HC Deb 08 May 1832 vol 12 cc752-4
Mr. Hunt

moved for certain papers relating to the Courts of Request held in and for London, Westminster, and Southwark, and for Middlesex and Surrey. The papers he wished for, were Returns of the number of cases decided in these Courts within one month. He should have extended the period for the Returns still further, but that he understood there would be some difficulty in making the Returns, on account of the number of cases decided. His object in moving for them was, to show how the power of arrest for debt was abused in this country, and how much injustice was committed on the poor man by means of these Courts. The hon. Member concluded by moving for a "Return of all cases heard and determined in the several Courts of Request in the cities of London and Westminster, in the borough of Southwark and parts adjacent, in the counties of Middlesex and Surrey, including the Palace Court and that of the Tower Hamlets, for one month, ending the 31st of December, 1831, specifying all the judgments made in each Court, the amount of each claim, the sum awarded, and stating whether paid, whether the party was distrained upon, or sent to prison; stating the amount of fees paid in each case, and the length of imprisonment adjudged in each case; also stating what salaries are paid to each of the officers, and the amount in hand, if any."

Mr. John Campbell

said, it was impossible for any one to object to the Motion of the hon. Member, except that it was confined to too short a space of time. There could be no doubt, that the greatest injustice was often practised through the means of the power of imprisoning for debt; and, for his part, he wished, that the hon. Member had extended his Motion to returns of this sort from all the Courts in the country.

Mr. Lennard

perfectly agreed with the hon. and learned Member, that the Returns ought to be general, and that the House should determine what was the number of persons throughout the country liable to be imprisoned for small debts. He had, some years ago, brought this subject under their consideration; and, from Returns then made, it appeared, that, in one of the chief Courts of this kind, the number of cases decided in a single year amounted to above 18,000, although the Court only sat two days in a week; thus giving an average of between 170 and 180 for each day. It was quite impossible to believe, that these cases could be at all considered with care, and he had no doubt, that great injustice was often done to parties in these Courts. Indeed, he believed he might refer to the right hon. Baronet opposite for a confirmation of his opinion, since, if he recollected rightly, that right hon. Baronet had said, in a speech connected with this subject, that a prudent man would not go into these Courts as a suitor. He trusted, that the subject would be speedily investigated, and some remedy proposed for the abuses that were universally admitted to exist.

Sir Robert Peel

was much inclined to believe, that great abuses did exist in these Courts; but the fact was, on the occasion alluded to by the hon. Member, as it was generally found with regard to questions relating to the reform of abuses, that the further he advanced, the more extended his horizon became, and the greater appeared the necessity for an extensive Reform. The subject of imprisonment for debt on mesne process was then before the House; but it was said, that it would be in vain to abolish that, while the power of imprisoning in execution for small debts continued to exist, since a litigious creditor could easily avail himself of the latter mode to punish and oppress his debtor. He thought, that the whole question of imprisonment for debt ought to be taken into consideration at the same time. That portion of it which related to imprisonment for debt on mesne process had been referred to the Law Commissioners, who, he believed, had but recently made their Report.

Lord Althorp

agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the whole subject had better be discussed at one time, and, in his opinion, there ought to be, as early as convenient, some inquiry instituted into the matter, as the power of imprisonment for small debts Was liable to many great objections.

Mr. Hume

recommended, that the Returns, instead of being for one month, should be for one year.

Mr. Hunt

said, he should gladly accede to this recommendation. He had already mentioned the reason of his having at first introduced his Motion in so limited a shape. As a proof of the sort of abuses to which the power of imprisonment gave rise, he mentioned that, a short time since, a man had been committed to prison for not paying a sum of 1s. for debt and 8s. costs, and that the man was so poor he must have starved, if his fellow-prisoners had not made a subscription for his relief.

Motion agreed to.

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