acquired property from liability for his debts, the only effect of which would be to allow unscrupulous traders to speculate at the expense of others. Mr. Jessel insisted on the necessity of further changes in the mode of distributing the assets of deceased insolvents, giving some instances from his own practice of the hardships and inequalities of the present system.
Mr. H. Gregory, who professed to represent the opinion of the body of solicitors, approved the principle of giving creditors the management of insolvent estates, but objected to the creation of a special legal tribunal. He criticized the language of the Bill as being too limited in respect to partnerships and the definition of traders; he thought, also, that greater facilities ought to be given for the inception of bankruptcy.
Many members conversant with commercial subjects expressed approval of the principle of the Bill, among whom were Mr. Samuel Morley, Mr. Alderman Lusk, Mr. Anderson, and others, and of the legal members, Mr. Serjeant Simon and Mr. S. Hill were also favourable; other members expressed doubt or dissatisfaction as to particular provisions.
Mr. Peek complained that the arrangement clauses were vague; that there was no provision for taking estates out of bankruptcy ; and that there were no repealing clauses. He went so far as to suggest that the Bill should be withdrawn, and another, not so much needing amendment, brought in.
The Attorney-General avowed his readiness to give full consideration to all reasonable objections or suggestions of amendment.
The Bill was minutely discussed in the Committee, which was occupied for several days in considering the numerous clauses contained in it, and many amendments were made, but
none that involved material departure from the original scheme.
The Lord Chancellor moved the second reading on the 8th July, and explained its principal provisions. He justified the introduction of the Bill in the House of Commons rather than in that House. The subject of Bankruptcy Law had been so often discussed that he need not go farther back than 1821 in his narrative of legislation on it. He pointed out the novelties and defects of the previous Acts. In preparing the present Bill he had found a general desire to leave-subject to protection of the smaller against the larger creditors, and to the creation of sufficient supervision in getting in the assets—as much power as possible to the body of creditors to manage their own affairs. To secure the assets; to encourage the debtor to declare himself insolvent as early as possible; to give the initiatory power of putting the Court in motion to the creditors and not to the debtor; to take away from the secured creditors the right to vote, except in respect of the amount for which they were not secured; to authorize interference of the Court in defence of the minority dissenting properly from an arrangement deed ; and, in accordance generally with the Scotch system, to get rid of the various officials whose employment now cost the estate so much, leaving the realization of the assets to a trustee appointed by the creditors themselves — these were, the Lord Chancellor explained, the chief features of the Bill. The object was to distribute the assets, not to punish the bankrupt. Justice, however, to the creditors against the bankrupt had been consulted by empowering the former, under certain circumstances, to claim payment of their debts out of the bankrupt's future assets. He justified the necessity for speedy legislation on bankruptcy by reference to the present scandalous results of the Bankruptcy Law, and he gave some account of the constitution of the Courts to which the administration of the law was to be confided, intimating his concurrence in the desire to appoint Mr. Commissioner Bacon the first Chief Judge. On the question of imprisonment for debt, the subject of the companion Bill, the Government, he said, had felt there ought not to be one law for the rich and one for the poor, and, as there was almost unanimity on the part of the County Court Judges in favour of retaining the imprisoning powers of those Courts, it had appeared necessary to confer a similar jurisdiction in regard to the higher class of debts.
Lord Cairns expressed his entire concurrence in all the leading principles of the Bill, convinced as he was that the creditors should have the maximum of independent power of dealing with the estate, and the court the least power of interference with them. But he found fault with the introduction of the Bill into the other house first, which must at this late period preclude any thing like careful revision by the Lords.
He passed a
warm panegyric on the merits of Mr. Commissioner Bacon. No common law judge could exceed, or indeed equal, that gentleman in fitness for the post of Chief Judge; but he thought it must have been an oversight that Mr. Bacon was left by the Bill to discharge the duties of chief judge with no higher salary than his fellow-commissioners would take with them into retirement.
Lord Romilly approved of the large powers given by the Bill to the Lord Chancellor and Chief Judge to frame rules. He made also some remarks on the subject of imprisonment for debt.
The Bill was read a second time, and was then referred, together with the Imprisonment for Debt Bill, to a Select Committee. After which, the two measures in a slightly altered shape received the Royal Assent.
The proceedings of the House of Lords in regard to another very important measure of the Session, the Habitual Criminals Bill, which was introduced in that House, have been stated in our first chapter. A long interval, occupied mainly with the Irish Church
measure, ensued before the House of Commons found time to take this Bill into consideration. The time at length arrived, but not until the first week in August, when the Government found an opportunity to bring it forward, and Mr. Bruce, the Home Secretary, then made his statement in justification of a measure which he admitted to be of a novel and stringent character. In the outset he disclaimed the idea that it was introduced on account of any alarming increase in crime, because during the last 30 years crime had diminished, and for the last 10 years had been stationary, owing to various causes, such as emigration, education, and the effect of our prison legislation. But during the year 1868 there had been an increase of 1430 in the convictions, of which more than 1100 were for burglaries and violent crimes. This increase he traced chiefly to the operation of the changes made by the Act of 1864, and the aversion of the judges to inflict the long sentences of penal servitude, for which cause a large number of criminals had been released during the year. As one result of this in the metropolis alone 836 prisoners were now annually sentenced to short periods of imprisonment who before 1864 would have been sentenced to penal servitude, and when released would have been under the supervision of the police. It became necessary, therefore, to supplement the legislation of 1864 by further provisions for more complete supervision and identification by means of registration of habitual criminals. The leading idea of the Bill was to give every facility and encouragement for the reformation of reclaimable criminals, but to “hunt down” the irreclaimable and incurable class, which amounted to 40 per cent. of the whole. This would be done by depriving them of the usual presumption of innocence, and placing on them the onus of proving that they were living honestly. Persons once convicted would be liable to the supervision of the police only for the term of their sentence; to a second conviction would be affixed the further condition of police supervision for seven years after the sentence; and in the case of a third conviction for felony the judges would be bound to pronounce a sentence of not less than seven years' penal servitude, accompanied by police surveillance for life. To this last proposal Mr. Bruce anticipated the most objection, and he justified it at length, relying much on the good effects on the criminals themselves of the modified supervision under the ticket-of-leave system.
Mr. C. Adderley, whilst admitting the necessity of applying some novel principle to the evil, doubted the wisdom of the provisions relating to thrice-convicted criminals, as applying the deterrent principle too stringently. He objected, too, to entrusting the work of supervision to the police, who were not fitted for it, and proposed to hand it over to the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Societies throughout the kingdom, who had already done much towards the reclamation of criminals at a trifling cost.
Mr. Hardy, reserving discussion for the Committee, gave a general support to the Bill, and pointed out that there was nothing novel in its principles. Police supervision was already applied to the ticket