HC Deb 12 May 1825 vol 13 cc573-82

The House having resolved itself into a committee,

Mr. Wallace

rose. He stated his object to be, to do away one of the most important distinctions, remaining between Great Britain and Ireland, and, at the same time, to remove one of the greatest practical inconveniences Ireland was now subject to, by assimilating the currencies of the two parts of the United Kingdom. The object, he said, was neither new to the House nor to those who, by property, by commercial transactions, or even by official situations, were connected with Ireland—all had felt the inconvenience arising from the difference of the currencies, and all had been anxious that, whenever practicable, the removal of it should be effected. This, if any were necessary, was his apology for bringing forward the present motion, that concurring in that general feeling, he thought that the time was peculiarly favourable for such a measure. That although the evil was then most felt, it was not in periods of great fluctuation, but when the exchange was, as it had been for a considerable time, steady, when the currencies were bearing their due proportion to each other, that such a change could be undertaken with advantage and with safety.

When brought forward at one time, difficulties presented themselves from the restriction on money payments and the paper currency, which were thought insuperable; but on that occasion there was not one who did not concur in thinking the measure desirable at a more favourable season. When it was again brought forward it was rather postponed than objected to, on an understanding that it was to be brought forward by the government. The authority arising from what passed on these occasions he stated to have been powerfully confirmed by passages, which he quoted from the report of a committee in the year 1804, of which lord Oriel was chairman. The difficulties then apprehended had vanished by our return to cash payments, and the measure was now confined to the mere equalization of the current monies of the two parts of the kingdom.

When the real and nominal exchanges was at par, that is, when the payments balance each other, and there is no depreciation in the currency of either country, the difference between the currency was 8⅓ per cent, this was, however, liable to be affected by different circumstances; and he held an account in his hand which showed the extent of its fluctuation to have been at one time as high as 19 per cent in favour of England, at another to have been as low as 1⅓. These fluctuations took place subsequently to the acts which permitted the free importation of corn and the transfer of stock, at a time too, when at Liverpool and Edinburgh the exchange was confined to the mere expense of the transmission of money commuted for bills at a fixed and known number of days. He did not say that this measure would destroy the exchange between the two countries, but he saw no reason why, when the only difference between them was removed by the assimilation of the currencies, that which occurred at the places he had mentioned, should not equally occur in Ireland, and the greatest part of the inconvenience of the exchange should not be removed by taking away all its uncertainty.

He then stated the effects of this uncertainty in the injury it produced, both to the individuals, and in the manner in which it affected all the commercial transactions between England and Ireland; which, however unavoidable in the intercourse between Foreign States, ought not to subsist in that between parts of the same kingdom, in which, if the currency was the same, no nominal exchange could exist. This, he said, was the case in respect to London, Liverpool, and Edinburgh; and the union could never be considered as complete, till it was so in respect to Ireland.

To obtain this, it was necessary to bring the money of account and the money of circulation to an equality, and to make such money as circulated in any part of the empire, of a value different from what it bore in the other parts of it, the same.

At first sight, the change of that by which the prices of every thing were to be affected appeared formidable, and calculated to lead to great confusion: practically, however, it had not proved so. The history of the coin of every country showed the facility with which changes in its value had been affected; and perhaps no country had been more liable to changes than Ireland itself.

He then traced the state of the current money of Ireland from the remote periods of its history, to the difference that was first established between that and the currency of England in the reign of Edward the fourth; the different attempts that had been made to bring them to the same standard in the reign of Elizabeth, and during the administration of lord Strafford; the state of the coin preceding the arrival of James the second; the measures adopted by that monarch in raising both the gold and silver; to the act of George the second, by which both the gold and silver were brought to the nominal value at which they now stand, of 8⅓ per cent above the value of the same coins in England.

The same inconveniences, he said, had been felt from the difference of currencies between England and Scotland previously to the union between those parts of the kingdom; and by the 16th article it was expressly stipulated, the currencies should be in future the same; and a part of that money which was to be received as indemnification, was made applicable to compensate those who should suffer by this change. The effect expected was produced; the exchange fell, and, with the exception of a short period, has continued fixed since that time, and by bills at a certain number of days, notwithstanding all the shocks to which the public credit has been exposed.

The inconvenience of an uncertain exchange, as attaching to all commercial transactions, was, he stated, felt in proportion to the increase of those transactions, which, he was happy to believe, as it regarded Ireland, owing to the repeal of the Union duties, and other measures lately taken, was likely to be most rapid. He then stated the imports and exports at different periods, and observed how the capital of Great Britain had gradually absorbed the foreign trade of Ireland, which was now chiefly carried on through British ports. The average of seven years exports from Ireland, according to official value,—

To Great Britain 504,492
Foreign Countries 540,051
Ending January 1792:
To Great Britain and Colonies, 4,180,000
Foreign Countries 1,207,000
Ending January 1823:
To Great Britain and Colonies, 7,850,000
Foreign Countries 302,547

The average of the first period made one-half the trade foreign.

Of the second ditto, nearly two-ninths.

Of the third ditto, not more than one twenty-seventh.

It was, however, less in respect to the policy of the measure on which he believed there was likely to be any doubt, than in respect to the mode in which it was to be carried into effect. This he proceeded to detail.

The actual currency or Ireland consisted in notes of the Bank of Ireland and of private Bankers, in bills of exchange, in sovereigns, guineas, and silver, of the different denominations used in England, and issued from the British Mint; in tokens issued at different periods, and under the authority of several acts of parliament (a great proportion of which had been called in), and partly of copper coined expressly for the use of Ireland, at the rate of thirteen-pence or twenty-six halfpennies to the shilling.

The Irish pounds and the Irish shilling, were therefore mere imaginary monies; the coin which was in circulation, with the exception of the copper, was British coin, passing according to the money of account, for nominally one-thirteenth more than its value as British currency. The copper coin, as was stated, being at one-thirteenth less than the copper money of Great Britain.

What he proposed was, to make the nominal money of account equal to the value of that of circulation, and raise the copper to the rate of that passing in England.

He admitted this latter, as affecting the lower orders, to be an important change; but argued, that the inconvenience arising from it could be only temporary, and that no real injury could be produced to them, either in their dealings or the value of their labour. If this change were the whole, there would be no necessity for a legislative measure, the prerogative of the Crown was sufficient to effect it, either by raising the value of the coin actually current, or by calling it in and issuing a new and more valuable coin in its place; the latter, though attended with some expense, he thought on many accounts, the most desirable course. What created the necessity of a legislative measure was, the regulation of contracts, either actually subsisting or hereafter to be entered into. With respect to the first, he stated, that as currency bears the proportion of 12/13ths to the nominal value, and that in every payment made 12/13ths of the value in current British coin, was deemed equivalent to the sum stipulated in nominal currency; that is, that 100l. British would be received as equal to 108l. 6s. 8d. Irish; this was the rule he should adopt, and declare that every subsisting contract, having reference to Irish currency, should be taken to be satisfied by repayment of 12/13ths of the sum stipulated in the currency of Great Britain. This, it is true, would nominally reduce the amount due by 1/13th, but the value of what was due would be unaltered, and the sum received would, after the measure had taken place, be precisely the same as before.

With respect to contracts to be entered into, he proposed to enact, that after a day to be fixed in the bill, they should all have reference to British currency. No inconvenience should arise from this, except from the ignorance of one of the parties, and this he could propose to provide against by measures that might give the most general publicity to the provisions of the bill.

The debt of Ireland, which was now stated in Irish currency, he proposed should hereafter be reduced to its amount in British currency, and become nominally what it was in reality. No injury by this would be suffered by the public creditor, whose interests would continue to enjoy the same protection as before; the same sum in principal or interest would still be receivable, although the nominal amount of both would undergo a diminution.

He should propose that all books of account, in which the public had any interest, should be in future kept in British currency. The chief branches of the Revenue were already assessed in this currency; they were then converted into Irish, and when the accounts were to be rendered to the treasury or to parliament, again converted into British. The inconvenience of this practice was obvious, and it would be removed by the provisions he had stated.

With respect to Bank notes which now circulated, and had been issued with reference to Irish currency, they consisted of those of the bank of Ireland, and those of private bankers. He should not propose the calling in either one description or the other, but that all notes that were issued in future, either by the Bank of Ireland or the private banks, should have reference to British currency. The Bank of Ireland, he understood, compounded for their stamp duties, and were not in the habit of re-issuing the notes that returned to them; to that body, therefore, the provision could produce no inconvenience. The private bankers were, however, in a different situation; they did not compound, and had the privilege of reissuing any note returned to them during three years from its date; the depriving them of this privilege without compensation, would be an injustice, and the compensation he should propose was, that for all notes returned to them within a year from their date, if sent to the stamp office, they should be allowed the full amount of the stamps; if during the second year, ¾ths of the amount; and if during the third, one half. This compensation he felt to be a very liberal one, and had reason to believe it would be perfectly satisfactory. There were minor details, with which he did not think it necessary to trouble the committee. These were the general principles and provisions of the measure he had to propose, and to these he did not anticipate any objection. He certainly had heard some fears expressed; among others, an apprehension that it might be the means of the money being at times drawn from Ireland to this country; this, he argued at some length, could not be the case; and even supposing the danger not to be as visionary as he believed, the remedy of an inferior currency was an evil that infinitely outweighed it.—He was aware of the prejudices that it was liable to, but these prejudices must always be encountered; if they were an argument now, they were so at all times, and he did not see that any period was likely to arise in which they might be encountered with less apprehension than at present. He did not, he said, propose this as a measure of great political importance, but of considerable practical convenience. If it did not take away the exchange between the countries, it would settle and fix its rate; it would facilitate the transactions, and convert the trade between the two countries into a really home trade, with all the advantages belonging to it. Above all, and to which he attached the greatest moment, it would remove a great subsisting distinction, and by so doing tend to draw closer the bonds of union and encourage a diffusion of British capital throughout Ireland, and, by affording means of employment, probably have some share in alleviating the distress and poverty which had been the parent of all the crimes and disorders by which Ireland has been so long disgraced and afflicted.—The right hon. gentleman then moved the following resolutions:

  1. "That the pound sterling in Great Britain and Ireland respectively is, according to the currency of each, divisible into twenty shillings; and that the shilling in Great Britain and Ireland respectively is, according to the said currency of each, divisible into twelve-pence; but that the silver coin which represents a shilling of the money of Great Britain, is paid, accepted and taken as representing one shilling and one penny of the currency of Ireland, and the pound sterling of the currency of Great Britain, is, at the par of exchange, paid, accepted and deemed as equivalent to one pound one shilling and eight pence of the currency of Ireland; and that any sum of British currency, is at the same par of exchange, paid accepted and deemed as equivalent to an amount of pounds shillings and pence of the currency of Ireland, greater by one-twelfth part than the amount of pounds shillings and pence, of the currency of Great Britain contained in such sum; and that any sum of Irish currency is, at the same par of exchange, paid, accepted and deemed as equivalent to an amount of pounds shillings and pence of the currency of Great Britain, less by one-thirteenth part than the amount of pounds shillings and pence of the currency of Ireland contained in such sum.
  2. "That as great complexity of accounts between persons residing within the different parts of the same United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and other inconveniences, arise from the said difference of currency, it is the 580 opinion of this House, That it is desirable to assimilate the currency of Ireland to the currency of Great Britain, without disturbing the relation between debtor and creditor, and to make hereafter one uniform currency for the United Kingdom.
  3. "That it is expedient that the values of the monies of account in Ireland, and monies of account in Great Britain, should in all cases whatever be assimilated to each other.
  4. "That it is expedient that all duties constituting the public revenues of Ireland, should be calculated and received, by the several departments under which they are collected, in the currency of the United Kingdom; and that all books and accounts kept in relation to such duties, and all accounts in which the public have any interest, should be kept and stated in the said currency of the United Kingdom, and in no other.
  5. "That it is expedient that the public debt in Ireland should cease to be estimated in Irish currency, and that in all accounts thereof the same shall be stated at its amount in the currency of the United Kingdom; and all sums payable for interest in respect of the said debt, should be calculated and paid in the said currency of the United Kingdom.
  6. "That it is expedient that all existing salaries, allowances, pensions, duties and debts, and all contracts, agreements, and stipulations for the payment of money, having reference to Irish currency, shall be deemed to be fully discharged and satisfied by payment according to the amount in British currency, calculated at the rate of twelve thirteenth parts of the amount stipulated to be paid in Irish currency.
  7. "That it is expedient, that from and after the period of assimilating the Irish to the British currency, all contracts, agreements, and stipulations, involving or implying the payment of money, should be held to be entered into in reference to money of the value arid description of that now circulating in Great Britain, unless the contrary be made to appear.
  8. "That it is expedient, that in pursuance of any proclamation to be issued by his majesty, the several coins of Great Britain should circulate in Ireland at the same nominal as well as at the same real value as in other parts of the United Kingdom.
  9. 581
  10. "That it is expedient that all copper coin of the currency of Ireland, be permitted to be brought to the Bank o Ireland, in pursuance of any proclamation to be issued by his majesty, and that there be deliverd at the said Bank of Ireland a sum in the current copper coin of Great Britain, after the rate of twelve-pence of the English copper coin for thirteen pence of the Irish copper coin."

Sir J. Newport

expressed his concurrence in the principle of the measure, though he feared it would be attended with considerable difficulty in the execution. It might certainly excite some degree of alarm, and ought therefore to be accompanied with such modifications as might allay any feelings of apprehension on the part of the people of Ireland.

Mr. L. Foster

approved of the principle of the measure, and thought there would be no difficulty in getting over the obstacles opposed to it. He believed that in two months after it should pass into a law, it might be brought into practical operation.

Sir H. Parnell

thanked the right hon. gentleman and the government for having brought before parliament a subject, which was so well calculated to facilitate the commercial intercourse between England and Ireland.

Mr. Grenfell

approved of the plan, and thought the present was the best time for carrying it into effect. The copper coin of Ireland was circulating, at nearly double the value of copper in the market; holding out the greatest temptation to counterfeit money. A new copper coinage would increase the size of the Irish pence and halfpence; and that alone would reconcile the lower orders in Ireland to the present measure.

Mr. M. Fitzgerald

returned his thanks to the right hon. gentleman opposite for the very salutary measure of which he had just stated the outline to the committee. He did not anticipate any of those practical difficulties from it, which had been mentioned by some of his hon. friends. On the contrary, he was certain that it would tend much to the simplification of the present system; and by so doing, would greatly benefit the commerce of Ireland.

Mr. John Martin

suggested to the right hon. gentleman the expediency of issuing a coinage of silver threepences. We had formerly had silver pence and silver twopences; and the recurrence to such a currency would be a measure of very great and very general convenience.

The resolutions were agreed to.