§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DAVISON
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said that the object of it was to give facilities to creditors upon making their affidavits to recover their claims against absconding debtors. Power was also given to the debtor, in a case of disputed claim, to put in bail, and to have the matter tried before the ordinary tribunals of the country. The measure was similar to the one that had passed for England. He believed that the Government was favourable to the passing of the Bill, and that there would be no opposition offered to it.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. KEOGH
said, that the hon. Member for Belfast had mentioned the subject to him, and he saw no objection to the principle of the Bill, and he thought it a measure that ought to receive general assent. There might be some objections urged against the details, which of course could be discussed in Committee.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
recommended the hon. Member for Belfast not to press it forward at that advanced hour of the day, as it was impossible it could pass before six o'clock, there being considerable opposition to it, for, notwithstanding what the hon. and learned Gentleman had said, in many parts of Ireland there existed a great disapprobation of it.
§ MR. BRADY
said, that he had many objections to the Bill. Although he agreed in the general principle of it, he thought that there were clauses in it which might be brought to work most injuriously upon a country like Ireland. He could under- 509 stand how a large commercial community like what they had in England should regard such a measure with favour; but in Ireland the case was altogether different. In the large towns in England, such as London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester, no one knew his neighbour; but in Ireland the circumstances of every man were known or might be easily ascertained. Great political excitement often prevailed in Ireland, and he saw by this Bill, that it might be converted into a dangerous political instrument at such a moment. But that was not the reason why he opposed this Bill; he opposed it because in one of its clauses it provided that an individual alleged to be a debtor, and about to abscond, might be arrested under a warrant, and that, having been kept in prison for a period of three or four days, he might then be discharged from custody if the other provisions of the law had not been carried out by the supposed creditor. Now he was not an advocate for the cause of absconding debtors; but under this Bill an innocent individual might be arrested and imprisoned for three or four days, and when discharged after suffering all this inconvenience he had no sufficient remedy against the wrong-doer. He had no remedy, except by a civil process—he could either take an action for damages, or proceed by a criminal prosecution against the plaintiff in the first instance. Now, a man about to leave for Australia might be most unjustly arrested and imprisoned; he would be compelled either to lose his passage to Australia in order to obtain legal compensation for the injury that was done to him, or to submit to the injustice. He thought that proper protection ought to be given to all persons, and that the man who applied for a warrant ought to be obliged in the first instance to enter into a bond for twice the amount of his claim as a guarantee of the bond fide nature of his proceedings. He was anxious to protect the fair creditor as well as the debtor, but being the advocate of human liberty he could not assent to the passing of a measure which might be made the instrument of injustice and of the gratification of political or personal revenge. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."510
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LUCAS
observed, that no statement had been made to the House in proof of the insufficiency of the existing law in Ireland, and to show the necessity of the present measure. That measure came before them under very peculiar circumstances. Originally it was the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier), but it now appeared as the Bill of the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Davison). Originally, he believed it formed part of the scheme of land reform, but now it came before the House as a measure peculiarly interesting to the commercial community of Ireland. He (Mr. Lucas) believed it was intended to operate more upon the agricultural than upon the commercial classes, and, looking at it in that light, he must offer very great objection to the Bill. All legislation with respect to the tenant had, as far as this House was concerned, been suspended until, at all events, the end of the Session; but now there came before them a Bill giving additional power to the landlord to recover his rents. He believed that no such powers as those sought to be conferred by the Bill were necessary.
§ MR. NAPIER
denied that this measure had anything whatever to do with the Landlord and Tenant Bills. It had been brought forward last Session, at the instance of the Chambers of Commerce at Dublin and Belfast, which had spoken strongly as to the necessity of some change in the existing law, and of the advantage that would accrue to the commercial interest of Ireland, from having the law in that country assimilated to the law which existed in England; and, as there were a good many English creditors in Ireland, he thought that they had as much reason for having effectual redress against their debtors in that country as they had in England. The Bill had been submitted to some of the Judges, as well as to persons conversant with Ireland, all of whom substantially approved it: in consequence, however, of the pressure of public business, and the difficulty of carrying it through Parliament on that occasion, a postponement was determined on. The machinery of the Bill was the same as that which was in operation here, and he trusted the measure would receive the sanction of the House.
MR. J. D. FITZGERALD
, having no sympathy with absconding debtors, whe-they belonged to the agricultural or to the manufacturing classes, would support the principles of this Bill, and give his vote for the second reading. The Bill was merely a rescript of the law now in force in England.
§ MR. M. CHAMBERS
feared, from what he could gather from the Bill, that it was intended to make the law, as regarded the arrest of debtors, much more strict in Ireland than in England. There was no law in England which enabled a creditor to go before a mayor of a corporation or a commissioner of bankruptcy, and, by making affidavit that he believed his debtor was about to abscond, obtain an order for his arrest. On the contrary, he was obliged to make an affidavit before one of the Judges of the Superior Courts, before he could obtain such a warrant. He did not think that it was necessary to increase the power of arresting debtors, even upon a writ of judgment, far less upon mesne process; as, by doing so, facility would be afforded for making away with persons at election times by means of false affidavits. He objected, also, to put it within the power of Commissioners or other persons—perhaps not properly qualified—to give their opinion as to the merits of the cause which a creditor might have for believing that his debtor was about to abscond; for it was very frequently found to be a most critical question to decide what was sufficient probable cause to justify a Judge in making an order for arrest. The principle of the measure appeared to him to delegate power to persons who might be incompetent to exercise that power, and he did not see why it was not just as necessary in Ireland as it was in England, that creditors should make application to a Judge if they wished to obtain the arrest of a debtor whom they believed to be about to abscond. Creditors ought to take the trouble, in such cases, to go up to the metropolis and make affidavit before a Judge, as was the case in this country.
§ MR. KEOGH
said, he could assure the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that the measure did not give more power to arrest debtors in Ireland than existed in England, or it would never have received his assent. The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be under a misapprehension as to the power which existed in this country for the arrest of absconding debt- 512 ors. The present measure, so far from making the law more stringent in Ireland than in England, if anything, rather limited its power, although, with that exception, it was almost a transcript of the Act which had been passed for this country. By the Act passed in 1851, intituled "an Act to facilitate the more speedy Arrest of Absconding Debtors," any Commissioner of the Court of Bankruptcy, of whom there were fifteen or sixteen throughout England, or any Judge of a County Court, except in the counties of Middlesex and Surrey, was authorised to make an order for the arrest of any absconding debtor, upon affidavit being made to him by the creditor; but the present measure only gave that power to a Judge, or to the mayor or recorder of any corporate town, so that in reality the Bill would have a more limited operation than the Act in force in this country. If any alteration on these points should be thought necessary, it could be considered in Committee—they did not affect the principle of the Bill—and he thought that good reason had been assigned for the introduction of the present measure.
§ MR. KERSHAW
supported the second reading of the which appeared to him to be a necessary and proper measure.
§ MR. DAVISON
, as the Member who had charge of the Bill, said he had introduced it solely at the request of the Chamber of Commerce at Belfast, who felt that the existing law was inadequate to the circumstances which had arisen out of the extensive emigration from that country. If the creditor had to go, say, from Belfast to Dublin for a warrant, some days would necessarily elapse, the absconding debtor would in the interval be on board ship, and the debt be lost. This had been largely experienced by the commercial classes in Belfast, and it was to meet that state of things that he (Mr. Davison) had brought the measure forward.
§ MR. KENNEDY
approved of the Bill so far as it concerned the commercial interest of Ireland, but feared that its operation would be most injurious in the agricultural parts of that country, so long as the great debtor and creditor account between landlord and tenant remained unadjusted.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.513
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°.