HC Deb 21 March 1837 vol 37 cc694-9

The Attorney-General moved that the Imprisonment for Debt Bill be re-committed.

The House in Committee.

On Clause 1 being proposed,

Mr. Richards

said, that no Bill ever submitted to that House, was more carelessly and inconsiderately framed than the present. It professed to be a Bill for the abolition of imprisonment for debt, except in cases of fraud; and yet there was not one of its provisions which made it fraudulent to contract a debt in any case, or which imposed any punishment for doing so. It was, in his opinion, a crude and ill-digested measure, and would be infinitely more mischievous in its effects than the law as it now stood. It appeared to him to offer direct encouragement to debtors to give undue preference to creditors; and greater facility would be given than at present for committing fraud in this respect. If imprisonment for debt were an unjust and unnecessary evil, why did not the hon. and learned Gentleman content himself with proposing to retain the goods of the debtor, without reserving the power of imprisonment to the Crown? This was, in fact, contradictory to the principles on which the measure was founded. He strongly objected to the Bill, on the ground that it would give extended power for the recovery of debts only to individuals suing in the superior courts. As regarded the great mass of creditors, it would curtail rather than extend the remedy against debtors. To persons who claimed an amount not extending to 100l., the remedy would be much more troublesome, expensive, and dilatory, than at present. In fact, the Bill would shut up almost every local court for the recovery of debts in the country.

Mr. G. F. Young

said, that the enactments of the Bill by no means bore out that which assumed to be its principle, and that it was viewed by the trading in- terests and the country at large with universal distrust. There was among all classes a growing dislike to the practice of imprisonment, and he thought it would be better to trust to that than to take away the power to which public opinion was sufficiently opposed as to prevent the improper use of it. If material alterations were not introduced in the measure in its progress through the Committee, he hoped the opportunity of objecting to the Bill and dividing against it on the third reading would be afforded.

The Attorney-General

said, that in due time he hoped to be able to convince the hon. Gentleman and the present opposers of the measure that it was calculated to benefit creditors. He thought the practice of discussing the principle of a Bill in Committee an inconvenient one. The third reading would afford an opportunity for that full discussion, without which he should much lament that the measure should pass.

Mr. Mark Philips

said, he was not opposed to proceeding with the Bill on factious grounds; he only wished for some delay that would afford him the opportunity of communicating with his constituents, whose interests were deeply involved.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 12 being read,

Mr. Wason moved the omission of the words recognizing the exception of Members of the House of Commons from the full operation of the clause.

The Attorney-General

thought it inexpedient to re-agitate a question which had been already decided on in a previous Committee.

Colonel Thompson

said, he had heard it alleged as a reason for the introduction of those words into the clause which exempted Members of Parliament from arrest in cases where, according to this Bill, other persons would be liable to it, was because the Bill would not pass another place without them. Now he thought that this House, if such were the case, would, by consenting to this clause without the proposed amendment, be doing a very unhandsome office for that other place.

Mr. Finch

was sure that for one Member of the other House, who desired the exemption in the clause, before the Committee, there were twenty Members of that House who were anxious to enjoy it. He would vote for the Amendment.

Mr. Mark Philips

was of opinion, that a question affecting the character of that House ought not to be settled in so thin a House, and advised a postponement of the amendment.

The Attorney-General

had introduced the words into the clause exempting Members of Parliament from its full operation, not with reference to any opinion that might be entertained of the measure itself by that or any other House, but because he believed the introduction of such words to be just and proper. The clause gave a remedy against the person of a debtor after neglecting to comply with the certain requisite forms and orders of court, &c. But he had considered that a Member of Parliament ought to be protected from all arrest, in order that he might attend to the proper discharge of his duties as a Member. If he were not so, false debts might be sworn to against him, and he might be kept away from the House by a malicious creditor when it was absolutely necessary for the interests of his constituents that he should be there. In such a case he might lose the pleasure of listening to the eloquence of the hon. Member for Knaresborough. By the present Bill the creditors of a Member of Parliament would be placed in a much better situation than they were in before, inasmuch as while, by the present system, all the property and even the servants of Members of Parliament were privileged, they would by the present measure have a remedy against all their property, whether landed, personal, or funded; in short, of every description whatsoever. They would gain a great deal and lose nothing. Under such circumstances why should hon. Members wish to alter the division which had already taken place upon the matter in a House much fuller than the present?

Mr. Richards

said, he should be sorry to contribute towards doing anything which might prevent hon. Members listening to the Attorney-General's learned exposition of the laws in that House. He was only answering the sarcasm of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He would, however, maintain his objection to the whole Bill, as altogether impracticable and impertinent, and he hoped the hon. Member for Ipswich would persist in dividing the House, in which case he would certainly give him his vote.

Mr. George F. Young

might be induced to support the principle advocated by hon. Gentlemen opposite if it were presented in the shape of a substantive measure; but he objected to this attempt to carry it by a side wind. The privilege belonged rather to their constituents than to hon. Members themselves; and he, therefore, should support the hon. and learned Attorney-General.

Mr. Aglionby

did not think that the proposal of the hon. Member for Ipswich would interfere with the proper discharge of their Parliamentary duties by hon. Members; the more especially as, by a fair statement to the Commissioners, gentlemen would be released from personal restraint. He therefore should support the motion of the hon. Member.

Mr. Hume

observed, that no portion of the privileges of Members of Parliament was so much objected to out of doors as that which the Attorney-General wished to perpetuate. He therefore hoped that if the hon. Member for Ipswich failed now, he would renew his exertions on a very fit opportunity.

The Solicitor-General

had not expected that this matter would have been again discussed that evening and the whole case re-opened. It was not fair to absent Members, nor was it even fair to those present. He could not say that his mind was made up on the subject; but he certainly should, at present, support his hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General.

Mr. Scarlett

stated, that in his judgment this was a question of the privileges of the people, who had a right to elect even a fraudulent representative if they pleased, and also to give him the protection which under the present law he enjoyed. On the abstract question he had not made up his mind.

Sir J. Hobhouse

agreed with the Solicitor-General. He had not made up his mind fully on the subject, and thought that an improper moment to decide on it. If the privilege, which the Attorney-General proposed not to alter were invidious, it was in proportion to its invidiousness that the House should discuss it fairly.

The Attorney-General

remarked that he was not personally interested in the matter, because, representing the city of Edinburgh, he did not want a qualification, and he was on principle opposed to the exaction of qualifications from Members of Parliament. But if the proposal of the hon. Member for Ipswich, to strike out the words which he (the Attorney-General) had inserted, were complied with, then qualifications for Members of Parliament must be abolished. The fictitious qualifications which had been the means of insuring seats in that House to some of its best Members for numbers of years, would not stand the test of an examination by a Commissioner. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had always advocated the continuance of qualifications, and therefore ought, he thought, to support him.

Mr. Harvey

thought, that the hon. and learned Attorney-General had made an appeal very likely to defeat its own object. He called on hon. Gentlemen opposite to support the clause, otherwise it would lead to the abolition of all qualification. In plain terms, he said, you Conservative Gentlemen are known to be beggars—men of straw, sitting by virtue of paper qualifications, and if you suffer this protection to be abrogated, you will expose yourselves to an examination which will at once detect your property and your fraud. Could any suggestion be more monstrous and insulting! Then it was said the Bill, without this clause, would be lost in another place. For his part he would be deterred by no such apprehension. Let the disgrace attach to the proper parties, and we ought not to protect ourselves by imputing intentional misconduct to others. If the Bill should return to this House with the obnoxious clause restored, we must meet the exigency when it arises. It might so happen, that it would be better to accept the Bill so prejudiced, but at all events, let it go forth to the world by whom the dirty deed was done.—What was the evil apprehended? That a Member of Parliament might have to confess himself a bagger, and moreover, that he had committed perjury. And was that the man to protect! He (Mr. Harvey) was against a compulsory qualification, but so long as the law required it, so long ought it to be palpable and tangible,

Mr. George F. Young moved, that the Chairman do then report progress and ask leave to sit again.

The Committee divided on Mr. Young's motion; Ayes 27; Noes 39: Majority 12.

List of the AYES.
Angerstein, John Bridgman, H.
Baring, Francis T. Brodie, W, B.
Campbell, Sir J. Murry, J. A.
Cavendish, hon. C. Price, Sir Robert
Curteis, H. B. Scarlett, hon. R.
Fazakerley, J. N. Stanley, E. J.
Fitzroy Lord C. Tancred, H. W.
Fleetwood, Peter H. Troubridge, Sir T.
Gordon, Robert Verney, Sir H., Bart.
Hobhouse, Sir J. C. Warburton, H.
Howard, P. H. Wrightson, W.
Ingham, R. Young, G. F.
Johnstone, Sir J. TELLERS.
Knight, Henry Gaily Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Marjoribanks, S. Parker, John
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Lawson, Andrew
Alsager, Captain Leader, J. T.
Bowes, John Lennox, Lord G.
Brotherton, J. Martin, J.
Buller, Sir J. North, F.
Clay, William O'Connell, M. J.
Copeland, W. T. Pease, J.
Elphinstone, H. Philips, Mark
Estcourt, Thos. Rickford, W.
Ewart, W. Ruthven, E.
Finch, George Scourfield, W. H.
Forster, C. S. Sheppard, T.
Greene, Thomas Sibthorp, Col.
Guest, J. Sinclair, Sir George
Harvey, D. W. Thompson Ald.
Hastie, A. Thompson, Col.
Hawes, B. Townley, R. G.
Hinde, J. H. Williams, W.
Hindley, C. TELLERS.
Hughes, Hughes Wason, R.
Hume, J. Richards, John

Some verbal amendments were made. The House resumed.