HC Deb 21 November 1837 vol 39 cc117-9

Capt. Pechell moved for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Law of Coverture. He was prompted to this step by the representation of tradesmen, more particularly at watering places who, to the number of 230, had signed a petition to the Legislature, praying for some legislative protection from the conduct of women whose husbands were separated, and living away from them, contracting debts in their own name and character, and afterwards setting up the plea of coverture, and defeating the claims of their creditors by the present system of the law which exonerated women under such circumstances from paying their debts.

Mr. Goulburn

would leave it to the At- torney-General to say whether the motion of the gallant Captain had been sufficiently explained to the House to induce it to alter the law which made the husband liable for the debts of the wife. Such an alteration he thought would only make things worse. The gallant Captain had certainly given a very insufficient reason for altering the ancient law of the land. In his opinion the Bill was proposed merely for the purpose of settling some point of law on which the gallant Captain and the Attorney-General were at issue—and he thought they should settle the point between themselves, and not needlessly occupy the time of the House.

The Attorney-General

confessed he very much deplored that such a notice had been put on the paper. It would, if the hon. and gallant Member were successful, lead the House to interfere very improperly with a question of great difficulty, if not occasion the subversion of a fundamental principle of the law of England, as respected the non-liability of married women. He never would turn a deaf ear to the representations of the trading community; but on the present application to the House it should be recollected that even by the hon. Member's own confession the evil was most frequently experienced at Brighton and the watering places, owing to the great competition amongst the trades people, and the facility thus afforded to almost every description of people of obtaining credit. There was but one safe principle recognised by our law upon this head, and that was that the wife or femme couverte could generally have no property, except by positive settlement and limitation to her own use. To disturb this principle of law would be highly impolitic. As to the too great laxity of tradesmen in giving credit, it would be vain to expect any other line of conduct from them in the present state of trade, and the competition that prevailed but too generally under the existing law of debtor and creditor. He was encouraged to hope a corrective would be given to that improvidence, arising from a too great eagerness for profits, by a Bill upon the subject of imprisonment for debt, which he confidently anticipated would shortly become the law of the land. He had another objection to the motion, which was, that he felt it would little redound to the credit of that grave assembly to be rendered a sort of debating club upon speculative ques- tions like the present. For all these different reasons he felt indisposed to give his sanction to any Bill of this description, and he, therefore, would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that it would reflect credit upon his sense of discretion if he would withdraw his motion.

Motion withdrawn.