HC Deb 17 July 1811 vol 20 cc1013-7

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the order of the day for the House going into a Committee on this Bill.

Mr. Bankes

took the opportunity of directing their attention to a matter connected with this subject. He alluded to the new three shilling tokens, issued by the Bank. He thought it wise to have a metallic small change; but considering the character, honour, and prosperity of a country to be most intimately connected with the arts, he could not help reprobating, in the strongest terms, the paltry, wretched, and clumsy manner in which these coins were executed. The French coinage was, at this moment, infinitely superior to ours; and in the world there was nothing so bad as these tokens, with the exception of the king of Sardinia's coinage. He expressed his hope that this subject would, hereafter, be attended to, and the country not be disgraced by such slovenly impressions of the King's head on the current coin.

Mr. Dent

did not object to the Speaker leaving the chair, but took occasion to state his opinion, that a resolution of the merchants to receive and pay Bank notes at their nominal value, as was done on the 26th of September, 1745, would have been sufficient to remedy the threatened evil, and have completely superseded the necessity of this Bill. As a temporary measure only, he gave it his support'.

Mr. Brougham

entertained such an insuperable objection to the principle of the Bill, that he was persuaded no modification of that principle in a Committer would render it an expedient, or even a harmless measure. He would avail himself of the present opportunity to ask some few questions respecting the non-descript currency that had recently been issued by the Bank. He understood that it had been coined at the national mint. Was that the fact? If so, by whom was the expence defrayed The nominal value of these tokens was three shillings. What was their real value? Certainly they were not worth three shillings. How were they debased? Was it by the introduction of alloy, or by the diminution of weight? Why not affix two, shillings and sixpence to them as the nominal price, and then procure an Act of parliament to make them pass for three shillings? This would be to put them on a footing with the notes., It was well known that there had been a great want of change all over the kingdom, and no where more than in the metropolis. Bankers had been obliged to go into the market for it. The undepreciated Bank note of one pound could not, it seemed, be exchanged for twenty even of the base and depreciated shillings current. A hundred and four of these pound notes had been frequently given for a hundred pounds worth of silver. Had this circumstance been adverted to in the late Bank issue? If not, if the tokens had been made too large, they also would soon be sold at a premium. The Bill before the House was defective in every respect. It was so constructed, notwithstanding all the attention given to it by the crown lawyers, that it would make the punishment of the crime which it enacted, different in England and Scotland. In England it would be a misdemeanor, subjecting the offender to fine and imprisonment; in Scotland it might be a misdemeanor, which the judge might punish at his own discretion, with fine, imprisonment, or transportation. To shew that this was a discretion which ought not to be trusted to the Scots Courts, he instanced the case of a barrister of the most respectable character and most eminent talents, who, having been convicted in Scotland of the misdemeanor of lending Paine's Rights of Man to a friend, was sentenced by the judge to fourteen years transportation to Mew South Wales.

Mr. Manning,

in reply to some of the questions of the hon. gentleman, stated that the three shilling Bank token weighed nine pennyweights and eleven grains; and that at the present price of silver, it was worth two shillings and nine-pence halfpenny. These tokens had been issued by the Bank, solely for the convenience of the public. It had been said in another place, and by a high authority, that the Bank had made great sums by their issues of coin. Now, what was the fact? Four millions of dollars had been issued since 1804. When the Bank raised their nominal value to five shillings and sixpence, there might be three millions in circulation (one million having probably been melted), in which there would therefore be a loss of 75,000l. The price of silver of late years had been so high that it was impossible to coin the currency of the realm, and the Bank had stepped forward to lessen the consequent inconvenience. They had already liberally supplied the bankers in the metropolis with these tokens; and it was their intention, as soon as possible, to send down large quantities to the various commercial towns in the country. In one week they issued 35,000l. worth, which was half as much as the whole silver coinage of the present reign.

Mr. Rose

thought it but justice to the Bank to state, that they had lent themselves to the public service with considerable loss and inconvenience to themselves. Every body was aware that the silver coinage of the country had nearly disappeared. Under the present circumstances a new coinage was impracticable. If government were, at the present moment, to coin a number of shillings and sixpences, they would not be current a week.—(Hear, hear, from the opposition benches.) How would the hon. gentlemen correct this evil? He had heard gentlemen talk very flippantly of obtaining bullion as easily as claret. But with what would they purchase it? it was impracticable to procure it, and in this state what was to be done? Would they reduce the intrinsic value of the coin of the realm? The propriety of doing this had been discussed a century ago. It had been advocated by Mr. Lowndes, and resisted by Mr. Locke and others. The latter triumphed; a silver coinage of full value, which occasioned to the country a loss of two millions and a half, was issued, and it instantly disappeared. With respect to the execution of the Bank tokens lately issued, it could not have been better, but by a delay that must have been injurious. The Committee of the privy council on coins had called 30 or 40 merchants and bankers together, and had asked them whether it would be advisable to prevail on the Bank to issue these tokens? They answered unanimously in the affirmative. Application was in consequence made to the Bank, and they instantly complied.

Mr. P. Moore

said, that the state of the country did not call for this measure, there was no parliamentary grounds shewn for it, and no necessity attempted to be asserted in the Bill. There was specie enough in the country, as might be shewn from the reports of the Bank directors themselves, if measures of confidence were adopted to call it into circulation. The Bill went to shake the best securities, and to alter all the valuable standards of the kingdom. The present was a measure brought forward, he conceived, not so much because the corporation of the Bank were bankers, but because they were the agents of the government. If they went en to improve the advantages of their situ- ation, in which this Bill would place them, as they had done since the year 1797, they must in the course of time possess all the property in the kingdom without paying for it. The hon. gentleman said he shortly gave these sentiments against the impending mischief, lest he should not have another opportunity.

Mr. Vansittart,

adverting to the difficulty of getting silver for notes, as described by an hon. and learned gentleman, said that he had seen even a hard guinea given for 20 shillings.

Lord Folkestone

suggested the expediency of dividing the bill into two Bills.

The Speaker

observed, that the proper time for such a proposition would be after the disposal of the present question.

The House then divided, when the numbers were,

For going into a Committee 75
Against it 11
Majority —64

The several Clauses of the Bill were then read in the Committee, and some discussion took place on the particular clauses, and the general principles of the Bill, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. H. Thornton, Mr. W. Smith, and Mr. Tierney, took a part.

Mr. H. Thornton

stated, that the object of the Bill would not be effectual, as paper might first be sold for commodities, and gold bought with these commodities, in such a way as to have no difference in effect from the practice struck at in the Bill.

Mr. W. Smith

reprobated the idea of making Bank notes a legal tender, a thing the legislature, though they might have the power, had not the right to do. He referred to a work of Thomas Paine, a man whose assertions in general ought to be taken, not with grains, but with ounces of allowance, but who had, in a certain pamphlet, uttered many things extremely worthy of notice relative to the national debt of the country. He approved of the remedy of double prices proposed by an hon. and learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham), and referred to the cases of America and France.

Mr. Tierney

thought, if the object of the Bill was not to send all the remaining gold of the country as fast as possible to Ireland, he could see no reason for not extending the Bill to that country.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought it would be improper, at the end of at. Ses- sion, to introduce an alteration with regard to practices in Ireland, which had subsisted previous to 1797, though some inconvenience might be felt.

After the different Clauses had been gone through, the Report was ordered to be brought up to-morrow.