HC Deb 09 February 1830 vol 22 cc267-70
Mr. Hume

said, he had moved for returns of the number of persons committed to the various prisons of the metropolis in the year 1829,; upon arrest for debts under mesne process; and also for a return of the number of persons committed for small debts to those prisons, specifying the amount. He would take this opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Peel) whether, after so many years' experience, he was not prepared to adopt some alteration in the law relating to mesne process. He knew there were a number of persons who. suffered a confinement of forty days in consequence of proceedings in the Court of Requests for sums so low as 18d. of original debt, although the expenses incurred in procuring their release amounted at all times to many pounds. He pressed the subject strongly on the attention of the Government. He was more convinced than ever that arrests for small debts in particular, were injurious to creditors as well as debtors. The Attorney General (Sir J. Scarlett) had lately said, that to imprison an Englishman, except on the verdict of a jury, was a disgrace to the law; and yet that learned Gentleman had opposed any modification of arrests in mesne process. Though the facts were so notorious, they went on from year to year without any remedy being; proposed. It was a crying evil of great magnitude; and he repeated, did the Government intend to propose any remedy? All those who were in sponging houses deserved the sympathy of Members; they were exposed to the most grievous exactions, and to most demoralizing conduct.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he thought that the hon. Member was scarcely warranted in assuming that nothing had been done to improve the law on these subjects for some years, when it was recollected that his honourable friend the then Solicitor General (Sir C. Tindall) brought in, and carried through Parliament a bill, only two years ago, limiting the amount of arrest on mesne process to sums above 20l. Whatever had taken place, however, he (Mr. Peel) was thoroughly convinced of the necessity of looking at the whole of the subject in detail, before they adopted any specific remedy, for he was satisfied that the adoption of any arbitrary sum, under which no arrest should take place, would have the effect of punishing with greater severity a number of innocent debtors, who would be sent to prison through the effect of the process of execution sued out in the Court of Requests, and others of local jurisdiction. He was, indeed, so deeply impressed with the necessity of looking at the whole of the law on the subject of arrests before they attempted the alteration of any particular parts, that he had even felt it his duty to recommend the consideration of it to the commission now sitting, to inquire into the practices of the higher courts of law. [hear] He believed, indeed, that the commissioners had made some progress in their inquiry on the subject; but as it was important that they should follow up their Report on some questions which had for some time been before them, in order that the whole might be clearly connected, and brought fairly under consideration, they had not been able to continue their inquiries on the subject of small debts to a satisfactory termination. When they had reported on the subjects now before them, the commissioners would then be able to devote the whole of their time to the inquiry; and he put it to the hon. Member whether it would not be better to wait and bring the question before men of such experience as the present commissioners, rather than incur the expense of appointing a new set of commissioners who could not be so well acquainted with the subject.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, it was worthy of notice, that out of twenty thousand arrests, seventeen thousand were for sums under 100l. This appeared from Returns which had already been made to that House. Remedy must be accompanied with summary process over the assets of debtors.

Mr. Hume

said, he wished to know how soon the commissioners would prosecute this part of their inquiry? He understood that which they were now engaged upon would take two or three years.

Mr. Peel

said, he could give the hon. Gentleman no assurance upon that point. Having commenced the inquiry into the state of the Common Law, it appeared to him that these commissioners were the proper persons.

Mr. Hume

said, the principle of the division of labour would be of service. He hoped that the right hon. Secretary would think of some other mode of giving-relief to the public on this subject than by that of the protracted labours of this Commission. No Committee of the House was necessary. His Majesty's Attorney General—he said it without meaning the slightest disrespect to that gentleman— ought to be prepared to bring forward measures of relief for the subject in such cases. He would wait for two months longer; if nothing were done in that time by his Majesty's Government, he would himself bring the matter forward.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he knew of a case where one man arrested another for 60,000l. without ever having seen him or had any dealings whatever with him. In his opinion all arrest for debt ought to be abolished, except after judicial proceedings.

Mr. Hume

said, he would, in the mean time, move for Returns of the number of' prisoners for debt committed to the custody of the keepers of the King's-bench, the Fleet, Whitecross-street, the Marshalsca, and Horsemonger-lane prisons, in the year 1829; distinguishing those in custody under mesne process, or under judgments recovered, or for costs of suit; stating how many for sums above 100l., for sums between 50l. and 100l., for sums between 50l. and 20l., and the number of sums under 20l. (excluding Crown debtors, prisoners for contempt of court, and persons committed by process out of Courts of Request); stating, also, the number in custody in each of those prisons on 1st January 1830.— Of the number of warrants granted for debt; distinguishing whether upon mesne process or on writs of execution against the person, by the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, and by the sheriff of Surrey; and the number of bailable processes executed by them; in the year 1829.—Of the number of debtors committed to the Whitecross-street and Horsemonger-lane prisons, on process out of the Courts of Request, during each of the last two years ending 1st January 1830; stating the aggregate amount of debts and costs separately, in each prison, in each year, showing, in classes, the number con- fined from one to less than ten days, for ten days and less than thirty, fifty, seventy, and one hundred days, in each year; stating, also, the amount paid out of the county or other rates for the maintenance and support of such prisoners, in each year, as accurately as possible, and of the number of prisoners committed for debt to the custody of the keepers of the Four Courts, Marshalsea, city Marshalsea, She-rifts' prison, St. Sepulchre's Minor court, and St. Honore's Manor court, in the city of Dublin and its liberties, in the year 1829; and also, the number of prisoners committed for debt to each of the other prisons in Ireland in the year 1829; and the number in custody on 1st January 1830; distinguishing those in custody under mesne process or under judgments recovered, or for costs of suit; stating how many for sums above 100l., for sums between 50l. and 100l., for sums between 50l. and 20l., and the number of sums under 20l. (Crown debtors and persons for contempt of Court to be put in a separate return); stating also the number in custody in each of those prisons on 1st January 1830.—Ordered.