HC Deb 10 July 1832 vol 14 cc221-6
Mr. Hume

, in moving for Returns of the number of Forgeries that had been committed on the Bank, for the transfer of Stock, since the year 1800, adverted to a petition which had been intrusted to him by the creditors of Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy, and Co., complaining of the conduct of the Bank of England. He considered that this was a question in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was more concerned than any other man in the country, because it was his duty to take care that those persons who placed their property in the public funds, did not suffer any loss by the negligence of the agents of the Government. The present was exactly a case which bore upon this principle; and he, therefore, thought that it was one which ought to be settled by the noble Lord in his official capacity, and not by the Bank of England, who were parties interested in the results. The complaint that he had to make against the Bank was, that it had allowed Fauntleroy, by means of forged powers of attorney, to obtain possession of stock; and when the rightful owners applied for the transfer the Bank refused to allow it, and had succeeded in preventing it. This he held to be an act of gross injustice; and he called upon the House to interfere on that ground. The petitioners were the creditors of Marsh, Fauntleroy, and Co.; and the Bank had announced that they would not pay the interest, nor allow any transfer of the stock, unless the creditors, in the first instance, endeavoured to rank themselves for part payment out of the bankrupts' estate. The creditors, in reply to this, alleged that the Bank had no right to force them to establish their claim; and he was instructed by this petition to state, that three decisions in Courts of Law went to prove that the money which Fauntleroy had thus fraudulently received, had never been put into the common banking stock of the house of which he was one of the partners; from which it clearly appeared, that these persons had no claim upon the assets of this banking concern. Since the detection of the forgeries, it had been discovered that for seventeen years this system of forgery had been carried on by Fauntleroy, entirely owing to the neglect and inattention of the servants of the Bank. From 1807 to 1824, Fauntleroy was thus in the habit of transferring stock on forged powers, till at last nearly 300,000l. had been transferred from the real owners. During that period, on several occasions, doubts arose, on the part of the officers appointed to inspect the powers of attorney, as to the genuineness of the signatures; and the Bank actually took security from Fauntleroy that they were true and proper signatures; after which it was content to prosecute no further inquiry. Under all these circumstances, he contended that the Bank had been to blame; and had, therefore, no right to endeavour to screen itself by forc- ing those who had suffered through these forgeries, to prove on the joint estate of the bankrupts. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the following Return: "Of all Forgeries committed since the year 1800, in the signatures of Transfers of Government Stocks or Securities, in the books kept at the Bank of England, or in Powers of Attorney, for making such Transfers; together with the dates of such Transfers and Powers, the times when, and the names of the persons by whom such Forgeries were respectively committed; the particulars and amount of Stock so affected to be transferred under such Forgeries, and whether, and at what times, and by whom, the names of such Stockholders have been replaced in the Bank books, and the Dividends thereof paid, and whether with or without suit, and whether unconditionally, or upon any and what conditions imposed by the Bank of England upon the Stockholder."

Sir Edward Sugden

, having been retained as counsel for the creditors, would, if he were in another place, make use of the expression that he was on the same side as the hon. Gentleman, though, of course, he could not pretend to vie with him in ability, or in his knowledge of the law: nor, he trusted, should he imitate the hon. Gentleman in that confusion of facts with which he had indulged the House. But, though it would be much to the interest of his clients to receive the sanction of the House, he felt that he had a still higher duty to perform, as a Member of the Legislature, and in that capacity he begged to enter his protest against the proceeding of the hon. Gentleman. The point at issue had gone through all the Courts of Westminster Hall, and was now pending in the House of Lords, where it would be finally decided in a short time; and he, therefore, asserted, that nothing could be more improper or indecorous than for the petitioners to bring the point before the House of Commons on an exparte statement at such a juncture. Another thing which he was bound to say was, that the hon. Gentleman did not seem to be acquainted with one-fortieth of the facts of the case, and had actually confounded the persons in whose name the stock was standing, with those who claimed against the estate of Marsh and Co.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

took the same view of the case as the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down, and thought it extremely inconvenient to bring such a matter before the House, when it was still undergoing discussion in the Courts of Law. The Bank was not fairly chargeable with negligence, for though it was true that a variance frequently took place between the hand-writing of the powers of attorney, and of the names of the parties forged upon, yet that was easily accounted for by the fact, that in many cases, transfers were effected by persons labouring under severe indisposition. He was sorry to say any thing that would in any way reflect upon any person; but it was a fact, that Messrs. Graham and Stracey, the partners of Mr. Fauntleroy, had in one instance acted upon one of those forged powers of attorney, which of itself was a proof that the forgeries were well executed. When a Motion, therefore, was made with a view to calling on the House of Commons to take the management of the public debt out of the hands of the Bank of England, on the ground of negligence in this matter, he felt bound to state the particulars of the case.

Sir Edward Sugden

trusted that the hon. Alderman would not persevere in a course that was calculated to prejudice the case pending in the Courts of Law.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

said, he felt all the delicacy of the situation in which he then stood, but one observation he could not help making. The Bank of England only called upon those persons, whose names had been forged, to prove against the firm of Marsh and Co., for their debts, as a condition upon which they were to have their stock replaced, in order that the Bank of England might receive the dividends to which they were entitled. Only one person had refused to avail himself of the offer, and he was interested in the bank of Marsh and Co. The Bank of England would thus have been entitled to dividends to the extent of 100,000l., but not a shilling had been received by it as yet. As the feelings of the House appeared to be against his entering into further particulars, he would abstain, and would only say, in conclusion, that the Bank had pursued the only course which it could do in justice to the proprietors.

Sir Charles Wetherell

would take on himself to say, that the hon. member for Middlesex did not understand one fact of the whole case; at all events, he had not stated one fact correctly from the begin- ning to the end of his speech. The hon. Gentleman had certainly quoted from the petition, and it might happen that he had been deceived in that way, as it sometimes happened to the most eminent counsel to be imposed on by their clients, when they had not industry or penetration enough to look through the brief for themselves; but still he would venture to say, that such egregious errors as the hon. Gentleman had committed, had never been committed by a counsel with or without a brief. The hon. Member had thought proper to attack the Bank for not paying the dividends, when the real fact was, that the Bank paid them so soon as the creditors had consented to prove against the joint estate of the bankrupts. Therefore, without meaning anything disrespectful, he must take the liberty of telling the hon. member for Middlesex, that he did not understand one particle of the brief that he had opened.

Lord Althorp

said, he could not see how Government was at all interested in this question, or why his attention should have been particularly called to it by the hon. member for Middlesex. He thought the conduct of the Bank was quite fair. The Directors only said to the stockholders whose stock had been forged upon, "If we pay you your stock, you must enable us to prove against Marsh and Co., so that we may receive the dividends." Surely the public creditor had nothing to do with an arrangement like this, than which nothing could be more fair.

Mr. James L. Knight

said, it was always objectionable to bring questions of private rights before the House, but more particularly so when, as in the present case, they were brought there under false pretences. The only person whose claim had not been satisfied by the Bank of England was Sir Edward Stracey, and he would not have his stock replaced on the condition annexed. If the hon. Member should present the petition which had been alluded to, he should oppose its reception.

Mr. Freshfield

said, that although the stock had not been replaced, yet no arrears of dividends were allowed to accrue upon it, for they were paid regularly every half year to the holders of the stock. The Bank had done every thing to suit the convenience of the stockholders, and had, in fact, done every thing except actually replacing the stock which had been sold out under the forged powers of attorney.

Mr. Hume

had stated the facts as they were brought under his notice, and he did not believe that he was in error in any one statement that he had made to the House.

Motion agreed to.