HC Deb 16 June 1820 vol 1 cc1105-11
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

laid upon the table a variety of papers and documents relative to the state of commercial distress in Ireland. The right hon. gentleman observed, that in submitting, on a future occasion, a specific motion connected with these papers, he should feel it his duty to propose a measure of relief similar to those which had been adopted in the year 1793 and 1811 by parliament. In answer to a question which had been put to him the other night by an hon. member, he had replied, that it was not proposed by his majesty's government to lay before the House any proposition of this kind; and by any other answer he felt very sure that he should at the time have exceeded the intentions of government. But his majesty's ministers having since received, from a variety of quarters, very many and very urgent applications for relief, they felt it their duty no longer to permit the matter to remain in this state, nor by their silence to warrant an apprehension that the distresses of any part of the United Kingdom were unheeded by them. He would here briefly notice what were the intentions of government in laying this subject before the House, and, in particular, what proposition it meant to offer, with reference to those measures which the lord lieutenant of Ireland, acting upon his responsibility, and expecting the sanction of government, had adopted, in consideration of the great public distress which recent events had occasioned in Ireland. He would state what the principal of those measures were. The House would be aware, that in 1817 a bill was enacted for the application of a particular sum of money in the execution of public works in Ireland. A very considerable part of that sum remained unappropriated, to the extent of about 100,000l. This fund the lord lieutenant of Ireland had felt himself authorized to issue for the relief of the aggravated commercial distress which prevailed in particular districts, under the management of certain commissioners, upon good security, and at the interest of five per cent. The measure which he should have first to submit to the House, would be to authorize future advances of this nature, from time to time, to such an extent as might be thought necessary; such sums together with those already advanced, not to exceed 500,000l. Whatever reluctance might reasonably be entertained to enter- ing upon a question of this kind, on the ground that such cases should be left to the operation of the ordinary causes affecting them, yet he was sure the House would feel that the present was a state of things which made it most desirable and necessary that they should interfere promptly and effectually.

The question was then put that these papers be referred to a committee of the whole House to-morrow. The House having resolved itself into a committee, the papers were then read, and, among them, a letter from a Mr. Jones of Cork, dated May 29, inclosing a petition of that city to the lord lieutenant, stating the disastrous condition of that part of Ireland by reason of the stoppage of the two principal banks, and the consequent disappearance of a circulating medium. It was signed by the mayor, recorder, and principal persons of the corporation; and stated that the amount of the notes of these banks in circulation was 350,000l. The next document was a letter from Mr. Gregory, secretary to the lord-lieutenant, acknowledging the receipt of the above petition. After a single remark from Mr. Tierney,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

admitted that the grant alluded to in Mr. Gregory's letter was made not for the purpose of relieving commercial distress, but of employing a certain sum upon the erection of public works. The House would feel that it was the duty of the lord lieutenant, and of the government here, to bring this subject as early as possible under the notice of parliament. The application of the money by the lord-lieutenant was certainly in some degree irregular, and the first object to which he should have to call the attention of the committee would be, the obtaining of a vote extending its sanction to the purposes to which the money had been so applied. Since the date of the petition, the House could not be ignorant that the most distressing and calamitous events had befallen Ireland; they could not be ignorant of the great depression under which commerce, and indeed every individual, laboured. He thought that they would immediately see the analogy between the present case and the measure brought in by Mr. Pitt in 1793: that was intended at the time to preserve the stability and circulation of the country banks. Under very peculiar circumstances Mr. Pitt, for the first time, made a similar application, by calling on parliament for an aid in their favour to a large extent; and that measure was attended with so much success, that, without any loss to the public, the evil was promptly and effectually removed. In 1793, the sum of 3,000,000l. was issued for this purpose, but not more than half that sum was ever actually demanded: 500,000l. were appropriated to Ireland, but there not more than 150,000l. were ever actually claimed. In the present instance, considering how much the circulation of Ireland was diminished, it was his intention to move for a grant of 500,000l. In addition to its circulation at the former period, Ireland possessed the paper of her national banks, which had been long established; they did not now exist, and therefore the evil occasioned by their failure was greatly increased. The effect of this grant would be a most desirable one—the increase of their circulation. It was proposed to found the present measure upon the same principle as had been observed in 1811, viz., that the bounty of parliament should be placed at the disposal of certain commissioners who were to examine and deliberate upon every case: he should have therefore, to move also, that these sums be placed under the management of similar commissioners. It, would be for the House to consider whether any farther restriction should be laid upon the issues of this grant, and upon that subject it would be necessary that a communication should be had with the lord-lieutenant of Ireland before the bill should be passed into a law. Ho was sure the House would see the necessity of sanctioning, by its vote, an application, the concession of which showed to the alarmed and anxious people of Ireland that parliament, in the consideration of their distress, had not lost sight of its duties. He therefore moved, "that whatever sum or sums have been or may be advanced by the Bank of Ireland to such merchants, traders, and manufacturers, as are possessed of funds ultimately more than sufficient to answer all demands upon them, but who have not the means of converting those funds into money or negotiable securities in time to meet the pressure of the moment, under the direction of commissioners appointed or to be appointed by the lord lieutenant of Ireland, not exceeding 500,000l. should be made good by this House, together with an interest, at the rate of 5l. per centum, from the date at which such sums shall have been or may be advanced respectively."

Dr. Lushington

felt assured that the House would hear what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman with great regret. He had taken for his precedent what Mr. Pitt had thought fit to do in 1793. To the best of his recollection, Mr. Pitt, perceiving that the country bankers were in danger of stopping, and that the circulating medium in consequence would be greatly diminished, had determined to afford them assistance; but the right hon. gentleman seemed to have forgotten that that assistance had been given in consequence of the recent commencement of a war, and of the occurrence of other events which country bankers could not have anticipated. But in the present case the chancellor of the exchequer had not thought fit to state any of the circumstances that had led to the failures in question, and he (Dr. L.) protested against such a grant merely upon the grounds of commercial distress. He was somewhat surprised that nothing had been said by the chancellor of the exchequer regarding the distresses prevailing in the south-west of Scotland. It was clear that, in Ireland, the houses that had failed had over traded; they had entered into improper speculations, and when the day of reckoning arrived, they were not prepared to meet the demands upon them The consequence of this grant would therefore be, that mercantile and banking concerns generally would be induced to follow the example of the Irish houses, in the confidence that, if they failed, government would interfere in their behalf. He should, however, consent, though reluctantly, to the vote, because he was aware, that such was the state of distress in Ireland, particularly among the lower orders, that the most dreadful results might occur, if resort were not had to some measure of this description.

Sir G. Hill

argued, that whatever might be the culpability of overtrading on the part of individuals, which perhaps might have been the case, the innocent and industrious were not to be indiscriminately punished with the improvident. There was more than one precedent for such a proceeding: in the case where parliament voted a similar mode of relief to Ireland in 1793, not a shilling had ultimately been lost; but a balance had been made out in favour of the country.

Lord A. Hamilton

saw no reason, in what had been laid down by the right hon. gentleman, for the House going the length required on this occasion. No fail-case had been made out for its interference. The distress experienced was not the effect of any mercantile or local cause, but the result of a false system of paper money. These evils had long been prophesied as the results of that most inexpedient system. It was impossible the case of 1793 could be a precedent for such a resolution in these days, since the Bank Restriction act had subsequently I passed and altered the whole face of things. Though nearly twenty years had since elapsed, we were now reaping the fruits of the baneful and destructive policy then introduced. Whatever the House might do in respect to the grant, he could Dot avoid protesting against the principle.

Mr. Grenfell

concurred with the noble; lord in what he had said regarding paper currency, and he was happy to add, that that system was now about to terminate. The object was not to relieve the merchants and hankers, but the suffering punctuation; as far as it was practicable; and if it were necessary that a communication should be made to the lord-lieutenant of Ireland before the present vote was carried into a law, he thought that much of the benefit would be destroyed by the delay.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the vote he had proposed was intended for the relief of the people of Ireland generally from the distress occasioned by recent failures, from whatever cause those failures might have arisen. With regard to delay, he agreed that it would be better to avoid it, and that the bill to be founded on the bill should be passed through all its stages without hesitation.

Mr. Foster

said, that the object of the grant was, to stop the progress of the evil and not to encourage speculation. The necessity of an immediate remedy was obvious from the fact that eight banks had failed in the south-west of Ireland; and if the failures reached Dublin, it was probable that they would also extend north-ward, and materially injure the linen I trade, now conducted through the medium of paper, but formerly depending upon gold alone. Only yesterday, advice was I received of the stoppage of one Dublin bank connected with the north of Ireland; and the consequence had been a heavy run upon the most firmly established1 banks of that city. They had been able to sustain the pressure; but it was not unlikely, that if confidence were not restored, much serious inconvenience, to say the least of it, would be felt there. He trusted, therefore, that the bill would be passed with as much speed as the forms of the House would allow.

Mr. C. Grant,

after what had been so ably and feelingly stated on this subject, did not consider it necessary to trouble the committee with many words upon it. The object of the proposition was not to relieve the innocent and unfortunate sufferers. If such a measure could be accomplished, he was sure the House would do it by acclamation. But that was impossible; and all that could be done was, by circuitous means, to endeavour to obviate the extension of the evil. It was impossible for him, however, to advert to the distresses which so unhappily prevailed in the South of Ireland, without at the same time adverting to the temper and patience with which those distresses had been borne. Destitute as the inferior classes of the population were of the means of obtaining either employment or food, there was nevertheless no example among them (except in one trifling instance) of any resort to improper modes of relief. He wished further to say, that although he entirely agreed with his right hon. friend in the expediency of proceeding with the utmost dispatch in affording ail the relief that could be afforded, the purpose of the grant had been, to a certain extent, anticipated by the lord lieutenant, who had, on his own responsibility, issued 100,000l. in the full confidence that parliament would sanction the proceeding.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

expressed the high satisfaction which lie felt at the proposition; and concurred with his right hon. friend near him in pressing on the House the immense importance of accelerating its execution, as he considered it to be pregnant with as much moral as practical advantage. When the people of Ireland saw that government and parliament had taken up the business as they had done, he did hope that a great deal of the; immediate pressure would be diminished. If the learned doctor who had given a reluctant consent to the measure knew but a tenth part of the distresses that existed, and of the way in which they were submitted to, he would not have qualified his concurrence in the proposition as he had done. He begged leave to suggest to his right hon. friend the consideration, whe- ther it would not be consistent with his duty to apprise the government of Ireland without delay of the vote of the House, and to take immediate measures on the faith of that vote. He wished it to be generally and immediately known in Ireland, that parliament had agreed to apply half a million, if necessary, to the relief of the existing distresses; as he was persuaded that the moral effect of such a communication would be very great, and that it might prevent much mischief.

Mr. C. Grant,

adverting to what had just fallen from his right hon. friend, said he had been authorized by his majesty's government to write to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, which he had that night done, to assure him that he might take such measures as were calculated to meet the evil, in the full confidence that they would receive the sanction of parliament;

Mr. W. Parnell

supported the resolution.

Lord Castlereagh

congratuled his native country on the strong sympathy and participation which was felt in the House with reference to the unhappy distress that prevailed in it. He had always been persuaded that such was the partial feeling of parliament for Ireland. If such a proposition had been made with regard; to any part of England, it would have been viewed with considerable jealousy; but the resolution which been that night moved by his right hon. friend, had been received but with one solicitude by all sides and all parties—namely ah anxiety to do all that it was possible to do for Ireland, under her present circumstances of pressure He trusted that the measure, like other preceding measures of a similar description, would have a great practical operation although he allowed, with his right hon. friend behind him that the, moral effect of it would be very considerable. He was persuaded that every hon. member who, like himself, was a native of the sister country, must feel great gratitude to parliament for their prompt acquiescence in his right hon. friend's proposition.

Mr. Finlay,

adverting to former measures which had been adopted under similar circumstances in this country, observed, that they had been productive of the greatest advantage to the community. He hoped and believed that the effect of the proposition would, in a great degree, arrest the evil.

The Resolution was agreed to.