HC Deb 15 July 1842 vol 65 cc179-81
Sir G. Clerk

moved the Order of the Day, for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.

Mr. C. Wood

said, he had given notice of his intention to put a question to the First Lord of the Treasury, upon going into committee of supply, as to the power of cutting or defacing light gold coin; but as the right hon. Baronet was absent, perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give him art answer. It was unnecessary for him to remind the House, that a short time ago, a proclamation was issued with reference to the great quantity of light gold that was in circulation. Great alarm was excited by that proclamation; and dishonest individuals taking advantage of that alarm, had exacted from the holders of light gold, much larger deductions than the actual deficiency of weight justified. Whether proper precautions had or had not been taken by Government before issuing that proclamation, he would not stop to inquire; but of this he was quite sure, that the evil arising from the circulation of light gold had arrived at a height which required the immediate interference of Government. All that they could do, was to call the attention of the public to the matter, by issuing a proclamation. That proclamation, in fact, only pointed out the actual state pf the Jaw, but he believed, that the alarm which had been excited was in a great degree caused by the suddenness with which the law on the subject was made known. He did not know what was the state of the law relative to the gold coinage previous to the re-coinage in 774. Before that time he doubted whether allowance was made for the wear of the current gold coin. By an act passed in 1774, all persons were not only authorised, but required, to cut or deface any gold coin below the current weight, as fixed by the King's proclamation, and the person holding the coin was compelled to bear the loss. In 1776, a proclamation was issued, declaring what the weight of a guinea ought to be; and from that time, the Bank and other persons marked such guineas as were tendered to them, and were not of the current standard. The consequence was, that the marked coin no longer passed current. As the guineas gradually became light, they were gradually withdrawn from circulation. No alarm was excited, and no inconvenience felt, beyond the trilling loss on each coin, The extent to which this went, is proved by the fact, that between 1777, and the period of the Bank restriction, in 1797, no less than 17,500,000l. of light gold was brought to be re-coined at the Mint. Such was the law and the practice up to 1797, when cash payments were suspended. When, after the return to a metallic currency, sovereigns were substituted for guineas, a proclamation was issued in 1821, fixing the allowance for wear, and sovereigns below a certain weight, were, of course, not legally current. A doubt, however, existed as to the state of the law with respect to cutting and defacing gold under the standard weight. He (Mr. Wood) did not understand, that the act of 1774 was repealed, but the last act on the subject of the coin, gave the power of cutting such coin only, as should be suspected" to be diminished otherwise than by fair wear, or to be counterfeit." Owing to this doubt as to the power of cutting sovereigns diminished in weight, by fair wear only, the practice was discontinued, and thus, instead of being put out of circulation, such coins went on accumulating to a great amount, in the hands of the public, and the evil, lately experienced, became inevitable. It seemed to him exceedingly desirable, under these circumstances, not, perhaps, that all persons, but, certainly, that the Bank of England, and the officers of her Majesty's revenue, should be empowered and directed to cut and deface light gold so as to prevent its again coming into circulation. If light gold were cut and defaced in the first instance, it would soon be taken out of circulation, instead of, as at present, passing from band to hand for a considerable time. The question, then, which he wished to put to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was, whether any doubt existed as to the power of cutting and defacing light gold, which power was in existence up to the passing of the Bank Restriction Act, and if there was any doubt, whether Government was prepared to pass an act for the purpose of giving such power?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought it would be desirable, that the question relating to the power of cutting and defacing should be decided. It was one which had been subjected to legal inquiry, but there was a difference of opinion on the subject amongst legal men, There were two acts relating to the subject passed in 1772 and 3774; one of these enabled all persons to cut. and deface gold which had been improperly reduced, or which was counterfeit. The other gave the power of cutting all gold which was below weight. By the 2nd of William IV., the first of these acts was repealed, though again re-enacted in the same act of William, and the question was whether the 2nd of William repealed the other statute, a question which, as he said before, wash now under legal consideration.