HC Deb 29 January 1818 vol 37 cc113-7
Mr. Grenfell

rose for the purpose of obtaining some information from the chancellor of the exchequer with regard to one or two very important questions, intimately connected with the financial and commercial interests of the country. They were questions upon which distinct information ought to be given without delay. He alluded, in the first place, to the resumption of cash payments on the part of the Bank of England, which, as at present fixed by law, would take place on the 5th of July next. After the promises and the declarations, so often renewed by the government and the Bank, it was natural to suppose, that no doubt or uncertainty would prevail in any quarter, as to the probability of cash payments being actually resumed when that period should arrive. Very considerable doubt did nevertheless exist in the public mind upon this subject, and more especially among that class of society which was frequently described as the monied interest. It was desirable that this uncertainty should not continue one moment after his majesty's ministers had it in their power to remove it. No honourable member, who had a practical knowledge of what was now daily passing in the city, could be ignorant of the very large transactions and speculations of a gambling nature that were entered into, and depended upon the result of this contingency. It was obvious that, in such a course of adventure, those who had the means of making themselves acquainted with the real intentions of his majesty's ministers, must possess a material advantage over those who were not in the secret. For these different reasons, he hoped he should not be considered as making an extraordinary request on behalf of the public, when he desired to know whether any event had occurred, or was expected to occur, which, in its consequences, would prevent the resumption of cash payments on the 5th of July next. There was another question, upon which he was likewise desirous that some information should be afforded, as it equally related to the subject of the connexion between the government and the Bank. The public at present stood in the situation of debtor to the Bank for two loans, in his opinion improperly so called, but for two loans, one of 3,000,000l. advanced without interest, the other of 6,000,000l. at an interest of 4 per cent, and which would soon become payable. Until these loans should be repaid, the Bank had secured to themselves the undisturbed possession of a balance upon the public money deposited in their hands, which, for the last twelve years, had never fallen short, upon an average, of 11,000,000l., or two millions more than the sum which they claimed to be due to them from the public. He was convinced that it would be highly advantageous to the public interests that the government of the country should be unfettered by these obligations; and what he wished on this occasion to inquire was, whether any arrangement was in progress, or had been concluded, either for discharging the loans in question, or placing them on a better footing; and if any, what arrangement?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

expressed his wish to give a distinct answer to the important question which the hon. gentleman had thought proper to put; namely, whether it was the intention of his majesty's ministers to propose any farther continuance of the restriction upon cash payments by the Bank. He was enabled to say, that the Bank had made ample preparation for resuming its payments in cash at the time fixed by parliament, and that he knew of nothing in the internal state of the country, or in its political relations with foreign powers, which would render it expedient to continue the restriction; but that there was reason to believe that pecuniary arrangements of foreign powers were going on, of such a nature and extent, as might probably make it necessary for parliament to continue the restriction, so long as the immediate effects of those arrangements were in operation. In order to guard against any misunderstanding, the right hon. gentleman repeated this statement, and then proceeded to the other points referred to. As to the loan of six millions from the Bank, at 4 per cent interest, he should, ere long, have to submit a proposition to the House for the payment of that debt; but with respect to the three millions without interest, which, for obvious reasons, was rather to be regarded as a gift than as a loan, he rather thought that neither the House nor the hon. gentleman himself, would be reconciled to any proposition for depriving the public of such an important accommodation.

Mr. Tierney

observed, that the right hon. gentleman had said, that the Bank was prepared, or in a condition to resume the payment of its notes in cash, which was rather surprising, as the issue of those notes had been materially enlarged, instead of being diminished, for some time back. Yet the Bank, according to the right hon. gentleman, was not only prepared to resume its cash payments, but there was nothing in the internal situation or foreign relations of the country to prevent that resumption. There was, however, something about loans to foreign powers, which might, it seemed, urge his majesty's ministers to propose a farther continuance of the restriction. What impression, he would ask, was such a declaration calculated to produce? It tended, in his view, rather to encourage than to remove doubt. But the truth was, as it appeared to him, that there were some persons in this country very much disposed to continue the restriction, if they could find any excuse for it; and as such excuse did not offer itself at home, they looked abroad for it. The right hon. gentleman had said something about foreign financial measures; but he had afforded no clue by which any one could come to a definite conclusion as to his purpose. It would perhaps have been better if the right hon. gentleman had declined to give any answer, than to have offered one so unsatisfactory and indefinite. For according to the right hon. gentleman, so far as he was intelligible, the object alluded to by his hon. friend, depended upon the measures of foreign powers. So, in order to decide upon the question, whether the Bank was likely to resume its cash payments in July, or whether the restriction was to continue, we must look to the foreign mails! thus the wind, or a change in the moon, might serve to throw the country into a state of doubt upon this important question. The right hon. gentleman was, it appeared, about to make some propositions for paying off the six millions due to the Bank; but he declined to suggest, and professed even an unwillingness to think of, any arrangement for discharging the loan of three millions, because, truly, its non-payment afforded an accommodation to the public. But this, he must say, was rather a singular reason for declining to pay a debt. Those loans, however, were of minor importance compared to the great and vital question, whether or not the Bank would resume its payments in cash on the 5th of July? The right hon gentleman had not intimated when any foreign financial measures were likely to urge a proposition for continuing the restriction act, but of course such a proposition must be brought forward before July. He remembered when any expression of the slightest doubt as to the resumption of cash payments by the Bank upon the expiration of the present act, was strongly deprecated on the other side of the House. When he last session expressed such doubt, he had been twitted with the assertion, "is not the Bank already paying its notes in cash?" § What sort of payments were then made he need not describe. They certainly did not encourage any calculation upon the capacity or disposition of the Bank to return to the old system of paying its notes in cash. But when was that system to return? Upon this important question the House and the country were still in the dark; and the fact was that the right hon. gentleman holding the office of chancellor of the exchequer, had not himself any one distinct idea upon the subject.