HL Deb 09 March 1865 vol 177 cc1365-7

said, he proposed to lay upon the table of the House a Bill which he regarded as one of very great importance. Its object was to abolish the law authorizing imprisonment for debt, or rather so much of it as remained unrepealed. Their Lordships were aware that by the Act for the Amendment of the Law of Bankruptcy, which was passed two or three years back, imprisonment for debt was abolished, except to a very slight extent, by the provision which empowered the Registrars of the Court of Bankruptcy to visit prisons and to adjudge bankrupt those whom they found imprisoned there for debt. The result of that provision had been most beneficial. One of its immediate effects was that the Queen's Bench Prison was closed; and, generally speaking, no one complained that the remedy of the bonâ fide creditor had, in consequence of the operation of the measure, been abridged. That being so, he desired to improve the practical operation of the measure, or rather he proposed to take away the evil of which it wa3 the consequence. It had been ascertained by the Returns on the subject, that those who were now in prison for debt generally consisted of persons who found their way there for the purpose of being discharged under the Bankruptcy Law, and the consequence was that there were a great number of applications for discharge. He thought, therefore, that their Lordships would be justified in taking one step further; for it appeared to him, and it was the general opinion throughout Europe, that the old practice of imprisoning a debtor merely on account of a debt not being paid was neither quite just nor expedient. Now, such had been the operation of the existing law that it would enable the Legislature to make the great and important improvement proposed to be carried into effect by this Bill. Their Lordships were probably aware that there was a Committee of the other House now sitting for the purpose of inquiring into the whole of the Bankrupt Law, and it was probable that the Report of that Committee might be made at no very distant period. From what, however, he had been able to gather of the probable contents of their Report, it was likely that a very considerable time would be required for the preparation of a Bill to carry its recommendations into effect. Moreover, the question would require to be well considered by the commercial classes at large before introducing a Bill to give effect to those recommendations. He did not, under those circumstances, anticipate that Parliament would be in a position to legislate upon the ground of the Report during the present Session, and he, therefore, proposed by the present Bill to make an enactment which he had reason to believe would be in perfect harmony with the recommendations of the Committee. This proposal was that no order of discharge granted to a debtor should have the effect of releasing his future goods unless he paid a dividend of at least 5s. in the pound under the Bankruptcy Act. Such was the present state of the law that every man who was brought up for discharge as a bankrupt was in a better condition if he had no property at all than if he had some; for if he had no property and set his estate down at nil no one opposed him, and he got his discharge as a matter of course. He proposed that no discharge shall avail to release the future property of a bankrupt unless he pays a dividend of 5s. in the pound, or obtains the assent to his discharge of five-sixths of his creditors in point of value. There will be no hardship in discriminating between the honest and fraudulent bankrupt, and in imposing this condition upon the order of discharge by which future property will be released from liability. He, therefore, trusted their Lordships would give the Bill a first reading. The noble and learned Lord then presented a Bill to abolish Arrest upon Final Process in England except in cases where the debtor is in possession of property or in the receipt of an income which cannot be taken in execution.


inquired whether the Bill would take away from the Judges of County Courts the power to commit in default of satisfaction of judgment?


said, that the Bill entirely reserved the existing County Court system.

Bill presented, and read 1a. (No. 26.)