HC Deb 24 May 1819 vol 40 cc672-6
Sir Robert peel

said, that he now stood in a situation which he had never experienced before, although he had sat in that House forty years. The petition which he was about to submit to the House was from a body of men entitled to the very first consideration—a body of men who, in the time of public distress and pecuniary want, were the very first to come forward and relieve the government. He should wish to call to the recollection of some members, who he believed now heard him, whether they did not remember a meeting of the merchants and bankers called in 1797? At that time the Bank restriction act was projected, and could not have passed if that very meeting of the merchants, manufacturers, &c. had not expressed themselves strongly in its favour. He begged the House would pay particular attention to the petition which he how held in his hand. It was one of no common character, but that of a great and important body, all of the first respectability, praying that those resolutions which were intended to be submitted to the House might not be carried into effect. He begged leave to state his opinion, that the petitioners were the best judges of such a measure. He would add also, that although they were inti- mately connected with all that concerned the welfare of the country, the most experienced men, and the best qualified from their connexion with our manufactures and commerce, yet they had not been examined by the committee; he hoped, therefore, that before a measure so destructive of the commercial interests of the country was passed (and when he said that, hon. members would conclude every other interest to be combined with those, and to go along with them), the House would pause awhile, in order to collect that information which they so particularly wanted. In looking at the reports which had been published on the subject, he must say, that the witnesses were not men likely to give any information to government, not men acquainted with the state of the country; the last men who should have been questioned, if government wanted to arrive at the merits of the case. In attending, lately, a meeting in London, he begged it might be understood, that that was the only one he was ever interested in, except the meeting of 1797, and the latter one was considered of consequence enough to have saved the country. If, then, that was a meeting which deserved the attention of the House, he hoped the present one, which originated this petition, would be considered as equally entitled to it. He happened, on that occasion, however, to be in company with some whom he could not deem the best friends of their country; but he should not do justice to two persons who attended there, Messrs. Hunt and Wooler if he did not say, that they behaved in a manner the least disorderly in the world, which he attributed to their new and singular alliance with his majesty's ministers, for they supported the measure in question: they inveighed against any attempt at deferring the period of resuming cash payments. He must confess that the circumstance so new of these men being supporters of the administration, constituted the outline of a very good caricature. To see the noble lord and his hon. friends on the one hand, and Messrs. Hunt and Wooler on the other, united in their attempt to pull down the mighty fabric erected by the immortal Pitt, was at once ludicrous and painful. He would implore the House to pause before any rash step was taken which might forward such an attempt. He really thought the resolutions were of a very extraordinary character. It was true that he should have to oppose a very near and dear relation. But while it was his own sentiment that he had a duty to perform, he respected those who did their's, and who considered them to be paramount. The gentlemen who opposed him at the meeting of which he had spoken, were rather indignant at his mentioning the name of Mr. Pitt. His own impression was certainly a strong one in his favour; he always thought him the first man in the country. All of us had some bias; and he should not quarrel with those who preferred some other name. He well remembered, when that near and dear relation was only a child, he observed to some friends who were standing near him, that the man who discharged his duty to his country in the manner in which Mr. Pitt had, did most to be admired, and was most to be imitated: and he thought at that moment, if his own life and that of his dear relation should be spared, he would one day present him to his country, to follow in the same path. It was very natural that such should be his wishes, although those who did their duty might at once be contented with their conduct. He was well satisfied, that the head and heart of that relation were in their right place; and that though he had deviated a little from the path of propriety in this instance, he would soon be restored to it. He had, entered more largely into the subject than he had intended; any other observations he should reserve to a future opportunity, and conclude by moving that the petition be brought up.

Sir John Sebright

could not allow some of the hon. baronet's observations to pass unnoticed. One of his charges was, that the committee had not consulted those whom the hon. baronet thought best qualified to judge of the question. He presumed the hon. member could not have read the evidence: if he had, he must have formed a very different estimate of the merit and character of those gentlemen who were examined, to what he (sir J. S.) and he believed the majority of the House had formed. Besides, were manufactures and merchants the only persons so qualified? Did it follow as a matter of course that no others were competent? Then as to what the hon. baronet had said about Messrs. Hunt and Wooler, certainly he (Sir J. S.) was no follower of those gentlemen; but he looked at measures, not men. Now, he understood, them to have said this— that a greater power had been given to the Bank of England, than was ever before given, in a free country, to any private body of men whatever. In that opinion he concurred; and so long as they continued to act in that way, and to support those principles, he, for one, should act with them [a laugh]. Gentlemen might put what construction they chose upon his expressions, but he meant this—that, repeating his resolution of looking at measures, not men, so long as Messrs. Hunt and Wooler continued to uphold such doctrines, he should think as they did. With respect to what the hon. baronet had said about his near relation, he did most heartily concur with him: and if any praise of his could confer one additional offering to the great character of that distinguished individual, he was most disposed to give it now. If ever there was a moment of his (Mr. Peel's) life, in which he was most unquestionably and most eminently entitled to the gratitude of his country, it was the present one. The hon. baronet closed his speech by warmly applauding the conduct of his majesty's ministers in adopting the proposed measure, particularly at the present time, and by expressing his conviction of the advantages which would result from the measure itself.

Mr. Grenfell

expressed his unwillingness to let the idea go forth that the petition presented by the hon. baronet was what it purported to be, namely, that of the merchants, bankers, and traders of London, as not one fourth of that body had subscribed to it; nor, in point of fact, was there any reason to believe that any material proportion of that respectable body acquiesced in its views. With respect to the declaration of the hon. baronet, that the witnesses adduced before the committee were not competent to judge upon this question, as it concerned the interests of trade, he concurred with his hon. friend who spoke last, in thinking that the hon. baronet had not read the report of the evidence, where he might have found the names and depositions of able and respectable merchants, Mr. Alexander Baring, together with those of six Directors of the Bank, and of Mr. Took, who was one of the first practical merchants in the empire. Could it then be stated with fairness, that the committee had not examined competent or practical men upon this interesting question?

Mr. Marryat

admitted that gentlemen of the utmost respectability, connected with trade, had been examined before the committee, but contended, that there was no proposition laid down by any one of those witnesses, which was not contradicted by another; so that like the minor quantities in an algebraic equation, it would be better to strike off the whole of the evidence as immaterial to the question, and that the House should go into the discussion of this important subject without at all referring to that evidence.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed. For a copy of it, see the proceedings of the Lords on Friday last, p.598.