§ Lord Ashburton
presented a Petition from the Chamber of Commerce at Manchester, against the Imprisonment for Debt Bill. When this subject was touched upon a few evenings ago, a noble Lord had stated that their Lordships ought to be anxious to prevent the passing of this Bill, because it afforded extraordinary facilities for interference with their Lordships' landed property. That point, however, formed no part of the present petition, which came from a most respectable body of individuals connected with the trade and commerce of the country, and they expressed their firm conviction, that if the Measure, as it now stood, became the law of the land, it would be destructive of trade and credit throughout the country. He hoped that their Lordships would pay attention to this petition, which, in its details, and in pointing out the defects of the Bill in its present state, displayed a great deal of practical good sense. Indeed he would say, that no question could be more ably argued than this Question was by the gentlemen who had signed the petition. Every member of the Chamber of Commerce at Manchester signed the petition. In his opinion their Lordships ought to take up the Question early in the nest Session of Parliament. The second petition against the passing of this Bill was signed by 2,000 tradesmen in the city of Westminster, whose residences were all appended to their names. They made the same complaint against the Bill as the other petitioners had done; and they prayed that a Measure which was so greatly calculated to impede the recovery of debts, which was marked by so much injustice towards creditors, and which would infallibly be destructive to trade, might not pass into a law.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
had carefully looked into the Bill, and he felt that, from the intricacy and difficulty of the subject, it would be impossible that it could in the present Session of Parliament be passed into a law. If the Measure should again come before their Lordships at a future time, it must of necessity be referred to a Committee up stairs; and, founded on the result of the inquiry which must then take place, would be the vote which he should deem it necessary to give on the Question. Considering the details of the Bill, he was sure that his noble and learned Friend must concur with him in thinking that it was perfectly impossible for their Lordships, in the due and proper discharge of their duty, especially as they were limited to time, to do anything with the Measure in the present Session. He had seen a deputation from the tradesmen of this part of the Metropolis, and their views exactly accorded with the sentiments contained in the petition.
said, that his opinion as to the respectability of the petitioners, and the attention to which their representations were entitled, agreed entirely with what had fallen from the noble Lords by whom those petitions were presented. As to the individuals who had been alluded to by his noble and learned friend who spoke last—the tradesmen of Westminster—they were indeed a most respectable body of men. Statements coming from such sources deserved, and certainly would command, the most serious attention. The Bill, he admitted, was of the utmost importance. It would, perhaps, effect a greater change than had ever been made in the law of this country. Nothing could be conceived more extensive, or which spread more widely with reference to certain rights of the subject. The details of the Bill were numerous, and he should not trouble their Lordships with any observations on them. He strongly approved of the principle on which the Bill proceeded—that principle being, that imprisonment could not be viewed in the light of compensation to the creditor, but must be considered as a penal infliction on the debtor, which he ought only to suffer when he was guilty of fraud, or of that which amounted nearly to fraud. He deeply regretted that there was so much foundation for the remark of his noble and learned Friend as to the lateness of the Session; because, in his opinion, it was 957 important that this Bill should be passed as soon as possible. He was the more strongly in favour of the Measure being speedily passed when he called to mind the more than ordinary consideration which it had received in the Commons. It had been in committee for six weeks, and it had been, on two occasions, discussed for nine hours. As to hearing evidence, he did not say that such a course would be improper, but, where a great principle was concerned, and where no specific injury could be proved, he did not think that it was necessary to examine witnesses, although it had been done in some cases. What he should suggest would be, that the Bill should be taken up by that House in the next Session of Parliament. No Bill, he conceived, could be more proper for their Lordships' consideration than one which went to alter the law of debtor and creditor. The other House of Parliament had decided on the measure, and he thought that if they took the subject substantively into consideration in the ensuing Session, it might soon be completed. It would, in fact, be only taking up the business where the Commons had left off. The Bill might be brought in here as it had passed the other House. It could then be dealt with as a new Bill, though really their Lordships would only be taking up the old Measure. This course would also give their Lordships something to do in the early part of the Session, when usually there was a great lack of business.
§ Lord Ashburton
said, the petitioners themselves admitted that the present state of the law was unsatisfactory, and demanded alteration; but they complained that the Bill which had been passed by the Commons had made the law worse than it was before. They had excluded the opinions of practical men, and adopted the suggestions of dilettanti Reformers. There were 60 petitions coming from commercial bodies against the Bill, and nine in favour of it. Of these nine, seven came from persons who were confined for debt, and the remaining two came from individuals who took that mode of making known particular views of the subject.
said, it was quite true that witnesses were not examined before the Committee of the House of Commons, but it was equally true that volumes of evidence had been taken by the Commissioners. Oh! it appeared that some noble Lords did not like the name of Commis- 958 sioners, and yet they had pursued their labours sedulously, and he would add, profitably. His noble Friend had made one of the most simple slips that could be conceived for a cautious man like him. He had spoken of dilettanti Reformers, alluding, no doubt, to the Commissioners. And who were they? Why, the late Attorney-General, Sir Frederick Pollock, who was in office under the Administration of which his noble Friend himself had formed a part, stood at the very head of the Commissioners. Was that learned person one of the dilettanti Reformers? Never was a more unfortunate slip made by any unhappy man than had, in that instance, been made by his noble Friend. Dilettanti Reformers! If they were so, he would ask, why did his noble Friend and his Majesty's Government select Attorney-Generals from the ranks of dilettant Reformers? Really he must defend his noble and learned friend opposite from the charge brought against him by his late colleague.
§ Conversation dropped.