HL Deb 22 January 1805 vol 3 cc51-2

After several private bills were forwarded in their respective stages, and some routine business disposed of, their lordships, pursuant to the order of the day, resolved into a committee on the insolvent debtors' amended bill, lord Walsingham in the chair.

Lord Ellenborugh

rose and stated, that in consequence of a gross misrepresentation of the nature and object of the present bill, which had been allowed to go abroad, he found it necessary, both for the public information, and that those unfortunate persons who might suppose that they were meant to be relieved by the bill might not be deceived, or entertain false hopes, to explain the whole extent of the object which he had in view, in submitting this bill to their lordships' consideration. The bill now on their lordships' table, was not meant to extend in the most distant degree the benefits of the act of last session to any persons not expressly and in the true spirit and meaning of the act, comprehended in the bill passed last session. In fact, the insertion of a single word, or rather of a single letter ("prisons" for "prison") into that act, would; have rendered the present bill unnecessary. From the whole tenor of the act, it was evident that its benefits were meant to be extended to all persons, not otherwise disqualified, who had been in prison previous to the 1st Jan. 1804, and still continued there. Yet, by the wording of the oath required to be made by the jailors of the different prisons, with the list of prisoners in their custody, it is narrowed in such a manner as to seem to apply merely to persons who, during the period specified in the act, have been in that individual prison of which the person making the return is jailor. To rectify this narrowed interpretation of the act, and to give it the full scope which its other clauses imported it was meant to convey, was the sole object of the present bill. In the court in which his lordship presided, numberless applications had been made by persons who had been in prison during the full period required by the act, praying for a mandamus on the keepers of the different prisons, to rectify their lists, according to the different circumstances of the cases which presented themselves. But, after the most deliberate consideration, and after a consultation of all the judges on the subject, it had been deemed beyond the power of a court of justice to afford that relief which, they were nevertheless convinced, it was in the contemplation of the legislature to have bestowed. Persons who had been in prison, probably in the Fleet, previous to the 1st of Jan. 1804, and had afterwards been removed by habeas corpus to the King's Bench, or vice versa, it was obvious from the whole tenor of the act, of parliament, were not meant, merely on account of such removal, to be excluded from the benefit of the act; yet, on the other hand, it was impossible for the keeper of any particular prison to swear, as was required by the act, that a person so removed had been in his custody during the whole of the period specified, nor could any court of justice so far annul an act of parliament as to dispense with so special an enactment. In this situation, he had thought it his duty to endeavour to procure the earliest possible relief to unfortunate persons in the predicament he had mentioned. He was in his place on the day of the meeting of Parliament, had it been competent then to have brought forward the measure. He had been applied to by gentlemen desirous of extending the benefits of the act to persons not at present comprehended under it: but, however much he might have been disposed to concur in any measure of the kind, he could not conceive it proper to clog with such a burden the present bill, which was meant only to supply an omission, and to place persons in the way of profiting by the act who already clearly fell under its spirit and meaning, but were prevented, by the wording of a particular clause, from availing themselves of its privileges. He therefore hoped no delay would be suffered to take place in giving effect to the present bill, by engrafting on it measures with which it was totally unconnected.—The bill then went through a committee without any amendment, and was reported.—Adjourned.