HC Deb 09 March 1819 vol 39 cc933-6
Sir James Graham

presented a petition, signed by 1,500 of the principal shop- keepers of Mary-le-bone, praying that the Insolvent Debtors act might not be renewed; or that if it was the intention of the legislature to prolong a measure of this kind, care should be taken to protect the honest creditor from the frauds of the dishonest debtor. The hon. baronet said, that there was not one of these petitioners who had not been defrauded by the effect of this act.

Mr. Brougham

presented a petition from certain inhabitants of Westminster against the renewal of the Insolvent Debtors act. This petition was, he said, signed by a number of respectable tradesmen, and entitled to attention. He did not, however, at all agree with the petitioners as to the propriety of repealing the act alluded to, while he fully concurred with them in thinking that that act required revision and amendment. He was decidedly of opinion that the principle of this law should be preserved; yet as the execution of that principle required that the court appointed to carry it into effect, should be generally sitting, it was desirable to provide, by every possible means, for the improvement of the machinery of that court, and especially to guard against any facility for the release or encouragement of fraudulent debtors. To these points the committee about to be proposed by his learned friend, the attorney-general, would, no doubt, direct its most diligent inquiry.

The Solicitor General

said, it was the intention of the attorney-general to move for the appointment of a committee to consider this subject with all the petitions concerning it which had been received by the House: and that it never was his object to propose the renewal of the law alluded to in its present state. The attorney-general, he was enabled to say, concurred fully in the opinion just expressed by his learned friend as to the justice and necessity of preserving the principle of the Insolvent act. This, indeed, he found to be the impression of all men of good feeling and sound intellect. All that appeared to be looked for by reflecting men on all sides was, the correction of the deficiencies which were understood to belong to the law in its present shape. Upon an investigation of these deficiencies before a committee, and upon the introduction of any amendments required, he had no doubt that the law would be found to operate with due regard to the fair claims of both the honest creditor and the unfortunate debtor.

Mr. Waithman

wished, if a committee should be appointed, that there might be selected, for that purpose, some practical mercantile men, who were acquainted with the subject in all its details. He feared that if some such were not chosen, those who might constitute the committee would not have that sympathy for the situation of unfortunate creditors which the frauds they had experienced called for.

Mr. Brougham

, adverting to what had been said by the hon. member for Carlisle, namely, that every one of the petitioners from Mary-le-bone parish, comprising between 14 and 1500 persons, had suffered from the operation of the act, observed, that the hon. baronet must be under a mistake, as a vast number of the signatures to that petition were from persons who were not at all in trade.

Sir James Graham

said, that the petition alluded to was signed by many shopkeepers and tradesmen, and that every one of a deputation which had called upon him on the subject, had assured him that he had suffered some fraud through the insolvent acts. But he could go farther, and say that he had never conversed with a man of property upon the subject, who had not complained of being defrauded by these acts. Debtors had indeed become so cavalier in consequence of these acts, that when pressed by any creditor for payment, nothing was so common as to say, "I'll give you a bill at three months on lord Redesdale." But the execution of this law was almost as exceptionable as its provisions. What would the House think of the clerk of the court for carrying this law into effect, being appointed the universal assignee, or treasurer of the debtors released, and of no dividend, as he understood, having ever been paid to any creditors.

The Attorney General

observed, that the hon. baronet was completely misinformed with regard to the clerk of the court, who, so far from being the universal, was only the provisional assignee, of the debtors, to which place he was appointed by the learned serjeant who presided in that court, with a view to take care of any property which might be surrendered by, or found in the possession of, any debtors at the time of their release. But the moment the creditors of any debtor appointed an assignee, such property was given up to them by this provi- sional assignee, who had, within the last twelve months, received property of that description to the amount of 15,000l. all of which would, of course, have been expended in prison, if it were not for the Insolvent acts. The learned gentleman concluded with expressing his hope, that the merits of this case would be fully inquired into by the committee, for the appointment of which it was his intention to move.

Mr. George Lamb

observed, that undoubtedly great abuses had taken place under the Insolvent acts, but yet he believed that those abuses were not so considerable as some gentlemen appeared to think. He was of opinion, that the law required amendment, while he was satisfied that its principle ought to be preserved. He agreed as to the propriety of postponing all discussion upon this subject until the proposed committee should have made its report, and he hoped and trusted that the consequence of that report would be the adoption of a measure equally calculated to secure the interest of the honest creditor, and to save the honest but unfortunate debtor from un-merited suffering.

Ordered to lie on the table.