HC Deb 18 May 1830 vol 24 cc826-9
Mr. Hume

presented a Petition from persons confined for Debt in the Borough Gaol of Liverpool, against Imprisonment for Debt. The hon. Member admitted, that the clause in the Attorney General's bill, which restricted arrests on mesne process to sums of 100l. or upwards, was taking one step; but he hoped the House would by this time have been pre-pared to do away with imprisonment for debt on mesne process altogether.

The Attorney General

said, that he was not called upon to state his opinion upon the subject of imprisonment for debt. Whatever that opinion might be, as long as the public opinion was divided on the subject, and a majority of that House was against the abolition of arrest for Debt on mesne process, it would not be consistent with the duty of the situation which he held to attempt to force upon the country a measure which would subvert a system that had now existed for so many years. He would take this opportunity of putting it to his noble friend, the member for Morpeth (Lord Morpeth), whether he would persevere with his motion which stood for that evening, viz.—"To repeal so much of 60 George 3rd, c. 8, as subjects persons, upon the second conviction for libel, to banishment." It was his intention to move for leave to bring in a bill, which would effect precisely the same object which his noble friend had in view. His measure would also contain a clause to facilitate the recovery of damages for Libel; but still it would do all his noble friend proposed to do; and he took this opportunity, therefore, of putting it to his noble friend, whether it would not be better for him to withdraw the motion of which he had given notice?

Lord Morpeth

said, that as he had already postponed this motion at the request of his hon. and learned friend, he thought he should be justified in calling upon his hon. and learned friend to state more explicitly the nature of the accompanying measure before he acceded to the suggestion now made to him.

The Attorney General

said, that the measure would apply, not to existing newspapers, but only to newspapers which should be hereafter established. The object of it was to call upon the proprietors of all newspapers established de novo to give additional security to the amount of 100l. His view in proposing such a measure was simply to enable persons to recover from newspaper proprietors those damages which a court of justice might award. A measure similar to this had passed about ten years ago without objection, and his bill would only carry that measure to the farther extent he had mentioned—namely, to 100l. Whatever difference of opinion there might be, as to the propriety or impropriety of allowing the press to say what it pleased upon public matters, yet he believed there was only one opinion re- specting the manner in which Libels upon private individuals should be dealt with. He believed it to be generally held, that private Libels ought to be checked. To effect this was his object. He need not remind the House, that persons who had been guilty of such Libels—of Libels of a very grave character—had escaped the payment of damages, because they had no tangible property.

Lord Morpeth

said, that since a part of his hon. and learned friend's measure would effect all that he proposed to do, he felt that he should not be justified in refusing to resign the matter into such hands. At the same time he must express his deep regret that his hon. and learned friend had not contented himself with simply repealing this disgraceful act; for with respect to the accompanying measure which his hon. and learned friend had now explained, he could look upon it only in one light—he could consider it only as another restriction on the liberty of the press. This was his present impression; and if, on consideration, he saw nothing to induce him to alter the opinion he now expressed, he should certainly move, when they went into a committee on the Attorney General's Bill, that the whole of it should be struck out, except that part of it which repealed the act of George 3rd.

Mr. Bright

did not rise to offer any opinion upon the proposed measure, but to allude to one which the Attorney General had already brought in. He objected to so many important subjects being mixed up in one bill, especially when, as in the present case, they had no connexion with each other. The clause respecting arrest on mesne process ought to be struck out and discussed by itself.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

differed from the hon. Member who had just sat down, and thought the clause respecting arrest was very properly admitted into a bill the professed object of which was to improve the administration of justice. With respect to the proposed measure of his hon. and learned friend, he begged also to express his regret that his hon. and learned friend had not contented himself with repealing at once that act which was a disgrace to our Statute-book, instead of accompanying the repeal with another measure of questionable propriety.

Mr. O'Connell

protested against the principle on which the Attorney General was proceeding with respect to arrest. Security ought to be taken from persons making affidavit for debt. As to the proposed measure of the Attorney General, he was sorry to hear that there was to be another shackle on the press. The public had at least a right to expect that the monopoly of the press should not be continued in the hands of the present owners; but restrictions which would prevent others embarking in that trade would have that effect. Above all, the Attorney General ought to give them the definition of "libel," and no man ought to be punished at all for an undefined offence.

Mr. C. Barclay

hoped the proposed alteration in the law of arrest would be maturely considered before the House agreed to it.

Lord Morpeth

withdrew his Motion.

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