HC Deb 03 May 1864 vol 174 cc2119-21

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, its object was to extend the benefit of the present bankruptcy law to debtors under the sum of £20. As the law now stood debtors of small amounts, who came under the jurisdiction of the County Courts, had not the power of obtaining protection and final discharge from their liabilities; on the contrary, they were liable to be imprisoned again and again for the same debt. This was very frequently the case, and the number actually imprisoned in 1861 was 8,625, and 9,373 in 1862. The amounts for which these persons were committed to prison were sometimes ludicrously small. One man in Whitecross Street prison was committed five times for a debt the original amount of which was 8s. 6d. Another man was committed five times for a debt, and was in prison 110 days, and on his sixth committal the Governor of the prison paid the debt, the original amount of which was only 2s. 6d. Persons who contracted large debts were able to obtain a protection order in the first instance, and eventually a complete discharge from their debts, but the poor man who became indebted to a small amount might be imprisoned from time to time without any chance of release from the debt. The Bill proposed that when a judgment debtor of not more than £20, and who had not contracted his debts by means of any false pretence, breach of trust, or wilfully without reasonable expectation of paying, was summoned before a Small Debts' Court, he should be examined touching his estates and effects, and his means of paying, any judgment debt, and if it should appear to the Judge that he had not then, nor was likely to have, within a reasonable time, money or property of any kind, and that, taking into consideration his means of earning any money, there was no well founded expectation of his being able to pay and discharge his debts within a reasonable time, the Judge might make a preliminary order to the effect that within two months he would make, unless cause should be shown to the contrary, a final order discharging the debtor from his debts and liabilities, of which he shall in the meantime disclose the amount and the names of the creditors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."— (Mr. Paull.)


thought the principle of the Bill was open to grave doubt. The Judge would have to act upon the mere statement of the debtor himself, whose interest it would be to keep him in ignorance of the principal creditors, who were entitled to be present at his examination. He had had some experience as a County Court Judge, and he could not help observing that the Bill assumed that that was not the law which was the law already, because no Judge could commit a man to prison unless he was satisfied upon evidence that lie had the means of paying his debts. He did not see what more could be fairly done in favour of the defendant. He did not think that at present County Court Judges were too ready to act in favour of the creditor against the debtor, and he saw no occasion for the Bill.


said, the object of the Bill was to make the law for the working man the same as the law for the man of higher rank. At present, a man might accumulate debts to any extent, and yet obtain a discharge; whereas the poor man, whose liabilities were under £20, was denied a release on the same terms. It was understood that the Government intended to introduce a Bill to rectify this anomaly; but as they had not done so, his hon. and learned Friend opposite deserved credit for bringing forward this measure. The House of Commons, which had made a special law as to debt for itself, ought to consider the hardships of the poorer classes in this respect. The fact was, the County Courts were greatly abused. The gaols were filled with poor people on account of small debts, while a special emissary was sent from the Bankruptcy Court to bring out any man who might have incurred vast debts and swindled the world from one end to the other.


said, the same principle was to be found in the law for the rich as for the poor on this subject, and it was that a debtor should in the former case be made responsible in his estate, and in the other in his skill and labour. The Bill would do harm to the working classes because it would tend to a denial, or at least a restriction of the credit they were now able to get from the small shopkeepers in time of distress or sickness. He moved that it be read a second time 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."— (Mr. Paget).

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


said, his hon. Friend (Mr. Paget) had been using the same arguments they had heard so often when they were reforming the law of bankruptcy. For his part he thought the labouring man at present got too much credit, not himself alone, but his wife, when they were away at work, through tallymen and others. It was the business of those who gave credit to look after the probability of getting their money without the law helping them by sending the debtor to gaol. The object of the Bill was to apply to small debtors the same provisions of law that were now applicable to debtors of a superior class. He thought the poor man had as good a right to the privilege of "white-washing" as the rich man, and therefore he thought this was a just and necessary measure. He trusted the Bill would now be road a second time.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday, 8th June.