HC Deb 01 April 1822 vol 6 cc1402-6
Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, he held in his hand a petition from the owners and occupiers of land in Linlithgow, complaining of distress. The remedy which the petitioners proposed was, the laying out of a million of money on the part of government in the purchase of corn in the market. He particularly directed the attention of the House to one paragraph in the petition, to this effect:—Your petitioners do not pretend to find fault with taxes, being convinced that they are necessary for the support of the state. To reduce taxation would be like a drop of water falling into the immense ocean—our distresses are so far beyond the reach of any relief to be obtained in that way." In that opinion he fully concurred. He felt disappointed that the Bank had not seconded the plan of the government, by consenting to discount at a lower rate of interest. He was convinced that the Bank, by refusing to discount at a lower rate of interest, had contributed materially to the distresses of the country. The conduct of the Bank was indeed extraordinary. It did nothing to facilitate money transactions, which was originally the object of its institution. Why had the Bank continued its rate of discount higher than in other countries? Why was it necessary to pay 5 per cent in London, and only 4 per cent in Paris? He was willing to admit that the country was greatly obliged to the Bank for their conduct during the war; but he could not avoid stating that it was now doing that which was most likely to augment the existing distress.

Mr. Manning

felt it extremely difficult to reply to the observations of the last speaker, because he had no authority to state any thing on the part of the Bank. The hon. member had said, that a great portion of the agricultural distress was to be ascribed to the conduct of the Bank. A charge so totally without foundation, he had never heard. In his opinion, the distress of the agricultural interest was occasioned by over production, arising from the large quantities of land enclosed during the last twelve years. The directors of the Bank had been held up to public indignation as being the cause of agricultural distress, because they had not lowered the rate of interest. But the Bank had nothing to do with lowering the rate of interest. That was altogether a parliamentary question. The learned member for Guildford had once proposed to repeal the usury laws; and if that had been agreed to, interest would have been taken at 10 or 12 per cent. Another attack in which official persons had joined had been made upon the Bank, because it had not lowered the rate of its discount to 4 per cent. He did not know why the Bank were to be called usurers and extortioners on this ground. The Bank lent out its whole capital of 15,000,000l. at 3 per cent; and if they were to-morrow to discount commercial bills at 4 per cent, the measure would not afford the slightest facility, beyond that at present existing, to any landowner to borrow money on mortgage. Money, to any extent, might now be borrowed at 4 per cent upon real security. It was the bounden duty of the Bank to carry into effect the determination of parliament to restore a metallic currency. The circulation was at present full; and, from the year 1819 to this moment there had been no want of money in the country. In his judgment, to lower the rate of interest would be to force British capital into the foreign funds. Within only a few days, 300,000l. had been sold out of our stocks and placed in those of other countries.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

defended his proposition to repeal the usury laws, which was merely, that the rate of interest should be left to find its own level. He had by no means abandoned it, and the measure which was in contemplation for re- ducing the tax on the transfer of mortgages, would remove the objections that had been made to it.

Sir W. W. Wynn

said, he should hear with great satisfaction of the reduction of the rate of interest, and wished to know whether the reduction of the heavy tax on the transfer of mortgages was actually in contemplation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that ministers, with the advice of the law officers of the Crown, intended to introduce a clause into a bill now preparing, remitting the heavy ad valorem duty on mortgages. It would provide, that mortgages might be endorsed from one party to another, on the payment of the value of the common deed stamp.

Sir T. Lethbridge

agreed, that the Bank was not the cause of the agricultural distress, and that the country was under great obligations to the Bank; but on the other hand, the Bank were under great obligations to the country; and he thought that they should not be slow to reduce the rate of interest, which ultimately they could not keep up.

Mr. Benett,

of Wilts, said, the only source of immediate relief both to landlord and tenant was a reduction of the interest of money. The law, though it prevented the Bank from taking more, did not, he apprehended, prevent them from taking less than 5 per cent. If 4,000,000l. were to be advanced for five years certain, at 4 per cent to those who had mortgages, not more than 5,000l. to be advanced to any person, it would have the immediate effect of reducing the whole mortgage interest of the country.

Mr. Western

said, the ministers should be aware of the situation in which agriculture stood. The gentlemen whose property was embarked in that pursuit were on the brink of ruin. He was convinced that two-thirds of the farmers of Essex were at this moment, if they were called upon to settle their accounts, in a state of insolvency. He called upon the noble marquis to consider whence such a situation had arisen. Had it happened in this country before? Had it happened in any other country, that a whole class of men were deprived of their property? So far from expecting this, there was every reason to have hoped for the reverse. Their situation was one which must convulse the whole frame of society, unless it were speedily altered. Landlords for the last two or three years had been living upon the capital of their tenantry. To comprehend the cause of such a situation, was difficult, and to find a remedy still more so. The operations of the legislature as to the money, had, he was convinced, been almost the sole cause of the evil; for great as the burthens of the country were, its resources were also so great, that but for the manner in which the currency had been affected, it would have been now in a state of unequalled prosperity. By the change of the currency, the burthens of the country had at once been increased 20 or 25 per cent. Notwithstanding the distress, he had not had during this session a single petition, to present from the county of Essex. The real cause of this was, that an utter despair existed of relief from that House, and they had absolutely given up petitioning. The act of 1797 had been a breach of faith to the public creditor, the act of 1819 had been a breach of faith to the public debtor not less gross; and he was convinced, the more its consequences were experienced, the more the necessity would be felt of reconsidering it.

Sir E. Harvey

confirmed what had fallen from his hon. colleague on the subject of petitions. He also bore testimony to the great extent of the distress in Essex.

Mr. Huskisson

could not avoid expressing his opinion, that if the Bank could be induced to lower the rate of interest, it would contribute in some degree to release the pressure which gentlemen so bitterly lamented. When it was said that it had lent 15 millions to the public at 3 per cent, it ought not to be forgotten that parliament had given the Bank important and exclusive privileges. If the ordinary rate of interest was elsewhere under 5 per cent, he could not understand why the Bank should refuse to discount on good securities at the same rate, when it had in fact found it worth while to lend to the state at 3 per cent.

Mr. Monck

said, the Bank had a right to make the best use of their capital, and that any relief occasioned by the lowering of interest would be of small amount, except to mortgagees. The distress of the country could, in his opinion, be relieved only by raising the price of agricultural produce, or by reducing taxation.

Mr. Huskisson

begged to disclaim all right to interfere with the affairs of the Bank of England. He had only stated his opinion as an individual member of parliament.

Mr. Pearse,

contended that over-production was the real cause of the distress, and that the rate of interest had always been governed by the price of the funds.

Ordered to lie on the table.