HC Deb 25 February 1824 vol 10 cc445-9
Sir John Wrottesley

rose to submit to the House the motion of which he had given notice, namely, to inquire how far the coin of the realm could be adapted to a decimal scale. His apology for trespassing upon the attention of the House must be the strong conviction which he felt of the necessity of the measure. The House must be aware, that the interference of the legislature was necessary to address the Crown upon a question of this kind, for the control of the currency was the prerogative of the crown. It had been said by the great commentator on the laws of England, Mr. Justice Blacks tone, that "as money is the medium of commerce, it is the king's prerogative, as the arbiter of domestic commerce, to give it authority or make it current. The denomination, or the value for which the coin is to pass current, is likewise in the breast of the king, and if any unusual pieces are coined, that value must be ascertained by proclamation. The measure, then, which he was about to propose could not be carried into execution without an address to the Throne, if after mature deliberation, the House should consent to his proposition; without which deliberation he should not presume to ask their assent. It must be manifest to the House, that this measure, if adopted, must be carried into execution at the same hour and moment, or a great degree of confusion must ensue throughout the country. A measure of this nature had been proposed some time back: he had not then the honour of being a member of the House; but, from the best information he could procure, he understood that an ounce of gold being then worth 99s. it was proposed to coin it into five pieces. The hon. baronet, after a few remarks, which could not be distinctly collected in the gallery, proceeded to remark, that after all the experience which he had before him of the effects' of the recent change in the currency, considering the distress which it occasioned on the one hand, but on the other, the immense benefit it had produce to public credit, if the measure were again to be brought before the House, with all the experience of the past before him, he should still give it his decided approbation. No one, then, could think that he had the slightest intention to propose any alteration. On the contrary, he was most desirous that the currency should now remain on what he believed was a solid and durable basis. Neither was it his intention to propose any alteration in the gold or silver coinage, which maintained its currency in a manner essentially beneficial to the commercial interests of the country. This subject might require more authority than he possessed, if it could be at all considered a visionary scheme; but many of those who now heard him were aware, that a similar system had been acted upon for the last thirty years in France—a circumstance which was of some importance, when they considered over how many countries France had extended her conquests, and the anxiety on the part of that country to become acquainted with the coinage of different countries of Europe. In America, too, the system had been introduced, and it was even extended to the ancient kingdom of China. It could not, therefore, be considered a visionary plan. The innovation, and the only one which he proposed, was, that the system of computation should, from a period to be determined, be conducted on simple arithmetic, and not on compound, which should rather be called complex arithmetic, as was now the case. The very system recommended itself from its simplicity. At present there were four denominations of coin in payment; namely, pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings. He should propose, that three denominations should be substituted: and these should consist of pounds, double shillings, and farthings. In order to bring up the latter denomination to admit of decimal calculation, he should propose, that a value of four per cent should be added. The value of the penny at present, according to the papers on the table, would be, with the farthing, raised four per cent in value, 1,696; or, in other words, in one hundred pounds in copper money, 42l. 8s. would be raised to forty-four pounds two shillings. In this way 100 farthings would make a double shilling, and 10 double shillings, or 1,000 farthings, would amount to a pound; and pounds would be converted, arithmetically, into farthings, or farthings into pounds, by simply adding or subtracting three ciphers to the right hand. The convenience of such a mode of keeping accounts could not be doubted, and it had been adopted in France for thirty years. Of course it would be necessary, to prevent inconvenience, that it should be carried into effect at the same moment all over the kingdom. This might easily be accomplished, by fixing some day for its absolute commencement, and enacting that, up to that appointed day, all trans- actions should be in the old style. The hon. baronet concluded by moving, "That ah humble address be presented to his Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to direct inquiries to be made for ascertaining the best mode of adapting the Coinage of the realm to a Decimal Scale."

Mr. Wallace

did not deny that there were advantages attending the system proposed by the hon. baronet, but whilst he made that admission, he was not pie-pared to assent to his proposition, believing that the inconveniences that would inevitably follow the change, would be very great, and of a character that the expected benefits would not compensate. Besides, it was plain, that whatever were the defects in theory of our present system, it had been so long in practice, and the people were so habituated to it, that very little inconvenience was actually experienced. Nothing could be more correct than the course which the hon. baronet had pursued. It was, undoubtedly, the prerogative of the king to take charge of the coinage; but the very motion of the hon. baronet, tending as it did to create doubts, and to leave the public mind in a state of uncertainty, constituted its objection. The subject of decimal calculation. had been frequently before the House. It had been introduced at the time of the new coinage. It had its advocates, but he must also say, that there were opposed to the system some whose authority on questions of this nature stood very high in that House. It was most true that the system had been adopted after the revolution in France; but the hon. baronet would recollect, that it was adopted when there was an overthrow of every previous system, and when no existing interests or prepossessions were to be contended with. It had doubtless the merits of uniformity and facility, but habit and usage had given an equal facility in this country to the system that prevailed. Besides, there was a great objection to the proposition, when it was recollected, that such an alteration must principally affect the very description of persons, who, from their situations in life, carrying on their dealings in copper money, would feel the alteration, and could not be made sensible of the benefit. Adverting to the difference in the currency of England and of Ireland, he acknowledged that, it; was a very serious inconvenience, intimated that it was his intention to propose some measure on the subject, and expressed his hope that at some future period the coin of the two countries would be assimilated as well as their affections.

Mr. Hume,

adverting to the committee which sat in former years, of which the hon. member for Bodmyn was the chairman, wished to know if their labours had terminated in any practical result?

Mr. D. Gilbert

replied, that the question of weights and measures alone had been considered by the committee, but that of money had never been before them.

Sir H. Parnell

expressed his satisfaction at what had fallen from the right hon. master of the Mint, with reference to the coin of Ireland. He had himself given notice in the last session, that he meant to move for leave to bring in a bill on the subject, but he most cheerfully resigned the undertaking into the hands of one so much more competent to do it justice. Unquestionably, nothing could be more pregnant with inconvenience and injury than the present inequality in the coin of the two countries.

Sir J. Wrottesley

consented not to press his motion to a division, though he trusted that the young members of the House would live to see the principle of his measure carried into effect.

The motion was negatived.