Page images

a great deal of favouritism, as also in the large sums paid to captains of ships carrying out specie. He wished to ask why captains of the navy were paid any thing for the freight of specie on government account? He observed, that captain Farquhar was paid 2,000l. for conveying specie from Portsmouth to Passages.

Mr. Croker in reply, said that the risk was considerable, as the captain was responsible for the delivery of the whole of the specie. He recollected the case of commodore Owen having a freight of specie, and having had some of it stolen, when he was obliged to make good the loss, which not only swallowed up all he received for freight, but also a part of his property. While merchants were glad to pay 21 per cent. for the freight of specie, government paid only per cent. Mr. W. Smith could not conceive the principle upon which a naval officer should be remunerated at the public expense, for doing that which as a servant of the public he was obliged to do; and as to the idea suggested by the hon. gentleman, he thought it quite a mockery to suppose that naval officers could be rendered responsible for the enormous sums sometimes committed to their care.

Mr. Baring observed, that it was a novel practice to allow our naval officers to charge such commission as they thought proper for the conveyance of the money of merchants from foreign ports, no such practice having prevailed during the former American war. The hon. gentleman animadverted upon several items in the accounts on the table, with regard to our colonial expenditure, in which profusion appeared to run riot, especially in the Commissariat. This profusion he illustrated by referring to the case of the Cape of Good Hope, in which the allowance to Mr. Hill, of the commissariat, for the current year, was 173,000, although for the last year it was only 69,000l., and for the preceding year 43,000l.; also to the cases of Ceylon, Goree, Sierra Leone, and the Leeward Islands. The allowance to Mr. Damerum, for Jamaica, for the present year, was 426,000l., although for the last year it was only 160,000l., and for the preceding year 58,000l. These cases he thought sufficient to show the necessity of inquiry by a committee above stairs; and concluded by observing, that if our colonial expenses should be thus enormous, it would be quite impossible for the country to support the system.

[blocks in formation]

Lord Proby said, that the members of the Commissariat were, he understood, in the habit of becoming contractors themselves; and such a practice was obviously calculated to give rise to great abuse.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer observed, that if any persons connected with the Commissariat were capable of such a practice, they would be obviously guilty of a gross breach of duty.

Mr. Bankes supported the suggestion of appointing a committee above stairs to examine those accounts, and especially to inquire into the conduct of the Commissariat, for the commission appointed to act upon the Continent was not sufficiently comprehensive in its powers completely to answer the end in view. The practice of frauds in this department was matter of public notoriety, which the return of almost all the commissaries with large fortunes from the Continent seemed to place beyond dispute. It was obvious that such men could not accumulate such fortunes from their mere pay and allowances; and be trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would see the necessity of complying with the public wish by instituting an inquiry upon this subject. If any gentleman should bring forward a distinct motion for the institution of such an inquiry, the motion should certainly have his decided support, and he could not conceive that ministers had any interest in resisting it.

Mr. Newman rose to express his entire approbation of what had fallen from the hon. gentleman; and being unaccustomed to trouble the House, he only begged leave to add, that he had so frequently heard of the very profuse expenditure of the Commissariat, that he hoped a committee would be appointed for the purposes proposed by the hon. gentleman. He should not have trespassed on the time of the House, but from a sense of

duty to his country, in which the interest and character of the Government were materially concerned.

Earl Stanhope observed, that he did not intend to offer any opinion upon the subject of this Petition. From its nature, The Chancellor of the Exchequer express- however, he thought it due to justice, and ed his opinion that any committee ap- to the petitioner, to have the documents pointed for the purposes mentioned by to which it referred laid before their lordthe hon. gentleman, would interfere with ships, with a view to have the matter inthe proceedings of those who were ap-vestigated. Were he, indeed, a member of the Court of Session, he should be anxious to become acquainted with such an accusation, and to have his conduct explained. It was his intention, therefore, to move that a copy of the Petition be transmitted to the Court of Session, accompanied, however, by an order, that the documents connected with the accu

pointed to audit the public accounts in the Peninsula. With respect to the large fortunes which had been accumulated by individuals, they were the natural consequence of the very large expenditure which had taken place; but he did not believe they had arisen in any degree from official abuses.

Lord Proby said, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would compare the expenses of the French and the English Commissariat, especially in the article of transport for troops, he would see good grounds for a serious inquiry.

Mr. Baring contended, that the exa-sation should be transmitted to their lordmination would not interfere with the au- ships. In thus proceeding he was goditing of the accounts; and intimated verned by the precedent of Judge Fox's his intention of moving for a committee case, in which that judge being accused, on some future day. and being properly alive to the protection of his character, petitioned himself for a copy of the accusation. He trusted that the Scotch judges equally valued their reputation, and would be desirous for an opportunity of vindicating themselves against a charge of this nature. If the course of proceeding which he proposed were deemed objectionable, and that any other noble lord should suggest a better course, the noble earl expressed his disposition to accede to it.

The Resolution was then agreed to. The Chancellor of the Exchequer next moved, that six millions be granted on account of Army Extraordinaries for the year 1815.

The Lord Chancellor thought it impossible to comply with the noble earl's motion. The petitioner appeared to have been committed for a contempt of court, and he presumed their lordships would not be disposed to interfere with such a committal. Indeed, he should conceive it inconsistent with the dignity of that House, and the respect due to the Court of Session, to interfere at all upon this subject. No grounds were stated to justify such an interference; and he hoped the House would recollect the difficulty in which it was involved in Judge Fox's case, when, after proceeding to a certain extent, it was found that it could not go on with effect. The first question in this case was, whether there ought to be any proceeding at all; and he deprecated an interposition of this nature with the conduct of judges, not so much for the sake of the judges themselves, as for the sake of suitors, whose interest must always be affected by the entertainment of charges upon light grounds against those who were appointed to administer the justice of the country. If a judge really deserved accusation, he ought, in his view, to be

Mr. Tierney objected to this grant: he thought a delay necessary to examine into the accounts, for the purpose of preventing the confusion of both years. He hoped the right hon. gentleman would not press this Resolution to its full extent now, after a vote of twenty-one million, as if he had caught the House in wind, and presumed that, after such a vote, 6,000,000l. were nothing.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer explained the nature of those accounts, and their connexion with the vote of credit, also the great difficulty of making them completely out, parts being still unreturned from Spain. He however had no objection to take a vote of three millions at present, and to defer the remainder.

Tuesday, April 11.

PETITION OF MR. JAMIESON.] The Petition of Mr. W. Jamieson, one of the writers to the Signet in Scotland, and now confined in the Cannongate gaol, complaining of the circumstances under which he was imprisoned, having been read,

[ocr errors]

proceeded against in a much more formal and grave manner than the noble earl proposed.

tioner, because it appeared that the petitioner was committed by an rder of the Court of Session, and not by that branch of the court to which he had appealed, and which was competent by the late statute to commit him, had he been guilty of contempt. The petitioner's committal, therefore, did not afford evidence of contempt. But he was anxious for some inquiry respecting those acts of sederunt generally, because he understood that great abuses of power were connected with


The Earl of Lauderdale thought the better mode would be to move for all the acts of sederunt with regard to the peti-gance, and who bid defiance to those creditors whose ruin they had promoted, by becoming largely in their debt. To give creditors the power of forcing those persons to deliver up their property was, therefore, the first object he had in view; and all the deviation he should make from the Act of George the 2d, was, to extend its operations in an unlimited manner. The other part of his Bill, which was to increase the punishment of persons who from their own acts of folly and impru dence had become insolvent, he was apprehensive would not meet with so general an assent as that which he had just stated; yet he trusted the explanation which he should give would tend to remove any difficulties that might arise. His principal and most anxious wish was to distinguish between the unfortunate and the fraudulent debtor; because he was aware that there was a species of credit that was absolutely necessary; and was far from thinking, that those whose only crime was poverty should be punished. In certain cases, punishment ought rather to fall on those who think proper to trust, than on those who apply for credit. Yet an excess of credit was a public injury; and the effect of the last Bill went to destroy that credit which was highly necessary to the public welfare. Amongst the middle classes, for example, there were persons who could not exist without it. Men in public offices, officers on half-pay, and others similarly situated, whose salaries were received only by the quarter, and then not precisely to a day, would be in the utmost distress but for this accommodation; but the present Bill had tended to withdraw this necessary credit. The reason was, that no tradesman could know whom it was safe to trust, when any man, after getting in his debt, and being pressed for payment, had only to warn him not to proceed against him, as he should in that case, give him a bill upon lord Redesdale at three months. This state of things went to destroy the credit that was necessary, as well as that which was improper. A tradesman might find himself utterly unable to carry on his business, if he was expected to examine most minutely into the circumstances of every body to whom he gave credit. It was no doubt familiar to the House that

After a few further observations from the Lord Chancellor, who urged the propriety rather of a distinct motion to settle the law respecting the acts of sederunt without any connexion with this case, and of lord Melville also against the motion, with a remark from lord Lauderdale that the petitioner did not make out a case to warrant the interference of the House, the motion was negatived, as was a motion also of earl Stanhope for copies of the acts of sederunt with respect to Mr. Jamieson.

known to many members of that House, that at this moment there were numerous persons in prison for debt in various parts of this kingdom, who were spending their substance in the most luxurious extrava

Tuesday, April 11.

INSOLVENT DEBTORS BILL.] Mr. Serjeant Best rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the laws respecting Insolvent Debtors. His intention, in bringing in this Bill, was first, to force persons who were possessed of property to give it up to their creditors, and next, to punish those persons who had become insolvent through their own profligacy or vice. The first object which he had stated he had no doubt would meet with the general concurrence of the House. The proposition which he should submit was founded upon an Act passed so early as the reign of George the 2d, by which it was enacted, that persons imprisoned for debt should be obliged to deliver up their property for the benefit of their creditors, under the penalty of transportation. The provisions of this Act, however, only extended to persons having incurred debts under the sum of 1004., and his desire was, to extend its operations to debts whatever might be their amount. It was, no doubt, well

the Bill which was called "lord Redes dale's Bill" had given rise to many serious objections. It in fact gave the same facility to the dishonest as the honest debtor, to obtain his liberty at the expiration of three months imprisonment. He was willing to admit that the judge who should have to discriminate between these cases would be placed in a very trying situation. In fact, the only way of separating the honest from the dishonest debtor, would be to introduce some sort of scale by which the claim to the advantages of the Act might be regulated. Such a scale he had prepared for the consideration of the House. He had to propose, that if the debtor was found in a condition to pay 15s. in the pound, he should be entitled to his discharge at the expiration of three months. If he should from the improvident management of his affairs, be only in a condition to pay 10s. in the pound, then he thought his imprisonment should extend to a longer period, namely, to twelve months. Again, if the debtor, by expending that which he must know belonged to others, was unable to pay 10s. in the pound, such a man, he thought, ought to be imprisoned two years, twelvemonths of which, should be passed within the walls of a prison, and not as at present, in what were called the rules. And lastly, if a man was entirely insolvent, and without the hope of paying any portion of his debts, he considered it was but proper that he should be kept within the walls of a prison for two years. It would naturally occur, that there were many cases in which a prisoner might be in no condition, from misfortunes not originating in his own vices, to pay any thing in liquidation of his debts. To such an individual he by no means wished the scale which he had stated to apply; it should, therefore, be open in all cases for the debtor to prove by his own oath, supported by other satisfactory evidence, whether his distresses were attributable to imprudence or misfortune, and if he was able to establish the latter, then he should extremely lament his detention in custody beyond the time that was necessary to prove the fact. It was likewise his intention to provide, that the Judge of the Court should first decide whether a debtor was a fit person to be discharged, and that then a majority of his creditors should sanction that discharge before it took place. It had been remarked, that creditors often, from being at a distance from their debtors, would not be at

the expense and trouble of opposing their discharge, and under this impression, many persons got themselves removed by Habeas Corpus, from Northamptonshire, and other distant counties, to the prisons of the metropolis, by which means they escaped all scrutiny whatever. To obviate this practice, he should insert a clause, by which, at the desire of a majority of the creditors, such persons might be removed down to the place where their debts were contracted, so that they might be opposed with effect, and without those enormous expenses which, by the present system, must be incurred, if opposition was to be made. The policy of these amendments to the Bill now in force, he was convinced, would strike every member in the House; and he trusted, if he was allowed leave to bring in the Bill, that he should be able more clearly to establish their necessity. The learned Serjeant concluded by moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the amendment of the laws relating to Insolvent Debtors."

Mr. W. Bathurst said, it was impossible for those who had fully investigated the effect of the Bill known by the name of "lord Redesdale's Bill," not to observe that it was injurious as well to public credit as to public morals; by exciting on the one hand a lawless extravagance, and on the other by creating distrust, and destroying that useful credit which was essential to the existence of the country as a commercial nation. He did not wish to advert to the law as it existed before the passing of this Bill, yet he most fully subscribed to the necessity of bringing for. ward some measure by which a distinction might be made between the unfortunate and the fraudulent debtor; and with this feeling he cordially seconded the motion of the hon. and learned Serjeant on the floor, than whom he thought no man more competent to the performance of the task he had undertaken.

Mr. Horner said, that from the reading of the motion which he had just heard, he had been released from the uncertainty in which he was placed from the form of the notice of the learned serjeant, as it stood on the order-book, as it was there stated that his intention was to move for the repeal of the Insolvent Act altogether. He was glad to find that he was mistaken, and that the object of the learned serjeant was only to amend the Bill in question. It was not his intention to follow the hon. gentleman who had spoken last, in his



disquisition upon public credit, as all must agree that it was of the last importance not to check the credit of this country by any enactment of law. If he understood the learned serjeant right, he had divided his Bill into two branches-the one for enforcing the delivery of the property of the debtor to the creditor, and the other for the punishment of the insolvent debtor. With reference to the first proposition, as far as it could be accomplished, he had not the slightest objection, as nothing was more just than that the creditor should have the benefit of any property of which his debtor might be possessed. object, however, he apprehended, could be obtained, as far as it was practicable, under the present Act. The other proposition, for the punishment of the insolvent debtor, was one, however, at which he could not help expressing his surprise, as well from the nature of the proposition itself, as that it should have come from one so intimately acquainted with the laws of the country as the learned serjeant. If a fraud was committed, he would ask, were there not penal statutes by which it was punishable? Could any thing be so incongruous as the principle of ascertain ing the degree of a man's guilt by the number of shillings which he was able to pay his creditors in the pound? The House he was sure would never accede to

this principle. What was the learned serjeant's remedy for the unfortunate debtor? Why, to throw the burthen of reproof upon the debtor. This, however, was done by the present act, one half of which was occupied with clauses to prevent frauds. He decidedly condemned the notion of punishing a man for insolvency, except where the fraudulent or dishonest motives were most explicitly ascertained. He should not oppose the introduction of the Bill, because he was really anxious to see how the learned serjeant had defined the cases of fraudulent and dishonest insolvency.

Mr. Lockhart said, that the description of persons whom his hon. and learned friend was desirous of punishing, were not those who committed what were termed legal frauds, and who would, of course, be subject to the laws already in force for preventing such crimes; but it should be recollected that there were many frauds which did not come under the head of legal frauds, and which it was extremely desirable should not pass off with impunity. Of this description were those sorts of (VOL. XXX.)

frauds which were committed by persons assuming false appearances of respectability, and inducing tradesmen to give credit, which, under other circumstances, they would not have given. It was the preven tion of these practices his hon. and learned friend had in view, and therefore it was that he was anxious to fix such scales as would enable a due discrimination to be made between the fraudulent and the honest debtor. But the Act as it now stood was only for debauching the principles of a debtor for two or three months, and then setting him at liberty, to the injury of his creditors. Another defect of the Aet was, that it made no distinction between the debtor who put his creditor to all manner of vexatious law expenses, and him who at once suffered judgment to go by default. He thought, too, it was a source of great regret, that there was not some mode of recovering small debts, of ten or twenty pounds, less expensive than the present means, by which an expense of 401. or 50l. was often incurred. It was a fact, that from every cause which was carried into a court of law, not less than thirty persons received fees. This circumstance reminded him of a caricature of the inimitable Hogarth, in which all the powers of the engineer were represented as being applied to draw a cork from a bottle. The hon. gentleman said, it was strange, that in preparing Insolvent Acts, nobody had said a word about those debts which arose from some species of wrongs, called malicious injuries, which a man may commit against another almost with impunity. Such were those of atrocious battery, or breach of promise of marriage, for which a man, after being convicted in large damages and imprisoned, got free at the end of three months, the same as if he owed only a simple debt. But the greatest injury the act did to trade was, the putting an end to all final actions; for nobody would think of prosecuting a man to recover a small debt, when he knew that the defendant could run him to great expense, and then throw himself in prison. After several other observations in favour of the proposed amendments, the hon. gentleman concluded, by expressing his confidence that they would have the effect of stemming the tide of dishonesty amongst the middling classes of society, and restore principles of equity and justice between man and man.

Mr. Abercrombie thought that the learned (2 K)

« PreviousContinue »