HC Deb 17 July 1811 vol 20 cc1001-12
Mr. Creevey

rose, for the purpose of submitting to the House a Re-solution for disallowing the votes of certain members in the further stages of the Gold coin Bill. Previous to which, he desired the clerk might read the extract from the Journals respecting the Loyalty Loan of 1797.—[The clerk accordingly read the extract, which consisted of a motion for disallowing the votes of George Rose and William Huskisson, esqrs on the loyalty loan bill, they being interested as subscribers. Those gentlemen having been heard, and stated that they declined any interest, withdrew, and the House rejected the motion]. The hon. gent. ob served, that he did not object to any thing done on that occasion, because the two members were allowed to vote; the real state of the case was, that Mr. Pitt had given them bonusses on the loan of that day, and they, upon the objection to their votes being taken, stated that they had parted with their interest, and therefore the House allowed them to vote on the bill. The case was different with another hon. member, he did not know whether he was now a member of the House or not, but his name was Manning. On, that occasion Mr. Manning stated how he was situated, that he held some of the loan, and took, the advice of the then Speaker how he was to act. The Speaker decided, that if he possessed any interest in the loan, that was a disqualification for voting, and Mr. Manning accordingly withdrew and did not vote. The other case was that of a bill for incorporating a bread company, consisting of fifty pound shares. Some of the members were part of that community, and the Speaker decided, that they bearing an interest, were not entitled to vote. These were cases which were in point with the present. He held in his hand a list of Bank proprietors, in number 45, who, as he should contend, possessing from their situations an interest in the present bill for legalising the tender of Bank notes, were consequently disqualified, and ought not to vote. In order to shew the interest these forty-five persons had, it was only necessary for him to refer to the act of 1797, restricting the issue of gold by the Bank of England. By this act the company were restrained by law from paying their legal creditors in cash, in consequence of which, having before the period of passing the act issued notes to the amount of eleven millions, and supposing that sum to be for their capital, they did, after the passing of the act, increase their issues to twenty-one millions. The effect of the act was this, that there accrued to them a great increase of interest—that in the way of bonus they had in the 14 years subsequent to 1797, divided among themselves the enormous sum of six millions sterling; that they had increased their dividends from seven to ten per cent, and that the rise in the price of their stock was almost unparalleled, it being at that time only 11 8, and now 230. All these benefits had been produced by the bill of 1797, and he would ask, what greater interest could they have than in their being invested with the power of coining? Could the case before alluded to be put in comparison with this power? Would it be contended by any one that it was right for the House to permit them to double their fortunes? With respect to the interest which these persons might have in the bill, if he were to say that these notes were depreciated, he might be liable to the same observation which a right hon. gent. had applied to his noble friend (lord King) and be called a jew and a pedlar. It was quite sufficient for his purpose, without stating any such opinion, or noticing the unfortunate cases of Mr. and Mrs. De Yonge, prosecuted for selling guineas, to state that those cases, and the conduct of his noble friend in demanding guineas for his rents, produced this bill making bank notes a legal tender. The operation of the bill was to grease the wheels of the Bank, and to set them, as in 1797, a coining again. They might, when the Bill passed, turn their rags into paper, give them a nominal value, whatever value they chose, and no one dared refuse to take them as coin, and then would follow a further increase of dividends and bonuses, and a note might, perhaps, eventually be sold for two-pence, which passed now for twenty shillings. Under these circumstances, those members composing the list he held in his hand, ought not to be allowed to vote. Some of them, without mentioning their names, were Bank directors; others were proprietors only; when he approached the Bank directors it was with the greatest awe, for he knew they were the greatest persons in the country, greater even in point of power than their brother directors in Leadenhall-street. He was aware that in naming them, he might render himself open to be assailed with harsh names, but still they possessed great powers; for the legislature protected them against paying their creditors, and they in return furnished the government with aids for carrying on the war.; in fact, the government might be said to be composed of three estates—the King, the Bank of England, and the East India company; and they would go on just as well if the ministers, as in the East India direction, were to change with the Bank directors, and go out by rotation; for the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, admirable as he was in his speeches, would, if he were to change seats with the gentlemen under the gallery, have his paper then as much admired as his speeches ever had been. It had been said on a former night, by an hon. friend of his, a Bank director, that he could not have arty influence or interest, for he possessed only 2,000l. stock, but he never saw any commercial man who could not get accommodated at the Bank, to the extent, as in a late case, if wanted, of 200,000l. He should like to know what sort of a figure his noble friend lord King would cut, were he to go there and ask for accommodation. The hon. gent. then referred to the list, and observed, that he would take the first name, which was the right hon. George, lord Arden; now looking over the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into sinecure places, he found that lord Arden held the offices of a lord of the Bed Chamber, Register of the court of Appeals, and Register of the high court of Admiralty. When called before the Committee, and questioned as to the amount of his fees, the noble lord refused to answer; and it was not until his deputy, Mr. Jenner, was examined, that any information could be gained. It then appeared, that the fees which the noble lord received amounted to twelve thousand pounds per annum; that for the last ten years, the public money) remaining in his hands amounted to 200,000l. on the average yearly. Now, the right hon. gent. had called his noble friend and some others "Jews and pedlars;" might not the same appellation be liable to fail upon lord Arden? might be not have laid out in Bank stock the 200,000l.—(Cries of Order, order! (Why when the right hon. gent. was talking of lord King, who was only making the best use of his own property, which he had the right of doing, he was complimented with the title of Jew, and was it unreasonable to suppose that lord Arden could not be as gallant a defender of his property as my lord King? If the right hon. gent., by the term "Jew" meant a vigilant guardian, it might be fairly said, from what was to be found in the Report of the Committee, that the lord of the Bed Chamber, and the Bank proprietor had as firm an attachment to his own interests as my lord King. The honourable gentleman then moved "That it appears to this House that in consequence of an act passed in the 37th year of his Majesty, for protecting the Bank of England from payment of its lawful creditors in specie, the profits of that corporation have increased to an enormous degree; that besides increasing the dividend upon their capital stock from 7 to 10 percent. they have at different times divided amongst themselves, in the way of bonus, upwards of of six millions of money, being more than one half of their capital stock; and that in addition to such profits, their capital stock has, by the advantages of increased issues of their paper, and non-payment of their creditors, been increased from 118l. per hundred to 236l.; that, under such circumstances a Bill is now pending in this House, giving a legal value in the coin of this realm to the notes to be issued by such Bank, However indefinite such issues may be, and protected as the Bank still is from payment of its creditors by means whereof the issues of notes, and the profits of the Bank may be even still further and greatly increased; that various members of this House are members, likewise, of the said corporation of the Bank, and proprietors of Bank stock; and that this House is of opinion such members have a direct interest in passing this bill into a law, and that their votes in favour of the same ought to be disallowed."

Mr. Maninng,

being particularly alluded to by the hon. gent., hoped he should be excused in troubling the House. The hon. gent. had by name referred to him as the member who in 1797 applied to the Speaker for advice. The fact was so, and he had no intention of correcting it. There was not, however, the least similitude between the two cases. In 1797 on the proposal of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Pitt, a bonus was granted to the subscribers to the loyalty loan. Feeling that if he had given his vote for the Bill, he should have been voting 1,000l. perhaps, into his own pocket, he was anxious, before he came to the vote, to satisfy his mind, and to do justice as a member of parliament, and upon the opinion being given by the Speaker, he did not vote. With respect to the present Bill, the hon. gent. had not stated any ground of distinct interest to disqualify him from voting, and he must deny the existence either in Bank director or Bank proprietor. They would not be benefited by the passing of the bill one half-crown. It had been said, that the bank directors had brought in the bill; they had not had any communication with the noble earl who brought it in—had neither solicited, desired, nor-supported it. He could put it to the House whether this bill, as in the case of the loyalty loan, involved any pecuniary interest. If it did, he should, as he did then, withdraw, but having no such bearing, he conceived that no proprietor ought to be excluded from voting. On the division upon the last reading, the numbers Were 113 to 35, therefore, he would gain nothing by his motion; for if the whole of the Bank directors were to be left out, still there would be above 100 members of parliament, remaining, to give their free, cool, and deliberate judgments on it. On these members no such imputation as interest would rest; as well might objections have been taken to the votes of certain members upon the distillery bill now before the House. The hon. gent. ought to have challenged the votes of the member for Norfolk, of the member for Cumberland, and, in short, of all the agricultural interest, for they were certainly mainly interested in that question. It was: not however, necessary to follow the hon. gent. in all the questions which he had so irrelevantly introduced: there was no evidence to prove that the bank had divided six millions, nor was he bound to say whether the profits of the company had been more or less; but he would ask the House, whether any company, holding a charter from government, for which they paid a large price, was to sit still with their hands behind them, and, unlike other companies, neglect to increase their profits fairly and honestly. Other companies' stock had increased in value: for instance, the Royal Exchange assurance from 77 to nearly 300 percent. The Grand Junction Canal was another instance. It was not exactly fair in the hon. gent. to travel into another place, and bring forward the name of a noble lord, whom he had the honour to call his friend, and state that he had public monies in his hands which he might have invested in the bank. His surprize was so great that he was about to have risen to order, but the House seemed to feel the impropriety, and expressed their opinion. Both in the ease of lord King and lord Arden it was improper to mention their names, as neither could an- swer for himself, not being members of that House. He should object to the motion, and in voting on the Bill exercise his own judgment, until he was reminded by the House that he was doing wrong. He should continue to pursue that line of conduct which his conscience told him was correct, not deterred by any thing the hon. gent. could say, but exercising his abilities for the interest of the country.

Mr. Dent

did not think there was a gentleman in the House could be influenced in the vote he should give; if there were any such, it was the duty of his hon. friend to point them out. He thought my lord Arden had been dragged in head and heels for the purpose of being abused. Instead of taking the name of my lord Arden, his hon. friend might have taken the first on the list, and there he would have found the name of the Speaker; and the noble lord was introduced because his hon. friend was aware that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had too much of dignity, too much of feeling, to answer the observation, and therefore he thought himself secure, arid that he should go scot free. With respect to the statement of the profits of the bank, that he did not think correct, and stated a history of the bank from their first formation, in 1696, to shew that they had always kept up a close connection with the government.

Mr. Long

was satisfied that every gentleman in the House would see the motive which induced the hon. gent. to select the name of lord Arden. It was invidiously introduced—[Mr. Creevey denied that he Had so introduced it;] The manner, the time, and the observations, were too glaring not to convince the House of the motives of the hon. gentleman. He had no doubt, but that if his name had begun with a instead of an A, and that therefore he had been at the bottom instead of the top of the list, he would have been equally Selected. If the noble lord had not himself answered the questions put to him, he had, however immediately referred to his deputy, who knew better than he did; and this deputy did give the Committee as much satisfaction as they could desire with respect to the amount of lord Arden's emoluments. There was a prodigious difference between the case of the loyalty loan, where the decision of the question put 500l. into the pockets of every subscriber to the amount of 10,000l. and the present question, where, if there was any interest, it was the most minute that could well be conceived. A number of members in that House had a much greater and more direct interest upon the Distillery' question, and it might be as well contend ed that no member should rote upon a Canal Bill, who had any property in another canal which might be at all affected by it. The gentlemen who opposed the bill seemed a little inconsistent in this particular, that while they contended that it would accelerate the depreciation, they still spoke of it as supporting the Bank. He thought it unfair for them to use the argument in this manner on both sides.

Mr. W. Smith

could not help observing, that however just might be the disapprobation expressed of any allusion to the motives of one noble lord, the sentiment was equally applicable to the censure passed upon the conduct of another. With respect to the objects of his hon. friend who had brought forward this motion, he had not the smallest doubt of the purity of his views, although he did not think he had fully succeeded in proving the direct pecuniary interest of the Bank proprietors if the present bill, and if any indirect interest was permitted to operate as an exclusion, it would on many occasions-cut off half the votes of the House. The question, however, now was quite distinct in its nature; it was a question between the interests of a monopolizing company (he did not mean to speak invidiously) and the interests of the public. Now, he had never heard of a corporation of barley growers, or of a corporation of West India planters, or of any act of parliament, to defend them against the lawful demands of their creditors. If in 1797 a motion similar to the present had been made, he could not believe that it would have been resisted, it being then clearly the direct interest of the proprietors that the restriction should take place. He did not assert that they first suggested or brought that measure forward, or that any censure ought to be passed upon them for their conduct on that occasion. Their evident and immediate interest in the question ought, how-ever, he conceived, to have prevented them from publicly voting in favour of it. The right hon. gentleman had said, every holder of a Bank of England note might, by the same rule, be excluded from dividing; but he surely forgot, not only the very small and temporary interest thus held, but also that every holder of a note did not there by enjoy the profits or the privileges of a Bank of England corporator. It had been said, that there was no regular or authentic proof before the House of the Bank having acquired any extraordinary profits by means of the suspension of cash payments; but if there was no such proof, there was certainly the very strongest presumption, as he was himself prepared to shew. Previous to the year 1797, the dividend on Bank stock remained for a number of years at 7 per cent. His hon. friend had estimated the whole profits of the last six years at 6,000,000l. He held a paper in his hand, which shewed, that during the fourteen years since the suspension, the Bank had divided 32l. 7s. percent, in bonusses. Their dividend had increased first to 10, and subsequently to 11 percent. Instead of 7, as before the act of restriction, the dividend had been at the average of 10½ per cent. This was matter of fact. The whole increase of profit was therefore 50 percent. within the 14 years; and a person holding stock in 1797 might have continued his ordinary expenditure, and without risk or labour, have doubled his capital in that period. Other companies, such as the Royal Exchange and Grand Junction Canal, had made great profits, but they had not made them through the medium of any legislative act to exempt them from the payment of their debts. If these companies had possessed this privilege, what would have been so likely to raise these profits to a much greater height? If the interest, then, of Bank proprietors was thus presumptive, and thus plain, was it not a strong argument against the propriety of their voting on a bill which was to give a value to their notes that was not derived from, or supported by, their own intrinsic credit? From whatever cause this bill originated, it was his fixed opinion that there could not be a measure devised more sure of giving a stab to the credit of the Bank. He did not affect to praise the conduct of lord King, although he was sure his motives were good, but he Was convinced of the truth of the maxim, that where power begins confidence ends. It was upon these general grounds, and on principles universal in their application, that it was his decided belief that the directors could not better consult their own interest, than in either moving that the clause of the Bill now pending, and enacting, that their notes should not be received under their nominal value, be omitted, or in abstaining from giving their votes in favour of the measure.

Mr. Bankes

denied, that in 1797 the proprietors of Bank stock ought not to have voted on the Restriction Bill. That measure had not been brought forward for their benefit; although it had eventually turned out to be advantageous to them, it was a question of general interest, and as such, the proprietors of Bank stock were as fully entitled to vote upon it as any other members of parliament. His opinions were the same on the present occasion. On the principle maintained by the hon. mover, the possessor of landed property ought not to be permitted to give his vote on the present Bill, for such ant individual was much more deeply interested in the question than the most extensive proprietor of Bank stock in existence.

Mr. Abercromby

thought that as the measure of 1797, restricting the cash payments of the Bank, was of great service to the proprietors, they should not have been permitted to vote on it; and the same argument applied to the present case. Bank notes, which, it was said, had suffered an artificial depreciation, would, under the Bill lately introduced, be taken for their nominal value. Of course every stockholder had an interest in the authority of parliament being pledged, as it would be, if the Bill passed. He hoped the House would decide against permitting the votes of the directors to be taken, not from any hostile feeling against the Bank, for, if he could indulge in such a feeling, his utmost wishes, he was convinced, would be fulfilled by enacting the Bill then before them. He was an enemy to monopolies of every description; and he would leave to the hon. gentleman opposite the monopoly of making personal attacks. But he could not held remarking the feeling which was manifested when the brother of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was mentioned. The noble lord (King) when he was censured, was not present to defend himself any more than the other noble person. But there was this distinction between the two cases, that the conduct of low King was in reference to his private concerns, while that of lord Arden, took place before a Committee of the House. Yet, because his hon. friend had taken that name which stood at the top of the paper, a feeling of indignation appeared to be raised.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it I seemed from the explanation given of the introduction of the noble lord into the discussion, that nothing invidious was meant. He was merely selected as standing first on the list, and not at all as being brother to the person opposed to the hon. gentleman. The noble lord might certainly have been brought forward as a Bank-Proprietor, but why he should be mentioned as a person who had been examined by a Committee of that House, he was at a loss to conceive. With respect to the mention of lord King, he really thought, from the nature of the question, it was impossible the debate could have gone on without referring to him; for the whole argument turned on the propriety of permitting or preventing him from pursuing a certain line of conduct. He did not think the same necessity existed for mentioning lord Arden. The hon. gentleman had, however, introduced him; whether in a complimentary manner, or otherwise, he could not say; and perhaps, it was no great matter which. He denied, that he had ever called lord King a Jew or a pedlar. AH lie had said was, that the noble lord was the first person in his exalted situation, who had acted on that principle, which none but Jews and pedlars had before recognised. With respect to the general question, he agreed with his right hon. friend, that every member who possessed Bank notes was as much interested as the proprietors and directors: for, if the Bank note was considered as only worth 16s. now, but that the passing of the Bill would raise it to 20s. there certainty must be an interest.

Mr. Hibbert

opposed the measure. He considered it as one of general interest, and would think it hard to exclude any particular class of men from giving their votes upon it. As a merchant of thirty years standing, he gave his tribute of applause to the conduct of the Bank. Whether granting or refusing accommodation required of them, he had never during all that period heard their conduct arraigned. He adverted to the conduct of lord King, in considering which, he thought they ought never to lose sight of his declared opinions, but always measure his actions with a reference to them: seeing no chance of a change of system, and holding that the depreciation of notes would go on most rapidly, he had, as it were in despair, endeavoured to arrest them in that course.

Mr. Creevey

shortly replied. He did not think any apology required for any thing he had said with respect to lord Arden. He had found him at the head of the the of stockholders, interested to the amount of 200,000l. and a strong advocate for the preservation of his fees. Under these circumstances he had reminded his right hon. brother, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, before he called lord King a Jew, he should look at the conduct of his noble relative, between which and that of lord King there was a perfect similarity. He insisted that there was a similarity, and confessed that when ha made this discovery, he was very glad to find it applied to the right hon. gentleman's brother. The right hon. gentleman had said, he did not know whether he spoke ironically or no, but that it was of little consequence. To this he could only say, that he did not undertake a competition in jokes with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With respect to his motion, he still adhered to the opinions he had delivered.

The Speaker,

before putting the question, observed, that, after a debate of this kind, it might be expected by the House, that he should give an opinion upon the subject. The question was of a mixed nature, involving law and fact. On the former only would it be becoming for him, or, perhaps, would the House permit him to speak. The rule was very plain. If they opened their Journals, they would find it established 200 years ago, and then spoken of as an ancient practice, that a personal interest in a question disqualified a member from voting. But this interest, it should be further understood, must be a direct pecuniary interest, and separately belonging to the persons whose votes were questioned, and not in common with the rest of his Majesty's subjects, or on a matter of state policy. So it was, that on a canal bill, a person whose name was down as a subscriber, could not vote. On the; same principle, the question raised on the Loyalty Loan was rightly decided; for that was neither more nor less than to give a certain pecuniary remuneration to persons who had sustained a loss. It was equally clear, that the House had done well on questions of taxation or colonial policy, which were held not to disqualify any votes. Such was the law on the subject. How far the fact applied to the present case it was for the House to decide.

The question was then put, and negatived without a division.