§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (The Earl of HALSBURY)
My Lords, in relation to the Report of the Committee on the Companies Bill, which has now been sitting, as your Lordships are aware, for two Sessions, I desire to explain that the evidence upon the subject, which is very voluminous and important, has been printed by the Order of the House, but there has been no time for the Committee to consider their Report. Of course, the subject of the whole formation of Joint Stock Companies has been for a considerable time before the public eye, and I am not surprised that a great many people are desirous that the Report of the Committee should be issued with the sanction of all the members of the Committee; but the evidence did not close until late in the Session, and there has been no time since that period for the Members of the Committee to meet and consider what Report they should make on the Bill which was originally submitted to them for consideration. I think it is well that people should understand the difficulties in the way of that Committee going through the matter more quickly than they have been able to do. My noble and learned Friends, Lord Davey, Lord Macnaghten, and Lord James of Hereford, are Members of that Committee, and undoubtedly their presence and authority will give a value to the Report when it is made which it would not possess if they were not present. There are other noble Lords who are familiar with commercial and financial questions who have been associated with us, and it has been a very great advantage to us all that 884 we should meet and consider these questions with reference to any legislation which might be intended to be passed. Certainly it is our hope, if, as we desire, we should be re-appointed, that we shall be able in some way to suggest some amendments to the law, which I for one quite admit are required in the present state of things, where almost all the great commercial interests of the country are tending towards the establishment of joint stock companies. It is not unnatural that a great number of persons are interested in this question and would desire the assistance of your Lordships in legislation on the subject. The problem is not an easy one to solve, but, speaking for myself—as we have not had time to consider the evidence, I cannot speak for the whole Committee—I should certainly say that nothing more disastrous could happen to the commerce of the country than any attempt to place shackles on the development of joint stock companies carrying on industrial enterprises. A part of the evidence, which will no doubt make a great impression, points to the ridiculously small proportion which what are called fraudulent companies bear to the enormous mass of bona fide commercial enterprises, bona fide and profitable in all respects; but, as I have said, it has been impossible to proceed more quickly in this matter by reason of the draft which the Committee makes upon the judicial strength of the House. Three members of the judicial body have been taken away, and Ave have not been able, with due regard to the judicial business of the country, to give more than one day a week to the work of the Committee. The draft on the time of two of the members of the Committee has been fairly well understood, and, indeed, I should have thought that it would also have been well understood that the Lord Chancellor has something else to do besides sitting on the Woolsack at a quarter past four o'clock; but some gentleman has been good enough to send me a speech of a member of the late Government, who suggests that the only function of the Lord Chancellor is to make magistrates, and who comments with some severity upon the emoluments he is supposed to receive for that sinecure office. I should have thought that a Member 885 of the late Government would have understood what the Lord Chancellor has to do and what his position is. He was a member of the Administration is, which my noble Friend Lord Herschell was Lord Chancellor; and in this House, when an attack was made upon my noble Friend, he gave an account, satisfactory to the public, though perhaps not satisfactory to himself, of the enormous number of duties which the Lord Chancellor has to discharge—duties which, in his absence, I may say, he has always most admirably discharged. That any member of the late Government should in Cheshire have made that statement is, to my mind, extraordinary. My Lords, I was only going to mention the circumstances in reference to the Report of the Committee on the Companies Bill, but, curiously enough, only this morning I received this interesting document containing the speech that has been made about the Lord Chancellor's office. As it is an attack on the Lord Chancellor's office, and not on me personally, I thought it worth while to notice it. If it had been an attack on me personally I should have pursued my ordinary course and have taken no notice of it. I am not going to say what it is that the Lord Chancellor has to do. Lord Herschell described his duties with perfect accuracy, and I do not wish to add to his description; but for the sake of the much wider class who are anxious about the progress of this Committee I thought it was right to say how difficult it has been, with due regard to the administration of justice, to proceed more continuously and rapidly than we have done. I only hope that in another Session we shall be able to complete our labours and present a satisfactory result. I am obliged to your Lordships for allowing me to make this explanation, as f thought it duo to the public that they should know that the interests of commerce have not been lost sight of, and that the Committee are desirous, as soon as they can, of presenting their Report.