HC Deb 15 March 1825 vol 12 cc1039-45
Sir George Hill

rose, pursuant to notice, for the purpose of moving for leave to bring in a bill to render more effectual the provisions of an act passed last session to amend the 21st of Geo. II. relative to Co-partnerships in Banks in Ireland. As he did not expect any opposition to the measure, he should content himself with making a few observations. The Bank of Ireland was established in 1781, and had been continued subsequently by various statutes passed for the renewal of its charter. Previously to 1821, no desire had been expressed on the part of the public, that the bank should forego any part of its privileges. About that period, however, the trade, manufactures, and commerce of the country had so greatly increased, as to induce a wish that they should forego some peculiar advantages which they had hitherto enjoyed. An agreement was, in consequence, entered into between the Bank and the Treasury, by which the public was relieved from the monopoly. Until last session, however, no attempt was made to take advantage of the agreement of 1821. It was not his intention to contravene this agreement. The most convenient way would be, to permit him to bring in the bill, and then the Bank and the other parties interested, would have a fair opportunity of stating their objections. There was more capital in Ireland than people were generally aware of. Many millions had been lately transferred there from this country, and the exports of last year amounted to no less than 14,000,000l. No further proof was wanting of the necessity of increased facilities in the banking business.

Mr. Dawson

said, he could not omit that opportunity of expressing his conviction of the importance of the proposed measure. He had himself presented no less than six petitions, praying the protection and countenance of the House for the establishment of provincial banks in Ireland. No subject had, for some time back, more completely engrossed the attention of the people of Ireland than this All parties, Protestant and Catholic, were only of one opinion; and that opinion was founded not alone in the advantages expected from an improved system, but in dire experience of the great mischiefs occasioned by the failure of the banks in the south and south-west of Ireland some few years back. These establishments, hitherto, were founded on principles subversive of public credit and of national prosperity. It was necessary, therefore, that parliament should step forward to oppose some check to so great an evil. So great was the want of confidence occasioned by the frequent failure of private banks, that they had almost totally disappeared. There were not, throughout the four provinces, more he believed, than ten-In England the number of private banks was 530, and in Scotland 128. To these establishments the prosperity of Scotland was in a great measure attributed; and he wished, therefore, to see the joint-stock principle introduced into Ireland. It could not fail to operate as a powerful encouragement to the agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial interests. It was by no means his wish to trench on the just privileges of the Bank of Ireland; but that establishment must not expect too much from the country: they must not suppose that commerce, trade, and manufactures, were to be sacrificed by a too close adherence to the technicalities of the law. He did not think that their conduct merited so great a sacrifice. When the utmost distress prevailed in Ireland, the Bank did not come forward as they should have done: they made no efforts to relieve the country from the difficulties which weighed it down. It was but lately they had begun to adopt a more liberal manner of conducting business. They did not reduce their discounts last year, until after he had given notice of his motion. It was only since that time they had begun to turn their thoughts to the establishment of provincial branches of their own concern. Every thing they had done, conducive to the advantage of the country, had been extorted from them, by the fear of losing some of the advantages they enjoyed. The measure proposed by his right hon. friend would prove a substantial benefit to Ireland. It was only by removing such monopolies that she could enjoy all the advantages of the Union. He trusted, the chancellor of the Exchequer would see how beneficial the measure was likely to prove. The encouragement that would thus be given to manufactures and commerce could not fail to improve the Exchequer; and by that means, in connexion with the effects arising from liberal commercial principles, enable him further to relieve the burthens of the country. It was not a false prediction to assert, that not one representative from the country, except perhaps his interests were involved in the Bank of Ireland, would oppose the establishment of provincial banks, or be merely lukewarm in supporting the principle.

Sir H. Parnell

said, the conduct of the Bank of Ireland had not been such as to induce any gentleman to be backward in expressing his opinion. Their conduct had been improper, and inconsistent with that which they ought to have pursued for the interests of the country. Whenever they applied for a renewal of their charter, he hoped all these circumstances would be remembered, and that they would induce parliament to look more narrowly into the policy of granting such monopolies. He could offer no opinion on the measure now proposed, not being acquainted with the details; but, as far as it went, he believed it would be useful. In consequence of the system lately pursued, the number of banks in Ireland had been greatly reduced, and the trade of the country had suffered in proportion to that reduction. He would ask the chancellor of the Exchequer, how far he considered it expedient to keep the law of England different from the law of Ireland with respect to banking regulations? For himself, he could not understand why one system was to be continued in Ireland and another in. England. He trusted that on the present occasion, the House of Commons would act with that consideration for the general welfare of Ireland, which the situation of that country demanded, and not allow themselves to be swayed by any private or partial feelings, in favour of any body of persons, however privately respectable they might be.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he was as sensible as any man could be, of the imperfect state of the present banking system in Ireland, and no one was more anxious than himself, that a revision of that system should take place. He was most anxious to afford any assistance in his power for the attainment of that object, and he assured the hon. baronet, that in affording that assistance, he would not allow himself to be acted upon by any partiality for any body of persons. In truth he felt none. He was only anxious that, in introducing any measure of this description, they should avoid trenching upon, or in any way violating the charter and compact held by the Bank of Ireland. That charter and that compact he could not allow himself to violate, either directly or indirectly, without the most solid and sufficient grounds. He was the more anxious to be clear upon this point, as his hon. friend (Mr. Dawson) appeared to hint that the conduct of the Bank of Ireland, not being what he wished it, that body might be treated in a manner different from, that to which a different line of conduct would entitle them. With his statement he could not agree. It might be that the, Bank of Ireland did that which many other bodies had done, namely, look to its own interests without consulting the interests of the public; but this was no reason why it should be deprived of its privileges. If it was shewn to him that the Bank of Ireland had acted contrary to the objects for which it was instituted; if it was shewn to him that that body had violated its charter; then he would say that it would be right to consult the general interest of the country, without taking that body, or the compact entered into with it, at all into consideration. But, such was not the fact; at least they had no evidence of that fact before them, and therefore they were bound to give all parties fair play and an impartial hearing. Anxious as he was to support any measure which had for its object the improvement of the trade and commerce of Ireland, he, nevertheless, could not consent to any measure which went in direct violation of a charter-right. He could not think it would be advantageous to adopt any such measure under circumstances which would neither be beneficial to the public nor creditable to the legislature.

Mr. Spring Rice

concurred with the chancellor of the Exchequer in thinking, that if there was any thing in the terms of the charter of the Bank of Ireland to preclude the introduction into parliament of this or any similar bill, the fact of there being such a condition would of itself be a valid objection to the present motion. But, when the right hon. gentleman adverted to considerations of an equitable nature in favour of the Bank, he must beg leave to quote a principle that he had often heard contended for, and that was, that whenever a party set up an equitable construction, he must come into court with clean hands, by showing that he had done his best to fulfil the expressed conditions of the contract. But, up to a very late period, what had been the conduct of the Bank of Ireland? It had been, to refuse those advances or accommodations, without which business must always languish, however unexceptionable might be the security tendered, unless the parties concerned happened to be engaged in the trade of Dublin itself. If they belonged to Cork, for example, or any of the southern districts, however highly respectable they might be, the parties must establish an agency in Dublin, before they could obtain any such advances. Now, the Bank of Ireland did no business at all of this kind under 5 per cent.; the charge of the Dublin agency was about one per cent, more and, what with postages, brokerage, & c, the accommodation to such parties could only be obtained at the rate of nearly 7 per cent. It was the jealousy which the Bank of Ireland felt of the introduction of English capital and capitalists into Ireland, that alone induced it to take any adverse steps to such a measure as this. As to English capital, he did not augur all the benefits which the hon. gentleman anticipated from its introduction, so much as he looked forward to the happiest results from the circumstance of that English capital being to be managed by English capitalists. That circumstance would introduce into Ireland those habits of good faith, regularity, and punctuality in business, which its commercial transactions did at present so much want. Upon this principle it was, that he felt chiefly induced to give his vote for the measure.

Mr. Trant

rose to state a fact that had occurred not long ago, which went to prove how necessary some measure of this nature had become. A relation of his had a few hundred pounds to remit to England. He happened to reside a hundred miles from Dublin; and there being no private bank between him and that capital, through which he could remit the money, he was absolutely obliged to travel thither with it in his own pocket.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

expsessed his approbation of the measure. When the Banks failed in 1817 in the south of Ireland, the Bank of Ireland made no exertion to alleviate the distress that followed. They were deaf to the application of many country bankers, who offered good and solid security, though it was not of such a nature as to be immediately convertible. The establishment of Joint-Stock Banking companies could not interfere with their charter; for it was proposed to establish them only in those parts which the Bank seemed to think entirely out of their province. They discounted no paper from the province of Munster, or from any part of Ireland, unless indorsed by a person resident in Dublin. They were told of the capital that existed in Dublin. If there was capital there, it was certainly— the most inert capital he ever heard of. It shewed no life until this measure had been suggested; and then, all of a sudden, they heard of some charitable intentions on the part of the Bank towards the south of Ireland. Nothing could be more advantageous than the introduction of English capital. There was not at present sufficient circulating medium for the purposes of internal trade. In the south and west of Ireland banking had been established on the most injudicious and ruinous principles. He hoped that a better system would now be introduced.

Mr. Sneyd

vindicated the Bank of Ireland from the imputations thrown upon it.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald,

in explanation, said, that at a period of great distress the Bank of Ireland did not afford the relief it ought to those banks that could have given ample security.

Mr. Sneyd

denied this statement.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.