HC Deb 02 June 1819 vol 40 cc854-7

Lord Althorp moved the second reading of this bill.

Mr. Waithman

declared, he was sorry to trespass at that late hour on the patience of the House, but the present subject; being one to which he had devoted much time and attention, he felt it his duty to submit a few observations respecting it. In the principles upon which the bill now before the House was framed, he entirely concurred, but there there some parts of the evidence annexed to the report which seemed to him to call for animadversion Although the question was not of a popular or attractive nature, it was of the most general importance, not only as it affected the trading classes, but every branch of the community. Within the last four years persons had been discharged under the Insolvent debtors act, the aggregate amount of whose debts was upwards of 10,000,000l. The Tight hon. the chancellor of the exchequer had expressed his astonishment, that the trading classes could have sustained and borne up under losses to this amount. But many of them had not been able to bear up against, but had sunk under them. The amount of dividends upon this 10,000,000l. of debt was but 60,600l. There was another class of insolvents who had come to arrangements with their creditors, and the amount of their debts, independently of the former class, was 5,000,000l. The act had failed of accomplishing any one of the objects for which it was passed. It was but fair on this occasion to vindicate the character of the petitioners, who had been represented as a set of men desirous of immuring the bodies of those who were destitute of the means of paying their debts. The petitioners were actuated by no such feelings; they complained only of the defects of the existing law. The commissioner had, indeed, contended, that the act had this advantage over the bankrupt laws, that it made the property acquired subsequently by an insolvent, liable for his debts, and this had been called the polar star of the act. He would, however, venture to state, that a creditor might as well attempt to reach the polar star, as avail himself of such an advantage under the provisions of this act. There had been a few cases in which money had been received after his discharge, from the debtor, but it was not to be ascribed to the force of the measure he was considering. The salary of the commissioner, who sat only 74 days in the year, was 2,000l., and to this is added fees which had never been received by his predecessor. Those fees were established soon after the appointment of the present commissioner, and the amount of what he had himself received, for the years 1817 and 1818, the only period for which any account had been delivered, was upwards of 1,400l. The chief clerk, who had a salary of 400l., had received more than 1,800l. and the receiver of the court, his own son, more than 1,000l. The whole amount of the money collected by the latter, was 15,229l. 2s. 4d., upon which he enjoyed a per-centage, having at the same time a balance in his hands of 5,753l., the interest on which he also received. The result of all the accounts was to show, that the fees and balances in hand were equal to the whole sum paid into the receiver. It was a cruel thing that fees should be extorted from distressed persons going out into the world, after having surrendered their all. The unfortunate debtor was often compelled to surrender his last shilling. Having stated thus much, he should only add, that if these things were not facts, they must bring him into disrepute with the House; and if they were facts, they must convince the House and the public that a system of oppression and exaction had been preying on the industry of the country. He agreed with the principle of this measure, and hoped that such a bill would be produced as would give satisfaction to the debtor, and security to the creditor.

Mr. Calcraft

, having been a member of the committee, although he had not been present when the report was drawn up, hoped that the House would indulge him for a few minutes. He certainly had not been prepared for the turn which the debate had taken, as he did not expect that the worthy alderman would have expressed his sentiments on the propriety of the present bill, by launching into violent abuse of the former act. He could not help remarking, that a spirit of crimination seemed to have actuated the whole of the worthy alderman's conduct in the discussion of the subject. The worthy alderman had complained that the petitioners against the bill had been represented as unfeeling and heard-hearted; but he was not aware that any person had quarrelled with the petitioners on account of their opinions. He had certainly differed in opinion from those who petitioned against the principle of the act, but he had not quarrelled with them on that account, nor had he accused them of being unfeeling. He was glad to say, however, that many of those who had formerly been hostile to the measure were now satisfied with it, and had declared that if such provisions were introduced, into the bill as had been introduced, that was all they wanted. As to the commissioners taking fees, he certainly did not approve of the practice; but at the same time, if you do not give them fees, they must be paid in some other manner; for it was not to be supposed that any gentleman would devote his time and labour to this duty without an adequate remuneration. The chief clerk, who was obliged to devote the whole of his time to the duties of his office, had a salary of only 400l., and he believed that the whole of his income, fees and all, did not exceed 1,200l. The worthy alderman had represented as an enormous grievance, that out of 10,000,000l. of debts, the assets had amounted only to 60,000l.; but if people were insolvent, and had no property, why blame the court because there were no assets? The fact was, that most of the persons who took the benefit of the Insolvent Debtors act were of the very poorest description, and it was impossible, by any process, to make good dividends out of their property. He certainly did not approve of the clause which appointed three commissioners in the place of one; but he should reserve his objections to this provision, as well as to the fees of the commissioners, till the details of the bill came to be discussed in the committee.

Mr. John Smith

supported the bill. It was true, as had been stated by the hon. gentleman who spoke last, that most of the persons who took the benefit of the Insolvent act were of the poorest class; and even if they were not, he believed there was little chance of the creditor being benefited by a commission of bankruptcy. He believed that if the present measure were carried into effect, it would be productive of the greatest benefit.

The bill was read a second time.