HC Deb 13 December 1847 vol 95 cc970-4

wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state at what time he intended to propose the nomination of the Committee on Commercial Distress. He hoped his right hon. Friend would not leave the House in uncertainty as to the hour at which the question would be brought forward.


said, it was not in his power to declare at what hour the Motion would be made. He was anxious that the Committee should be nominated as soon as possible, in order that the Members composing it might agree upon the course they would pursue before the adjournment of the House. He would willingly propose the nomination of the Committee as soon as the Irish Crime and Outrage Bill should be read a third time, if the House would permit him.


was anxious, before the nomination of the Committee took place, to obtain the decision of the House as to the principles on which banking should hereafter be conducted. As it was intended that the House should adjourn on Monday next, he thought it would be advisable to postpone the appointment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Committee until after the House should meet again. There would then be time and opportunity for considering the whole question with greater coolness and calmness than could be looked for under the pressure of recent events, which had excited much alarm in the public mind. He was, unfortunately, unable to attend during the recent discussion; but, as far as he could perceive, the subject of free trade in banking was not enforced by any speaker. The subject was brought before the House by him in 1826 and 1839, and he was prepared to show that the Legislature would be obliged in the end, after all the experiments they had made, to adopt the principles which he then laid down.


said, the House had already decided that the Committee should be appointed, and therefore the only question which remained undecided respected the Members of the House of whom the Committee should be composed. It was very unusual to interpose with such a Motion as that of which the hon. Member for Montrose had given notice, on a proposal for nominating a Committee. The resolutions which the hon. Member had put upon the Paper that morning, were calculated to raise a discussion upon almost every debateable question in connexion with banking and the currency. In the first place, the hon. Member's resolutions would call for the opinion of the House relative to a silver standard. ["No, no!"] Well, the resolutions at least declared that the maintenance of the gold standard was essential, and that would call forth the opinions of all Members who entertained a contrary opinion. The resolutions also revived the question of the utility or otherwise of 1l. notes; in fact, each of the hon. Member's seven resolutions was calculated to give rise to a debate which would last a week. It was probable that, upon reflection, the hon. Member would see that it would be most inconvenient to propose such a string of resolutions on the question of nominating a Committee; and he did hope and trust that the hon. Member would not persevere in his Motion.


hoped that the indulgence of the House would be extended to him whilst he offered an explanation, which was called for by some remarks that had been applied to him by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth. It would be in the recollection of the House, that on Friday week the right hon. Baronet complained that he (Mr. Urquhart) had stated, on a previous evening, that the banking system of Scotland had been legislated for without due notice, and the right hon. Baronet at the same time charged him with having suppressed a portion of the words which he had used on making his statement to the House on the 6th of May, 1844. The explanation which he wished to offer to the House was this—that he derived his knowledge of what occurred in the House on the occasion referred to from the Times—a newspaper which was generally accurate in its reports of all currency debates; and to the accuracy of which the right hon. Baronet had himself borne testimony. With the permission of the House, he would read from the report in the Times the passage to which he referred:— Of Ireland and Scotland I have said nothing, for I have thought that the task of dealing with this country was sufficiently extensive, and I do not wish it should be complicated by the arrangements which the condition and necessities of other parts of the United Kingdom might render neces- sary. Let us, in the first place, establish our system of banking and issue upon sound principles in England, and let us reserve the affairs of Ireland and Scotland as matters of separate consideration. We ought not to permit anything to complicate those interests. They should be dealt with by separate means, and I have, therefore, excluded them from the operation of the present measure. Allow me, in this place, to remind the House that I have not proposed to legalise any new banks of issue, nor to permit the formation of any new joint-stock banks generally for the improvement of the system of joint-stock banking. These regulations, I repeat, are to be confined to England and Wales. I believe that in Scotland the circulation is rather diminishing than increasing; but with that at present we have nothing to do. Could there be a more formal, distinct, and public declaration that the Scotch system was not to be meddled with? and it is the right hon. Baronet who uttered these words on the 6th May, 1844, who declared the other evening that, on that very occasion, he gave, as Minister of the Crown, a formal, distinct and public notification to Scotland of his intention to interfere with its currency! My knowledge of the subject was, at the time, derived from the report in the Times; but the quotation I read in the House, and which had been furnished me by a friend, was not from the Times, and certainly there followed immediately on the passage I quoted, another which was a direct contradiction of it. This passage the right hon. Baronet quotes to the House, and on this he founds his charge of wilful suppression against me. Had I seen that passage, I should not have failed to use it. But that contradiction did not appear at the time: it appeared in Hansard's Debates, which is not in the hands of the public; and the speech of the right hon. Baronet is particularly marked as a "corrected" version. No doubt the right hon. Baronet had, in his speech of the 6th May, introduced ambiguous phrases; for the Times, in its summary, contradicts its report of the debate, and says that the measure was to extend to Scotland and Ireland; however, on the following day, and after due consultation, it wrote as follows:— The occasion of the present resolutions is purely English. A periodical opportunity offers for modifying the charter of the Bank of England. Accordingly, the Scottish and Irish banks are to be left wholly untouched. On the 20th of the same month the debate was resumed, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer having referred to the Scotch banks as being about to be subjected to the same regulations as the English banks, the right hon. Member for Tamworth said, "I did not say so." In the same debate, Mr. P. Stewart used these words, as appears by the Times report:— The right hon. Baronet is entitled to the thanks of the public for not having included Scotland or Ireland in the proposed measure; great prudence was shown in not raising such a hornets' nest around him. Those words were used in reply to the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets, who had reproached the right hon. Member for Tamworth with not having included the banks of Scotland in his measure. The first direct and intelligible intimation was given on the 4th of July, 1844. In answer to a question from Mr. Patrick Stewart, the right hon. Baronet said that he had no intention to legislate with respect to the Scotch banks; but in the same breath he declared that the Parliament had already legislated with respect to them. Now, he submitted that, looking to what took place in that House, he was justified in stating on a former occasion that the right hon. Baronet had declared it was not his intention to interfere with the Scotch banks, and that the right hon. Baronet was not warranted in alleging that he (Mr. Urquhart) had misrepresented him. The contradiction which one passage from the right hon. Baronet's speeches offered to the statements contained in another, did not legitimately afford to the right hon. Baronet the occasion to allege misrepresentation against those whom he misled.


said, that there could be no doubt as to what the intentions of the Government really were on the occasion referred to; for it was necessary that resolutions should be moved previously to the introduction of the Bill. The resolutions were eight or nine in number; and, although none of them interfered with the existing Scotch banks, one resolution did contain a positive prohibition against the establishment of any new bank of issue in that country. The prohibition, indeed, applied to all parts of the United Kingdom. The resolutions were printed; he was in constant communication with the bankers of Scotland, and he undertook to state that they all distinctly understood that their banking privileges were not to be interfered with by the Legislature of 1844, but that 110 new bank of issue could be instituted after the passing of the Banking Act of that year. There was no doubt what- ever as to the intention of the Government, and the hon. Member's mistake in this matter arose from his confounding his (Sir R. Peel's) declared intention not to interfere with the privileges of the existing Scotch banks with a supposed intention on his part not to propose any legislation whatever with respect to banks in Scotland. The prohibitory resolution, however, applied equally to the whole of the United Kingdom, and it was so distinctly understood at the time.