said he held in his a petition from certain insolvent debtors Confined in the 98 Fleet-prison, which he would present for the purpose of being laid on their lordships' table. He was not disposed, just now, to give any pledge that he should hereafter make any motion upon the subject; for, in the absence of a noble and learned lord (Redesdale), who had been instrumental in promoting the present general Insolvent Debtors' Act, it would not be fair to enter into a discussion respecting the provisions of that measure. He should therefore abstain from raising any argument at present, but wait the noble and learned lord's explanation. He had only to observe, that the allegations contained in the Petition were, that a Bill for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors had passed the two Houses of the legislature; and had received the royal assent in July, and yet no person was appointed as judge to carry that Act into execution until the month of September. In addition to this disappointment of their expectations, such was the difficulty of extending its operations, that no one could receive its benefits until the 26th of the present month. The petitioners stated these facts in proper and respectful language; and, without saying more at present, he should move, that this Petition do lie upon their lordships' table, with a view that, as soon as the noble and learned lord's presence would admit, their case should be taken under consideration.
The Lord Chancellor
did not rise to offer the slightest opposition to the Petition being laid upon the table, nor to incite any discussion which might relate to the provisions of the measure alluded to, in the absence of his noble and learned friend; but he thought it his duty to notice some observations which had not long ago been made in some of the public papers. It was stated, that although by this Insolvent Debtors' Act so much difficulty was found in creating a court capable of carrying its provisions into execution, yet at the time it passed that House, there was not one of the law lords who had not given his consent to the measure. For himself, he must entreat the liberty of saying, that much, as he wished any measure like the Act he alluded to, to be successful, he for one foresaw, and it must be recollected by those who heard him at the time, he did express his opinion, that what he considered the machinery of the Bill was not adequate to the purpose of carrying it into complete execution. Such was his view of the measure before it went to another-place (the House of Commons); but 99 when it came back without those clauses which were left to those who were the proper persons to insert them, he no longer doubled of the great difficulty which would arise; and he then declared that it was his opinion it could not be carried into effect. Let it not be misunderstood, that he was an enemy to this or any other general measure which could be framed for the purpose intended; he should be extremely glad if such a system could be adopted, without the obstacles which impeded the execution of this Act. He thought it also his duty to say, in justice to the gentleman who was now appointed to the office of commissioner, that no blame could attach to the discharge of his duty since he was appointed; and no one could have done more to accelerate the relief of those for whose liberation it was provided.
trusted, that the allegations of the petitioners would not be misunderstood; they imputed no blame to any one; but merely mentioned the fact, that the Act had passed in July; that no appointment was made till September; and that such was the delay, that no benefit had yet been extended to these unfortunate individuals.
§ Viscount Sidmouth
rose, for the purpose of making a few observations, in consequence of what had just fallen from the noble lord. He trusted that, even in the absence of the noble and learned lord (Redesdale), he should be excused from making a few remarks as to the delay which had been represented. After the Insolvent Debtors' Bill passed into a law, he had been applied to upon the subject, and blame had been unjustly imputed to his conduct upon the occasion. Indeed, with respect to such imputed blame, it would be for him to learn that the discharge of any duty, under that act of parliament, belonged to the office to which he had the honour to be appointed. But such was his fervent desire to make himself useful, where an act of beneficence was to be performed, that he should always consider it his duty to step forward in the cause of public good, especially where the comforts and liberation of thousands of individuals constituted the object of his exertions. On such occasions, he should never consider whether the line of duty was confined within the precincts of his own office, or within those, of another. It was during an absence of a few weeks, by the indulgence of the 100 Prince Regent, that he was presented with two petitions from Insolvent Debtors, complaining to the Prince Regent of the delay which they conceived had arisen in carrying this Act into execution. After paying the desired attention to these petitions, he did of his own accord immediately write to his noble friend at the head of the Treasury (the earl of Liverpool), informing him, that in consequence of a defect in the provisions of the Act, which did not grant a salary to the person to be appointed commissioner, its execution had been delayed, to the injury of all those who had entertained expectations of relief. He requested that under these circumstances, for the benefit of these unfortunate persons, his noble friend would take upon himself the responsibility of discharging whatever might be the salary considered appropriate to the office of commissioner. His noble friend, with the utmost readiness, adopted this suggestion, and this obstacle as to the salary was immediately removed. In the mean time the noble and learned lord on the woolsack, who could vouch for the conduct already mentioned, and who had not, been backward in using every endeavour to expedite the execution of this statute, after consulting with another noble and learned friend of his, presiding in the King's-bench, proposed the office to the consideration of two individuals of the highest eminence; but, after having considered the nature of the jurisdiction which would be entrusted to them, they had both successively begged leave to decline the situation. So far he must appeal to their lordships, that no blame could be attached to him or any part of the executive government; nor had any delay been occasioned, which, by the utmost attention, could possibly be avoided. Some time afterwards, when another noble and learned lord (as we understood, lord Redesdale) communicated from the country, that Mr. Serjeant Palmer might be appointed, and requested, that he (lord S.) would, as speedily as possible, procure his appointment from the Prince Regent; he, in consequence, for the first time in his life, had an immediate interview with that gentleman, and in two hours the proposition was laid before his Royal Highness, and Mr. Serjeant Palmer was appointed the following day. Since that period, he had had frequent interviews with this learned gentleman; and he soon understood, that with respect to the notice 101 necessary to be given in the Gazette, such would be the number in one week, that they would swell that publication beyond all bounds fit for its general circulation. To remove any delay on account of this inconvenience, he had given directions that a Supplementary Gazette should be published on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and a Supernumerary one on Thursdays, so long as it should be necessary so to do for the prevention of delay in carrying the Act into execution. He had also taken care that the price, by omitting the usual stamp, should be as low as possible, and thus the circulation of such voluminous publications might not be frustrated. He considered that no blame could be, throughout, imputed to any part of the executive government; he had done every thing in his power, without considering whether it came within the province of his official capacity, which he should always hold it his duty to do upon occasions like this; as he most sincerely felt for the miseries of those who justly expected they would have been relieved from their severe misfortunes long before the present period. He was also satisfied that no fault was be imputed to the learned gentleman who now filled the office of commissioner; for he had witnessed his unremitting endeavours to lose no time in extending the relief of this Act to those who had so ardently contemplated the benefit. The noble viscount concluded, by expressing his hope that no exertion would be wanting, where all must feel for the misery which must have been experienced from disappointed expectation, and that every difficulty would speedily be surmounted.
again thought it his duty to say a few words, in justice to himself and the petitioners. With respect to himself, he should have been the last man in the world, directly or indirectly, to impute it to the noble viscount, that he wanted diligence or attention in the discharge of any duty which might belong to his official situation. He never heard till now that any blame of that nature had been imputed to him; at the same time, he gave him full credit for all the conduct and motives which he had just now candidly explained to the House. For the petitioners he must also say, that there was not the smallest imputation cast upon any quarter; but the petition simply slated the fact of the delay between the passing of the law and the appointment of 102 the commissioner. They had caused this petition to be placed in his hands; and in consequence of a noble and learned lord's absence, he had been disposed to wait the opportunity of his speedily being in that House, when the nature and provisions of the Bill would with more propriety have come under their consideration. Such however, was the natural feeling of those who were suffering under a most severe misfortune, that he thought it his duty immediately to present the petition, in order that the subject of its prayer might not be delayed one moment from occupying, as he conceived it ought to do, their lordships' most serious attention.—Though he was not inclined at present to draw on any discussion of the Act itself, or to impute blame to the executive government, yet he considered that the petitioners had a just right to complain; for an act of parliament had passed, and they justly called for its being put into execution. The legislature had pledged itself by that Act, that the relief they expected should be extended to them; and if there were any obstacles and impediments which prevented the execution, parliament were now sitting, and they ought to proceed immediately to their removal.
§ Lord Ellenborough
adverted to the observation which had stated that the assent of all the law lords had been given to the principles and provisions of this act of parliament. Although he could have wished most sincerely that the law could have been rendered practicable and expedient, he was one of those who had invariably said that this measure would never answer the expectations of those who supported it; and although he was willing to give way, for the purpose of letting, the experiment be tried, yet the present difficulties he had foreseen; and he could assure their lordships, that the measure had not in any other way his assent, either expressed or implied. There was one part of the Act which related to the creation of a Court of Appeal; and he would say of it, that expressions never predicated more confusion and incomprehensibility. It was impossible to say, from the structure of the words, whether one or three judges of a court were intended. Besides this there was no power whatever given to this court; and it was impossible, according to the opinion of all the learned judges, that this Act could be carried into execution. There was no time or mode of this Court of Appeal conducting, its 103 jurisdiction, if it had any; and the same confusion attended the provisions of that under a commissioner. There were not only seeds of death dispersed through the body of the Act, but, in his judgment, it had been still-born. It was impossible, in his opinion, that it could be carried into execution, and no man more than himself felt for the situation of those who had suffered all the bitterness of baffled hopes and expectations; and so far did he think the legislature pledged, that he would recommend that an Act of a temporary nature, either suspending or repealing the present, should, without delay, be passed before the Christmas holidays; so that these individuals might as speedily as possible be liberated from their confinement. There was no prospect whatever of any effect being accomplished under this general Act, which might be taken into consideration afterwards; but he would not disguise his opinion; he was certain it could never be carried into execution. He wished the noble and learned lord (Redesdale) had been present; and he regretted that his duty obliged him to express these sentiments in his absence; but he would be credited for saying, that he should have expressed himself in the same manner, if the noble and learned lord had been in the House. In conclusion, he observed, if his noble friend (lord Holland) or any other would propose a Bill for the immediate relief of those who were now confined, he would lend all the assistance he could for furthering its progress into an act of parliament.
conceived himself called upon to answer the last observation of his noble and learned friend. He had ever been a decided enemy to, temporary Acts of Insolvency; he considered them most vicious and ruinous experiments, most shamefully resorted to by the legislature, for the purpose of saving that trouble which was required in framing a law of a permanent and useful description. But now, that the legislature had gone so far as to pass the present Act, he would never lend his hand to the repeal or suspension of the measure, nor give his assent to the introduction of a temporary Bill, which was the most unjust and noxious provision that could be adopted by parliament. If, indeed, this permanent Act, however liable to deficiency and the want of immediate improvement, and for which they had so long contended, were 104 to be repealed or suspended, he should despair of their future endeavours to re-establish a measure of the same description. The Act was passed — the legislature were now sitting, and they were bound to amend it so that it might be carried into execution.
§ Lord Ellenborough
in explanation said, no man more than himself disliked the principle and injustice of temporary Insolvent Acts; but, in the present instance, he recommended the measure for the relief of those who must otherwise continue a considerable time longer in the midst of their misfortunes.
The Lord Chancellor
professed himself a decided enemy to temporary Acts; but he trusted the noble lord (Holland) would see, upon the present occasion, that an Act of that nature would be only for the purpose of completing what was intended in the present permanent Act of parliament. He adverted to the mode by which the temporary Acts were carried into execution; and then suggested the immense undertaking of the commissioner, who would have to direct himself what had fallen by those Acts to the attention of all the quarter sessions throughout the kingdom. The Court of Appeal being constituted as it was, how was it possible to carry the present Act into execution The creditor might appeal, or the debtor might appeal; but there was no authority to decide, and the person must remain in confinement.—He certainly, under all these circumstances, should recommend the interference of a temporary Act, either repealing or suspending the present one, or leaving the person claiming the benefit to take his choice of the statutes for the purpose of obtaining relief.
again stated his objection to this mode, upon the grounds he had already mentioned; and observed, that he saw no reason why the Act should not be amended, so far as was necessary to carry it into execution. In all measures of a novel kind, it was natural to find unforeseen difficulties; but these might be surmounted, and he should suggest that the Act should be submitted to the consideration of the learned judges, who were best able to point out the amendments necessary; and then the legislature could have no objection to amend it accordingly.
§ The Petition was ordered to lie on the table.