HC Deb 24 February 1818 vol 37 cc603-6
Sir James Mackintosh

rose to make a motion of which he had given notice, which was framed with a view to show the effect which the bank restriction had upon the increase of crimes connected with forgery. The accounts he should move for were, for the prosecutions for forgery for 14 years before, and 14 years after the restriction of cash payments at the Bank in 1797; and the number of convictions and executions at each period. Of the prosecutions, they had returns which had been formerly moved for, and of the convictions in the late years, they had accounts in the general returns of criminal judicature since 1812. That the Restriction bill should have tended to increase the prosecutions for forgery, was not to be wondered at; but if any one had stated, that they had since that event been multiplied a hundred fold, he would not have been believed; and yet such was the fact. By the accounts which had been produced, it was proved, that the prosecutions at the instance of the Bank for forgery, previously to 1797, were four. The prosecutions for the fourteen years after were 438—so that they were more then centupled. It was necessary, he observed, to ascertain the consequences of this system, the diffusion of depravity, the multiplication of crimes, and the effusion of human blood which had resulted from its existence. When these facts were before the House, it would be felt that something should be done to put an end to such an enormous evil. The House had, no doubt, done much towards the prevention of crime, the promotion of morality, and the encouragement of benevolence; but while lotteries were tolerated, and the system to which he alluded was allowed to go on in tempting men to the commission of crime, no exertions of benevolence could balance the account in their favour. The hon. and learned gentleman here read the terms of his first motion, adding, that in order to put the House in possession of all the materials necessary to the formation of a correct judgment upon the whole of the case, he should also move for an account of the number of persons prosecuted and convicted for coining gold and silver for fourteen years previous to the enactment of the restriction upon the issue of cash payments by the Bank. This he thought a proper motion, with a view to a fair comparison between the advantages or disadvantages of the metallic currency, and those belonging to the present system of paper currency.

Mr. Bennet

suggested the propriety of inserting the number committed, as well as prosecuted, for the forgery of passing of bank notes. Sir J. Mackintosh acceded to the suggestion, and moved, "That there be laid before the House, an account of the number of persons committed or prosecuted for forging notes of the Bank of England, and for uttering or possessing such notes knowing them to be forged, from the 1st January 1816 to the 25th of February 1818; distinguishing the years, the number of such offences respectively, and the number who have suffered death or other punishment."

Mr. Grenfell

did not intend to enter into the merits of the motion, but should content himself with expressing his thanks to his hon. and learned friend for his very humane and well-timed exertions. He would only suggest to his hon. and learned friend the propriety of combining with the motion of which he had given notice for Tuesday next, a proposition for laying before the House a distinct account of the persons prosecuted for the forgery of notes of 1l. 2l. and 5l. For it was known that those were the notes usually circuculated by the low people who were prosecuted, while very few were prosecuted for notes of a higher amount; and upon this fact being established to the satisfaction of the House, it must be evident that the number of prosecutions, convictions, and executions for forgery, was owing to the restriction upon cash payments by the Bank, and the consequent issue of a vast number of small notes.

Mr Lockhart

deprecated any attempt to excite an improper commiseration for crime, observing, that it was the duty of the Bank to hold out encouragement to artists and chemists with a view to the invention of some paper and colour which could not possibly be imitated, and thus the forgery of bank notes might be guarded against.

Sir J. Mackintosh

declared that he had no wish to excite improper commiseration for crime, or to take any proceeding likely to weaken the authority of the laws. But while he admitted the hon. gentleman's position, which, however, conveyed no information, namely, that no temptation was an adequate excuse for crime, he would maintain, that any legislature which held out a temptation to crime was a participator in the guilt of its commission. This, indeed, was a proposition which he would never abandon; and it was by the force of this proposition that he was impelled to take measures, with a view to rescue the British legislature from the disgrace of tolerating a system which was peculiarly calculated to tempt men to the commission of crimes.

General Thornton

rejoiced that a subject which he had brought forward unsuccessfully, was now likely to be attended with success. He had understood that not less than 30,000 forged bank notes were annually returned. This was a very serious evil.

The motion was agreed to; as were also motions for, I. "An Account of the number of persons convicted of forging Notes of the Bank of England, and for knowingly uttering or possessing such forged notes, who suffered death, for the 14 years which preceded the suspension of cash payments by the Bank in February 1797, distinguishing the years; together with the like Account, from the said suspension to the 25th day of February 1818;" 2. An Account of the number of persons prosecuted by the officers of his majesty's Mint for counterfeiting the current Gold or Silver Coin of the realm, or for uttering the same, for 14 years preceding the suspension of cash payments by the Bank of England, distinguishing the years, the numbers convicted, and those who have suffered death or other punishment; together with the like ac- count from February 1797 to 25th February 1818."