§ (3.) 30,000l. Cuffe-street Savings Bank, Dublin.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the circumstances under which the depositors came before the House were very painful. A Committee had been sitting on the subject of savings banks' defalcations, of which the right hon. the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the hon. Member for Kerry had been zealous, able, and indefatigable members, whose fault it certainly was not if the result was not so favourable to the depositors as they might have expected; and the Committee had reported to the House, and had represented the peculiar circumstances which rendered the case of the Cuffe-street hank different from that of any of the others. It was contended that if the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken steps to interfere in the affairs of the bank some years ago, when their attention had been directed to them, a different result might have taken place; and there certainly was a probability that these losses would not have occurred if they had done so. In other cases there had been the grossest negligence, not to say worse, on the part of the trustees. In one instance, proceedings would be taken against the actuaries, father and son, who could not account for money in their hands. The Committee had recommended Government to contribute a grant to relieve the loss occasioned by the stoppage of the Cuffe-street bank, which had fallen on the poorest class of persons in Dublin, and who would otherwise be exposed to certain ruin. The sum proposed would enable Government to pay those poor people about 10s. in the pound. That was the extent to which they proposed to go. He hoped, under all the circumstances connected with the recommendation of the Committee, the House would not refuse the grant.
Motion made, and Question put—
That a sum not exceeding 30,000l. be granted to Her Majesty, to enable Her Majesty to afford Relief to the Depositors in the late Cuffe Street Savings Bank, in Dublin.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
wished for a more detailed explanation of those peculiar circumstances. The House was called on to grant this vote without reading the evidence, or seeing the report of the proceedings of the Committee. First, he would ask, were they unanimous in their recommendation? Next, why did the right hon. 741 Gentleman propose to take the precise sum of 30,000l.? He (Sir J. Graham) did not see any such sum recommended in the report, nor could he understand the data on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his calculations. The right hon. Gentleman had talked about paying 10s. in the pound. Why, if the claim was equitable, the whole of it ought to be paid; if that were not so, none should be paid. Then, too, he wanted to know the precise difference between the Tralee case and the Cuffe-street case.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
, in reply, said, that as to the first question of the right hon. Baronet, he had to state the Committee had been unanimous in recommending the case of the Cuffe-street depositors to the favourable consideration of the Government. The majority of the Committee had been of opinion that no such case had been made out with respect to the other banks. As to the question of the right hon. Baronet regarding the principle on which the Government had acted, it certainly had not been the recommendation of the Committee that a sum which would give every depositor 10s. in the pound should be given. It was not the opinion of the majority of the Committee, so far as he could collect, that there was any obligation on the part of Government to give the sum, but that it was to be treated as a charitable donation on the part of the Government.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that it was to be looked upon as a contribution to be paid by the public.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
Was that contribution to be looked on as a matter of charity, or as a matter of justice? If of charity, he regarded the case as involving a most dangerous principle—if as a matter of justice, he must say, as the case stood, he held it as one of great difficulty and importance. He repudiated altogether the proposition that they should give funds out of the public Exchequer on the grounds of charity. On the other hand, if the claim was founded in justice and equity, it ought to be paid in full. It was unworthy of the British public to compound for 10s. in the pound. He never had read a report with less ability to understand it than that which the Committee had presented. Nothing, as it appeared to him, could be more worthy of immediate attention than the 742 vote before them; and he must say it was rather strange that they should be called on to vote 30,000l., whether in charity or in equity, within a few days of the end of the Session, without any information. They had no information to distinguish the Cuffe-street case from the Tralee case, from the Scotch cases, or from the English cases, of which he believed there were several; and if they were to act on the principle of making charitable contributions to meet the malversations of trustees and treasurers, they would, he conceived, be opening the door to a most dangerous principle. If it was the duty of the House to meet this case, they could not confine the principle to the Cuffe-street bank, but must extend it to the English and Scotch banks as well, and they would find they had only met a small portion of the claims upon them.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the great distinction was this—that the Cuffe-street savings bank had been insolvent 20 years ago, but had concealed its affairs from successive Governments. In 1838, however, a statement of its affairs had been laid before the Government; but the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, had not felt they had sufficient power to apply a remedy, and to compel the bank to wind up its affairs, but had merely recommended an investigation into the accounts, which the bank refused. In 1845, when the deficiency amounted to 25,000l., the state of the bank had been again brought under the notice of the Commissioners, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the trustees were recommended to close their books, which they refused to do. The Committee thought that if the Commissioners had exercised their powers at that time, and if they had taken the necessary steps to close the bank, the consequences to the depositors would have been averted. The Committee, on those grounds, had thought themselves justified in recommending the case of the depositors to the attention of Government; they did not consider there was any legal liability on the part of Government to make good the deficiency; and, as there did not appear any probability of obtaining money from the trustees, the Government proposed this grant, which was, in fact, a charitable donation. Although, had he been the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, he would, in all probability, have acted in the 743 same way as his predecessor, he thought the case was a fair one for the consideration of the House, and hoped they would agree to the grant.
§ MR. H. A. HERBERT
must protest against the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this matter, first in the formation of the Committee, and next in the proceedings which they had taken. On what ground was this money demanded? As a charitable donation, as recorded. But if hon. Gentlemen would go over the whole ground, and take all the circumstances into consideration, particularly the mode in which the opinion was encouraged among the working classes that they had the Government security for their deposits in these savings banks, they must, he thought, come to the conclusion that a right to compensation was tenable, when, by the operation of institutions to which the working classes had been taught to look for support in age or sickness, and to which the Government had given their sanction, they had been brought to poverty and ruin. It would take too long a time to go through the whole statement of this case, but he was in possession of facts which, if he could detail them, would convince the House of the justice of the claims of these depositors. It was for that reason he had appealed to the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer to defer this vote; and his belief was, that if the attention of the House and of the public were properly directed to the whole facts of the case, the result would be a strong support of these claims. If the plea of the right hon. Gentleman was not for charity, but, as the right hon. Baronet had said, upon equity, in what position did the Government stand? When the question was first mooted, the right hon. Gentleman had opposed it in every possible way, and had interposed all the delay he was able in the way of any inquiry at all. For week after week, and month after month, the right hon. Gentleman had met the proposition of the Lord Mayor of Dublin with appeals to him to postpone his Motion for a Committee. At last he (Mr. Herbert) put a Motion on the paper on a supply night, to move a resolution, and the right hon. Gentleman then acceded to the proposal, and a Committee was appointed. That Committee reported at the end of the Session that they had not had time to make the inquiry, and recommended the institution of another investigation. In the next Session, the Lord Mayor of Dublin moved 744 for a Committee for continuing the inquiry—that inquiry which had been recommended by the former Committee. That Motion was met with a denial on the part of the Government; but the Government found itself in a minority, and the result was a determination that inquiry should no longer be thwarted. The right hon. Gentleman had thus placed himself in the position of admitting—first, that the case was one for inquiry; and, secondly, that some of the parties ought to be criminally prosecuted, and thus the powers of Government had been exerted to screen those parties from the just punishment that should be inflicted upon those who had committed the worst of all frauds, a fraud upon the unfortunate poor. If the plea of the right hon. Gentleman was based on the gross mismanagement of the National Debt Commissioners, and on the misconduct of a man he must still call a Government officer—though by a quibble he was said not to be so because he was paid by fees and not by salary—he meant Mr. Tidd Pratt, then he held that on this ground also the case was the same with regard to all the banks. In the case of the bank at Tralee, Mr. Tidd Pratt was called on to make awards as between the depositors and the trustees; and after he had done so, the depotitors had to sue one of the trustees to recover the money. The case was tried in 1849, but the awards were not sanctioned, on the technical ground that Mr. Tidd Pratt had not and could not comply with his own Act of Parliament in so far as referred to serving the right notices. The case was carried by appeal before the Judges, and there a unanimous judgment was pronounced, setting aside the awards on the technical ground that he could not comply with his own Act of Parliament. Chief Justice Blackburne on that occasion volunteered to say, that in no one single part of the case had the requirements of the law been carried out by the public officer administering the law. While speaking of the gross misconduct of this officer he would refer to only one case more—that of Killarney. In the ease of that bank there were assets to the extent of about 16,000l., and in dividing this sum among the depositors, Mr. Tidd Pratt decided that 20s. in the pound should be given to those who had deposited previously to 1844, and only 3s. in the pound to those who had deposited subsequently to 1844. When the House considered all these circumstances, was it not clear that as great, if not greater, injustice was done 745 to the banks to which he had referred, as to the bank brought under their notice by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer? But it was said, if they decided in favour of those banks, they would have English claims urged also. Now, he believed that if the careless and negligent manner in which the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt had performed their duty was considered—if the loose manner in which the business of the banks had been conducted was taken into account, it would be conceded that the depositors in all the banks that had failed had a claim on the consideration of the House. And if it was said, those claims would exceed their means—which he did not admit—then his answer was, Let them retrench in something else; let them make fewer palace gardens, expend less upon palaces, buy fewer African forts, employ a less sum in the crusade against the slave trade, and use the money for the relief of those who had been injured at home. He was convinced that if the House would only look upon this as an important national question, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had represented it to be, and not merely as a local question as to certain banks, they would arrive at the same conclusion with himself. When the evidence taken before the Committee of 1848 was printed at the end of last Session, it was followed by leading articles in all the daily journals acknowledging that a case had been made out in favour of the depositors. All the leading papers concurred in this view, and he trusted Parliament would not be the last to acknowledge that justice ought to be done to that poor class of depositors who had been made to suffer by no act of their own.
MR. J. A. SMITH
said, with reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer respecting the evidence of the last Committee not having been laid before the House, that this Committee had substantially sat for three several Sessions, and had taken a mass of evidence on the whole. The reports of the evidence taken in 1848 and 1849, both of them very voluminous, had been laid upon the table of the House, and the report of the evidence taken in the present year, although considerable in bulk, did not, he assured the House, contain a single fact upon which there could be a difference of opinion, or which materially varied from the facts contained in the other two reports. This last report might pos- 746 sibly indeed affect the question of the criminality attaching to individuals; but in respect to other circumstances, no differences worth relating existed in that document. As to the remark of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, he (Mr. J. A. Smith) must observe that if there was a legal or equitable claim upon the Government for the liquidation of these losses, it must be a claim for payment in full. If the House recognised a claim of this kind, it must recognise the whole, for they could not recognise a portion only. He believed that, with the exception of three individuals, the Committee were unanimous in their opinion on the case. [Sir J. GRAHAM: Who were they?] To the best of his recollection they were the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the hon. Members for Kerry and Cork. The Committee were of opinion that although the position of the managers of the bank was very discreditable to them, there could be no legal liability upon the Government on account of the course taken by the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt. But the Committee thought that there were circumstances in the case as connected with the Commissioners which did entitle these depositors to very great commiseration from the Government. It was difficult to enter upon this subject without adverting to details, and he trusted the Committee would excuse him if he trespassed upon them at some length. There was, he believed, but one feeling in the minds of all persons who had examined the subject, that the Commissioners had exercised a very difficult duty to the best of their judgment. But it was no less true that so far back as the year 1831 a deficiency had been brought under the cognisance of the Commissioners. One of the trustees, a very respectable man, he believed, certainly one against whom he had never heard any imputation, a Mr. Foote, who was, as he recollected, a director of the Bank of Ireland, was sent over to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt to explain what had occurred, and to ask for advice and assistance. At that time the trustees offered to close the bank, and to assign over all the property and assets to trustees to be named by the Commissioners. It was clearly not within the legal power of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt to accept this proposition; but they suggested that Mr. Foote should go back to Dublin, and advise with the 747 managers of the bank. Here he must remark, that neither while Mr. Foote was in London, nor subsequently, when Mr. Tidd Pratt investigated the case, were the facts disclosed as they really stood, but they were concealed from the knowledge of both the Commissioners and Mr. Tidd Pratt. Then Mr. Tidd Pratt recommended that a certain course should be pursued; and it was indisputable that on that advice the whole of the subsequent calamity had arisen, and undeniable that if the operations of the bank had been then suspended, the loss would have been less and easier. The bank, however, was kept open. Owing to the incompetency of the registrar, the elder Mr. Hughes, it was difficult to get at the exact facts; but he (Mr. J. A. Smith) had no hesitation in saying, that the conduct of the trustees reflected great discredit upon them. So irregular were they, and so inattentive to the conduct of the manager, that he had never before heard of a case that was similar. The bank went on with increasing deficiency until the year 1838. Then the trustees, nominally, but, he believed only nominally—the real actor in all those transactions being the registrar—sent over in that year accounts to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, which accounts were utterly false and unreliable for any purpose whatever. But they showed upon the face of them a growing deficiency to 1833; and in 1838 the deficiency acknowledged in them amounted to 25,671l. These circumstances at last attracted the attention of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, and they called upon the trustees in Dublin to consent to a thorough investigation of the whole of the accounts. This the trustees positively refused to allow, and he must say that the conduct of the Commissioners in acquiescing was much to be reprehended. Let it be remembered, however, at the same time that the only power the Commissioners had was to close their accounts with the bank, which in other words would have been effectually to close the bank itself. The bank, however, went on, and it was a remarkable fact that after 1838 there was a great increase in the deposits, and with that increase the deficiency grew larger. In 1845 the state of the bank was again brought under the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt. There was another case of inquiry into the con- 748 duct of the actuary of a rival establishment, and the Chancellor and the Commissioners did all they could, through Mr. Higham, short of the extreme measure of closing the bank, to induce the trustees to close it. But they positively refused. At the end of 1845 and the beginning of 1846, there was a great run upon the bank's funds, and they did not recover from that pressure. It was not until then they stopped, with liabilities to the amount of 64,000l., with 90l. to meet them. Here, then, was an instance of discreditable conduct on the part of the trustees, which he hoped was not to be found in the history of other banks. In the week preceding the close of the bank, they had in their hands a sum of 1,950l. They received, on the Wednesday, notices from depositors who wished for repayment of the money they had placed in the bank to a much larger amount than the balance remaining in their hands. Knowing that they must close on the following Wednesday, what did they do? They drew out the whole of that sum of 1,950l., every farthing they had, excepting the miserable sum of 90l., which still remained, and distributed the whole of that 1,950l. among other depositors, their own friends, who had never taken any notice whatever of the state of the bank. This was a fraud of the most impudent kind that had ever fallen under his notice. Under these circumstances, and many more of the same kind which he could quote, he thought that if there was not a legal claim for compensation in this case, as the majority of the Committee had decided there was not, there was, at least, a strong call upon the sympathy and consideration of Parliament for these claimants, and one which it would be difficult to repudiate or reject. As to the Government, he did not himself think that there was either a legal or an equitable claim, but there certainly was a compassionate claim of the strongest kind. Therefore, it only remained for the House to decide whether the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right in purposing to give a portion only of these claims—a portion of 10s. in the pound. That, he believed, would be affected by two or three considerations; one of which was, whether or not the Government were bound to find the large amount of the many deposits which were wholly illegal; and a second, whether they were bound to recover something by criminal proceedings against the defaulting parties. 749 He was prepared to impress upon his right hon. Friend below him the importance of at least trying to obtain something in that way. The reason he wished that that extreme measure should be taken was this: That there were among the large body composing the trustees, some who could meet the demand, might be true, but it was equally true that there were some who could not; and believing, as he did, that wilful neglect and fraud might in the most direct manner be brought home to several of those who had taken a prominent and most active part in the management of the banks, and who, if he did not charge them with the committal of actual fraud, must, by their own neglect, have permitted such results to occur, he must say that such persons ought not to escape without some punishment. Thinking, therefore, that there might be ultimately something more to be obtained; that there was good ground for compensation, if not in law, and that the parties should be paid, he would say that on the ground of compassionate compensation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in proposing 30,000l., had gone as far as, under present circumstances, propriety and necessity required at his hands. He was rather surprised at one part of the observations of the hon. Member for Kerry, in which he passed an unfavourable judgment upon the conduct of Mr. Tidd Pratt, who had certainly done his best to carry out a most imperfect law, and did not deserve the blame of the public. When he (Mr. J. A. Smith) said that, he concurred at the same time with the hon. Gentleman's remarks upon the unfortunate and, he must add, the unjust operation of the law of 1844 in the Killarney case. The bank of Killarney had failed, having deposits of 36,000l., and assets amounting to 16,000l. By the law of 1844, the trustees were relieved from personal liability; and therefore the depositors prior to 1844 had a claim upon the trustees if default or neglect was proved; while those who had deposited subsequently to 1844 had no such legal claim, so that it became necessary to separate these two classes of depositors; and inasmuch as Mr. Tidd Pratt, in the strict execution of his duty could award no claim upon the trustees till the funds had been exhausted, he was obliged to take the names off, and to postpone the unhappy depositors since 1844, and to pay the depositors previous to 1844 a full twenty shillings in the pound; while the 750 depositors, after 1844, received only three shillings in the pound. Although he believed that to have been a strictly right and proper decision on the part of Mr. Tidd Pratt, it was, at the same time, a decision he could not reconcile with either common sense or common justice. With regard to the Tralee bank, it must be remembered that the savings bank was held at the house of the actuary; and when he ran away, neither in law nor in fact was there any savings bank whatever; so that though the Act of Parliament stated that notice of awards should be fixed upon the walls of the bank, yet as there was no bank on the walls of which the notice of awards could be fixed, Mr. Tidd Pratt was obliged to do what he (Mr. J. A. Smith) thought was the best thing he could have done—he wrote notices to every one of the trustees, wherever they were, in the united kingdom. Chief Justice Blackburne decided that in law this was not sufficient notice, and he threw over the notice of awards on that ground. But he (Mr. J. A. Smith) did not think Mr. Tidd Pratt blameable for this; he did the best he could, and he had done his utmost to obtain something back for the unfortunate depositors.
§ MR. REYNOLDS
would maintain that the Cuffe-street case was distinct from all the others, because in that case both the local trustees and the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt had violated their duty, the former in not sending every year a true and full statement of the affairs of the bank as required by the Act of Parliament, and the latter in not closing their account with the bank, when they found the Act was not complied with. If they had done so, the bank would have been obliged to close its affairs, and the depositors would have been in a much better position than they were in now. Having served on the Committee during three Sessions, perhaps the Committee would allow him to make a few observations, and they should be but very few after the able speech of the Chairman of the Committee, who had left him but very little to say. He desired to address a few words to them, because he believed he was able to give a satisfactory answer to the question put by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon. The right hon. Gentleman had asked this question—upon what principle had the Committee, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, recommended the payment of 30,000l. as a reimburse- 751 ment to the depositors in the Cuffe-street savings bank? He had a very simple answer to give to that question, and it was this—because the facts and circumstances connected with the Cuffe-street case distinguished it from all others. What, then, were these circumstances? The House was aware that the Act of Parliament under which savings banks were established imposed certain duties upon the local trustees and the Commissioners of the National Debt. In the Cuffe-street savings bank the local trustees had violated their duty, and the Commissioners of the National Debt had violated theirs. It was required by the Act of Parliament that the local trustees should transmit to the Commissioners of the National Debt a full and true statement of their affairs. It was the duty of the Commissioners in London, in the event of the accounts not being in the prescribed form, to send them back; and the local trustees refusing to put them in proper form, the Commissioners could close their accounts, and thus force the bank to wind up its affairs. Now upon this point the Chairman had fallen into a mistake, when he said that the Committeee had decided that the depositors had neither a legal nor an equitable claim. The Committee had decided that they had not a legal claim, but the question of their having an equitable claim was left undecided. Now, he had to call their attention to those points which had been reported as unanimously adopted—namely, that between 1831 and 1848 the Commissioners had an annual account of a growing deficiency, and yet they permitted the bank to keep open. He referred to the question numbered 3171, to show that the Commissioners had the legal power to do this. The report, which was agreed to in the presence of Mr. Goulburn, Sir G. Clerk, and Mr. Herries, stated that it was known to the Commissioners, that in 1838, there was a deficiency of 25,271l.; that in 1845 the circumstances of the bank were known to the Commissioners, and yet no step was taken to make them wind up their affairs; and if they had been forced to do so, the bank could, in 1838, have paid 16s. 6d., in 1845, 15s. in the pound. And why were they not forced to do this, by which so much mischief and so much loss might have been prevented? It was for reasons of State policy. Mr. Higham, who had given his evidence most fairly on this subject, said, that the Cuffe-street savings bank was kept open by the Commissioners, 752 though they knew of its insolvency, on the ground of State policy; and when he (Mr. Reynolds) asked what was "the State policy" to which he referred, Mr. Higham replied, "Lest a panic should be created, which would cause a run upon all the banks, and shake public credit." Now he, in calling their attention to this fact, did not do so for the purpose of criminating any one. The Cuffe-street case was an exceptional one, and without a parallel. The bank commenced in 1818, and in 1831 became insolvent; and Mr. Tidd Pratt, on an investigation of its affairs in that year, recommended 7,000l. to be paid by the trustees out of the assets, and 4,000l. out of the future surplus. It was found impossible to comply with that order without paying every demand, whether legal or not, otherwise there would have been a run on the bank which might ruin it. The trustees transmitted to Downing-street every year the annual accounts of the bank, showing a growing deficiency—commencing with 3,500l., and ending with 32,500l.—and ultimately, in 1848, when a public accountant re-examined the books, he struck a balance of 64,000l. due to the depositors. Had the Commissioners for the National Debt performed their duty according to Act of Parliament, the claim of the depositors for compensation would have been very slight indeed; and would a great nation, with an income of 60 millions a year, refuse to pay 20s. in the pound to the unfortunate depositors, when a case like that had been made out? He did not ask the payment in charity, but as a just claim. The hon Member for Kerry urged the postponement of the question. The postponement of it would be death to the unfortunate people. The feelings of the people were, that the entire amount ought to be paid; and he did not think he misinterpreted the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman when he believed that if his casting vote would decide it, the whole sum would be voted. He (Mr. Reynolds) would thankfully accept the 30,000l. as an instalment of the whole payment due; but they were bound to pay up the balance. With respect to the Killarney and Tralee banks, he thought that a strong case had been made out for the Killarney depositors, at least.
MR. J. A. SMITH
wished to explain a single sentence in the report, which gave rise to a misconception. In the third paragraph, it was stated that Mr. Tidd Pratt decided a claim of 4,274l. to be illegal, 753 and yet recommended it to be paid. It was naturally asked, how was it possible he could recommend the payment of a claim that was illegal? The word illegal conveyed a wrong impression in this case, and yet there was no other that could be well used. The claim arose out of the fraudulent and illegal conduct of Mr. Dunne, the registrar, who received sums out of office-hours and in his own house. Such deposits were illegal, and the depositors had no legal claim, though they had lodged their money as others had, but in ignorance of the law, of which ignorance the registrar had fraudulently availed himself.
§ SIR J. GRAHAM
believed that his position was that of almost every Member of the House who had not been a Member also of the Select Committee to which the question of the savings banks had been referred. Until he had received his Parliamentary papers that morning, he had not the least conception that a vote of that kind would be proposed that evening. He had not read the evidence presented in the former Session, and he had already remarked that the proceedings of the Committee in the present Session were not yet printed or in the hands of Members. They were, therefore, under great obligations to the hon. Chairman of the Committee for giving them some light into the nature of the inquiry conducted by him in the course of the present Session; also into the proceedings of the Committee, and into the differences of opinion which existed among the members of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord Mayor of Dublin said he was prepared, with thanks, to receive the vote, as an instalment of the debt due by the public. He (Sir J. Graham) had the greatest possible respect for the right hon. Gentleman and his constituents, but the British Parliament did not require his thanks. He represented his constituents, and said his claim was a just one. The right hon. Gentleman was satisfied with the decision of the Committee, as being more just than he had expected; and he hoped the House would disappoint him in the same manner, and do strict justice. If their claim was a just one, it would be met in the spirit of justice by the British Parliament. The question then they had to determine was one of very great importance, and they were asked to determine it, if not upon insufficient evidence, at least 754 without a full knowledge of the facts. If this claim was to stand upon the evidence, then he repeated that the impression which he had conveyed to the House when he before addressed it, was strengthened by what he had since heard. This vote was either too much or too little. If it rested upon mere compassion and sympathy, then it was too much. If, on the other hand, it were founded upon equity and special circumstances, then, according to the report of the accountant, the amount ought to be, not 30,000l., but 64,000l. Therefore the vote which they were that night called on to sanction, could not on any ground be considered correct. He had no opportunity of considering the facts of the case until he came into the House and found the subject under discussion. It would appear that the Cuffe-street savings bank had been brought under the consideration of the Commissioners of the National Debt as early as 1831. Great irregularities were then discovered, and the power which was then possessed by the Commissioners, as it was still possessed by them, of closing the bank, was not exercised. He had endeavoured to state the case according to the information he was able to glean as the discussion proceeded; but in the absence of all evidence he was unable himself to vouch for its accuracy. Yet in this imperfect state of the facts they were now called upon to vote away the sum of 30,000l. As he had observed, in 1831 irregularities were discovered in this hank, and Mr. Tidd Pratt recommended a particular course, which was not followed. Again, in 1838, the misconduct of the bank was brought under the knowledge of the Commissioners, and again they neglected to exercise their authority in closing the accounts. Further irregularities were committed. The debt became greater; and in 1848, for the third time, the misconduct of the bank was brought under the notice of the Commissioners, and again their power was not exercised. The bank continued open, the deposits became greater, and in an inverse ratio the debt became greater. In 1848 its insolvency became apparent, and frauds were still committed upon the very verge of its being acknowledged, the injury done to the depositors being much aggravated by these circumstances. Now, if these facts could be proved, a special case, not of charity, but of strict equity, would be established. He was not prepared to come 755 to this conclusion at the present moment. He thought that the case required the most cautious and minute investigation, with the view of establishing the specialty of the case. If they did not come to a conclusion upon the specialty of the case, then they should fall back upon the other ground—that it was a case for their sympathy and compassion. He had understood the hon. Chairman to say that the Committee were generally of opinion that there was no crime committed either in law or in equity. The majority of the Committee came to that opinion, and also to conclusions different from those which he would be induced to arrive at. [Mr. REYNOLDS: Not in equity; the word "equity" was not introduced into the report.] He had understood the Chairman to say that neither in law nor in equity was there any compensation claimed. But there was a claim founded upon their compassion and sympathy. If they admitted such a claim as that, he defied them to draw a distinction between the Cuffe-street case, the Tralee case, the Killarney case, the Auchterarder case, the Rochdale case, and every other case of the kind that had occurred in England. Though they were now in the last stage of the Session, the imperfections of the law in this respect might yet be remedied. On the grounds of compassion and sympathy, were they to open the public purse to meet the unlimited calls that would then be made upon them? By so doing they would be establishing a most dangerous precedent. The moment they came to a decision that the public should be responsible, they would find themselves placed in such a dangerous situation that they would be compelled to alter the law. To admit their liability, without placing any bounds to their assent, appeared to him to be the most inexpedient course that the House could adopt. He earnestly entreated the Government not in the present circumstances of the case to press the Motion, but to withdraw it for the present, with the view of bringing it forward next Session, when it could be most carefully considered.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
thought it would be advisable to postpone the vote, if they hoped to receive further evidence on the subject. But it was admitted that no such evidence was anticipated; for all the evidence that could be shown upon the subject was lying before them for a whole twelvemonth. The report distinctly stated that fault had been committed by the au- 756 thorities of the bank, to the great injury of the unfortunate depositors, whom this House and the Government were bound to protect.
§ LORD C. HAMILTON
fully agreed in the opinions put forward by the right hon. Member for Dublin upon this subject. He believed that there had been important statements made by the accountants in respect to this matter, all of which had not as yet been placed in the hands of Members. These and all the evidence that they had on the subject, fully justified the grant that was proposed. The Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, in 1844, allowed the poor unfortunate inhabitants of Dublin to put their moneys into the bank, when they well knew that it was insolvent, and that the trustees were no longer responsible. The Commissioners were then fully aware of the great deficiency that had been occasioned in the bank, and yet they did not take any measures to warn the public of the danger they incurred. The sham arbitrators appointed by Mr. Tidd Pratt were boys 15 years of age, who were told to disagree in order that Mr. Tidd Pratt might come in and settle the disputes. Mr. Tidd Pratt considered he was authorised to give advice, but not to investigate the affairs of the bank. He contended that an individual officially called in, had no right to put himself in hostility to any party. He could tell the House the present debate would not end the case, for when the additional evidence was laid before the House, he was satisfied the sense of justice which hon. Members possessed would induce them to support the vote.
§ MR. GROGAN
thought it was unnecessary to discuss the claims of the depositors, as the whole affair had been so fully discussed before. Why postpone the vote when the case had been fully gone into, and when so much suffering would be caused by delay?
§ MR. HENLEY
said, the House was asked to give this money without laying down any principle, or stating any definite ground on which the vote was to be granted. The report of the Committee gave no hint of the course that ought to be pursued. They admitted there was no legal claim on the country, and they simply left the matter in the hands of the Government to adopt that course which they might think to be the best. A six hours' consideration was not sufficient to enable Members to come to a decision on the subject. If 757 the claim was founded in justice let it be paid in full, but he could not admit the plea of compassion as a sufficient ground for voting away the public money. If the vote went to a division, he should vote against it.
§ MR. BROTHERTON
said, the Irish Members had argued the question as if the depositors had an equitable claim on the Government. He had always considered that the depositors had only an equitable claim on the trustees—they had neither an equitable nor a legal claim on Government. It had been urged that the Commissioners of the National Debt were to blame; but hon. Members should recollect that the Commissioners had no power over the trustees. The Commissioners had over and over again urged the trustees to close the bank. The trustees would not consent, and the Commissioners had no power to compel them. If the money was given by way of compassion, then the same principle must be extended to all the defaulting banks in Ireland and England also.
§ MR. MORRIS
would support the vote, because he hoped the liberality of the Government would not be limited to this case.
§ MR. S. CRAWFORD
had a deep interest in this question on account of the constituency he represented. The question was an English question as well as an Irish question, and as you treated Ireland, so you must treat England. He admitted there was no legal claim on Government, but there was the next highest claim—the claim of equity and morality. He thought the sum ought to be paid in full.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, nothing had been done by Government to disabuse the public mind of the impression that prevailed, that Government were responsible to the savings banks. The Commissioners of the National Debt had connived at the deception, and were to a certain extent answerable for what had occurred. There was a great difference between the case of some banks that were spoken of, and the Cuffe-street bank. The state of the law was such as to make these savings banks in reality little less than a trap for the people who subscribed to them. He agreed with the hon. Member for Rochdale in thinking that there was an universal belief that the Government were responsible for the sums which they deposited. Speaking of the Government and the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, he must 758 say that they connived at the transactions of the Cuffe-street bank. A pamphlet, written by Mr. Higham, showed that in the year 1833, that bank was deficient in its accounts to the amount of 3,071l.; in 1834, to 7,000l.; in 1835, to 13,000l.: in 1836, to 19,000l.; in 1837, to 18,000l.; in 1845, to 18,000l.; in 1846, to 19,000l.; and in 1847, to 32,000l. Now the Commissioners at the National Debt Office were fully aware of this deficiency as regarded the Cuffe-street bank, and yet no report of the matter was made. The Commissioners, if they pleased, could have exploded the whole affair. Several Chancellors of the Exchequer in succession must have been cognisant of the frauds in this bank. Taking for granted that the report of the Committee was fairly founded on the evidence, he must say that all the individuals officially concerned were deeply responsible; and were he a representative of Dublin, he would call on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make good the whole deficiency. The case of the Rochdale savings bank was one of gross neglect on the part of the trustees. No man could suppose that any one of them was cognisant of what was going on. A young man of twenty-one succeeded his father in 1822, and from that year up to the time of his death there was nothing like an audit. When he died, out of 100,000l. only 30,000l. was left. His property amounted to about 13,000l. or 14,000l. The case was one which appealed to the sympathies of the House as strongly as any case could do. He had been to the Chancellor of the Exchequer twice on behalf of the depositors, if the right hon. Gentleman would bring in a Bill to provide security against fraud in future, he would consent to the making good all the losses caused by past neglect. As regarded the Cuffe-street bank, he would willingly vote for the whole 64,000l.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, there was no pretence for saying that in the case of the Rochdale bank the Government was at all implicated. The question there was one of pure sympathy and humanity, and the case was not be distinguished from that of any other savings bank failure. The case of the Cuffe-street bank was a very strong one. The fact of the deficiency was laid before the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt; in other words, before the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, and they did not think it advisable to take any step. It was that circum- 759 stance which, in his opinion, entitled the depositors to consideration, their claim being to something between equity, sympathy, and charity. [Cheers.] Well, it was not easy to define the claim. Were he to talk for six hours he would probably fail to make out a clear logical distinction. He did not think what was proposed in that case could be cited as a precedent hereafter.
§ MR. NAPIER
conceived the Commissioners were liable for the debts of the bank. It was not a matter of mistake; it was a question of duty; and, therefore, they should be held responsible as far as they could be. They were required to publish the state of the banks. If they neglected to do this, and if the public sustained injury from that neglect, according to the first principles of law they were liable. He would, therefore, vote for the 30,000l., but as an instalment; as he thought 20s. in the pound should be paid by the country.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 118; Noes 39: Majority 79.
§ Vote agreed to; as was also
§ (4.) 500,000l., to discharge the like amount of Supplies.
§ House resumed.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.