HC Deb 02 March 1818 vol 37 cc710-3
The Chancellor of the Exchequer,

in pursuance of notice, moved for leave to bring in a bill to suspend the penalties for receiving bank tokens in certain cases, after the 25th of March instant. The object of this bill was to afford means after the general, circulation of these tokens was stopped, for their being still received for various purposes. If gentlemen going down to the quarter sessions, would but take a bag of silver with him to enable them to take in exchange bank tokens from the poor labourers in their neighbourhood, much might be done for the public. He supposed, from the extraordinary facility given last year in the issuing of the new silver coinage to the taking the old silver, the public expected this year some similar arrangement. They did not reflect on the difference between the two cases. As government did not issue these tokens, it could not be expected to enter into a complicated and expensive arrangement for receiving these tokens in exchange for silver coin. In this bill he proposed that provision should be made for allowing any person to pay or receive bank tokens twelve months after the 25th of March for taxes. Provision in like manner would be made for allowing them to be taken for rent. In these cases, and all others, where the tokens were not passed in general circulation, but paid to individuals for the purpose of being ultimately remitted to London, he proposed the penalties should be suspended. The House would see how far this measure answered the purpose he had in view, of withdrawing the bank tokens from circulation, with as little inconvenience as possible to the public.

Mr. F. Lewis

stated, that the current price of silver that day was 5s. 6d. an ounce, and from the state of our paper currency the price must rise still higher. If it should reach 5s. 8d or 5s. 9d. an ounce, the silver currency would gradually disappear. Fortunately for the country a considerable part of the bank tokens were still in circulation. If these tokens, however, should be withdrawn from circulation, and in consequence of the rise of silver, the other currency should go to the melting pot, they might still probably be again obliged to have resource to the Bank to issue a coinage of their own. He thought that in these matters a great want of foresight prevailed—they did not even grope their way—they took no measures to avoid the danger, but allowed themselves to run blindly on it. It was probable we should soon lose our silver coinage, and the expense to which that coinage had put the country.

General Thornton

thought that if the bank tokens were excluded from circulation, local silver tokens should be excluded also; but he thought it useful that the local tokens should be kept in circula- tion. He never heard that any had been forged.

Mr. J. Smith,

though not aware that the price of silver was so high as had been represented, thought that under circumstances it might rise higher. The loans at Paris might materially affect it; but he derived consolation from another point. He had for many years observed the conduct of the Bank of England, and he thought that corporation had the means and used them, of influencing the state of the currency. He thought they possessed those means now, and could protect the public by affording a check to the exportation of bullion. He conceived the present bill might be of considerable service.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that if the receivers of taxes remitted the bank tokens directly to London, considerable relief, would be given to the public; but if after receiving tokens for taxes they paid them-into the country banks, the relief would fall short of the general expectation. He could not help thinking it adviseable that they should be allowed to circulate for a longer period.

Mr. Grenfell

thought the effect of the bill would be, to continue the circulation of tokens without restraint, as no penalties were attached to the future circulation of them. They might not only be received for rent, but be also immediately put into use again, unless a penalty were affixed. However, if it should be otherwise, and silver should not rise, in what mode were the tokens to be transmitted to London? It was incumbent on government to bear this expense, and not to thrust it on gentlemen. It had been said, that government was not concerned in the issue of these tokens, and therefore ought not to defray any expense attending them. He was of a very different opinion, and thought it the duty of government to assist in carrying on the ordinary exchange of the country. The expense would not, perhaps, be considerable; it might not exceed ¾ per cent for forwarding the tokens from all parts, but that expense ought to fail on government, and not on the country bankers, especially as they had been so active, and had afforded such facilities in the distribution of the late coinage.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he was not prepared for the observation of the hon. gentleman as to the rise in the price of silver, because in many instances he believed it had fallen. If it should rise considerably, he thought there might be some difficulty; but he conceived the only way to preserve the Mint currency, was to remove this rival currency from circulation. Hitherto it had produced no inconvenience; but he apprehended the tokens might drive silver into the meltingpot, if a crisis should occur when such a course might prove to be profitable.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.