§ MR. REYNOLDS
, in moving for a Select Committee to inquire into, and report upon, the circumstances connected with the failure of the St. Peter's Parish Savings Bank, in Cuffe-street, Dublin, said, that late in the last Session a Select Committee was appointed to inquire and report on the savings banks of Ireland, and that after sitting for eight days they reported that, owing to the late period of the Session they had found themselves unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion, and were of opinion that further inquiry should take place, but that they thought it expedient even in that Session that an Act should be passed regulating the liabilities of trustees, and for the audit of the accounts of savings banks. In accordance with that recommendation a Bill was introduced and had passed into a law. Now, the bank which was the immediate subject of his present Motion was established in 1818, with a duo complement of trustees, managers, and actuary. They opened an account with the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt; they received deposits, and exhibited all the exteriors of prosperity within. He found that upon one occasion the deposits exceeded 300,000l., and were seldom under 200,000l. But in February, 1831, the actuary absconded, and it was found that he had been guilty of malversation of the money of the bank. A full statement of his delinquencies was transmitted to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, in London; and that central authority deputed a gentleman whose name was well known in Ireland as well as in England (Mr. Tidd Pratt), to visit the savings bank in Cuffe-street, Dublin, to inquire and report on the frauds that had been committed, and to arbitrate and decide upon the accounts of the unfortunate depositors. The trustees and managers threw open their books for his inspection; and he (Mr. Reynolds) might say for the trustees of that day, that, collectively and individually, they were solvent and respectable men. Mr. Tidd Pratt found, by 23 the annual accounts of the bank, that they had to their credit a surplus with the Commissioners of about 3,500l, and in theirown (the trustees) hands, of 27,772l. 12s. 5d. more. Nevertheless, Mr. Tidd Pratt entered upon the investigation, and found that about 8,000L had been received by the actuary and not accounted for, and he decided that the 3,500l. surplus should be made available for the payment of part of the deficiency, and awarded in round numbers 4,000l. against the funds of the bank, and that the other 4,000l. should remain unpaid. Having made that rope-of-sand arrangement, Mr. Tidd Pratt returned to London, and made his report to his masters. He was examined before the Committee, and was asked how the bank could be insolvent to the extent of 8,000l when it appeared to have a surplus of 32,000l.? He was a little puzzled at the question, and could not answer it to his (Mr. Reynolds's) satisfaction. What had followed? The trustees told Mr. Tidd Pratt the bank was in a state of insolvency, and said they had better wind it up and divide the assets pro ratâ amongst the depositors. But that gentleman said, "No; keep the bank open; you are in good credit. Depend on the surplus profits for the payment of this balance." They did so. AH the trustees but three retired, and so things continued until 1839. They annually transmitted their accounts to the Commissioners. It appeared that in 1832 they made a profit above the expenses of 4,476l. 10s. 5d., which, with the former surplus, amounted to 35,959l. In 1833, the annual account transmitted by them to the Commissioners showed a deficiency of 3,671l. 12s. 2d., showing a total deficiency, considering the former surplus, of 39,630?., lost by fraud and speculation in twenty-four months. In 1834, the deficiency of the bank was 7,004l. 4s. 9d.; in 1835, 13,624l. 16s. 4d.; in 1836, 19,143l. 10s. 6d.; in 1837, 18,589l. 9s. 8d.; in 1838, 25,871l. 6s. 6d.; in 1839, 24,123l. 12s. 11d.; in 1840, 23,019l. 15s. 2d.; 1841, 21,736l. 11s. 8d.; in 1842, 20,621l. 7s. 7d.; in 1843, 20,862l. 19s. 11d.; 1844, 19,964l. 3s. 10d.; in 1845, 18,456l. 12s. 11d.; in 1846, 20,541l. 2s.; and in 1847, 32,922l. 16s. 1d. This statement rested on the best authority, that of Mr. Hyam, of the National Debt Office, who was examined before the Committee, and admitted that he and the various Chancellors of the Exchequer, with their assistants, from 1831 to 1847 inclusive, were aware of the fact that 24 the Cuffe-street savings bank was insolvent, and unable to pay. And yet they permitted the servants and the artisans of Dublin to lodge their savings in this bank during all that period. After the most diligent inquiry that could be made, it was found that 50,000l. was now due to 1,664 persons, belonging to this unfortunate class of the inhabitants of Dublin. There was only 83l. to the credit of the bank to meet this large sum. But this Mr. Tidd Pratt had calumniated his (Mr. Rey-nolds) fellow-countrymen. In reporting to the Lords of the Treasury on the state of the Tralee and Killarney savings banks, he said that the depositors who came before him belonged to a class of persons for whom these institutions were never intended—that the money was invested in many cases to avoid the payment of rent, and by persons who lived on charity and were in the actual receipt of indoor and outdoor relief; and that the inquiry was rendered most painful in consequence of the utter disregard of truth, the falsehood and subornation of perjury displayed by the claimants. Such was the sweeping and wholesale allegation against the inhabitants of a county who were remarkable for their good order and their industry, the best proof of which was, that they had lodged no less than 80,000l. in the savings banks of Tralee and Killarney. Well, a trial took place at the last assizes in Kerry in connexion with this affair. Mr. Tidd Pratt was one of the witnesses; and would the House believe that this gentleman, who accused the inhabitants of a whole county of falsehood and subornation of perjury, admitted on cross-examination during the trial that he did not examine a single witness on oath? When asked what was subornation of perjury, he was silent. There were 2,700,000l. in the Irish savings banks in 1844, belonging to 100,000 individuals. Were they to be at the mercy of a flippant barrister, who could thus calumniate them with perfect impunity? He tried his hand at calumniating the Cuffe-street depositors also. But when he (Mr. Reynolds) informed the House that the average due to each of the 1,664 depositors of that bank was only 27l., the House would be able to judge what class the depositors belonged to, and could estimate the wide-spread misery which its failure must have occasioned. He had witnessed the most distressing scenes in Dublin during the last eighteen months in consequence of it. It was impossible for the House to imagine 25 the wide-spread misery that the failure of this savings bank had occasioned—misery which, so far as he had seen, was unparalleled in the history of human suffering. He knew an industrious man, a bookseller, who had lost his wife, and was left with five children. This man had lodged 160l. in the bank, and his anxiety of mind on its failure brought on a brain fever, which turned to typhus. He died, leaving his five children penniless, and three of the children ill of typhus fever. He had known of some instances of suicide from the same cause. Whenever a claim had been made on that House for the relief of Irish distress (and he said it to their credit), they had always responded to it liberally and generously; but he had also usually hoard it asserted at such times that the poverty of the Irish was owing to their want of self-reliance. But no such want could be alleged against these 1,664 unfortunate depositors, who had accumulated 50,000l., and had invested it in a bank which they believed to afford a Government security. But it appeared now that these funds were neither secured by the public exchequer nor by the Act of Parliament. The trustees refused to produce their books; and if the depositors ever got them, a period of two years must elapse before the final decision of the court of law; and even then the case might be carried, by appeal, to the House of Lords. If, however, the books were produced, the depositors could make nothing of them after the verdict obtained in his favour by Mr. Fitzgerald at Tralee. Not a penny could be recovered, because the law of 1844 interfered. He might be asked what claim these depositors had upon the public exchequer? And he replied, that the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt were aware of the insolvency of the bank, and it was their duty to have had it closed. Of the 50,000l. of deposits, 1,3,000l. had been deposited previous to 1844, and 37,000l. since that year, no portion of either of which sums could, for various legal reasons, be recovered. The Cuffe-street savings bank in 1839 got into difficulty for the second time. The Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt had at that time repeatedly written to the trustees pointing out the unsatisfactory state of the affairs of the bank, and suggesting an inquiry into the accounts. On the 19th of January, 1839, the Commissioners wrote to the trustees to say that nothing short of a thorough investigation of the accounts 26 of the institution by a professional accountant could be satisfactory; and the Commissioners further expressed a willingness, on obtaining the consent of the trustees, to send a professional accountant to examine the affairs of the bank. The answer returned by the trustees was, that they by no means concurred in the proposal of the Commissioners, the necessity for such a step being in their opinion best answered by the last year's accounts, a copy of which they transmitted to the Commissioners. Mr. Tidd Pratt being hereupon consulted by the Commissioners gave it as his opinion that they had no power to compel the trustees and managers to allow the accounts of the bank to be investigated; and he further stated that he had no doubt the apparent deficiency might be satisfactorily explained if an investigation took place. It was thereupon the duty of the Commissioners to have come down to that House, and demanded an Act of Parliament, empowering them to conduct such an investigation; and the Commissioners had most grossly neglected their duty, in allowing the bank to remain open, when, under the Act of George IV., they had the power to close it, by directing the Bank of Dublin to refuse to receive any more deposits from the Cuffe-street savings bank, and to close their accounts, and to advertise that circumstance in the public papers. The Commissioners had also the power to compel the trustees to post up in the office of the Cuffe-street bank a verbatim copy of the annual accounts of the bank, so that the unfortunate depositors might know the state of the bank—all which they had neglected to do. In the year 1844 there were 20,000 depositors in the savings banks in Dublin, who probably all believed that these institutions were established for the safe custody of the earnings of the poor. The returns relative to saving banks in Ireland in 1844 gave a total of 91,243 depositors, the amount of whose investments was 2,749,017l. Now, the failure of the Cuffe-street bank was a proof that there was no protection for these depositors except in the integrity of the managers and trustees' of these banks. In the United Kingdom in 1844 the grand total of depositors in the savings banks, including friendly and charitable societies, was 1,012,047, and the total amount of their investments was 31,275,636?. The accounts of the Cuffe-street savings' bank, according to the evidence of Mr. Higham, exhibited in 1835 a deficiency of 13,624?., 27 which gradually increased until the deficiency amounted in 1838 to 25,371l. The deficiency fluctuated slightly during the years from 1838 to 1847, but was never less than 18,456l., and in 1847 the deficiency amounted to 32,922l. The Commissioners had, notwithstanding, allowed the bank to go on, and these unfortunate depositors to he robbed of their earnings, when they might at any moment have stopped the bank. In the name of these 1,664 depositors, who had committed no crime, he implored the House to agree to his Motion, and grant him a Select Committee, to inquire into all the facts of the case and report to the House. Although the trustees might defy the power of the Queen's Bench, they could not dispute the authority of that House, and they must produce their books before that Committee. Would he saddle the public treasury with the payment of this 50,000l.? He avowed that he would, if it ought morally and legally to make good that amount. He might be told that the public treasury was at a low ebb. He did not believe it; and, if it were so, the honour of the country, the character of the House, and the integrity of those who had been at the helm during the last fourteen years, were deeply involved in the investigation of this question. He begged to point out to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt had made a profit of 300,000l. by the deposits of the savings banks surplus balances. He thought a portion of that sum might fairly be devoted to such a purpose as the present. It belonged to no one, and he advised the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he happened to want money, to fall back on that source of revenue. He besought the House, on behalf of these depositors, not only in the name of justice, but also in the name of mercy and compassion, to agree to his Motion; and, if they desired to save these persons from utter and total ruin, to grant them the Committee which they sought.
§ MR. NAPIER
seconded the Motion, and thought that, after the able speech of the hon. Member for the city of Dublin, there could be no doubt of the necessity for a full and searching inquiry into this case by a Committee of that House. Having been retained by the trustees in the suit before the Court of Queen's Bench, he was able to assure the House from them, that so far was it from their wish to throw any difficulties in the way of a searching 28 inquiry, he was authorised to say they were not only willing, but desirous, to state the real facts of the case before a Committee of that House. The point at issue between the trustees and Mr. Tidd Pratt was, whether that gentleman was empowered, under the Act of Parliament, to ascertain the question of the personal responsibility of the trustees, who were unwilling to submit so large a question to his adjudication, as it would have given him the power to fix a personal responsibility of some thousands upon each trustee. Accordingly, when Mr. Tidd Pratt demanded to inspect the books, with a view to fix the trustees with personal responsibility, the trustees replied that they were willing to concede the inspection as a matter of favour, but not as a matter of right, and that they could not allow his claim to inspect the books for the particular purpose of fixing their personal responsibility. The Court of Queen's Bench, on being appealed to, said the question was an important one, and they would not give an opinion, but granted a mandamus, so that the question of law might be raised on the return of that mandamus. The trustees, therefore, assured him (Mr. Napier) that if a Select Committee were granted, they were anxious to expose every hook and paper in their possession before that Committee. It was now understood that the trustees would contest the matter no longer in the Court of Queen's Bench; they were, however, perfectly ready to lay everything before the Committee. And this, also, they were fully prepared to do—they were prepared to contest the power or authority of Mr. Tidd Pratt to fix upon them any degree of personal responsibility. Upon these grounds, then, he took upon himself to say, without any hesitation, that there never was a case fitter for the consideration of the House of Commons than that which arose out of this matter of the savings banks. In the hands, then, of the House he left it, with full confidence that the authority of Parliament would cause these unfortunate deficiencies to be made good by the parties who were liable, according to every principle of justice and honour, to pay the money, and by those only. They all had heard of the arbitration that had taken place, how the arbitrators had agreed to differ, and how then, but not until then, Mr. Tidd Pratt had been called in lie presumed that he need scarcely remind the House, because it was a matter well known to all who paid the least attention 29 to these subjects, that it was the duty of the Commissioners to take care that all accounts connected with savings banks should be accurately and correctly kept. The Commissioners possessed the power at all times to call for those accounts; and if the trustees, in any respect, neglected their duty, the Commissioners had a power which, in all fitting cases, they ought to exercise; they had a power to close the whole accounts of the bank. He greatly regretted to observe what had been the course of legislation in this matter; it was to reduce, from time to time, the responsibility of the trustees; but, in proportion as that responsibility was reduced, so was the moral obligation of the Commissioners increased. Precisely in the same degree as the trustees were relieved, so should the vigilance of the Commissioners be awakened. Now, with respect to the particular bank at present under consideration, there was every reason to believe that, if the accounts had been closed in 1845, the assets would have been sufficient to pay the depositors as much as 18s. 6d. in the pound; but, at present, the poor people could get little or nothing lie had been, as he had already stated, professionally consulted in this matter; and though he gave his clients a professional opinion, yet he told them what he was ready to say over again in that House, that he never should permit any such consideration to interfere with the full and free performance of his duty as a Member of that House. As regarded the Motion of the hon. Member for the city of Dublin, he had no difficulty in saying that the trustees ought most earnestly to desire a full and complete investigation; everything should be sifted to the utmost, and if everything were clear and satisfactory, and that no fraud had been committed, all the parties concerned would have reason to rejoice if otherwise, the public ought peremptorily to demand the most minute and rigid investigation; because, without such inquiry, he did not see how it would be possible to remove imputations of a kind that would affix a stain upon the private reputation of any man.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into, and report upon, the circumstances connected with the failure of the St. Peter's Parish Savings Bank, in Cuffe-street, Dublin, and into any security or liability that may exist for the satisfaction of the losses thereby occasioned.
§ MR. H. A. HERBERT
rose to move 30 that the inquiries of the proposed Committee be extended to the savings banks at Auchterarder, in Scotland, and Tralee and Killarney, in Ireland. He had received a communication requesting him to add the name of Auchterarder, and he did so with every reason to believe that as regarded that place there were good grounds for inquiry. With respect to the cases of Tralee and Killarney, he found himself perfectly prepared to make out such a case as could not leave a shadow of doubt that they ought to be included within the scope of the intended inquiry; and in bringing this part of the subject under the notice of the House, he hoped that it would be felt that he was not outstepping his duty as an Irish member. In the month of April, in addition to the other misfortunes which befel the inhabitants of the county which he had the honour to represent, and which they endured in common with the other inhabitants of Ireland—in addition to the distress which they had to bear, the people of Tralee—the county town of Kerry—heard it announced, to their great consternation, that the savings bank in that town was no longer solvent. The actuary did not abscond, but submitted to be tried for the fraud. The deficiency in the case was 34,000l., there being only 1,600l in the hands of the Treasury. At Killarney, where a similar event took place, the claims were 36,000l., the available assets being 16,000l. The actuary at Killarney, he understood, wont off to America. But before he proceeded further with this case he wished to call the attention of the House to the following clause in the Act of 1844:—And be it enacted. That no trustee or manager of any savings hank shall he liable to make good any deficiency which may hereafter arise in the funds of any savings bank, unless such persons shall have respectively declared by writing under their hands and deposited with the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt that they are willing so to be answerable; and it shall he lawful for each of such persons, or for such persons collectively, to limit his or their responsibility to such sum as shall be specified in any such instrument.If the law generally—not merely that Act, but if legal rights had been strictly enforced, there might have been tolerably good security for the depositors in savings banks. But what compensation would it be now to the depositors who bad suffered to tell them that there never had been any regular system of inspection or superintendence, and no machinery by which the 31 law could be earned into effect? To him it appeared most extraordinary that no mode or system existed for carrying out the law. There was every reason to believe that country gentlemen, both in England and Ireland, consented to become trustees with a view to promote the interests of the poor in their own immediate neighbourhood, but it was greatly to be regretted that they were afterwards very often disposed to leave the affairs of savings banks too much in the hands of the actuaries; and he also thought it was much to be regretted that in the Act to which he had referred, the interests of the rich were more consulted than those of the poor. For that measure those who introduced it were responsible; he begged it, however, to be understood that he made this remark without the least wish to set one class against another, for doubtless the Bill in question had been brought in with the best intentions; all he meant to suggest was, that when responsibility was removed or diminished, measures for increased vigilance ought to have been adopted; for instances of mismanagement and fraud were in many cases but too apparent. He would take one account furnished to and passed at the National Debt Office. It was an account by the actuary of the Killarney bank, ending November, 1844. It stated that there were 129 depositors above 50l. and not exceeding 100l.; they were set down as producing only 6,125l. 6s. 4d., while it must be evident to every one who heard him that the amount could not be less than 6,450l. The next item was 26 depositors of above 100l, and not exceeding 150l., returned in the account as yielding a sum of 2,409l. 5s. 6d., whereas nothing could be more clear than that 26 depositors of not less than 100l must, at the very lowest computation, yield 2,600l., showing a fraud on the face of the account respecting the two items of at the least 516l. In the succeeding year the following account was furnished:—131 depositors above 50l. and not exceeding 100l., yielding 6,123l. 5s. 6d., which, at the least, must have been 6,550l., showing a fraud of 427l. From the account furnished by the same actuary in the month of November, 1847, it appeared that he returned—74 depositors above 50l. and not exceeding 100l., which he brought out as 3,422l. 1s. 6d.; it must have been 3,700l; 41 depositors above 100l., and not exceeding 150l., which he brought out as 1,351l, 18s. 2d.; it must 32 have been 4,100l: 15 depositors above 150l. and not exceeding 200l., which he brought out as 1,275l. 4s. 2d.; it must have been 2,250l.—showing a fraud on the face of the account of at the least 4,002l. It might be said, that the Secretary at the National Debt Office was not responsible for this. It was, however, greatly to be regretted that the attention of the trustees had not been called to those striking and evident fallacies. Here was the case of an account, made out in a most discreditable manner, being put to a certain public body of Commissioners, and they saying that they had no business to look into it. Surely it was time that the House of Commons should put an end to such a mockery. He would now come to another exemplification of the system. There was a poor man of the name of Goodwin, a coast guard; he died in the year 1829, leaving three sons, whose names respectively were Michael, Francis, and John. On the 11th of May, 1829, he deposited in their names and for their use three sums of 24l. 18s. 11d. Their guardians deposited for each of them subsequently the following sums respectively—on the 25th of July, 1842, three sums of 16l. 3s. 1d.; July 13, 1846, three sums of 7l.; and May 3,1847, three sums of 30l., making in the whole, for Michael Goodwin, 97l. 14s. 4d.; a few shillings having been withdrawn by consent of his guardians; for Francis Goodwin, 98?. 3s. 1d.; and for John Goodwin, 98l. 15s. 8d. Upon the claims of these parties, the following award was made by Mr. Tidd Pratt:—I do award, adjudge, and determine that the said trustees and managers do, on the 31st day of July next, at the court-house at Tralee, between the hours of ten and two o'clock, pay to the said Michael Goodwin the sum of 97l. 14s in full, of all claim and demands which he has upon the said trustees and managers of the said savings bank. And I do further award, that the said trustees and managers do pay to the said Francis Goodwin the sum of 68l. 3s. 1d., in full, of all claim and demands which he has upon the said trustees and managers of the said savings bank. And I do further award, adjudge, and determine, that the said Francis Goodwin has no claim or demand on the said trustees and managers in respect of the said sum of 30l And I do further award, that the said trustees and managers do pay to the said John. Goodwin the sum of 61l. 15s. 8l., in full, of all claim and demands which he has upon the said trustees and managers of the said savings bank. And I do further award, adjudge, and determine, that the said John Goodwin has no claim or demand on the said trustees and managers in respect of the said sum of 37l.He thought that almost every Gentleman present would agree with him, that no 33 stronger proof could be adduced than that award furnished of the want of business qualifications or the negligence of that public officer who could have arrived at such a decision. He would mention another instance of what appeared to him an erroneous award. In the Tralee case it was decided by Mr. Tidd Pratt that the depositors who paid in their money before the year 1844 should receive 20l. in the pound, and those who came after that date only 3s. That was Mr. Tidd Pratt's construction or rather misconstruction of the Act. It was not only his opinion, but that of good legal authority, that this public officer had misconstrued the Act. If that learned gentleman's view of the Act were correct, then he did not hesitate to say that such a law would be a disgrace to the Statute-hook of any country. If the law did not bear out Mr. Tidd Pratt's decision, then the disgrace attached to the Government officer. It was clearly a case in which the Government should compensate these poor people. In the year 1842, they compensated the sufferers by the Exchequer-bill fraud; there was then a loss of 377,000l, and compensation to the extent of 262,000l. was given, the Government dividing the claimants into four classes, according to the different degrees of caution which they exercised. In that case Government did not venture to refuse compensation, for the parties injured were wealthy; they were powerful; they could make themselves heard, and could employ able advocates. It might be hoped, then, that the case of the poor would not, under present circumstances, be disregarded. He would ask those who had read the articles recently published in the Times upon this subject, if they could doubt that the impression of the writer in that journal coincided with the inferences which he had drawn from these transactions? lie need scarcely say, that he had had no communication with any writer on this subject; and whether he had or not, would make very little difference; he merely adverted to what had appeared with reference to savings hanks, for the purpose of showing that the observations which he made did not proceed from his own prejudices. That the Government was bound to compensate these poor people was undoubtedly the impression of the writers in the Times and the Morning Chronicle, both leading journals. They both came to the same conclusion; a strong proof that he was not carried away by any opinions peculiar to 34 himself. In Ireland, it certainly was the general impression that savings banks depended on Government security; and, in confirmation of this, he might mention that the following was a copy of a circular issued to Captain Stokes from the War Office:—When the staff officer observes that any pensioner is in receipt of wages sufficient for his support, he will point out the propriety of putting aside a portion of his pension into a savings bank, to meet the contingencies of sickness and want of employment, when they may happen to occur; and in order to afford the pensioner every information which may induce him to do so, the staff officer will place in some prominent part of his office the rules of the savings banks, and explain to every pensioner in full employment, that for whatever sums he may lodge there, Government security will be afforded him for repayment, with interest. If the pensioner consents that a certain portion per month, or per quarter, of his pension be so deposited, the officer will facilitate the arrangement by every means in his power.This was dated September 23, 1843, and issued to the staff officer the latter end of August, 1844, and which had never since been cancelled. He (Mr. Herbert) might be told that this circular was addressed to pensioners, and was intended to apply only to them; but it was natural, after such a notification, that the pensioners should endeavour to induce their friends to deposit in savings banks, on the supposition that the guarantee announced would apply equally to them. He was informed that the losses of the pensioners were to be repaid; but those persons had no stronger claim to reimbursement than the other unfortunate sufferers. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, in the Bill he had promised to introduce, propose some measures for placing these banks on a sounder footing. He wished, before he sat down, to refer to the charges of fraud which had been made by Mr. Tidd Pratt against some of his constituents, and which had been commented upon, not only by the English but by the foreign press. He had himself seen an article on the subject in the Augsburg Gazette. Mr. Tidd Pratt stated in his report that several parties who were inmates of union workhouses, and recipients from the late relief fund, had appeared before him as claimants, and that three persons who were in gaol for debt had presented themselves in custody of their gaolers to claim as depositors. Now, he (Mr. Herbert) had made careful inquiries as to the first of these charges, and he could state that it was entirely unfounded. 35 He had also received from the governor of the Tralee gaol the following letter:—County Kerry Gaol, October 16, 1848.Sir—Having seen by a report made by Mr. Tidd Pratt on the subject of the Tralee savings bank, that gentleman states 'several pauper debtors, confined in the gaol of Tralee, appeared before him, in custody of the gaoler, for the purpose of establishing their claims to monies de posited by them in the Tralee savings bank,' I beg to inform you no such circumstance ever occurred. No person whomsoever confined in the county of Kerry gaol appeared, either in my custody or in the custody of any other officer of the prison, before Mr. Tidd Pratt, nor could any prisoner be taken before Mr. Tidd Pratt for any such purpose without an order from some competent authority; and no such order was ever received.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant, JAMES MORPHT,GOV. of County of Kerry Gaol.Henry A. Herbert, Esq., M.P.He (Mr. Herbert) must say, he thought it most unjust that these unfortunate persons should have been thus calumniated. It had been said, that one abuse in the Irish savings banks was, that persons had deposited much larger sums than they were entitled to do under the Act of Parliament; but though he admitted the trustees were wrong in allowing such deposits, the evidence of Mr. Tidd Pratt showed that the same abuse existed in England. The greatest distress had been occasioned in Ireland by the failure of these banks. He knew that one poor man died brokenhearted at his loss in three weeks; a woman lost her reason from the same cause; and he conceived that the case of the unfortunate sufferers deserved the considerate attention of the Government.
§ MR. W. FAGAN
, in seconding the Amendment, deeply regretted that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kerry had limited his application to a mere Committee of Inquiry, as he did not anticipate any great results from inquiries before such a tribunal. If the Government were not legally liable to meet the demands of these depositors, it was clear that they were morally bound to do so, when it could be proved that there had been laches on the part of the Government or of some of their subordinates. These savings banks were instituted for the safe keeping of the earnings of the industrious poor; and if ever there was a case in which it was the bounden duty of the Government to see that the intentions of the Legislature were carried out fairly, fully, and efficiently, it was the case of these banks. All persons 36 who had deposited their money in these savings banks in Ireland, had been persuaded that they had the security of the Government; and, independently of that, the Government had had the use of some 28,0000,000l., and, as had been shown by the hon. Member for the city of Dublin, had gained by it some 300,000l. The Government had relieved the trustees of all liability to the depositors, and, therefore, was more than doubly bound to see these people protected. As to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, they were absolutely the Government itself. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was one, and the Speaker of the House of Commons and others were the Commissioners. Well, then, these Commissioners, being the Government itself, having committed laches, were bound to see that reparation was made. In the case of the Cuffe-street bank, there was a deficiency of 12,000l. in one year; and on the day before the stoppage a cheque upon the Bank of Ireland was drawn—for what purpose, he believed, had not yet been ascertained. In 1831, the deficiency was 3,671l.; and at that time the Government was made acquainted with the circumstance, and the trustees were willing to close the accounts and break up the bank. A leading member of the managing body made that proposition to the Government; and what was the reply? Simply sending Mr. Tidd Pratt, who, he (Mr. Fagan) maintained, was an officer of the Government, and was in constant communication with the Government; and Mr. Tidd Pratt's advice—advice, he (Mr. Fagan) asserted, given on the part of the Government—was, to continue on and not close the accounts, when there was already this deficiency of 3,671l. The bank did so continue on; and he contended that this was a most important laches on the part of the Government; and it was, therefore, the duty of the Government to reimburse the losing parties. In the case of the Tralee bank the deficiency was 36,000l., and all they had to meet it was 1,600l. Of the deposits, 2,606l. belonged to persons who had invested before the liability of the trustees was taken off, and 21,301l. was the amount deposited subsequently to that period; and he maintained that the Government was bound to assist these people in the recovery of their money. The Government had assisted in the case of the Cuffee-street bank, and let them now render the same justice to Tralee. With respect to the excess deposits of 37 2,606l. which Mr. Tidd Pratt said were altogether lost, he (Mr. Fagan) denied the construction which that gentleman had put upon the Act of Parliament. The Act only said, that there should be forfeiture in the case of a false declaration. Now, in the Tralee bank no declaration at all was required; and, therefore, although by the Act they should not have deposited more than 30l. in a year, yet, no declaration having been required, it would be most unjust and unfair to deprive these persons of their money. Mr. Tidd Pratt said, that the 21,301l. could not be recovered from the trustees, because it had been deposited subsequent to 1844; but it should be remembered that there was a proviso to the Act of that year, taking off the liability of the trustees, by which it was made incumbent upon them that an abstract of its provisions should be hung up in the bank. Nothing of the kind, however, was done; and the depositors were kept in ignorance of the facts. The laches of the Government, in the case of the Tralee bank, was, that they knew of the defalcation and concealed it. If the Government had done their duty as regarded Cuffe-street, the depositors of Tralee would have saved their money. Again, the accounts of the Tralee bank were never regularly furnished to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, as required by law: and, in case they were not so regularly furnished, the Act required the Commissioners to wind up the accounts of the bank. [The hon. Member here read the dates on which the accounts had been furnished to the Commissioners for a series of years, to show that they had not been sent in at the periods required by law.] If the Commissioners had, on their parts, done that which they were bound by the Act to do—namely, closed the accounts—the unfortunate depositors would have been rescued from the state of destitution in which they had been since plunged. Moreover, the law required a bond from the actuary; but no bond had been given, and none had been deposited with the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt. Again, the accounts furnished to the Commissioners were required to be published in the Gazette; but this had not been done. In a word, whatever the errors, the Commissioners had taken no notice of them; and this, he contended, established a case of laches against the Government. The hon. Member then briefly alluded to the case of the Killarney bank, observing, that those depositors who 38 had the security of the Earl of Kenmare and the other trustees had been paid, while those who had no security had only received 3s, in the pound; and concluded by urging the responsibility of the Government.
After the word 'Dublin,' to insert the words 'and also the cases of the Savings Banks at Tralee, Killarney, and Auchterarder.'
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
agreed with the hon. Member for the city of Cork, that the object to he desired was the payment of the depositors, but did not see that the appointment of a Committee had much to do with that which was really the wish of the hon. Gentleman. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought he could show good reason against the appointment of a Committee, and that it would entail a very heavy expense without the least ultimate advantage. He certainly was surprised at some of the statements, both as regarded the facts and the law of the case, which had been made by some hon. Friends of his, who had sat on the Committee of last year. He did not, however, mean to say anything to-night upon that important and serious question, whether the Government should or should not take upon itself the liability to the demands of the depositors in these savings banks. These banks had been universally originated by a number of benevolent persons in their respective neighbourhoods, who had taken upon themselves to institute them for the benefit of their poorer neighbours, managing the hanks themselves, and appointing their own officers. The first transaction in which any public officers were concerned, was when the sums deposited in the banks were sent up to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, and were placed by them in the public funds of the country. But nobody connected with the Government had anything to do with the management of these hanks, or with the appointment of any of the officers of them. In the cases of the Tralee and the Killarney banks, where the depositors had been defrauded, the proceedings of the secretary who had embezzled the money ought to have been chocked by the trustees; or, at all events, they alone had the power of checking his proceedings, which it appeared they had not done. The Government had no control whatever. The state of the savings banks was very different now, when there were 28,000,000l. of deposits, to what it 39 had been at the time when it was conjectured that the total amount of them would probably not exceed a million, or a million and a half. It might be necessary to apply a very different system of legislation to these institutions now; but that was a grave and serious question. The circumstances of last year had forced the subject upon the consideration of the Government, as would be seen by the Bill which he hoped to he able to introduce in the course of the present Session; but at the same time hon. Members should not suffer themselves to be led into a vote for this particular Motion by any opinions they might entertain regarding the necessity of an alteration in the law of savings banks. The fact that this liability had never been acknowledged on the part of the Government was abundantly clear from what had taken place in cases of the failure of savings banks in England. Invariably in England the trustees had discharged the liabilities they had incurred. They had invariably subscribed a sufficient sum to reimburse the whole of the money lost by depositors, owing to the defalcation of persons appointed by themselves. In one case a gentleman connected with one of these banks paid 7,000l. out of his own pocket, because he felt that through his neglect and that of others the depositors had been defrauded. He could not give a better proof of the state of the law than the fact that in this country defalcations had been invariably made good by the trustees, and that in no case whatever had any claims been made upon the Government to pay the deficiency and make good their losses to the depositors. Those three Irish cases were the first in which any claim had been made upon the Government to reimburse depositors the losses they had incurred through the misconduct of local officers, over whom the Government had no control, but who had been appointed by local managers. He was much surprised at the assertions made by the hon. Member for the city of Cork, that a Government officer, appointed by the Government, had acted in the case of these banks by the direction of the Government. Surely if his hon. Friend had read the evidence before the Committee, he would have seen that Mr. Tidd Pratt was appointed by Act of Parliament—that all his powers were derived from that Act—and that he was paid by fees regulated by that Act. In these cases, therefore, Mr. Tidd Pratt had not acted as an officer appointed by the Government, but as an umpire under an 40 Act of Parliament, and under which Act also he was paid certain fees for examining and certifying rules. When asked by the Committee—In what capacity he visited Ireland? Mr. Pratt said, "Not as an officer of the Government, but as an umpire under the provisions of the 9th of George the Fourth." Mr. Tidd Pratt, therefore, was not in any way sent to Ireland by the Government. He made these observations in order that hon. Members might see the effect of the law so far as it regarded the general liability of the Government. There was no law whatever which made them liable; it never was intended they should be liable; they never had been liable; and they had never before been asked to render themselves liable. And, whatever might be the opinion of the House of Commons upon that great and important question, it really was not one which ought to be discussed upon a proposition for the appointment of a Committee to investigate the circumstances attending the failure of particular banks; and he hoped that so important a general principle would not be discussed or decided upon such a Motion as that now before the House. His hon. Friend the Member for the city of Cork had alluded to the decision of the court on the Tralee case the other day; but he understood that it was not finally decided, but that a point of law had been reserved. In the case of the Tralee bank, the actuary had made away with a considerable sum, and he had done so by false accounts; yet those accounts had been certified as correct by two of the trustees of the bank. However, as the point of law was pending, he would not make any further remarks upon this case. The hon. Gentleman said the trustees of the Cuffe-street bank were most anxious that proceedings should not be gone on with in a court of law, but would prefer an investigation in that House. No wonder; for a court of law might decide that they were liable, while the House of Commons clearly could not.
§ MR. NAPIER
was understood to say that the court had decided that Mr. Tidd Pratt had no jurisdiction to enter upon the question of liability.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
If the court did not compel them to produce their books, they might get rid of their liabilities; but, on the other hand, if they were obliged to produce them it might be decided as a case of debt. Then another question of law arose. The courts 41 of law in this country had decided that Mr. Tidd Pratt was the sole judge of this question of liability; but if the Irish courts had decided in another way, the courts of the two countries were at variance one with the other. If the Judge at Tralee had hold that Mr. Tidd Pratt was not the judge of the liability, in this country it was held that he was. The point, he understood, was to be decided early next term in the Tralee and Cuffe-street cases he did not deny that great suffering had been caused both in Dublin and Kerry by the roguery of actuaries; but he submitted to hon. Members, whether they could think a Committee of Inquiry of that House could be usefully appointed in these individual cases apart from the general question. It could hardly be supposed that be was prepared to enter into the details of the evidence taken before Mr. Tidd Pratt in relation to the cases of Tralee and Killarney; but it must be evident that an inquiry into such matters by a Committee of the House, involving the necessity of bringing over persons from Ireland, at a heavy expense, to give their testimony, and thus, in fact, trying here a case that ought to be tried upon the spot, would be as inexpedient a mode of proceeding as could possibly be adopted. More could not be ascertained than was known already, unless they were to go into each individual case in detail. The liability of Government had been urged, in consequence of some neglect of duty on their parts, and it had been said, in reference to the Cuffe-street bank, that the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt could have wound up the affairs of the bank, when the trustees were willing to close them in 1831. But what were the facts? Mr. Tidd Pratt went over, and acted as umpire. The liabilities were 8,000l.; and what was his award? Of the 8,000l. he decided that for 4,000l. they were not legally liable, but for 4,000l. they were legally liable. The balance at that time in the bank amounted to 3,700l., and consequently the deficiency to meet the legal claims amounted to 300l. It was obvious then to Mr. Tidd Pratt, that, with ordinary good management, they would in two or throe years have sufficient funds to meet the whole of the legal liabilities upon them, and might even have, out of their accruing surplus, the means to pay the other 4,000l.; and he expressed to them, not as a Government officer, but as an individual conversant with the affairs of savings banks, his opinion to this effect. 42 They, however, acted in direct opposition to that opinion: they paid the claims which he had decided to he illegal, and they did not manage their affairs with decent economy. Their attention had been repeatedly called to the fact that deficiency was accruing; and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulburn) had written to them expressing his opinion that the bank ought to be closed, but they had refused to do so. In 1845, the Government took the best legal opinion on the subject—namely, that of Sir Frederick Thesiger and Sir Fitzroy Kelly (the then law officers of the Crown), and Mr. Tidd Pratt. These learned Gentlemen were asked—" Whether the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt had power to close the bank, so that the present funds might be fairly divided among the depositors?" In answer to that case, the following opinion had been received:—We are of opinion that the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt have no power to adopt any proceedings whatever to close the bank in question.
§ (Signed) FREDERICK THESIGER,
§ FITZROY KELLY,
§ JOHN TIDD PRATT."
§ He thought that that was a pretty complete answer to any charge against the Government for not closing the banks. The only measure which the Government could take was to close the accounts of the bank; but the effect of that step would be very different from closing the bank. The latter might save the money of the depositors; the former would probably aggravate their losses. The hon. Gentleman had made a great point of the circumstance of the trustees not having published annual statements of the account, nor sent them within six weeks after the 1st of November to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt. Could any body suppose that the delay in sending the accounts, which was a circumstance not of unfrequent occurrence, really had any thing to do with the fraud of the secretary, or the neglect of the trustees to watch over his conduct? With regard to the Killarney savings bank, it was asserted that there was a fraud evident on the return, of which the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt were bound to take notice, and that if they had done so, the conduct of the actuary must have boon discovered, and the loss to the depositors prevented. Now, it was by no means clear, that in the return there was any fraud at all. No doubt there was an inaccuracy, 43 so far as that there must have been either a greater or less number of depositors than appeared in the return. It was contended that this inaccuracy might have been detected, and because they had not detected this error, that therefore the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt were answerable for any loss which the depositors might suffer by the fraud of the secretary, or the negligence of the trustees. The Commissioners, according to the Act of Parliament, were only obliged to take notice of the total amount deposited; it was no part of their duty to inquire into the total number of depositors, and the amount of their respective deposits. It was absurd to say that the correction of an error in the number of depositors had any connexion with the embezzlement of the money of the depositors. There was no pretence, therefore, for saying that there was any neglect of duty in this respect on the part of the Commissioners; and he denied that when the loss occurred altogether from the dishonesty of the secretary, and the negligence of the trustees in inspecting his accounts, that there was any obligation on the Government to make good the loss which had been sustained. He would not go further into this case; but he must repeat, that at any rate it would be advisable to postpone the appointment of the Committee until a decision were given on the point of law by the courts in Dublin. It would be a very useless inquiry, and attended with a great expense to the public.
§ MR. J. O'CONNELL
complained, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had endeavoured to enlist the prejudices of English Members by speaking as he had of an Irish court of justice. He seemed to wonder what they would not do; there was one thing an Irish jury would not do—they would not allow poor people who depended upon the faith of the Government to be defrauded of their hard earnings. [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman laughed; but he contended that if these poor persons were mistaken in the belief that what they did was upon the faith of the Government, they ought to have been undeceived. It could not be denied that the Government Commissioners were aware of a deficiency in the funds, and took no step to undeceive the people, who were investing their savings upon the faith of their having Government security. If the Commissioners had not sufficient powers over the trustees, Parliament ought to have been applied to 44 when the savings were seen to be in danger. But there was an existing fund that might perhaps be resorted to in this case—namely, the accumulations formed by the difference between the interest allowed by the Government and the interest allowed by the banks. The Committee asked for could do no harm. It was to be regretted that the House had heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer no condemnation of the conduct of Mr. Tidd Pratt, who now was proved guilty of having calumniated the poor sufferers in Kerry—of having accused them of perjury and fraud without the slightest ground for it.
§ MR. GROGAN
could not agree with the closing remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Had Her Majesty's Government exercised the powers which they had not—had they closed the bank in Cuffe-street, Dublin—a great amount of misery would have been avoided. In 1831, the Cuffe-street bank was known to be insolvent. Mr. Tidd Pratt went over and examined the accounts. The Government, with a perfect knowledge of the deficiency from 1831 to 1847, failed to exercise the power of closing the hank. In his opinion, every depositor had a moral right to be paid by the Government. And what was the remedy offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The right hon. Gentleman advised the House to refuse the Committee, because the Motion did not ask for a grant of money. It was well known that no such Motion could be made without the previous consent of the Crown. By the same Acts of Parliament which defined the liability of the trustees, the Commissioners had a right to demand the annual transmission of accounts. Had the Commissioners done so they could have prevented the losses which had fallen upon all the depositors subsequent to 1831. He did not wish to doubt the literal accuracy of the opinion read by the right hon. Baronet, but he must express his astonishment. Every legal opinion depended mainly on the case. He altogether differed from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the power of the Government to close these banks. The right hon. Gentleman denied that they had such power; but he (Mr. Grogan) contended that the Act was clear upon the point. He found that the 46th section of the 9th George IV., c. 92, enacted—That in case the trustees of any savings bank neglected to render an annual statement of their 45 accounts, or should disobey any orders or directions of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, or their officer duly appointed, it shall be lawful for the said Commissioners to close the account of such trustees, and to direct that no further sum he received from them at the Bank of England, or the Bank of Ireland.The Commissioners who were entrusted with these powers, and who had full control, received the accounts for a number of years in a very informal shape—indeed, with several erasures. The right hon. Gentleman protected the Government under a legal technicality. In his (Mr. Grogan's) opinion the defence aggravated the injury. The Commissioners had full power to close the hank. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUEE: No, they had not.] Then, could it be believed that any Government with the knowledge of the frauds and deficiencies would not have come down to Parliament for powers to close the savings banks, if they had not already possessed these powers? In 1845 there was a deficiency of 95,640l in the St. Peter's parish bank. The request for a Committee was so moderate that he thought it very ungracious to refuse it. The right hon. Gentleman advised them to await the settlement of the legal points. They all knew the proverb of "the law's delay." The question involved in the legal points was this:—Mr. Tidd Pratt avowed that he had the power of calling the trustees into court—the trustees denied that he had any such power. In that state of things many of the depositors would die from sheer starvation, and their claims would so be cleared away.
§ MR. MORRIS
was understood to say that in the case of a failure of a savings hank in that part of the country whence he came, the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Carmarthen had made up all the losses of depositors under 5l.
§ MR. COWAN
regarded this as one of the most important national questions that could come before Parliament, involving as it did matters intimately connected with the welfare of a very large portion of the working classes, and he much regretted that it should be discussed in so thin a House. He certainly did not think that the Exchequer could be made liable for the defalcations of parties connected with savings banks, any more than the Postmaster General was liable for losses caused by robberies in his department; but he agreed with the hon. Member for the city of Dublin in thinking that if it was the desire of the House to encourage confidence 46 in those invaluable institutions, they ought to investigate thoroughly the allegations made against the system now in operation. He thought that the legislation of that House on the subject of savings banks had hitherto been most unfortunate, and that there was now more need than ever of a sound legislative measure to regulate these institutions. Reference had been made to the fixed and unvarying rate of interest provided by Act of Parliament for depositors in savings banks. A greater absurdity could not possibly be imagined. How had this operated? Some four or five years ago, when money was not worth more than 2 or 2½ per cent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was paying 3l. 5s. per cent, and the Commissioners invested the money at or about par. A reverse came—money rose to 4 and 4½ per cent; and the depositors looked for investments that would yield a larger amount of interest. Something like a run was made on the banks, and the loss to the nation was not less than five or six millions. He should have liked the Motion to go further than it did, and to include inquiry into those cases where savings banks had been conducted successfully. It was certainly with regret he had heard it stated that a case calling for inquiry had occurred in Scotland, for he had been accustomed to think they were above suspicion in Scotland with reference to their banking matters. If inquiry, however, was to be made into the operation of successful banks, several important instances could be adduced. He might refer, for example, to the Edinburgh savings banks, where, last year, business was done to the extent of 76,000l., while the whole expense of carrying on this large business was undor 1,200l., being less than 1s. on each open account. Indeed the manner in which that bank was conducted, did great credit to Mr. Maitland, the excellent manager. It was of the greatest importance that savings banks should be placed on a solid foundation, and cleared of all those injurious anomalies that now attached to them, as he believed they might be made the means of aiding, in a great measure, to stem that flood of pauperism which was overflowing the land.
§ MR. KEOGH
said, that he should not have risen but for some observations that had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had left the House under the impression that there was no instance of any loss sustained 47 in England by reason of trustees not coming forward to make good the amount of deposits; but they had just heard from the hon. Member for Carmarthen an instance where the depositors had been left unpaid by English trustees. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have alluded to the matter, in order to throw out an insinuation against the mode in which Irish gentlemen acted in business transactions; but the right hon. Gentleman should not have overlooked the fact, that in the case of the Kerry bank, Lord Kenmare, and his hon. Friend the Member for Kerry (Mr. H. A. Herbert), and other gentlemen who were not trustees at all, had come forward with subscriptions to pay oft' all depositors whoso claims were under 20l. But the fact was not to be overlooked, that in the electoral division in which that bank was situated, out of a rental of 34,000l a year, only 4,000l. was represented by resident proprietors; the remainder, 30,000l., being absorbed by absentee proprietors resident in England. That might account for the resident gentry not being able to act so munificently as the right hon. Gentleman thought they should have done. The right hon. Gentleman had also treated with something like a sneer the judge and jury before whom the late case against the trustees of the Tralee bank had been tried; but he believed it would be generally admitted that an abler judge did not sit upon the bench; and, considering that he had held high office under the party to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged, such an attack was scarcely to have been expected.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF the EXCHEQUER
said, he was not aware who the judge was before whom the case had been tried.
§ MR. KEOGH
said, the case had been heard before Judge Ball. The question was, whether the trustees had been guilty of wilful default. Not a particle of evidence of any such charge was offered, but, on the contrary, Mr. Tidd Pratt, who was examined in support of the plaintiff's case, admitted that the defendants had done everything to keep the bank correct, and had given him every facility during his investigation; and, under such circumstances, no judge and jury, either English or Irish, could come to any other conclusion than that which had been arrived at. Having said so much on the insinuations thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman, he next 48 came to the consideration of the main question, and he should say that he had not expected that a case of such injustice—of such spoliation—would have been met by a denial of inquiry on the part of the Government. The first ground of that denial was, that the appointment of the Committee would be an interference with the proceedings pending in the courts of law against the trustees. But his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin, was counsel for these very trustees, and had declared in their name their perfect willingness to submit to the fullest inquiry, and to expose all their transactions and books before a Select Committee of that House. And if the trustees were not afraid of inquiry, why should the Government shrink from it on their part? As to the objection on the ground of the expense of an inquiry before a Committee, he would not say a word, as he believed that Committees were the favourite mode with the present Government of conducting all the affairs of the State. The next objection was, that the Government were not legally liable. He did not believe that any one had asserted the existence of any legal liability, as, if such a liability existed, justice could be obtained in the courts of law, without the necessity of coming to that House to seek for it. But what he understood his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin, to contend for was, that though not legally liable, the Government were morally responsible; and from that moral responsibility, it ill became the Government of this great country to shrink. In the Exchequer-bill case there was no legal responsibility, and yet the Government of the day, considering that there had been neglect on the part of their officers, very wisely took care that the public should not suffer. The Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt were bound by Act of Parliament to take certain precautionary steps in the case of these savings banks, and having neglected doing so, they became morally responsible for the consequences. The very fact which had been relied on by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Government had applied for the highest legal advice to know whether they could close the Cuffe-street bank, was in itself a proof that they knew the bank to be in such a state of insolvency, that if they had the power they ought to close it. No lawyer could have given any other opinion than that the Government 49 had not the power; but why was not the opinion of the law officers taken as to the power of closing the account with the hank, which would have precisely the same result? It was perfectly clear they had that power, and if they exercised it, and notified the fact to the public, all this wide-spread calamity would have been averted. But there were other charges of neglect against the Government. By the 30th section of the 3rd William IV., it was provided that the name of any savings bank not furnishing the annual se-turns should be published in the Gazette. It was admitted that the returns had not been made, and yet the notification required by law did not appear in the Gazette. Again, the comptroller general was required by law to obtain security from every actuary of a savings bank for the proper discharge of his duty; but in this case of the Killarney bank no such precaution had over been taken. But, independent of these considerations, the fact of a vast number of individuals believing that their money had been confiscated by the negligence of the Government, ought in itself to be a sufficient ground for granting an inquiry. He also thought that an inquiry could not be resisted on this further ground, that the Committee of last Session had reported that they had not time to complete their inquiries, and that the matter would require to be again taken up.
§ MR. GOULBURN
said, that as the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman had been principally addressed to the conduct of the Government in 1844, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he trusted the House would indulge him while he stated what was the course then pursued by the Government, and what were the motives by which the Government were actuated, and he trusted that when the House had heard the facts correctly stated, they would not come to the conclusion that there was anything in the conduct of the Government at that time which rendered them liable to the demands now made. It was natural that the hon. Member for the city of Dublin should speak warmly on the subject of the distress of those who had suffered by the failure of this bank; but the House was not to be carried away by accounts of distress, exaggerated no doubt, which prevailed on account of the failure of the bank, to take on itself the responsibility which was never intended to be cast on the Government, and which could not be cast, to the extent which was desired. 50 without imposing on every class, rich and poor, an extent of burden which it would not be just to impose. The result of this debate would almost tend to show that it was extremely dangerous for Government to deal in anything that was benevolent. The savings banks were instituted by Parliament on motives of the purest benevolence. The interference of Parliament was proposed by Mr. Rose for this distinct object. The societies had previously existed—they had contributed in large neighbourhoods to the comfort of the people around them; but parties had been obliged to trust their funds in quarters which were subject to variation and loss, and it was to protect them against that variation and loss that Parliament then interfered, and said, we will make Government the bankers of these institutions, and we will make them hold the money, and pay interest on the money deposited with them. Beyond that, it never was the intention of that or any subsequent Act of Parliament, that the liability of the Government should go lie came now to the case of the particular bank which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for the city of Dublin, and he wished to state to the House precisely the facts of the case in 1844, which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Athlone, following the hon. Member for the city of Dublin, had thought was so conducted by the Government as to give a claim for the payment of the sum in question. The distresses of the bank did not arise in 1844, they arose in 1831; and from the inspection of the accounts which then took place, it was obvious that the trustees had in their power to avoid losses to the depositors, if they had followed the advice given by the arbiter called in under the provisions of the Act, and conducted their operations in the mode there pointed out; for the difference between the interest they paid to the depositors, and the interest they received from the Government, would have made up the whole deficiency of the fund; and the Government was under the impression they would pursue the course which common honesty pointed out. But in 1844, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the case of this bank was again brought before the Government; and it was accompanied with circumstances which raised a doubt in his mind whether there was not a quarrel between two rival banks, who were contending for the greatest amount of deposits. He was prepared to admit that that suspicion was an erroneous one; 51 but it was made to appear to him that this hank had not followed the advice laid down in 1831, and, by the inspection of the accounts of the bank, he saw that they had at the moment ample funds to pay 18s. 6d. in the pound to every depositor. His object immediately was that the bank should be closed, and the money should be so distributed, as that, although the loss could not be altogether avoided, the parties in the bank should escape with the loss of 1s. 6d. in the pound, instead of losing the whole of their money. The bank was unwilling to take advice; he applied to the law officers of the Crown to know whether he had the power of authoritatively closing the bank, that he might effect the object of saving the depositors. The opinion of the law officers was, that he had no power to compel the trustees to close the books. That, however, did not cause him to despair. Having seen in the calendar that the Archbishop of Dublin was one of the vice-presidents, he applied to that functionary, but was told by him that he had not been previously aware that he had any connexion with the bank, and that he had no influence whatever with the trustees. For these reasons the proposed arrangement failed; but no blame whatever could be attached to the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Government had a right to close the accounts of the bank; but what did that mean? It was not shutting up a savings bank, and preventing their receiving any further deposits, but it was to say to them—" I, the Bank of Ireland, will no longer be your banker. You must take out of my hands the funds I have of yours, and I will receive no more from you." Now, to an insolvent bank that, perhaps, would have been an advantage; but how would it have affected the depositors? It might certainly have been ultimately advantageous to the public by letting people know that they had another bank, and not the Bank of Ireland, as their security. The hon. and learned Gentleman complained of Government not having made any notification in the Gazette as to the non-delivery of the accounts of the bank; but until the Government had closed the bank, they had no right to make any such notification. [The right hon. Gentleman here referred to the clause of the Act in support of his argument.]
§ MR. GOULBURN
did not concur with the hon. and learned Member in his reading of the Act. Unless it had been intended to destroy the bank altogether, it would not have been justifiable to give such a notice. So much for the conduct of the Government in 1844. He had felt that he could not act, and the trustees refused to adopt his recommendation, although repeatedly warned as to the consequences of refusal. The hon. Member for Edinburgh wished for a Committee to inquire into the subject of savings banks generally; but that would hardly serve the case of hardship which had been brought under the notice of the House; and, on the other hand, to appoint a Committee to inquire into every case on which an award had been made by Mr. Tidd Pratt, would be preposterous and unnecessary, seeing that the Committee of last year had had full time to investigate. As the question was before a court of law, he concurred with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in thinking it better to postpone Parliamentary inquiry until that tribunal had given its decision. The hon. and learned Member for Athlone alleged that such proceedings should be no bar. He (Mr. Goulburn) thought otherwise; Parliamentary inquiry could only serve the trustees, who might be glad to have the claims of depositors sifted before a Parliamentary Committee before they came to be argued in a court of law. Legal liability was nowhere contended for, but the House should pause before it adopted a course which might give a tinge of moral liability, as they might depend upon it such a course would exercise great influence over many parties. It would be a bad precedent to make what Government had in the first instance done, from motives of benevolence, a permanent principle of compulsory action. He thought the Committee had better be postponed, and that when appointed its inquiry should be confined to such cases as had not been previously made subjects of investigation.
§ MR. KEOGH
I referred to the last Act—the 3rd Will. IV.; the one referred to by the right hon. Gentleman was the 9th Geo. IV. The 30th clause 3rd Will. IV., directed, that if the annual statement was not prepared and transmitted to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt within the time limited by the Act, it should be lawful for the said Commissioners, or the comptroller or assistant comptroller, and they were severally required forthwith to publish in the London Gazette, and in the newspapers published in the county in which the bank is established, the name of every bank so making default in furnishing such annual statement.
§ MR. GRATTAN
said, that living among the poor people who had been depositors in the bank, he could testify as to the amount of misery they were suffering. If the Government should be successful in resisting this Motion, they might expect its speedy reintroduction in another form.
§ MR. REYNOLDS
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Athlone had so effectually disposed of the speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, the one in answer and the other by anticipation, that it was unnecessary for him to trouble the House with a single observation.
§ MR. F. O'CONNOR
called attention to the presence of strangers, who were instantly ordered to withdraw, the debate being carried on for some time with closed doors. A division was ultimately taken on the Motion.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 42: Majority 7.
Main Question, as amended, put—
That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into and report upon the circumstances connected with the failure of St. Peter's Parish Savings Bank, in Cuffe Street, Dublin, and also the cases of the Savings Banks at Tralee, Killarney, and Auchterarder, and into any security or liability that may exist for the satisfaction of the losses thereby occasioned.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 51; Noes 48: Majority 3.
|List of the AYES.|
|Archdall, Capt. M.||Duncuft, J.|
|Blackall, S. W.||Dunne, F. P.|
|Blair, S.||Edwards, H.|
|Cowan, C.||Ellis, J.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Fagan, J.|
|Devereux, J. T.||Fortescue, C.|
|Fox, R. M.||Norreys, Sir D. J.|
|Grace, O. D. J.||O'Brien, Sir L.|
|Grattan, H.||O'Connell, J.|
|Greene, J.||O'Connor, F.|
|Grogan, E.||O'Flaherty, A.|
|Gwyn, H.||Peto, S. M.|
|Hamilton, G. A.||Sadleir, J.|
|Hamilton, Lord C.||Scholefield, W.|
|Harris, R.||Scully, F.|
|Henley, J. W.||Stanley, hon. E. H.|
|Herbert, H. A.||Sullivan, M.|
|Hodgson, W. N.||Thompson, Col.|
|Keogh, W.||Thompson, G.|
|Lawless, hon. C.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|M'Cullagh, W. T.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Magan, W. H.||Willcox, B. M.|
|Meagher, T.||Williams, J.|
|Monsell, W.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Morgan, H. K. G.||TELLERS.|
|Morris, D.||Fagan, W.|
|Napier, J.||Reynolds, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Hay, Lord J.|
|Anson, hon. Col.||Hayter, rt. hon. W. G.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Heyworth, L.|
|Bagshaw, J.||Hindley, C.|
|Baines, M. T.||Howard, Lord E.|
|Baring, H. B.||Howard, Sir R.|
|Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T.||Humphery, Ald.|
|Bass, M. T.||Labouchere, rt. hon. H.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||M'Gregor, J.|
|Berkeley, C. L. G.||Mullings, J. R.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Palmerston, Visct.|
|Boyd, J.||Raphael, A.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Brotherton, J.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Craig, W. G.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Cubitt, W.||Somerville, rt. hon. Sir W.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Thornely, T.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Verney, Sir H.|
|Elliot, hon. J. E.||Ward, H. G.|
|Evans, W.||Wilson, J.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Fordyce, A. D.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||TELLERS.|
|Harcourt, G. G.||Parker, J.|
|Hawes, B.||Rich, H.|
§ House adjourned at half-after Ten o'clock.