§ On Clause 1,
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the measure was a most important one, and he thought it was pressed with too great a degree of rapidity; in his opinion, more time should be given for considering it.
said, that the Bill had been before the House for six weeks; it had been carefully criticised by a Committee 1076 upstairs, so that he could see no objection to proceeding with it now.
The 1st and 2nd Clauses were then agreed to.
§ On Clause 3 (if the money shall remain unpaid after the day fixed for payment, the creditor may apply to the Insolvent Debtors Court in England or Ireland) being put.
§ SIR H. WILLOUGHBY
wished to be informed whether a Member who, through being engaged in a suit of law or equity, was called upon for the payment of costs, would, through the operation of the Bill, be deprived of his seat?
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the Bill would apply to costs as well as to everything else. If a person who had been ordered to pay costs did not pay them, the person entitled to receive them would proceed in exactly the same manner as he would if he had a judgment against any one for the payment of an ordinary debt. After a day had been fixed by the court for hearing, there would be six months' additional notice; and upon the declaration of insolvency, the seat would be vacated.
§ MR. ROUNDELL PALMER
saw no reason why there should be a different law for bankrupt and for insolvent Members. By the present law the bankrupt Member was allowed twelve months before he vacated his seat; they should either give the same period to the insolvent Member, or state the time during which a bankrupt might sit. Under any circumstance, the law should be uniform. He could not help feeling that this was a subject towards which the Government should direct its attention, with the view of considering whether the Members of both Houses of Parliament should not be placed on the same footing. It would not be a state of the law calculated to raise in public estimation the other House if they passed a Bill of this nature, by which they disgraced and deprived of protection insolvent Members of that House, and did nothing to prevent insolvent persons legislating in the other House. He might be told, that it would be easy for the other House to take the initiative in legislating for themselves; but it would be better for the Government, which had the power of initiating measures in both Houses, to bring in a general measure applicable to the Members of both Houses. At any rate, if this measure should pass, he trusted that a similar Bill would be introduced into the other House applicable to the Members of it.
§ SIR W. CLAY
said, that he gave every credit for good motives to his hon. Friend who had introduced this measure; but he thought that they were proceeding altogether on a false principle. It was quite clear, from the explanation of his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, that the mere circumstance of being indebted and having lost a suit at law, and being unable to pay heavy costs, would lead to the loss of his seat by any Member of the House so circumstanced. That appeared to be at variance with the principle of the constitution. Constituencies did not elect men to be Members of that House because they were rich, but for their political principles, their general attainments, or their local connexion with a place. A man was not elected a Member of that House because he was able to pay his debts. He thought they had no right to impose a limitation on the electors of the British empire as to whom they should elect, unless there had been something disgraceful on the part of a person so offering himself; but here you say a man shall not be elected, because he cannot pay a debt within a certain limited period. If the Bill had been in existence fifty years ago, neither Fox, nor Sheridan, nor even Pitt himself, could have had a seat in that House. He trusted that the House would not consent to pass this Bill without fully considering the subject, and without having a previous discussion on it, as it involved an important principle. He would only add, that if his hon. Friend had proposed to delay the Bill, or to get rid of it altogether, he would have voted with him. Giving every credit to his hon. Friend for having introduced this Bill, he (Sir W. Clay) must say, with all deference to him, that he considered it to be objectionable in its nature, and founded on a false principle.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
observed, that the effect of this Bill would be, that when a Member became insolvent he would have to vacate his seat; but there was nothing to prevent the electors of a place electing him again. It might be said, that if he was insolvent he would have no qualification; but it was a very common thing for Members to hold qualifications which could not be affected in the way supposed. He believed if the Bill had been in existence half a century ago it would not have had the effect of excluding Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, or Mr. Pitt from seats in that House. It might, however, very probably, 1078 have had the effect of preventing them getting into debt. There was nothing in the Bill but this, that a candidate having been elected on the condition that he was solvent, but afterwards becoming insolvent, the House gave to the electors the opportunity of reconsidering whether he was a fit person to represent them, he having so become insolvent. As to the Act relating to cases of bankruptcy, it appeared to him proper to make the law more stringent as affecting insolvents than as regarded bankrupts; for the affairs of a trader might become accidentally involved on contingency, which did not apply with equal force to cases of insolvency. It was true, that in cases of bankruptcy the seat was not voided for twelve months, but during that time the Member could not sit or vote in Parliament, and so the borough was for that time practically unrepresented; whereas by the present Bill the borough would not be unrepresented during the time mentioned therein. It had been thought undesirable to touch anything which related to the bankrupt law. With regard to extending the Bill to the House of Lords, he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, that any such proposition should spontaneously emanate from that House. His hon. Friend near him said he wished to extend the present Bill to the House of Peers, because he knew such a course would be fatal to the measure, which he believed to be wrong in principle. If the Bill were wrong in principle, let it be rejected in a straightforward way at once, and not in an indirect manner, by the addition of a provision which it might be supposed would certainly cause the rejection of it in another place. The graceful manner of proceeding would be for the House to make the Bill applicable only to themselves; then to send it to the other House, and leave it to the Peers to decide whether they would extend its operation. All these points had undergone a great deal of consideration and discussion in the Committee upstairs, and it had been considered beneficial to assimilate the Bill with the law of bankruptcy, or to introduce a clause relating to the House of Peers.
§ MR. F. O'CONNOR
said, it appeared to him, from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the Bill was "a mockery, a delusion, and a snare." The hon. and learned Gentleman propounded the principle, that a man might be insolvent and lose his seat, and yet that he might borrow a new qualification, and be 1079 again returned to Parliament. When such doctrines as these were laid down, what must the people think of the legislative improvements that were going on? He concurred in all that had fallen from the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, but felt it necessary to oppose the Bill; for he considered, after what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, that its fate was scaled.
§ MR. HUME
said, that this Bill had nothing to do with the Members of the other House, who held their tenure upon a different principle, and he would rather leave the decision of the point to their own honour than insert a clause in the Bill. If the Lords did not choose to put in such a clause, it would only damage their character, and place them in a position in which no honourable men would be seen. However, the declared opinions of the House of Commons had some influence in another place, and from what he had heard from several noble Lords, he believed there was a strong feeling among them that a measure of this kind should apply to them also. There ought to be some provision in the Bill against its being applied to cases where the difficulty had arisen from merely the costs in proceedings at law; for a man of 3,000l. a year, and not being improvident or extravagant, might have his means charged with a long accumulating attorney's bill amounting to thousands, and there ought to be some guard against the operation of the Bill in the case of an action brought against him for such an accumulation.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, there was no provision of such a kind in the law relating to bankruptcy cases; but at the same time he thought that a man who was made insolvent only on account of costs, certainly stood in a different position from a man who had become insolvent by reason of his own misconduct. The case was, however, provided for in this Bill by the discretion given to the Judge, and that was the only way in which such a contingency could be dealt with. If hon. Members endeavoured in include all cases of particular hardship within the scope of such a Bill, they would find it impossible to deal with them, in detail, with any prospect of a satisfactory arrangement.
§ MR. HUME
observed, that in legislation it was expedient to take away discretion from a Judge as far as possible, by making the law clear. To illustrate what 1080 he meant, he would take his own case. There had been a time when the Government would have given a great deal to get him out of Parliament for troubling them so often. And so would the Judges also, because he was in a bad odour with them, in consequence of having proposed a reduction in their salaries. Suppose the loss of a heavy Chancery suit had placed him in the position contemplated by the Bill, what chance should he have had in the discretion of those Judges if, through the medium of the courts, he could have been deprived of his seat? His own time was now nearly gone; but, looking to the circumstances which might hereafter arise in the case of others, he entreated the House, seeing how often Judges had been favourable to the objects of Government, not to give them a discretion or power in such a matter.
§ MR. ROUNDELL PALMER
explained, that he was friendly to the principle of the Bill, but had been greatly surprised at the statement of his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, that a person with insolvency in full force against him would be capable of taking his seat again in the House. He protested against such an inference as contrary to the spirit of the Bill. Was a bankrupt capable of taking his seat again while the fiat was in force? After an insolvent had obtained his discharge, it might, perhaps, be proper to put him in the same position as before; but he abjured a principle by which a man who might be a most fraudulent debtor would be eligible to resume his seat. He thought it was at least the duty of the Committee to insert a clause providing that no insolvent should be eligible to a seat until he had obtained his discharge. He would deal with the bankruptcy and insolvency cases in the same way, and he did not see why the period fixed by law should not be the same in both cases. He preferred the shorter period—six months—named in the present Bill. If they wished the other House to follow their example, they must refuse to allow an insolvent to be eligible to re-election until after he had obtained his discharge. As to the question that had arisen with respect to insolvency caused by costs only, the proper mode of meeting the case would be to introduce a clause providing that a debt solely arising from costs should not he a ground for bringing the Act into operation.
§ MR. MULLINGS
said, that as the law stood, a judgment might be obtained against 1081 a Member of Parliament, and execution levied against his property; but everybody knew there were easy modes by which he could dispossess himself of such property, and then no remedy was loft to the creditor in consequence of privilege. If he lost his seat he was placed in the same position as any one else, and possession could be obtained of his person. With respect to the House of Lords, he deprecated interference by the House of Commons. He gave his support to the Bill.
§ SIR W. CLAY
would state a case which might very often occur: a man possessed of considerable estate might be deprived of it by the decision of a court of justice, and be ruined by the costs and the loss of his estate at the same time; but if the decision happened to be in his favour, he might sit without any merit of his. When he previously addressed the House, he had mentioned the cases of Pitt and Fox, and the argument which he founded on them was answered by saying, that in such cases the law would be evaded; but he would rejoin by asking, why pass a law which it might be necessary or desirable to evade? It was his view of the subject, that, if any body of electors thought a poor man was also an honest politician, they ought to possess the right to elect him. He would put another case: suppose a man had suffered an adverse decision in a court of justice, and had appealed from it, ought he to be considered, pending that appeal, an insolvent debtor within the meaning of the Bill then before them? Surely he ought not to be so considered, for he might never have owed the debt. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving, that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
denied that the Bill interfered with the constitutional right of the people to choose any person they thought proper to represent them. There was nothing to interfere with their choice, except what was contained in the existing law; and the Bill merely called upon the electors to say what was their wish with regard to the person who should represent them in the altered state of circumstances.
§ MR. HENLEY
thought the further consideration of the Bill should be postponed, because there had not been sufficient time since it was printed, to examine its details. He did not see how, if an insolvent was re-elected, what was to prevent him from being again and again turned out. 1082 Many Members sat in that House without any qualification at all. Scotch Members required no qualification, neither did the sons of Peers. This Bill, however, would interfere with that principle. He thought, too, that the 4th and the 8th Clauses would not work together. For these reasons he should support the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets.
MR. H. BERKELEY
supported the Motion for the Chairman reporting progress; and said he should give the Bill his decided opposition upon the third reading. There appeared to be a great disposition on the part of that House to legislate against its own Members. At present, it was almost impossible for any Member to resist a petition against him. Nothing need be done but for some agent from the enemy's camp to act as a traitor, and give a sovereign to a voter, and no Committee dared refuse to turn the Member out. He would not himself yield up the present privileges of the House, unless the corresponding privileges of another place were also abandoned. It was, however, impossible to expect that.
§ MR. STAFFORD
knew not whether the Committee would consent to add the new element of confusion suggested by the hon. Member who had just sat down; but there was sufficient confusion in the Bill already to induce him to support the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets. When he heard the hon. and learned Solicitor General rise in his place and state that the Bill would not effect its professed object, he thought the variance between the title of the Bill and its clauses a sufficient reason why it should not be allowed to advance further. Some delicacy was naturally felt by hon. Members in speaking upon such a subject, from a fear of labouring under the imputation of personal motives. When he heard a Bill in which they had all so great an interest going through Committee clause after clause so rapidly, he was tempted to inquire how this came to pass. He had been told, he hoped it was not true, that the reason was because all the insolvent Members had gone to the levee. Passing that by, he might remind the hon. Member who conducted the Bill, that one right hon. Gentleman of great authority in that House, who was then absent, but whom, after what had been said, it would be invidious to name, protested most strenuously against it, and stated that he had a great 1083 deal to say upon it, and that although he was not opposed to some modification of the existing system, he thought this Bill would fail to produce its intended effect. There had been times when votes were of greater value than now, but advantage might still he taken on critical occasions of a power which enabled any individual to exclude a Member from the House.
§ MR. MACKINNON
said, the Bill had been misunderstood. It would be impossible for the House to go on under the slur of having Members who used their privileges for the purpose of cheating their creditors; and if they wished to raise themselves in public estimation, and secure respect for their deliberations, they must pass a Bill of this description. The difficulty was as to the re-election of Members, and this might be obviated by the addition of a clause making such reelection dependent on payment of debts. Reference had been made to the other House; but though they could not he expected to take the initiative, they might be induced to follow if the example were set by the House of Commons. If the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets was desirous of amending the Bill, why did he refuse to continue the discussion of its clauses? They had yet two hours and a half, and they could not have a better opportunity.
said, there was such a thing as being too good. It might be exceedingly proper that the House should afford no shelter to men who would not pay their debts; but it was a very different thing for the House to undertake a work of supererogation with reference to men against whom proceedings were taken. There might be cases where such a proceeding would be attended with considerable danger, both in the outset and afterwards. There was hardly a Member who had not been wooed to put his name, either as chairman or director, to some company or other. The glorious uncertainty of the law which existed in the time of our ancestors, existed in our own; and Gentlemen might be a little uneasy if they were made debtors to associations of that kind. There was an instance of a club in London, in which some difficulty arose as to the claret that had been drank, and which certain hon. Gentlemen had been called upon to pay. It had terrified him out of the club. If a Member were not able to pay his debts, why should he not he entrusted to the care of the sheriff's officer 1084 until he did pay them? Let him be handed over to the tormentors, and then there would be no fear of his again taking his seat in the House until he got out of their hold.
regretted that he could not accede to the request of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets. The principle of the Bill was simply to prevent Members from evading payment of their debts. As to the objection, with reference to Members being directors of railway companies, it did not apply, because they were already liable as traders under the bankruptcy laws. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire North had complained of the Bill, on the ground that it introduced a new principle; but no new principle whatever was involved in it, as the object was merely to make general the liability to which Members connected with commercial houses were already subjected. As no ground whatever had been laid for a postponement, he should feel bound to resist the Motion.
§ Clause 3 was then agreed to.
§ Clause 4 (Election of insolvent Member to be void after receipt of certificate) read.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 34; Noes 77: Majority 43.
|List of the AYES.|
|Armstrong, Sir A.||Grace, O. D. J.|
|Arundel, and Surrey, Earl of||Henley, J. W.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.|
|Baillie, H. J.||Hodgson, W. N.|
|Beresford, W.||Lawless, hon. C.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||Lowther, H.|
|Blackall, S. W.||Newdegate, C. N.|
|Buck, L. W.||O'Brien, Sir L.|
|Clay, J.||O'Connor, F.|
|Cobden, R.||Scully, F.|
|Coles, H. B.||Stafford, A.|
|Dod, J. W.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Dodd, G.||Sullivan, M.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Vyse, R. H. R. H.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Fox, W. J.|
|Fuller, A. E.||TELLERS.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Thompson, Col.|
|Goddard, A. L.||Clay, Sir W.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Blake, M. J.|
|Anderson, A.||Brotherton, J.|
|Arkwright, G.||Carew, W. H. P.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Cayley, E. S.|
|Baines, M. T.||Chaplin, W. J.|
|Berkeley, C. L. G.||Colebrooke, Sir T. E.|
|Birch, Sir T. B.||Crawford, W. S.|
|Blair, S.||Divett, E.|
|Drumlanrig, Visct.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Duckworth, Sir J. T.||Napier, J.|
|Duncan, G.||Palmer, R.|
|Duncuft, J.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Ellis, J.||Perfect, R.|
|Estcourt, J. B. B.||Peto, S. M.|
|Farrer, J.||Pilkington, J.|
|Glyn, G. C.||Ricardo, O.|
|Greenall, G.||Robartes, T. J. A.|
|Greene, J.||Romilly, Sir J.|
|Grenfell, C. P.||Russell, F. C. H.|
|Grenfell, C. W.||Sandars, G.|
|Grey, R. W.||Scrope, G. P.|
|Gwyn, H.||Seymer, H. K.|
|Harris, R.||Shafto, R. D.|
|Headlam, T. E.||Sheridan, R. B.|
|Heneage, G. H. W.||Smith, J. B.|
|Herbert, rt. hon. S.||Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.|
|Heyworth, L.||Sotheron, T. H. S.|
|Hood, Sir A.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Hotham, Lord||Stanton, W. H.|
|Howard, P. H.||Sutton, J. H. M.|
|Hume, J.||Tenison, E. T.|
|Kershaw, J.||Thornely, T.|
|King, hon. P. J. L.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Lacy, H. C.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Langston, J. H.||Watkins, Col. L.|
|Lewis, rt. hon. Sir T. F.||Wood, W. P.|
|Lewis, G. C.||Wyld, J.|
|Lushington, C.||Moffatt, G.|
|Maitland, T.||Mackinnon, W. A.|
§ Clause 4 was then agreed to.
§ On Clause 5,
MR. ROUNDELL PALMER moved the addition of the following words at the end of the clause:—
And be it enacted. That until any such person whose seat shall have been declared vacant under this Act, shall have duly obtained his discharge under the last-mentioned Acts—the Insolvent Acts—or either of them, he shall be incapable of again sitting in this House.
His object was to place these Members in the same position as they would be under the bankruptcy laws. A bankrupt could not sit in the House until he obtained his certificate, and it was right, if a Member had acted so fraudulently that the Insolvent Court would not relieve him, that he should not be eligible for re-election.
§ The Amendment was adopted and the clause agreed to.
§ Clauses up to Clause 9 inclusive, were also agreed to.
§ Clause 10 was struck out. The remaining clauses and the preamble were agreed to.
§ The House resumed.
§ Bill reported, to be considered as amended on Wednesday 28th instant.
, in reply to his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume), and in reply also to observations which had fallen from another hon. Friend near him, begged to say that 1086 he was, for his own part, perfectly persuaded that nothing that could be done with the Bill could remove the faultiness of its principle; and he was surprised to think how his hon. Friend the Member for Dartmouth, feeling as he did upon the subject, could have given the measure his support.