HC Deb 20 February 1850 vol 108 cc1114-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that the object of it was, first, to remove the privileges which were at present retained by insolvent Members of that House not in trade; and, secondly, to deal with Members similarly situated who were in trade. Most persons agreed in thinking that it was very discreditable to Parliament that it should be the only sanctuary still existing in which fraudulent bankrupts and insolvents could take refuge. There could be no difficulty in proving the insolvency of a Member by the plan which he proposed. He had been, indeed, told that a great objection was, that parties might buy up judgments against Members, and so get them expelled the House. But that would be impossible, for no proceedings could be taken by any creditor who held security for his debt; and the present privilege went into the other extreme of unduly shielding Members. Besides, nearly six months would have to elapse before the insolvency could be satisfactorily proved, and a Member lose his seat, and that would give time for unravelling the real condition of his liabilities. Besides, the object of the qualification required at present was to insure the possession by every Member of that House of at least 8,000l. or 9,000l. above his liabilities. That might be assumed as the value of the income of 300l. a year, which was necessary. And, if a Member did not possess that sum, he could not truly undertake to say that he was qualified. He had been told that there was no great popular feeling in favour of the measure. He admitted that; and, moreover, he did not think they ought to wait for such a feeling to arise. He thought they ought to anticipate the popular displeasure at Parliament being the only sanctuary remaining in the united kingdom for insolvent debtors. The privilege of Parliament had been greatly abused. A law, indeed, had been passed some years ago which made the chattels of Members liable to be seized for debt, but nothing was easier than for a Member to make over his chattels to a brother or sister, and so evade the law. It was also objected to his Bill that it did not include Peers. He found that in all questions of privilege it had been customary for each House to arrange its own affairs, and generally when the Commons set a good example, it had been followed by the Lords. But, supposing that the Peers did not choose to give up their privilege, did that invalidate the utility of the Bill to the Commons? The Bill before the House had been introduced in the last Session. It was then referred to a Committee upstairs, where it was improved and formed. The right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, who seldom entered the House, came down, for almost the only time he had attended during the Session, to oppose it when it came from the Committee. He said that the privilege could be rescinded without a Bill, by the simple resolution of the House, and that the Bill was therefore unnecessary. It was then late in the Session. The opposition was strong, and he (Mr. Moffatt) thought it better to withdraw it, and bring it on again early in the present Session. He did so; but hardly had the Session ended, when he received a communication from the right hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, stating that he had found he was wrong—that the privilege could not be rescinded by a resolution of the House, and that an Act of Parliament was necessary. To the present Bill, amended as it had been, there could be only objections to small points of detail. None had been made to its principle. He, therefore, hoped, that the second reading would be taken at once, and any amendments which could be suggested could be considered in Committee.


had a pecular desire to support the Bill. He did not see why a trader in the House should be exempted from the laws which affected traders in general. He would, therefore, support the second reading.


entertained great objections to the principle of the Bill, and should move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He admitted that there were few things more objectionable than contracting debts without the means of paying them. But if the question was to be considered as a moral one, there were a great number of offences just as bad, in a moral point of view as the nonpayment of debts, and with which the House was just as much called on to interfere. But the fact was, that the matter was one for the decision of constituencies, who were the best judges of whether or no a man's circumstances fitted him for representing them in that House. The Bill, if carried, would circumscribe the powers of the constituencies; for many a man under temporary circumstances of embarrassment, might nevertheless be chosen as a representative by a constituency having the fullest confidence in the integrity of his intentions. Many Gentlemen of limited means had thought it right, for the honour of their family, to take upon themselves debts which they inherited from their parents, and, if unable to discharge the obligation thus assumed within a limited period, they were to be liable to be expelled from the House as unworthy of a seat in it. A person in this unfortunate situation might even, under this Bill, be by law incapable of being re-elected. Besides, the measure if carried would revive the old disputes between the House and the constituent body of the empire, as to whether the former had the power of rejecting a representative chosen by the latter. He repeated that he thought the matter ought to be left to the discretion of constituencies. But the hon. Gentleman argued that a Member becoming bankrupt would lose his qualification. The qualification, however, was merely to be considered as being in some respect a guarantee for the sufficient education of Members of Parliament, and in the case of the poor scholars of the universities, of whom he was one, no qualification whatever was required. Besides, a man might possess a qualification when he entered Parliament, and convey it away next day, without endangering his seat.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


supported the Bill, thinking that no person ought to have his property or his person exempted from legal process by Parliamentary privilege, so long as he was unable to pay his just debts.


said, that having voted for a Bill requiring a bankrupt to vacate his seat six months after his failure, he could not be said to favour the doctrine that Parliamentary privilege ought to shield a man from just legal process. This Bill would, however, be attended with great injustice in many of its bearings. He thought that no individual ought to be empowered to plead Parliamentary privilege when called upon to pay his debts; and he would be prepared to concur in any measure, so far abolishing that privilege; but he repeated that a great many cases would arise in which, from the arrangements of society, the Bill before them would operate most cruelly. He submitted that a Bill ought to be introduced for the purpose of remedying the evils to which he had alluded.


would oppose the measure, thinking that agricultural Members in the present state of matters would require to have some protection against the stringent working of the bankruptcy laws.


would observe that the discussion, last year, upon the subject to which this Bill related, showed the difficulty of carrying out the principle proposed without a measure applying with great harshness in many cases. Feeling how little prospect there was of the House ultimately agreeing to a Bill which would accomplish the object in view without involving still greater inconveniences and evils than it was to remove, he was not prepared to support the second reading of this measure.


remarked, that though quite willing to facilitate the proceedings of creditors against property, he apprehended that this Bill might place the votes of Members too much under pressure. A judgment was often given along with a mortgage, the rents might happen to be in arrear, and moneyed men might acquire undue influence over votes.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 34; Noes 73: Majority 39.

List of the AYES.
Arkwright, G. Kershaw, J.
Bass, M. T. King, hon. P. J. L.
Berkeley, C. L. G. Lacy, H. C.
Blair, S. Mackinnon, W. A.
Brisco, M. Macnaghten, Sir E.
Brown, W. M'Taggart, Sir J.
Clive, H. B. Ogle, S. C. H.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Pechel, Sir G. B.
Divett, E. Pilkington, J.
Duncuft, J. Ricardo, O.
Ellis, J. Sibthorp, Col.
Evans, W. Stuart, Lord J.
Farrer, J. Thicknesse, R. A.
Fellowes, E. Thornely, T.
Frewen, C. H. Williams, J.
Grovesnor, Lord R.
Harris, R. Moffatt, G.
Hotham, Lord Mullings, J. R.
List of the NOES.
Baillie, H. J. Herbert, H. A.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Hildyard, T. B. T.
Berkeley, hon. G. F. Hill, Lord E.
Boldero, H. G. Hodges, T. L.
Buck, L. W. Horsman, E.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Hume, J.
Chatterton, Col. Lewis, G. C.
Christopher, R. A. Lindsay, hon. Col.
Clay, J. Lushington, C.
Clay, Sir W. M'Cullagh, W. T.
Clifford, H. M. Meagher, T.
Corbally, M. E. Melgund, Visct.
Craig, W. G. Meux, Sir H.
Deedes, W. Monsell, W.
Drumlanrig, Visct. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Drummond, H. Napier, J.
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. O'Flaherty, A.
Dunne, Col. Pakington, Sir J.
Estcourt, J. B. B. Palmer, R.
Fagan, W. Perfect, R.
Forbes, W. Pigot, F.
Fox, S. W. L. Plumptre, J. P.
Fuller, A. E. Power, N.
Gore, W. R. O. Pugh, D.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Reynolds, J.
Halsey, T. P. Rice, E. R.
Harris, hon. Capt. Salwey, Col.
Hatchell, J. Shafto, R. D.
Heneage, G. H. W. Slaney, R. A.
Smith, rt. hon. R. V. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Somers, J. P. Vivian, J. H.
Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W. Waddington, H. S.
Sotherton, T. H. S. Wawn, J. T.
Spooner, R. Wilson, M.
Stanton, W. H. Wodehouse, E.
Sullivan, M. TELLERS.
Thompson, Col. Goulburn, H.
Trollope, Sir J. Packe, C. W.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.