HC Deb 02 February 1821 vol 4 cc339-42

On the motion for going into a committeee of Supply,

Mr. Grenfell

wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the absence of the Secretary for Ireland, whether he was prepared to give any information as to the conduct of the Bank of Ireland, who, he understood, had refused to receive the coin of the realm as deposits? He was at a loss to comprehend on what grounds the Bank of Ireland did this. In local districts, bankers might do it with a view to discountenance the circulation of any thing but their own notes. Whatever the ground might be, it was necessary for the Government of the country to take some notice of it, as it contravened the intention of the government of the country with respect to the currency.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he was not enabled to give any information on this subject. The hon. member would be aware, that no one could refuse to receive the coin of the realm in payment. He did not know what difference there could be between payments and deposits. He was rather surprised at the statement, as bankers never refused money.

Sir J. Newport

said, there was all the difference in the world between payment, which was the discharge of a legal obligation, and deposit, which was the intrusting of money voluntarily received, to be accounted for. Of course, the Bank of Ireland could not refuse money in payment, but in deposit they might. Since the union of the Treasuries of the two countries, it was the business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and not of the Secretary for Ireland, to be prepared with information on these subjects. It was the more important, that this separation should be attended to, as there was nothing more mischievous to the finances of Ireland than the interference of the castle government.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, it was no part of his official duty to take cognizance of the internal concerns, either of the Bank of Ireland or that of England. Those bodies were responsible to the laws, not to a minister. He had of course often occasion to correspond with both those banks.

Sir H. Parnell

said, the Bank of Ireland had not the power to refuse payment in sovereigns, but they refused to discount for those merchants who paid their bills in sovereigns, and they discountenanced the importers of gold coin. As the Bank of Ireland enjoyed a monopoly, they should be the last to interfere with the intentions, of parliament. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to speak of the Bank of Ireland as of a private banking company. But, as it was a bank of deposit for the government, and enjoyed a monopoly by charter, it was impossible to submit to that doctrine, The bank had, during the late general distress, refused to make issues at the suggestion of the Secretary for Ireland, The general opinion in Ireland was, that the conduct of the bank had not been what it should be; and he was so far impressed with it, that he should probably bring the subject before the House. His opinion was, that it would be better for Ireland that the monopoly of the Bank of Ireland should be taken away, as there would be established in its stead numerous chartered banks or banking companies as in Scotland.

Mr. Irving

said, the report, that the Bank of Ireland bad refused the current coin of the realm as deposit had excited his surprise. The present situation of Ireland was, that there was no circulation but that supplied by the Bank of Ireland. He could easily believe, that it might be inconsistent with the private interests of the Bank of Ireland to issue their notes upon deposits of gold; but he thought the bank, when it considered the situation, of Ireland, were bound to take a more enlarged view of the question. He certainly disapproved of the conduct which had been pursued by the Bank of Ireland towards those who imported and paid in gold coin. He would take that opportunity of putting a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of the issues of Exchequer bills under the late act. If he was rightly informed, the commissioner under that act felt so restrained by the terms of the enactment, that, great as was the pressure in Ireland, the country had been almost entirely shut out from the advantages intended by the legislature. In the drawing up of that bill there had been the most culpable neglect.

Mr. Baring

contended, that government were bound to watch over the proceedings of the Bank of Ireland. The right hon. gentleman had indeed said, that it was a private corporation, over which the law, not the government, had alone control; but the bank had been incorporated for public purposes, and if it failed to promote the objects intended, then its incorporation should be reviewed. Private banks might refuse to take deposits, but neither the banks of Ireland nor England could properly decline receiving them, The latter were bound to carry on the public business of the country. The real business of the bank ought to be to receive as much coin as it could, and issue as many notes. If however, the Bank of Ireland took a different course, and meant to set their face against the metallic circulation of the country, then the legislature was bound to interfere, and prevent the intention of parliament from being frustrated. With respect to the return to cash payments, upon which so much stress had been laid, he did not attach so much importance to it as others did. His desire was rather to see the paper currency of the country regulated upon the standard of paying large sums in bullion, according to the plan of his hon. friend (Mr. Ricardo). That course he thought better calculated than any other to relieve a part of the pressure which was so sensibly felt throughout the country. When he gave this opinion, he begged not to be understood as having a wish to thwart the return to payments in coin, although he feared that some of the present evils were attributable to the preliminary arrangements for that purpose. His only reason for not proposing something for the consideration of the House with reference to his view of the subject, was, that he awaited the result of the measures now in progress for preventing bank forgeries.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he would take an early opportunity to communicate with the Bank of Ireland. It was difficult to conceive on what principle that bank could have refused to accept of gold coin. With a view to preparing for cash payments, nothing could be more acceptable than deposits in gold, for which the bank might issue their paper. The extent of issues by the commissioners under the late act, had certainly fallen short of the intention of the legislature, and did not exceed 100,000l.

Mr. Ricardo

observed, that paper in Ireland having become at a premium above the price of gold coin, persons had been under the necessity of incurring the expense of conveying gold coin to Ireland, to remedy an evil arising out of the deficiency of circulation from the failures in the south. If the Bank of Ireland had filled the void so occasioned, as it was their duty to have done, the evil would have been avoided. He was still of opinion, that the system established with regard to the Bank of England, two or three years ago, ought to be perpetuated. If the Bank contemplated paying in gold coin in 1823, as they were now by law required, they must purchase a quantity of gold for that purpose; and to this cause was to be attributed the present disproportion between the price of gold and silver. He hoped, that his right hon. friend would be of opinion, that the system now existing ought to be permanent, and that he would take an early opportunity of bringing forward a measure for that purpose.