HC Deb 26 January 1819 vol 39 cc0-111
Mr. Grenfell

said, he had often addressed the House on the subject to which he was about to allude—a Subject of deep interest, and one which demanded all the wisdom of the House. Notices had been given of different motions since the opening of the session, connected with the question he was about to submit to their consideration. The first was from his right hon. friend (Mr. Tierney), the second from the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer; and notice had been given by an hon. and learned friend of his (sir J. Mackintosh), on the subject of the fabrication of bank notes—an inquiry of deep public interest in every way that it could be considered—interesting as it affected national credit, and doubly interesting as it affected the happiness, the character, and the morals of the people. It would be of course extremely ill-timed in him to enter into a subject which happily was in the hands of men so capable of treating it with superior knowledge and ability: it was not his intention. The only object he had in view in calling the attention of parliament to the subject was, to show that the corporation of the Bank of England had, during a period of twenty-two years, accumulated an enormous mass of wealth at the expense of the public, without the performance of any public service that could entitle them to that exclusive benefit—that they had accumulated wealth during a shorter period, and to a greater amount, than any body of men had been ever able to do, in any banking or commercial country, since banking or commerce had been established in the world. The first great benefit this corporation enjoyed flowed directly from the Bank Restriction bill, an act which was first passed in the year 1797, and from that period down to the present, the Bank had been relieved from the necessity of paying in cash, and had therefore been exonerated from the performance of its pecuniary engagements. For twenty-two years, twenty-four merchants of the city of London, as the directors of this corporation, had, without check and without control, the unlimited power of issuing a forced paper currency on the country, for their own exclusive benefit. The public did not participate in any way in the advantage derived from this establishment; and this corporation, uncontrolled and unlimited, had the power of issuing notes to any amount, without any expense to them but the trifling expense of paper and the payment of their clerks. There was, he should add, one other item in their expenditure—one, he supposed, of considerable amount, from the frequency of the case—he meant the numerous prosecutions carried on by the Bank, from one extremity of the kingdom to the other, against those unhappy wretches who were almost every hour brought to the bar of criminal justice, on the charge of forging notes. This practice had of late years been carried to so alarming an extent, as to call forth, from every quarter, the loudest murmurs of disapprobation—it forced itself upon the attention of parliament, and demanded an immediate inquiry.—The next great source of profit and advantage to the Bank was the enormous extortions which they had committed in their various contracts with the government. By means of their exclusive credit, the corporation of the Bank had been enabled to meet the wants of the minister, but they had done so on terms enormous and highly injurious to the country. These matters, he said, had been frequently mentioned—they have been met on the part of the Bank, sometimes by assertion, often in silence, and never by disproof. He concluded by moving for —1. "Accounts of the total weekly amount of Bank notes and Bank post bills in circulation, from the 1st Jan. to the 25th Jan. 1819. 2. Of the amount of Bank notes in circulation on the 7th and 12th of each month, from Jan. 1818, to Jan. 1819, both inclusive. 3. Of the highest and lowest aggregate amount of bank notes, including those of every kind, at any one time in circulation from the 1st Jan. 1818, to the 25th of Jan. 1819, both days inclusive. 4. Of the weekly amount of bank notes in circulation of the value of 5l. and less, from the 1st Jan. 1818, to the 25th of Jan. both inclusive. 5. Of the market prices of standard gold in bars, of Portugal gold in coin, standard silver in bars, and Spanish dollars, or pillar pieces of eight, with the course of exchange with Hamburgh, Lisbon, and Paris, from the 1st Jan. 1818, to the 25th Jan. 1819. 6. Of the balances of cash in the hands of the Bank of England, on the 1st and 15th days of each month between the 1st Jan. and 15th December, 1818, inclusive, resulting from payments under the head of customs, and of all other branches of the public revenue, stating the average balances of the year, made up from the said days. 7. Of the balances of cash in the hands of the Bank of England, on the 1st and 15th days of each month, between the 1st Jan. and 15th Dec. 1818, inclusive, resulting from the postmaster-general's account with the Bank, stating the average balance of the year, made up from the said days. 8. Of the balances of cash in the hands of the Bank of England on the 1st and 15th days of each month between the 1st Jan. and 15th Dec. 1818, inclusive belonging to the different departments of the government, including the balances of the accountant-general of the court of chancery, and stating the average balance of the year, made up from the said days. 9. Of all other public balances not particularly specified in the three preceding accounts with the bank of England; on the 1st Jan. 1819; distinguishing the amount under each head respectively, and stating the aggregate amount of the whole. 10. Of the total amount of unclaimed dividends, including lottery prizes, in the hands of the Bank on the 1st and 15th days of every month in the year 1818 inclusive. 11. Of the Exchequer bills and Bank notes deposited by the governor and company of the bank of England, as cash, in the chests of the four tellers of his majesty's receipt of exchequer, on the 2nd Jan. 1818, and on every 28th day subsequent to that period, down to the 1st Jan. 1819; distinguishing the amount of all such Bank of England notes as exceeded in value l,000l. each, known at the Exchequer under the title of special notes, and stating the average balances of the year, made up from the said days. 12. Of all allowances made by the public, to the Bank, or charged by the Bank against the public, exclusive of the charge for the management of the public debt, for transacting any public service in the year 1818; describing the nature of the services, and the amount charged thereon in the said year, and including the sums paid to the Bank under the denomination of Charges of Management. 13. Of the advances made by the Bank of England to government on land and malt exchequer bills, and all other securities, on the 10th Jan. 10th April, 10th July, and 10th Oct. 1818, and on the 10th Jan. 1819."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it was not his intention to object to the production of the accounts. The information they contained might be usefully laid before the House, preparatory to the discussion which was to take place. With regard to the hon. gentleman's comments, and the justness of the inferences which he had drawn, a better opportunity would soon present itself for the consideration of them.

The motions were then agreed to.