HC Deb 22 June 1825 vol 13 cc1272-4
Mr. Hume

said, he had a petition to present from Mr. Frederick Jones, of Bristol, on a subject of great importance—the laws respecting our currency. The House were aware that a great increase had taken place in the price of all the necessaries of life, and that it was held as a general principle by many political economists, that where such a great rise took place in all the articles of consumption, it was chiefly attributable to some change in the state of the currency. There were different opinions on this subject; but, as it appeared by the petition which he was about to present, that a large portion of the currency of the country was not immediately convertible into gold, it was very possible that that circumstance might have had a considerable effect in producing the rise to which he had alluded. After a brief history of Mr. Peel's bill, and of the subsequent measure by which country bankers were permitted to issue small notes, the hon. member proceeded to state the contents of the petition. It appeared that the petitioner, having occasion for some gold, presented six one pound notes at the Castle Bank at Bristol, for which he demanded gold; when he was told by the clerk, who tendered him Bank of England notes, that the gold was locked up, and that he could not comply with his request. When, again, he presented forty-five one pound notes of the same bank for payment in gold, gold was again refused; and Bank of England notes were again tendered. On applying to his attorney, he was informed that his only remedy was an action at law; that it, would be nine months before the suit could be brought to a conclusion; and that the operation of the verdict might then be further postponed by a writ of error. The petitioner therefore prayed for the enactment of a law, enabling persons holding country bank-notes to obtain a summary recovery of their value in gold; or, that the House would apply to the disgraceful and growing evil in question such other remedies as in their wisdom they might think calculated to meet it. With Mr. Peel's bill the House and the country were very well satisfied; but the subsequent measure respecting the country banks had materially endangered the benefits derived from it. What appeared to be wanted was, a bill which should place country banks on the same footing with respect to paying their notes in gold as the Bank of England. The advantage of such a bill would be two-fold. It would prevent inconvenience to those who, for any particular purpose, wished to obtain gold; and it would prevent the necessity of having recourse to legal proceedings for a remedy. Such a measure was well worthy of consideration; and in his opinion, the House ought not to separate before they passed a precautionary act, making country banknotes payable in cash. He knew it was the opinion of his lamented friend, Mr. Ricardo, that the currency of the country was in a good state, while country banks were compelled to pay in Bank of England notes, which Bank of England notes were payable in gold. But the inconvenience felt under the present system, by any man resident in the country, who, wanting twenty or a hundred sovereigns, was obliged to send up to the capital for them, seemed to require some remedy. He now begged leave to present the petition.

Mr. J. Smith

said, that never in the course of his experience had he heard a more singular petition. Country banks were now placed on the same footing as the Bank of England, and if a country banker refused to pay on demand he was liable to an action. He thought, however, that in case of a great run, country bankers ought to be allowed time to get their specie from London. It might have happened that a house might have been so indiscreet as to refuse payment; but he knew there was not a respectable country banker in England who would refuse to pay notes in gold if demanded. He never knew a petition less necessary, less called for, or less worthy the attention of the House.

Mr. Brougham

said, that country bankers were by law bound to pay their notes on demand, and this petitioner knew it, because he said in this petition, that after applying for legal advice, he found he had no remedy but an action at law. If any other act was to be passed, that could only give a remedy by an action at law. The hon. gentleman who spoke last had said, that perhaps time ought to be given to bankers to send to London in case of a run. Surely he could not mean seriously to say that a banker had a right to wait till he sent to London for cash. The banker was bound to pay every farthing at his own risk. If there was a run, he must do what he could to meet it. To pass an act, giving bankers a time, within which to pay what by law they were bound to pay instanter, would be injurious to every rank in the country, and grossly insulting to the legislature which passed such an act.

Mr. J. Smith ,

in explanation, observed, that in point of fact, the law to which he alluded was an ancient law, by which it was enacted, that if a country banker did not pay in three days, he might be compelled to pay by a summary proceeding before a magistrate. He repeated, that no country banker did or could keep by him gold sufficient to satisfy all the notes he might have in circulation.

Mr. Hart Davis

could not help thinking there was some mistake which might be explained.

Mr. Hume

said, that when the petition was put into his hands, he had inquired why the individuals complained of had not been arrested, and he was informed that an interpretation had been given to the act which precluded them from immediate arrest.

Mr. Huskisson

said, there could be no doubt that every banker who issued bank notes, payable on demand, was liable to pay them the same as he was before the bank restriction, and in the same manner as the Bank of England was bound to pay all its notes.

Sir J. Wrottesley

hoped that the hon. member for Aberdeen had inquired well into the character of the petitioner from whom he had received the petition; otherwise, as the contents of the petition had a tendency to affect the credit of a mercantile establishment in a very important point, by a recent decision, the parties in- jured would have a claim for damages upon all who assisted in circulating the obnoxious matter.

Mr. Hume

said, he had reason to believe that the petitioner was correct in his statements; for it had been delivered to him by persons in whom he could repose confidence. He did not know the parties against whom the petition complained, but had taken up the case upon a general principle, and upon the belief that the petitioner was deprived of his remedy at law.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, the petitioner might be some mischievous individual who wished to injure the name and character of the parties referred to. Unless the hon. member knew the individual, he ought to withdraw the petition rather than let it lie on the table.

Mr. Hume

consented to withdraw the petition until he had made further inquiries concerning the facts, and the parties concerned.