« VorigeDoorgaan »
to the emoluments. On the 26th of June, a series of counter resolutions were moved by Mr Mellish; and it was agreed, that the discussion on both these sets of resolutions should take place at the same time. Nothing further took place this session, which rose soon afterwards; but the result of this enquiry will be found among the proceedings of the following session.
public. In the next place, the bank derives an emolument from the management of the national debt. All the transfers of stock are made, and all the dividends to the public creditors are paid by the bank,-on which transactions the bank receives a commission. In consideration of the benefits which the bank receives from its charter, and of the emoluments derived from the management of the public business, they have at different times made advances to the public on more favourable terms than ordinary loans. In 1800, when they obtained a renewal of their charter for 21 years, they advanced to the public three millions for six years without interest; and, at the end of that period, they renew ed this loan till 1814, at three per cent., thus giving the public an allow. ance of two per cent on the interest. In 1800, they also continued the loan then existing, of eleven millions and a half, for twenty-one years, at three per cent. And lastly, in 1808, they made a further advance of three millions, without interest, till the 5th of April, 1816. These advances, however, were considered as a very inadequate remuneration for the advantages which the bank derived from its relations with government; and Mr Grenfell, on the 19th of April, moved for such accounts as might be necessary for ascertaining the amount of the profits made by the bank, and of the compensation made for these profits to the public. These accounts were ordered on the 26th of April. On the 13th of June, Mr Grenfell moved a series of resolutions, stating his views of the amount of the public balances in the hands of the bank; of the profits derived from these balances, and from the commission on the management of the national debt; and of the remuneration made by the bank for these emoluments; the whole tending to shew the inadequacy of the remuneration
On the 13th of March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought forward a proposition for putting an end to the exclusive privileges enjoyed by the South-Sea Company. He took a view of the establishment of this company, and stated, that it possessed the exclusive privilege of trading to America, from the river Oroonoko, round Cape Horn to the north-west coast of that continent. This exclusive privilege had for many years been of no advantage to that company; but South America having become at last open to us, it might become a great obstacle to our commerce. He therefore had to state the terms on which the company were willing to sell it to the country. The company had lent all its capital to the government, for which they received 31. per cent.; and they also obtained a further dividend of per cent. on their capital, by acting as agents for government in the payment of the dividends of such part of the public debt as existed in 1721. By the act of 1813, which would cancel all the national debt which existed before the establishment of the sinking fund, they would lose that per cent. They therefore consented to abandon their exclusive privilege of trade, on condition that the government would guarantee this percent, or about 18,000, a year to them. For this income it was his intention to propose the creation of a fund, by a duty on tonnage of ships trading to South America,
and on the export of goods thither, to the amount of 21. per cent. The fund necessary would be 400,000l. when that sum was accumulated, the duty would be repealed. A duty of 4. per cent, on goods shipped to South America would expire on the 16th of March, so that a renewal of only half that duty would be necessary. He concluded by moving the resolutions necessary for carrying the above object into effect. A long and irrelevant discussion ensued on the contest for the emancipation of South America from Spain, after which a conversation arose upon the proposition of a tax of 2 per cent. upon all goods exported from Great Britain or Ireland to South America, in which the Chan cellor of the Exchequer, Mr Finlay, and Mr Alderman Atkins took part. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated, that the produce of this tax was to be applied in aid of a fund to indemnify the South-Sea Company, and that it was to cease when that indemnity was discharged. The two latter objected to it, as inconsistent with our commercial policy, by imposing a tax upon our exported maBufactures. The several resolutions were then agreed to, and an act of parliament, in pursuance of them, was Soon afterwards passed.
In the course of this session, several attempts were made for improving the jurisprudence of Britain, with different degrees of success. Sir Samuel Romilly again brought forward, on the 14th of February, his bill for making the freehold estates of persons dying in debt liable for these debts, which in the preceding session had been passed by the Commons, but rejected by the Lords. On this occaon he made several valuable observations: He said, that "a law like that Bow in force in England was not to be found in any other country. That law was not in fact extended to the
whole of his majesty's dominions. It was not acted upon in our West Indian colonies and other of our foreign dominions. Some of the objections which had been urged to his bill, he was certain were quite unfounded, and had been advanced by persons who had not taken the trouble to give the subject that consideration which it deserved. After answering some of the arguments of those who had opposed the former bill, he described that which he wished to effect to be this; to give simple contract creditors the same remedy which is open to specialty creditors. He did not mean to place them on the same footing, but merely to allow the simple contract creditors to come in, after the specialty credi tors had been paid. This, he contended, would throw no obstacle in the way of selling estates; and the objections that this measure would give greater facilities for young men of fortune to obtain credit, he answered, by shewing that it was not probable a young man of fortune would be more readily trusted by an older man, because he might recover from his estate on his death; and by asserting that the evil to which he wished to direct the attention of parliament, could never be effectually remedied but in a court of equity. He thought it right to state on this occasion, that it was his opinion that much more than would be done by this measure ought to be done, to give the creditor the benefit of the debtor's property. It was not probable that he should pursue the subject further, but he hoped it would be taken up by others more fortunately circumstanced than he had been, and with better success. Much alteration in the law appeared to him to be wanting. He did not hesitate to say, that the law of England, on the subject in question, had gone on an erroneous principle. It had been distinguished by extraordinary rigour against the
dulent. His mode of making this very nice and difficult distinction, was the following: He said, that "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, twelve months 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."
person, and by great relaxation with respect to his property. It punished inability to pay a debt as a crime, but did not take those measures which might be taken to prevent the offence. It imprisoned the debtor for not applying his property to meet the demands of his creditors, but did not apply that property for him, to the payment of his debts in cases where this could be done." Leave was given to bring in the bill, which was presented and read a first time; but no further progress was made in it during the present session.
On the 11th of April, Mr Serjeant Best moved for leave to bring in a bill to amend the laws respecting insolvent debtors. The severity of the former laws of England relative to imprisonment for debt, had been much mitigated by the acts for the relief of insolvent debtors passed in 1813 and 1814; one of the leading provisions of which was, that an insolvent debtor, on making a full disclosure of his property, was entitled to be liberated at the end of three months. This enactment, highly satisfactory as it was to the public at large, yet appeared to the learned serjeant to be attended with the evil of injuring credit ;-as, by giving the same facility to the dishonest as to the honest debtor, to obtain his liberty at the expiration of three months' imprisonment, it rendered it impossible for tradesmen any longer to know whom to trust. The object of the bill now brought in was, in the first place to extend the provisions of the act of Geo. II., (by which it was enacted, that persons imprisoned for debt should be obliged to give up their property for the benefit of their creditors, under the penalty of transportation,) from debts under 100l. to debts of any amount; and secondly, to distinguish, in giving relief to insolvent debtors, whether they belonged to the class of unfortunate or frau.
After some pointed observations by Mr Horner on the objectionable parts of this bill, and particularly on the incongruity of ascertaining the degree of a man's guilt by the number of shil lings which he was able to pay his creditors in the pound, leave was given to bring in the bill. Afterwards, however, Mr Best withdrew the bill, intimating his intention of bringing forward the measure in the next ses sion in an amended form..
On the 16th February, a bill was presented by Mr Bennet for the abo. lition of the gaol and other fees connected with the gaols of Great Britain. This benevolent and salutary law was passed without opposition. The only objection made to it was, that it excepted the King's Bench, Fleet, and Marshalsea prisons. But the reason of this exception was, that these were not prisons belonging to a particular town or county, but generally pertaining to the country at large, being the prisons attached to the Courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas, and Admiralty. The abolition of the fees of the gaols belonging to the different counties and towns trans. ferred the additional burden thus crea ted for their maintenance on those counties or towns; but in case of the abolition of the fees in the gaols in question, some provision would require to be made by government in their place. This, however, hardly appears a sufficient reason for leaving the numerous prisoners in these three goals in a state of hardship, from which it was judged so essentially necessary to relieve the unhappy inmates of all the other goals in the kingdom. On the 6th April, Mr M. A. Taylor obtained leave to bring in a bill to abolish the punishment of the pillory. This bill passed the House of Commons. On the 5th July, in the House of Lords, a discussion took place on the motion for having the bill com
mitted. The Earl of Lauderdale said, "that the punishment of the pillory had been condemned by almost all those who had studied and written. upon the philosophy of criminal law, almost by all the politicians who had attended to its nature and effects, and even by some of the judges who had to apply it. No principle in criminal law was better established than this, that the punishment ought to be commensurate to the offence. In this re spect the punishment of the pillory was extremely objectionable. In one of the older statutes, it was put in the alternative, that a man should pay a fine of 20s. or be put in the pillory, so that the same punishment was to be inflicted on one who could not pay 20s. as on one who had attempted to commit an unnatural and abominable crime. Such a state of the law was a disgrace to the age and country in which it existed. Another remarkable feature in this punishment was, its gross inequality and uncertainty. The punishment was not that which was consonant to the nature of the offence, or to the intention of the court which awarded it, but depended on the humour of the mob. The case of Dr Shebbeare was a remarkable one. He had been sentenced to the pillory; but though this was intended as a disgrace, it turned out a sort of triumph. He was put upon, but not in the pillory; the sheriff held an umbrella over his head to shelter him from the rain or the sun; and a servant stood by to attend upon and hand him refreshment, while he was at the same time applauded by the spectators: so that the punishment, instead of being disgraceful to him, was an insult upon the law. Another case applicable to the point was that of Daniel Isaac Eaton. He had been put in the pillory for a very serious offence, that of endeavouring to throw contempt and ridicule on the fundamental principles of the Christian reli
ment. As to the danger of the punishment exceeding the measure of the law, the learned lord remarked, that by the law the officers were to take care that it did not exceed its just measure ;
gion; and as an example to the prisoners, he presumed, he was pilloried opposite to Newgate gaol: but the crowd, probably from some mistake as to the nature of his offence, applauded him. In this case, too, the punishment was far more lenient than the judges intended. In other cases it was more severe; for instance, when the punishment of the pillory was inflicted for offences which had a tendency to exasperate the feelings of the populace, such as the attempting to commit an unnatural and horrible crime. Neither the law nor the judge intended that this crime, abominable as it was, should be punished with death, and yet such was frequently the result. The death, too, which such criminals sometimes met with was more severe than the punishment of death when inflicted in the ordinary way. He himself had witnessed an instance of this in 1780. A person was pilloried in Southwark for an unnatural crime, and the criminal was so treated by the mob that he actually died the moment he was taken from the machine. Judge Eyre, in a case where one had by perjury attempted to swear away another person's life, had refrained from inflicting the punishment of the pillory, on the very ground that the punishment might in reality be different from what the court intend ed."
Lord Ellenborough, in answer to these observations, contended, that the bill was defective, in as much as it had substituted no other punishment in the room of that which was proposed to be abolished. With respect to the inequality and uncertainty of this punishment, his lordship said, that this objection might be, in some degree, applied to all other punishments, unless the officers of the law intrusted with the execution did their duty. In the case of Dr Shebbeare, the sheriff had not done his duty, and was after wards punished by fine and imprison
that the criminal was to be punished by disgrace and exposure," salvis tamen membris et vita." But Lord Ellenborough could hardly fail to be convinced, had he considered the many instances of horrible outrage committed by the mob on unfortunate persons under this punishment, that it is impossible to prevent the occurrence of these shocking scenes.-The Lord Chancellor was of opinion, that it would be unwise to abolish the punishment of the pillory in some cases; in cases, for instance, of perjury and fraud. He suggested, that the best mode of proceeding would be, to desire the judges in another session to prepare a bill on this subject, pointing out the cases, where, according to their experience, the punishment of the pillory was proper, and the cases to which, though at present applicable, it was not suited.-The bill was then ordered to be committed that day two months; or, in other words, was thrown out.
The natural predilection which men of eminence in the law entertain for its institutions, and the wholesome jealousy with which they regard innovations on established practice, or ancient principle, accounts for the stand made by the high law authorities on this and similar occasions. But if punishments in a free country can only be inflicted by the sentence of a court of justice, that must be an imperfect one, which may be to the criminal a scene either of triumph, or of the most horrid torture, at the pleasure of the mob. And if it is the object of the law that the punishment of the guilty should operate beneficially upon the feelings of the spectators, what shall we say of that mode, which, instead of impressing awe on the rabble by its solemnity,