§ The Attorney-General
moved the second reading of the Imprisonment for Debt Abolition Bill, which had come down from the Lords, affirming a principle which had more than once received the sanction of that House. He would state in two sentences what the result of the present bill was. It abolished imprisonment for debt altogether on mesne process, unless on satisfactory proof to the court that a debtor was about to fly the country. Now, if the bill did no more than this, he considered it was one of the most beneficial measures that ever passed through Parliament. But it effected other and most important objects. It very much facilitated and improved the remedy of the creditor against the property of the debtor, inasmuch as it gave the former a remedy against funded as well as real property. It was a most important improvement of the law, and benefit to the creditor, that the debtor could no longer set him at defiance, by remaining without the walls of a gaol, or in the rules, and spending that property which belonged to his creditors. At present a debtor might be possessed of 10,000l. a year, and, on being arrested, might take the rules and set his creditors at defiance, unless, indeed, he owed not more than 300l.; and this was a most singular anomaly in the law—for in that case, by the Lords' Act, he was compelled to give up his property; but, if he owed more than that sum, he could remain in a prison, or in the rules, living in affluence and luxury. By the present bill, however, power was given to compel creditors, whatever the amount of their debts, to surrender up for the benefit of their creditors whatever property they possessed. He certainly regretted, that the bill did not go further, and abolish imprisonment for debt on judgments. The bill, however, had undergone the fullest inquiry in another place, and he thought the public was much indebted to the noble and learned Lords, who had bestowed so much attention on this subject in the other House of Parliament. It would be open to hon. Members to propose any amendments in Committee, but at the same time he should be extremely sorry to see so great an improvement in the law, adopted after so much consideration, interfered with. He begged to move, the bill be now read a second time.
§ Mr. Freshfield
said, that it was satisfactory to know, that the bill, as it had 144 been sent down from the House of Lords differed in no one respect from what it would have been when sent up to them, if the recommendation of those who had opposed the bill as introduced by his hon. and learned Friend had been adopted. All the objections which had in the first instance been made to it had been remedied by the House of Lords. But, without allowing himself to indulge in any degree of triumph because those suggestions had been adopted and the objectionable parts of the bill had been omitted, he wished to call the attention of his hon. and learned Friend to one omission in the bill, a vital omission, and which would make the bill most mischievous if it were passed in its present state. The bill proposed the abolition of imprisonment for debt on mesne process; but in consequence of this there were taken away two great and leading acts of bankruptcy; the one being that a person might now lie in prison for twenty-one days without being able to procure bail, and the other, that he might remain in his house in order to avoid arrest. If the abolition of imprisonment were adopted, of course no person could commit these acts of bankruptcy, and in consequence he could not be compelled to make a distribution of his effects, as was the case now. There was also another improvement which he should wish to be made. He would propose to put traders not being Members of Parliament on the same footing with traders who were, so as to give security for the payment of their debts by bond, and that if such bond were not fulfilled, it should be considered an act of bankruptcy. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would not object to the introduction of some such provisions into the bill, and if he did not, he had prepared a clause to that effect, which he would submit to the House; as also another clause giving a power to the bill of taking stock in execution. He wished these amendments to be made in the bill, and that the House would not adopt as a principle what had been said by his hon. and learned Friend, that because the bill had been sent down from the House of Lords, and was nevertheless defective in one or two particulars, either this bill or none was to be passed.
§ The Attorney-General
said, he would not at the present stage offer any opinion on the suggested amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman, further than to say 145 that while he fully admitted the right of that House to make any amendment, however important, in the bill, yet he thought that any essential change in the bill from the state in which it had come down from the other House, ought to be deprecated, as being calculated to endanger the passing of the bill, at this advanced period of the Session.
§ Mr. Hawes
should not oppose the bill, though it was very far indeed from being the wholesome and salutary measure to which he had on a former occasion given his assent, and although he considered that while taking away the right of arrest by mesne process, it did not afford adequate means for the recovery of the property of debtors. Imperfect as the bill was, however, he hailed it as a contribution to a better state of things.
§ Bill read a second time.