« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Grey said, that he could not avoid rising in reply to the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer respecting his sincerity, his consistency, his inexperience, and his holding language not fit to be used in that House. With regard to the first, he denied that he had used the words imputed to him; what he had said in his first speech was, that his opposition to the Commercial Treaty arose from no motive of personal dislike to the right hon. gentleman; that he gave him credit for the goodness of his intentions, and hoped that the right hon. gentleman would in return give him credit, when he asserted that his opposition originated in his sense of duty as a member of parliament. Mr. Grey declared, that if on any future occasion a compliment to the right hon. gentleman should suggest itself to his mind, he would studiously suppress it, to avoid the risk of being afterwards charged with insincerity. Perhaps, since the day to which the right hon. gentleman had alluded, his opinion of him had a lttle altered, and that not from what had passed while he was abroad, but since he had been a nearer witness of his conduct. With regard to his having, from his exceeding great inexperience, made use of language unfit for that House, he could only say, that he had more than once heard the right hon. gentleman hold language there, both to him and to others, which out of that House would not be borne. Mr. Grey added, that he trusted that his noble relation and himself stood fully acquitted of having brought forward any charges which they had not been able completely to substantiate, and that being the case, it was matter of indifference to him what was done with the Report: he did not mean to take the sense of the House on the occasion.
The previous question was carried; and after that, a motion was made, "that the farther consideration of the Report be adjourned to that day three months." This was likewise carried.
Debate in the Lords on the Insolvent Debtors Bill.] May 22. The order of the day being read for the House to resolve itself into a committee on the Insolvent Debtors' Bill,
The Duke of Norfolk stated, that there were above 3,000 debtors confined in the different prisons of the kingdom, the loss of whose labour was a material injury, not only to their families, but to the public. That circumstance he considered as so
strong an argument in proof of the neces sity of the Bill, that he thought it unneces sary to take up their time by any farther discussion of the subject. His object was to set the unfortunate, and not the fraudu lent, debtor at liberty. The Bill therefore contained several clauses for the prevention of fraud and imposition; but if any farther restraints should be thought necessary, he would most willingly either introduce or receive clauses for that purpose in the committee, and so modify the Bill, as to render it acceptable to the House, and salutary in its effects with regard to the public.
The Lord Chancellor said, that no man would merit a seat in that assembly, or a seat as a magistrate in any court whatever, who could prove insensible to the miseries of the numberless persons suffering in prison, or so malignant an enemy to the happiness of mankind as to feel a satisfaction in their distress; but to act blindly, unguardedly, or capriciously on either principle, was equally unjust, unwise, and impolitic. The learned lord entered at large into the argument of the inexpediency of acts of insolvency, as well as the manifest injustice of breaking in upon that power of coercion of payment with which the law had armed the creditor for the security of his property. If there was to be such a thing as imprisonment for debt, it ought to continue unchecked and unrestrained, unless in cases of flagrant oppression and unnecessary cruelty. The general idea that humanity required the intervention of the legislature between the debtor and creditor, was a false notion, founded in error, and dangerous in practice. He who had frequent opportunities of knowing and witnessing the temper of creditors, seldom found cause of complaint on the ground of their severity, but, on the contrary, the lenity and kindness of the collective body of credi tors who daily came before him, were uniformly great, warm, and abundant. He had, in aid of his own observation, a great professional authority (whose absence, and the cause of it, every man must lament) for declaring, that for every twenty debtors there scarcely ever appeared in the courts of law one cruel creditor. Those, therefore, who imagined the reverse to be the fact, were egregiously mistaken.
It had been said, that the laws respecting debtor and creditor, in mesne process and in execution, stood in need of revi
sion with a view to alteration and amend-who had, through unforeseen misfortunes, ment: perhaps the assertion was in some incurred debts to a greater amount than degree founded, and he had no scruple to their capitals, and the sums owing to say, that he should be extremely willing them, would satisfy. These laws had ever to pay every possible attention in his been a generous provision, as well as a power to the consideration of so weighty wise protection, for cases of that descripa subject; but he earnestly conjured their tion. On the other hand, those who ran lordships not to countenance such breaches in debt, knowing that they never should of faith with creditors as occasional insol- be able to pay, were certainly fit subjects vent bills. With regard to the argument of that severity which the law, as it stood, that there were 3,000 debtors in the dif- empowered their creditors to exercise toferent gaols, possibly there might be that wards them. The present Bill made no number; but the number that could be sort of distinction between the two destated under the circumstances of an in- scriptions, but provided equally for the solvent bill pending in Parliament, was liberation of all debtors; and consequently, not the number that ought to be looked to being indiscriminate in its object, could as any guide to that House in fashioning not possibly be just. their opinion with respect to the Bill With regard to the clause which related under consideration. The number of pri- to commissioned and non-commissioned soners in a jail, including their families officers, he was very ready, he said, to and attendants, was one number; the assist to extend the arm of the public to number of actual prisoners, either on the relief of that deserving description of mesne process or in execution, was ano- men; but then he could not consent to ther; and the number of prisoners on the extend the arm of the public to their relief speculation of an insolvent bill was a third at the expense of individuals. He spoke number; so that little argument was to be of annuitants for less than 1,000l. being drawn from that consideration worthy of included in the Bill as a most improper much reliance. A much greater evil than matter; observing, that though the limitathe loss of liberty was the dissipation and tion was to a sum less than 1,000l. per corruption that prevailed in all our prisons; annum to any individual, yet the debtor to that their lordships had much better might have 10,000l. a year to pay, if it direct their attention than to the defraud- was divided in payment to eleven annuiing the creditor of his chance of reco- tants. Another part of the Bill that he vering his property by letting loose his mentioned with some degree of indignadebtor, and taking from him the hopes of tion was, its comprehending within the payment. With regard to the Bill under objects to be relieved by it, traducers of consideration, it was the most objection- private character, persons found guilty of able of the kind that he had ever seen in the most atrocious offences against society, one part it interfered with the bankrupt whose punishment fell greatly short of the laws, and took out of the hands of the per- degree of their enormity. If an informasons intrusted with the execution of those tion were filed against such wretches, they laws, all the causes of bankruptcies now had the impudence, he said, to threaten a pending, and put them into the hands of justification; if, on the other hand, an justices of the peace. He was not so vain action was brought, and damages given as to suppose that there were not some inadequate in every consideration to the justices full as competent to do that busi-proportion of their guilt, they threw themness as he was, or any other professional man; but, in general, justices of the peace could not execute such offices so well as those whose whole lives had been spent in the practice. The Lord Chancellor drew the distinction between debtors in respect to trade, and debtors of another description. He spoke of the ancient notion under which a tradesman who could not pay his debts was punishable. Afterwards, as the principles of trade became better understood, more enlarged ideas prevailed, and the bankrupt laws were instituted for the relief of those traders [VOL. XXVI.]
selves into the King's-bench prison, and trusted to an act of insolvency for relief. The clause relative to fugitives beyond sea also challenged his reprehension. He considered such clauses as affording encouragement to bad-minded men to get into debt, go abroad, and after having there spent in dissipation, and at their ease, all the remains of their fortune, or rather of the property of others which they carried off with them, to come back and take advantage of an insolvent act, to enable them to begin their career of fraud over again. After objecting in like manner to [4 II]
some of the exceptions contained in the Bill, and condemning almost every part of it, he spoke of the Lord's Act, upon which, he said, all such bills as the one under consideration was an intrusion. He had been prevailed upon two years ago, by a noble earl (of Effingham) who had argued with as much gravity and wisdom on the subject, as he ever heard any man argue with, to consent to alter the sum stated, as the limitation in that Act, from 100l. to 2004., which, considering the different value of money now, to what it was when the Lords' Act first passed, was not unreasonable. He stated the history of the Lords' Act, showing, that it went on the principle of the Cessio Bonorum in use in Scotland, and he drew from thence an argument against the proposed Insolvent Bill. Another argument urged by him against the Bill was, the preamble of the last Insolvent Act, passed soon after the riots of 1780. That preamble was not, he said, his drawing, but that of a much abler man, and the plain meaning of it was, an intimation to creditors, that it was not very likely that any more insolvent bills would be passed. Now, though he would admit that one parliament could undo what a preceding parliament had done, he asked their lordships, whether they were willing so wantonly to trample on the authority of a former act, and break the compact, which by that preamble they had, as it were entered into with creditors? After a variety of arguments immediately opposite to the Bill before the House, he returned to a discussion of the law of imprisonment, and of the management and conduct of our prisons. He said, he had lately had the honour of a conversation upon the subject, with a gentleman who was of all others, the best qualified to treat of it, Mr. Howard, whose humanity, great as it was, was at least equalled by his wisdom; for, a more judicious, or a more sensible reasoner upon the topic, he never had conversed with. His own ideas had been turned to solitary imprisonment, and a strict regimen (as the constitution and habit of the living of the debtor might require), as a punishment for debt; and that notion had exactly corresponded with Mr. Howard's, who had agreed hith him, that the great object ought to be, when it became necessary to seclude a man from the rest of society and imprison him for debt, to take care that he came out of prison no worse a man, in point of health
and morals, than he went in. There was a part of the Scotch law, which he muc admired, and that was, the punishing those who were concerned in advising a trades man to turn fraudulent bankrupt, and aiding and assisting him in effecting such a bankruptcy, with more than ordinary severity. That idea he meant particularly to attend to in the project, the mere outlines of which he had, upon the spring in his mind for the moment, rather than from any digested plan or mature reflection, taken the liberty of crudely suggesting to the House. Another matter which he had in contemplation was, to oblige the creditor to allow the groats agreeable to the Lords' Act, and increase them, if the constitution and habit of his debtor should require it. In order to indemnify the creditor for this, he meant to enable him to take out two processes at once (what was called the writ of fieri facias, and the writ of capias) and to allow the creditor to add the groats to the original debt, for which the estate of the debtor, either in possession, reversion, or expectancy should be liable. Above all things, a strict regimen, solitary confinement, and care to avoid corruption of morals should be the object; Mr. Howard having assured him that the dampest dungeon in the most loathsome gaol he had ever entered abroad, was nothing to the corruption and dissipation which prevailed in almost every one of our prisons to the disgrace and scandal of the kingdom. Mr. Howard had told him in proof of this, that a quaker called upon him to go with him to witness a scene, which, if he went singly, he feared would be too much for his feelings. It was to see a friend in distress, a person who had lately gone into the King's-bench prison. When they came there, Mr. Howard said, they found the man half drunk, playing at fives. They were greatly shocked at the circumstance; he asked him to go to the coffeeroom and take a glass of wine. The man said, No: he had drunk so much punch, that he could not drink wine; however, he would call in at the room and take a glass with them before they went. Mr. Howard and his friend came away with a very different sentiment from that which they had entertained when they arrived at the prison, but with a sentiment not less afflicting to a real friend. The Lord Chancellor commented upon this story, and, after urging several additional arguments against Insolvent Bills in general, and the Bill before the House in particular, con
cluded with moving, "That the Bill be committed on the 19th of June."
Lord Rawdon confessed that he laboured under peculiar disadvantages in having to follow the noble and learned lord; but, as he saw the policy of imprisonment for debt in a very different light from that in which the noble and learned lord had viewed it, and thought the abuse of the laws authorizing such a practice, matter of serious complaint, he must trouble the House with his reasons for entertaining such an opinion. The clauses of the Bill, as it stood (he admitted) were extremely defective, and therefore, he wished to go into a committee to amend these clauses. He would not detain the House by enumerating all the various statutes which had passed, from the earliest periods of our history on the subject of imprisonment for debt; but merely state the gradations of the modes of proceeding as differently adopted at different periods. He then mentioned that, originally, so much attention had been paid to the usefulness of each individual to his family and the public, that, whenever his property was seized, his utensils of agriculture were deemed unattachable. Having stated this, he said that the writ of distringas, was the first process, and that was multiplied till all the property of a debtor was seized. Afterwards the writ of capias ad respondendum' was added. And this, in his opinion, was a severe and oppressive process. He next traced the custom up to Charles the 2d's time, when, in consequence of the change of tenures an alteration was made in the mode of pursuing the debtor, much to his disadvantage, and that mode had been continued to the present moment. He pointed out how liable the law was to abuse, as it stood at this day; and said that although he admitted Insolvent Debtors Bills to be at best but bad remedies, yet that such remedies must be applied, from time to time, as long as the law remained in its present defective condition. He complimented the Lord Chancellor on his intimation of his readiness to take part in a revision of the law, in the case of imprisonment for debt; but, in the mean time, he declared, he felt it to be his duty to support the Bill then before the House. It was the cause of humanity, since the noble duke had stated, that 3,000 debtors were locked up in prisons, and surely the labour of so large a body of subjects was a matter well worthy of the most serious consideration.
The Earl of Hopetoun supported the Bill, and declared, that he would not consent to have it gotten rid of by a shove off for a month, to a period when it was well known Parliament would not be sitting. He appealed to the humanity of their lordships, whether they would permit a Bill, sent up from the other House for the relief of so many of their fellow subjects to be lost. At least, he hoped they would suffer it to go into the committee.
Viscount Stormont said, that he had not made up his mind to the question, whether a bill of insolvency might not be so framed, as to make it fit to pass that House, and therefore he should not vote at all. With regard to the Bill before the House, it was in its present form, the most wild, extravagant and improper of any which he had ever seen on the subject. He pointed out objections to various parts of it, and entered into a comparison of the Cessio Bonorum of the Scotch law, with the feeble imitation of it contained in the Bill. He declared, that the clause about fugitives was highly objectionable, and that its clear purport was to encourage debtors to get away with their creditors' property; since, if they chose to breathe the pure air of France, at Bologne, or in any other town, and get intoxicated with French wine, as he himself had seen them do, instead of going into gaol, they were offered an indemnity by the Bill. He spoke in terms of high compliment of the reform of the laws of imprisonment for debt, at which the Lord Chancellor had hinted; and said that though it had been no more than a rough sketch, it was a sketch by the hand of
master, who had it in his power to complete the business, and he should consider it as a pledge, that the learned lord would do it at some future period, when his leisure served. He reprobated all Bills of insolvency as opening a door to gross fraud; and after hoping that the Bill would not pass in its present shape, he concluded with declaring, that ludicrous as it might appear, he had heard it seriously argued, that it was a violation of the liberty of a free born Englishman to oblige him to go out of prison.
Lord Kinnaird said, that he wished well to the Bill, and was glad to have heard many of the arguments of the learned lord on the woolsack, which amounted to an admission of the necessity of such bills passing, till the reform suggested was adopted. The House divided: Contents,'
12; Not-contents, 23. The Bill was con- consider of making some provision for sequently lost. that purpose."
"It is with great concern his Majesty acquaints the House of Commons, that, from the accounts which have been laid before his Majesty by the Prince of Wales, it appears that the Prince has incurred a debt to a large amount, which, if left to be discharged out of his annual income, would render it impossible for him to support an establishment suited to his rank and station.
"Painful as it is at all times to his Majesty to propose any addition to the heavy expences necessarily borne by his people, his Majesty is induced, from his paternal affection to the Prince of Wales, to recur to the liberality and attachment of his faithful Commons for their assistance on an occasion so interesting to his Majesty's feelings, and to the ease and honour of so distinguished a branch of his royal family.
"His Majesty could not, however, expect or desire the assistance of the House, but on a well-grounded expectation that the Prince will avoid contracting any new debts in future. With a view to this object, and from an anxious desire to remove every possible doubt of the sufficiency of the Prince's income to support amply the dignity of his situation, his Majesty has directed a sum of 10,000l. per annum to be paid out of his civil list, in addition to the allowance which his Majesty has hitherto given him; and his Majesty has the satisfaction to inform the House, that the Prince of Wales has given his Majesty the fullest assurances of his firm determination to confine his future expences within his income; and has also settled a plan for arranging those expences in the several departments, and for fixing an order of payment under such regulations as his Majesty trusts will effectually secure the due execution of the Prince's intentions.
"His Majesty will direct an estimate to be laid before the House of the sum wanting to complete, in a proper manner, the works which have been undertaken at Carlton House, as soon as the same can be prepared with sufficient accuracy, and recommends it to his faithful Commons to +
As soon as the Message had been read, Alderman Newnham said:-I confess, Sir, it is with considerable exultation that I find that none of those predictions or prognostications, which, as an hon. gentleman observed, were chorussed all around me on a former occasion, have in the smallest degree been realized. I do not pretend to arrogate to myself that any thing which I have done has promoted this happy event; but it is my boast that nothing I have done has prevented it. Amidst the general joy that glows in every breast that has thought upon the subject, I receive the most heart-felt satisfaction. I most sincerely rejoice that the Prince of Wales, whom I admire and revere, will obtain relief in a mode, I am sure, far the most satisfactory to him. I rejoice, that by this his Majesty will have his comfort and his glory secured and promoted; and I most sincerely hope, that no event may ever happen to interrupt their felicity, but that paternal love and protection on the one part, and filial gratitude, duty, and affection, on the other, may flourish and increase for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Rolle observed, that he was extremely happy to find that the business was at last brought to that shape and form; that he would meet it fairly; but as he did not wish to anticipate the debate, he would merely say, that he was of opinion that the list of the debts of his Royal Highness ought to be laid upon the table, that other gentlemen, as well as himself, before they laid additional burthens upon their constituents, might know on what ground it was, that they were called upon to vote away the public money.
Mr. Pitt answered, that an estimate of the debts of his Royal Highness, which had been examined into, was making out, in order to its being laid upon the table.
The Message was ordered to be taken into consideration on the 24th.
May 24. The order of the day being read,
Mr. Pitt rose and observed, that nothing could more fully prove his Majesty's affection for his subjects, than the regret which he at all times felt, when obliged to make any application to parliament which could tend to the imposition of new burthens upon the people. But, at