The Earl of Fife
opposed the third reading of the Bill at that time. He would be the last man in the world to attempt to screen any one from paying his just debts; but by this Bill debtors of all descriptions were to be put on the footing of traders, and made liable to the Bankrupt-laws, and that was an innovation which ought not to be introduced without further inquiry, and more deliberation. Many of those to whom the provisions of the Bill would apply, were more unfortunate than unjust, and it would, in many cases, be an extreme hardship, to deprive those debtors who went abroad, or remained in prison, of the little means of existence which was left them. This was literally a bill of pains and penalties, and their Lordships ought to pause before they enacted a law which would render the case of many unfortunate persons worse than it was before. The noble and learned Lord had, on a former occasion, said, that there were 100 English debtors, who lived luxuriously in prison, and abroad, and set their creditors at defiance, although they had the means to pay. But this was an exaggerated statement, and probably included many persons who lived sparingly enough in prison on a pittance, which, if divided among a number of creditors, would do them little service. It probably, also, included several of those who went abroad on account of the cheapness of living, without any intention to defraud 1247 their creditors; and it would be very hard on such persons to render them subject to the Bankrupt-laws. This measure would be of very little use to creditors, for in most cases the whole property of these unfortunate debtors would be wasted upon lawyers and members of the Bankruptcy Court. The measure would be a "Slough of Despond" for the debtors, without any benefit to the creditors. The Bill, indeed, had a flattering title, which reminded him of the title to a Bill passed in the time of Henry 7th, the real object of which was, to support the malversations of Empson and Dudley. He could compare the measure in respect of its consequences, to nothing except the Cholera Morbus and death, from which there was neither escape nor relief, and expressed his hope that the noble and learned Lord would at least delay the Third Reading until the Lord Chancellor should have brought in his Bankruptcy Bills. If the noble and learned Lord would not abandon the measure altogether, he hoped that he would at least alter it, and allow the debtors a longer time to compound with their creditors.
apologized to the noble and learned Lord for his attention not having been called earlier to the Bill, and he begged now to state one objection, which appeared to him worthy of notice. He alluded to that part of the Bill which related to persons abroad; and a clause in the Bill said, that the person who was now abroad, and who should remain abroad, with intent to defraud his creditors, after notice being left at his last place of abode, should be subject to the Bankrupt-laws, unless he compounded with his creditors within the space of three months. This was rather a hard clause, particularly with regard to those who were abroad, and who had not gone there with the intention of defrauding their creditors. He thought it was hard, without some more consideration, to enact against them that they should forfeit all their property, whether real or personal. He, therefore, suggested that it would be only proper to delay the Bill for a few days, in order to give time for these clauses being thoroughly considered, and he hoped the noble and learned Lord would excuse him if he moved an Amendment to that effect.
§ Lord Wynford
said, he would gladly comply with the request of his noble and learned friend, but he regretted, that he 1248 had not looked into the Bill before. He did not mean to say, that the House should be influenced by any opinion but its own; but he thought his noble friend would have more confidence in the Bill when he was informed, that the noble and learned Lord who occupied the Woolsack, but who, he regretted, was absent to-day, had no objection to it. The Bill would not apply to the persons now abroad, till after a period of twelve months.
§ Lord Wynford
.—Yes, there was twelve months time for those who were out of Europe; and the Bill did not apply to those who were abroad, unless it could be proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Bankrupt, or of the Lord Chancellor, or of a Jury, that they remained abroad for the purpose of avoiding their debts. If a merchant remained abroad to delay his creditors for a single hour, he became subject to the Bankrupt-law, and he could see no hardship in placing on the same footing with a merchant—one of the most useful and respectable characters in the community—men, who evidently went away for the purpose of defrauding their creditors, and of spending the money which belonged to others. In the last Session of Parliament, a Bill was presented by him of a still stronger character, by which the process of outlawry, which, as the law now stood, could be got rid of by a person returning to the country, was fastened upon the debtor. By that Bill, too, the debtor declared a bankrupt was compelled to give up the whole of his property, by this Bill he was allowed to retain a part of it. He had, however, no personal object in view, and he only sought to be of advantage to the public; and if the noble and learned Lord, whose opinions he so much respected, or, indeed, if any noble Lord desired to have the third reading of the Bill delayed, he cheerfully acceded to that request. He would, therefore, move that the third reading of the Bill be postponed to that day week.—Bill postponed.