§ Sir Robert Peel
said, he had to present a numerously and respectably signed Petition from the merchants, traders, and others, residing in the city and liberty of Westminster, against the Imprisonment for Debt Bill. As the measure was then 1055 under the consideration of a Select Committee, he should not enter into the Question but he would merely call the attention of the House to the allegations of the Petitioners, who, be it remembered, were practically acquainted with the subject. In their opinion, the Bill was calculated to delay rather than to facilitate the recovery of debts, and they did not hesitate to express their conviction that, under the present system, the honest debtor, after making a cession of his goods for the payment of his debts, had little difficulty in obtaining the relief for which the Bill proposed to provide more effectually. They were afraid the provisions of the Bill would increase the number of fraudulent customers; and they were convinced that the proposed mode of recovery would prove to be troublesome and inefficacious. In conclusion, they prayed to be heard before the House by their agents. As the Committee would, doubtless, be anxious to obtain every information he had suggested that the Petitioners should tender to them the evidence they had to offer.
§ Mr. Carruthers
begged to inform the right hon. Baronet and the House, that that Committee received no evidence whatever. In his opinion it would have been more wise if the Committee had called before them practical and experienced men acquainted with the commerce of the country to give evidence upon this very important subject.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham,
entered his protest against the Bill, as an impartial man, although it might to some appear intrusive to say so. He represented a great number of persons deeply interested in this momentous question, and they and he believed the measure to have originated in a contrivance between the Crown and a party. He thought that the interference of the Crown, on all such occasions, ought to be viewed with jealousy. The Committee of the House ought to employ itself in obtaining information, and not to rest satisfied with the dictation of any Commission. No evidence, had been taken by the Committee from any part of the kingdom; yet there were many persons who contended that they would be most seriously aggrieved by the passing of the Bill. They ought to have justice—at least the justice of being heard upon matters which they so well understood.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said that a great mistake seemed to be enter- 1056 tained by some hon. Gentlemen as to the nature of the Select Committee which had been appointed on this subject. That Select Committee had not been appointed for the purpose of taking evidence, and, in fact, it had not the power to do so. It had been appointed solely for the purpose of inquiring into, examining, and discussing the various provisions of the Bill; but at the time of its appointment, the House did not think it right to give it the power of taking evidence. He believed it was intended to re-commit the Bill to a Select Committee up-stairs, and when that proposition was made, it would then be open to the House to empower that Committee to receive evidence upon the subject.
§ Mr. Hume
was sorry the Attorney General was not in his place, as he could confirm the statement which he would make. The fact was, that a Commission had been taking evidence on the subject for the last two years; and he for one, when the Select Committee was appointed, considered there was no necessity for taking further evidence upon the matter. He was inclined to say, however, from what had since occurred, that as there were many individuals, both in the metropolis and other parts of the country, who thought they had not been heard, and who imagined they could give new and important evidence, they should get an opportunity of communicating it. He was sure that the object of the Bill would be forwarded by thus yielding to their demands.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, that all the trading community of this country asked of the Legislature, when it abolished those powers to which personally he was friendly, was, that care would be taken to preserve to them some means of recovering their debts in the best manner it could contrive. He rejoiced that the Bill was to be sent to a Committee up-stairs, and he was also happy to hear that the Attorney General had manifested a disposition to attend to every suggestion that might be made upon the subject. Under such circumstances, and especially as every petition which had been presented upon the subject would be referred to the Committee, before whom the fullest investigation would take place, he thought all discussion at present would be perfectly useless. He only regretted that the Committee could not, according to the usages of the House, receive parol evidence upon the matter; he, however, 1057 only now rose for the purpose of stating that the traders had no disposition to continue the practice of imprisonment on mesne process, and that if that system was to be abolished, the Legislature ought to afford the trading community every facility for the recovery of their debts, and that their just rights ought not to be prejudiced by improvident legislation.
§ Sir Frederick Pollock,
as one of the Commissioners by whom the Abolition of Imprisonment for Debt in certain cases had been recommended, might be excused for saying a word on the present occasion. Although he had been one of the majority of the Commissioners who had been adverse to the continuance of the present system, yet he must admit, a very large body of evidence had been submitted to them, the tendency of which was unfavourable to the views he then, and still entertained upon the subject, and therefore he must say, that he was indisposed to legislate hastily or rashly, or without the fullest inquiry and investigation. To some of the details of the present Bill there existed, in his judgment, insuperable objections, and he should be sorry that it should be urged forward without affording every member of the community, whose interests were likely to be even remotely affected by it, the fullest opportunity of either pointing out the advantages of the present system, or the evils which would be likely to result from the change. He had heard with much pleasure from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that after the Bill had been recommitted, the House itself would be enabled to examine it in detail. He should regret if, after all he had seen of the measure, it did not undergo the most complete investigation. To the same scrutiny he was willing to submit the Report of the Commissioners, (and the recommendations therein contained) to which he as one of the Commissioners had been a party, though he would not give up any single opinion expressed in that report. All he hoped was, that protection would be afforded to the honest debtor, and at the same time the creditor would be secured every means of obtaining that justice which he had a right to expect.
§ The Petition laid upon the table.