§ Mr. O'Connell
presented a Petition from numerous persons confined for Small Debts in the Marshalsea Prison of the Four Courts in Dublin, complaining of the state of the Prison, and the great abuses existing in the Court of Conscience for the recovery of Small Debts in that city.
wished to take that opportunity of asking the right hon. Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether Ministers were prepared to bring forward any measure for the abolishment of imprisonment for small debts.
§ Sir Robert Peel
replied, that he certainly was unprepared to bring forward any measure for the alteration of the laws of imprisonment for debt; but the subject had been referred to the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of the laws, and they (being fully and best qualified for the purpose) had undertaken the very arduous and difficult task of inquiring into this important subject at the earliest opportunity, and Government had determined not to interfere until their report was completed.
said, that the right hon. Secretary had pledged himself, several months ago, to bring forward a bill for amending the laws on this subject; still, Session after Session, passed over without anything being done, notwithstanding the numerous petitions that he (Mr. Hume) 129 and other Members, time after time, had presented.
§ Sir Robert Peel
observed, that the hon. Gentleman had no right to impose on him the duty of bringing forward a bill on any subject, or to dictate to him in what manner he ought to perform his parliamentary duties. If the hon. Gentleman saw a necessity for an alteration of the law of imprisonment for debt, or any other law, he could introduce a bill himself. He had the power and privilege of doing so. He must deny that he had ever pledged himself to bring forward any bill on this subject, but had merely informed the hon. Member, that the question, which was one of great importance, was under the consideration of the Commissioners, who were most competent to inquire into it. He really was not prepared to alter, off-hand, the most important laws of the country, without maturely considering the probable results, and receiving that professional assistance that the importance of the question demanded.
§ Sir John Newport
complained of the expense incurred in the appointment of Committees of Inquiry, when the results of their labours were thrown away, and rendered of no utility, by the reports remaining unnoticed, and their recommendations of improvement passing unheeded. This was more particularly the case with the report on the Under-Sheriffs in Ireland, which, although made five years ago, had never been acted upon.
§ Mr. Doherty
defended the conduct of the Law Committee, and stated, that several bills had been introduced founded on the result of their labours. With respect to the Under-Sheriffs of Ireland, a motion. on the subject had been entered on the Notice paper, night after night during the last Session, and he appealed to the candour of those Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, whether he had not always been in his place ready to bring it forward. But, owing to the lengthened debates, it had never been called on till late at night, and it was then objected to as being too late an hour for the discussion of such a bill.
§ Mr. O'Connell
observed, that it was only another proof of the necessity for a better arrangement of the hours and business of that House.
§ The Petition brought up and read; on the question that it do lie on the Table,
said, the right hon. Secretary 130 had stated, that it was not his duty to bring forward a bill on this subject. He (Mr. Hume) contended that it was his duty, or why did the country pay for a Secretary of State? He had presented a hundred petitions against imprisonment for debt, but they had all been treated with neglect by the officers of Government, and he himself had been treated with contempt and insolence by his Majesty's Attorney General. From the substance of his Majesty's Speech, he had every reason to believe, that there was greater attention paid to foreign affairs than to the more important domestic concerns of the kingdom.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that he had devoted as much time as the duties of his office would permit to the subject in question; but he would repeat, that it was one which required great professional knowledge, and serious inquiry, before the established law could be so materially altered.
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
said, that the Law Commission was not that to which the question of imprisonment for debt ought to be referred. Neither would he be willing to throw the burthen upon the right hon. Baronet. But why should not the right hon. Baronet, call on the House of Commons to discuss this important subject? There were, he was sure, many Gentlemen in that House, who, if the right hon. Baronet brought the subject before them, would gladly apply themselves to it.
§ The Petition to be printed.