HC Deb 08 March 1839 vol 46 cc204-6
The Attorney-General

moved for leave to bring in a Bill for the further Relief of Insolvent Debtors in England. The object of the bill was to be attained by the application of a portion of the fund created under the 53rd George 3rd for the maintenance of prisoners. He brought for ward the measure at the request of Lord Denman, who conceived it necessary in consequence of the operation of the new Insolvent Act, many persons being unable to procure their discharge from inability to pay the fees.

Lord Stanley

wished to know what the nature of the fund was which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to allocate to that purpose.

The Attorney-General

said, that the 53rd George 3rd required the treasurer of every county in England to pay a certain sum for the maintenance of prisoners confined for debt in the King's Bench and Marshal sea prisons. Such was the source and present application of that fund; but, as it would shortly be unappropriated, he proposed to apply a portion of it to the object of this bill.

Sir Graham

thought it quite clear, that this was an appropriation of a tax. From the account given of it by the right hon. Gentleman, it was a tax levied upon the ratepayers, inasmuch as the treasurers of counties, from whom the fund was collected, had no command over any but the county rate. This bill, therefore, involved the appropriation of a fund levied and contributed by the treasurers of counties under a general Act of Parliament. It was clear, that it would be nothing less than a new appropriation of a tax which must he made by a resolution of a Committee of the whole House.

The Attorney-General

said, that the Act already quoted, provided, that any surplus which might arise, should be applied to Bethlehem Hospital. Now, there never was a surplus; but a surplus would now arise in consequence of the diminution in the number of prisoners confined for debt, and the question was, how that surplus was to be appropriated. If a previous resolution of the House were considered to be necessary, he would, of course, bow to such decision.

The Speaker

said, the case, as he understood it, stood thus. A fund was to be applied, first, for the benefit of a certain class of prisoners, and next, in case of surplus, to Bethlehem Hospital. What created the surplus now and for the first time? The failure of that class of prisoners. The question to be considered, then, was, whether, in point of fact, that failure having arisen, it was not to be considered as a new appropriation. If there were any doubts upon it, he would suggest the withdrawal of the bill until Monday, that the fact might, in the mean time, be investigated.

Mr. Hume

thought, they had no right to make a new application of that fund.

Lord Stanley

observed, that the objection of the hon. Member for Kilkenny was not the only one which could be acted on. In the first instance, the fund was now levied by Act of Parliament, for a specific purpose, and, secondly, according to that Act, there was a further application of that fund. Now, whether were they to cease levying the tax altogether, and then to make a new appropriation for another purpose, or to admit that the original purpose having ceased, Bethlehem Hospital had a direct claim upon it for its support? He apprehended that die Parliamentary and legitimate course would be to consider the matter in a Committee of the whole House, first, in order to protect the public interest, and secondly, in order to take the precaution, that no party, no individual, no body of men, public or private, should be injured by the bill, it being a bill for the levying of money. Bethlehem Hospital, for instance, had a direct interest in the contingent surplus. If the surplus was to be discontinued altogether, then would they be appropriating and levying a new tax; and if they were to make a new appropriation, then would they be depriving a body of what they considered themselves justly entitled to. He really thought the bill ought to be treated as a private bill. It was a case requiring at least the utmost notice which the forms of the House permitted.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that Bethlehem Hospital had no vested right in the fund, a surplus having never yet arisen.

Motion withdrawn.