§ MR. A. E. PEASE (York)
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the number of persons that have been committed to prison by the County Court Judge for Circuit No. 15 during the year 1891, and up to 29th February, 1892, and in what gaols they are, or have been, incarcerated; what is the relative proportion, in the County Court Circuit No. 15, of imprisonments to judgments for plaintiffs compared with the rest of England; how many of the persons imprisoned are imprisoned for cases arising out of debts, how many were committed at the instance of the creditor, and how many at the instance of agents or debt-farmers; whether any of those persons have been under age or over 70 years of age; and, if they have, what are the numbers of each class respectively; whether it is necessary for the judgment creditor to prove means of the judgment debtor at the time of the hearing of the committal summons, or whether it is only necessary to show means at any time subsequent to the contracting of the liability; and whether the Government will consider the advisability of introducing a measure controlling imprisonment for debts other than fraudulent, and rendering illegal imprisonment in all cases arising out of non-fraudulent debts where the Court is moved by persons other than the original creditor or creditors, or a measure that will give to the poorer classes of the community the advantages given to the wealthier classes by the Bankruptcy Laws?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The latest available statistics for which the hon. Member asks will be found at page 34 of the Parliamentary Return No. 838 337 of last Session, from which he can gather the proportion he asks for. Persons committed to prison by the County Court Judge of Circuit 15 are imprisoned in Durham, York, Leeds, and Northallerton Prisons. The application for commitment is in all cases at the instance of the creditor. There is no record to show whether a creditor appears in person or is represented at the Court. No record is kept at the Court of the age of the persons committed to prison; but the learned County Court Judge states that he is not aware that any debtor over 70 has ever been committed to prison by him. No person can be imprisoned for debt unless it has been proved, in accordance with Section 5, Sub-section 2, of the Debtors Act of 1869, that such debtor has means to pay, or has had them since the date of the judgment and has refused or neglected to pay. That comes very near to a fraudulent omission to pay. There appear to be no sufficient reasons for legislation to deprive a creditor of the right of enforcing his claims through a representative; and no satisfactory solution has been found, as yet, for the particular class of cases dealt with in Section 5 above-mentioned. The Bankruptcy Act of 1883 provides, by Section 122, a method by which the poorer classes can, without expense, obtain protection for their persons and property equivalent to the advantages of an adjudication in bankruptcy.
§ SIR H. DAVEY (Stockton)
I beg to ask the Attorney General whether his attention has been called to the continuous increase in the number of commitments to prison for non-payment of debts in the County Courts, and particularly in Circuit No. 15; whether he is aware that considerable dissatisfaction exists with the present state of the law; and whether the Government proposes any legislation on the subject?
SIR R. WEBSTER
I can only refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has previously given on this subject.
§ SIR H. DAVEY
I give notice that I shall take an early opportunity of calling attention to this question.