HC Deb 07 April 1856 vol 141 cc623-7

Order for Committee read. House in Committee.

MR. BLACKBURN moved, that the Chairman should report progress. The Bill was only read a first time on Monday last, and it was not fair to the House that a measure involving so important a principle as did this Bill, should be passed without ample time being allowed for its consideration. The principle of the Bill was that the Government should act as a bank, and should advance large sums of money to any one who asked for them, and for all sorts of purposes. The first measure of the kind was passed in 1817, when the Government was authorised to issue £1,700,000 of Exchequer bills, by way of loan, for the advancement of public works. This went on until 1842, when an Act was passed which bound the Treasury annually to pay £360,000 to a fund, out of which the Commissioners for carrying out the Act might make loans. It was, in his opinion, very doubtful whether the Government ought thus to act as a bank; and, in addition to this, he had various objections to the details of this measure. As far as he could gather from a perusal of twenty-three Acts of Parliament, which this Bill would renew, there was no check upon the expenses of the Commission. By the Act of 1842, the Commissioners had to account to the Treasury, but there was no account to that House. Neither was there any provision for the rendering to the House an account of the money lent by the Commissioners and the purposes for which it had been advanced. By a return which had been obtained by an hon. Member he found that in the year 1854 there was £4,000,000 out on loan, of which the Commissioners themselves considered £1,500,000 to be bad debts. Under all these circumstances he thought that the Bill ought to be more fully debated than it was likely to be at so late an hour a quarter past 12 o'clock); and he therefore moved that the Chairman should report progress.


would have no objection to the Motion of the hon. Member if any reason could be stated for it; but the House was aware that the Bill was merely a continuation Bill, and that its principle had been debated over and over again. He believed that there was no institution in the country more useful than the Exchequer bill Loan Commission, which was now needed more than ever, in consequence of the numerous Bills that had been passed for sanitary purposes and the opening of new cemeteries. The Commission was appointed to grant loans upon the security of Parliamentary rates, and up to the present time it had not made a single loss, except in two cases in which advances were pressed upon it by votes of that House. The expenses of the Commission, which were small, were voted every year in Committee of Supply.


objected to proceeding with the Bill at that late hour. The principle of the Bill had not been discussed. He wished to know when the Bill was read a second time? [Mr. WILSON: On Friday.] No, on Saturday morning. From a return, it appeared that the Commissioners had incurred losses to the extent of £300,000 in England and Scotland, and of £1,477,000 in Ireland. They began by lending to other people, and ended by saddling this country with increased debt. Now the question was, whether the House was prepared to sanction the principle that had hitherto been acted on. He called on the Committee to consider whether half-past twelve o'clock was a proper hour to enter upon a discussion of a matter like this, which was one that should be thoroughly debated.


agreed with the hon. Baronet that it would not be agreeable to sit for three hours discussing the details of the Bill, but he saw no necessity for doing so. There was no new principle involved in the Bill, which merely continued the powers of the Exchequer-bill Loan Commission. Two years ago very long discussions took place upon the powers, position, and duties of that Commission, and although there was considerable difference of opinion at first, it was eventually admitted on all hands not only that the functions of the Commission were well performed, but that it conferred great benefits upon the country at large. He believed, moreover, that there was no public body in London which cost less than the Loan Commission.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 16; Noes 107: Majority 91.

Preamble postponed.

Clause 1 agreed to.

On Clause 2,


objected to this Bill being carried out by a Commission some of the members of which were Commissioners for the reduction of the National Debt—the very men who should check the acts of the Commissioners for this Bill. The name of Sir Alexander Spearman, Secretary to the Commissioners for the reduction of the National Debt, was the first on the list of those other Commissioners. Did the National Debt Commissioners ever meet? Did not Sir A. Spearman carry on the whole business that the National Debt Commissioners had the name of transacting?


said, that the persons who constituted the Commission appointed to execute the Act were gentlemen of the highest character, such as Sir Alexander Spearman and Mr. Hubbard, lately Governor of the Bank of England. The Commission had been in existence for a considerable time, and had discharged their duties to the satisfaction of the country.


said, that his observations referred not so much to the Commissioners appointed to execute the Act as to the Commissioners of the National Debt. It appeared, from a paper which had been laid upon the table of the House, that £8,000,000 had been given in the shape of loan; and that of that sum £1,800,000 had been lost to the country.


was not acquainted with the paper to which the hon. Baronet referred, but he might state that the public had never been a loser by any loan into which the Commissioners appointed to execute the Act under consideration had entered, except in two instances; the one, the case of the Thames Tunnel, and the other one which he could not at that moment recollect. He might add that, in the two instances to which he had alluded, the loan had been rendered compulsory upon the Commissioners by a Vote of that House.


said, he did not think that the Bill ought at that late hour (one o'clock) to be proceeded with. He should therefore move that the Chairman should report progress.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report progress, and ask leave to sit again."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 28; Noes 79: Majority 51.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3.


said, he thought an annual account ought, under the operation of the Bill, to be presented to Parliament and the country with reference to the nature and results of any loans that might have been made.


said, there was an account annually made up by the Commissioners; but if the obligation did not extend with reference to those accounts quite so far as the hon. Member suggested, he (Mr. Wilson) should take care that upon the third reading a clause with that object should be introduced into the Bill.


hoped the Government would not proceed further with the Bill that night. He should move that the Chairman report progress.


said, that, after the intimation which had just been given by his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, the House would have no objection to go on with the Bill.

Motion withdrawn.

Clause agreed to; as were the remaining clauses of the Bill.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.