HC Deb 12 February 1857 vol 144 cc596-601

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER rose to move the nomination of the Committee on the Bank Acts. The right hon. Gentleman said, I will trouble the House with a few remarks relating to the nature of the Committee I propose to appoint, namely, a Committee of Secrecy. The actual difference between an ordinary Committee and a Committee of Secrecy is not, in fact, very wide. It is competent for a Select Committee—and it often exercises the power—to exclude the public during the reception of evidence. All Select Committees exclude the public during their deliberations, which constitute the only part of their proceedings of which an authentic report by a shorthand writer is not preserved. To a Committee of the sort I now propose it is not probable that the public would be admitted during the examination of witnesses; but a complete report of the evidence would be taken, and the Committee would have the power of laying it on the table of the House. The only difference between a Select Committee, not admitting the public during the examination of witnesses, and a Committee of Secrecy is this—that it is the privilege of Members not belonging to the Committee to be present at an ordinary Select Committee, if they so think fit, while the public are excluded. But, if the Committee be a Committee of Secrecy, then Members unconnected with the Committee have not that privilege. That is the whole extent of the difference. In looking through the series of Committees appointed to inquire into the Bank Charter and other questions of a similar nature, I find it to have been the invariable practice to constitute them Committees of Secrecy. In 1819, the Committee on the expediency of the Bank resuming cash payments was a Secret Committee. In 1832, a Secret Committee was appointed to inquire into the expediency of renewing the Bank Charter. In 1836, the Committee on Joint-stock Banks was also secret, and the Committee on banks of issue, in 1840, and that on commercial distress, in 1848, were likewise Committees of Secrecy. With respect to the arrangements between the Government and the Bank of England there is nothing which, as far as I am aware, might not be published to the whole world, and, as far as Government is concerned, there is no reason to wish that any departure should take place from the usual mode of examination in Committee. But the House must be aware that, in a Committee of this sort, questions may arise affecting the credit of particular commercial establishments, with respect to which it might not be desirable that any publicity should occur; and that, I apprehend, is the principal reason why this course has been invariably pursued with respect to Committees of this kind. Therefore, I have thought it desirable to adhere to what seems to have been the invariable practice, and I propose that this should be a Committee of Secrecy. With respect to the Members of the Committee, it has been my study to propose as fair a list of names as possible, and one which would insure a complete and searching investigation of the matter referred to the Committee. I think the House will admit that there are scarcely any discussions so disagreeable to the feelings as those which arise with respect to the preference of one Member to another for appointment on a Committee, and if the House should be of opinion that, on the whole, the list I propose is a fair one, I trust that, without going into the merits of other Members, it will be disposed to adopt the list I submit. Two Gentlemen—the hon. Members for Wallingford and Perthshire (Mr. Malins and Mr. Stirling)—have intimated their inability to serve on the Committee, and I shall therefore give notice of a Motion to substitute two other names instead of theirs. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— That the Committee be a Committee of Secrecy, and do consist of twenty-two Members—namely, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Disraeli, Sir J. Graham, Mr. Spooner, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. G. A. Hamilton, Mr. Cardwell, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Hildyard, Mr. Glyn, Mr. Beckett, Mr. Hankey, Mr. Pollard-Urquhart, Mr. J. L. Ricardo, Sir C. Wood, Mr. Cayley, Sir F. Baring, Mr. M. T. Smith, Mr. Wilkinson, and Mr. Fergus.


said, he protested against the fairness of the proposed Committee. There were opinions upon this subject entertained by two schools, if he might call them so, which were diametrically opposed to each other. There was the school which wished to preserve the Bank Act in its present integrity, and which had on its side the high authority of Lord Overstone. There was the school which wished to in- troduce considerable modifications in the Act, and which had on its side the still higher authority of Mr. Fullerton, Mr. Tooke, and Mr. Wilson. The last-mentioned gentleman, indeed, had almost deluged the country with the variety of pamphlets, articles, and publications, which he had issued on this subject during the last fourteen years. On looking at the names that composed the Committee, he (Mr. Peacocke) found one or two members of what he might call the Birmingham school, and he found one or two of what he might call the Overstone school. He found the names of some Members who, he believed, had never expressed any opinion on this subject, if, indeed, they entertained any. But he did not find a single member of what he might call the school of economists, which had the very high authority of Messrs. Tooke, Fullerton, and Wilson. He listened to a great portion of the not very lively or instructive debate on this subject the other evening, and of the portion which he had not the felicity of hearing he read a report the next day. He found that during the whole of the debate there was only one hon. Gentleman who broached doctrines at all approaching to that school. That hon. Gentleman, who was the hon. Member for the Wick Burghs (Mr. Laing), spoke most ably, but his name was not on the Committee. Perhaps, however, he (Mr. Peacocke) might be told, as he had been reminded by his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, that the name of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. James Wilson) was upon the Committee; but he must take the liberty of asking whether he was a Wilsonite, for he was probably no more a Wilsonite than Wilkes was a Wilkite. He (Mr. Peacocke) was rather inclined to believe that the hon. Member for Westbury was inclined, like Wilkes, to repudiate his disciples, and he therefore begged to ask whether it was really his intention to take his place upon the Committee; and, if he should do so, whether he would do so as the author of Capital and Currency, or as the Secretary for the Treasury; because, with the single exception of the hon. Gentleman himself, there was no representative of the school of which he was once the apostle, but of which he (Mr. Peacocke) believed he was no longer a disciple. If there was one question more than another to which the attention of the Committee ought to be directed it was that of country issues. On looking over the debate of the other evening he found that that subject was alluded to by only one Gentleman—namely, his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. H. J. Baillie). But that hon. Gentleman's name was not on the Committee. There was another most important point. He believed that it was a very general opinion that it was the intention of the Bank Act that the bullion in the issue department should be exclusively for the purpose of securing the convertibility of the note, and that the holder of a bank-note should have a special lien upon it. Now, if the Bank should break, was the holder of such a note to be paid pari passu with every other creditor? That, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must admit, was a very important question for the consideration of the Committee, but not one of those hon. Gentlemen whose names had been proposed had alluded to it. And yet he (Mr. Peacocke) was told that this was a fair and impartial Committee for the purposes of inquiry. He declined to propose any alteration of it. He thought that the play was amusing as it stood, and he did not wish to interfere with the performance or the distribution of the parts in this most solemn comedy.


said, he begged to repeat the appeal which he made the other evening to the Government, that they should introduce a Bill at once, without the intervention of a Committee, as he thought that all the information that might be needed could be furnished during the discussion of the Bill in its several stages in that House. The Government had matured their opinion on the subject, and he thought it was most unadvisable to appoint a Committee to investigate a subject with respect to which the Government was prepared to undertake, on its own responsibility, the introduction of a Bill. He (Mr. Disraeli) was not disposed to divide the House upon the appointment of a Committee unless he should receive more encouragement than he then anticipated. But there was another point which was scarcely less important which he would urge upon the Government, and that was, the expediency of not only changing the names, but reducing the size of the Committee, which was unwieldy. All the opinions that ought to be represented, might be represented by a Committee exactly half the size. Why not have a Committee of eleven, as they chose elevens at cricket?


said, it appeared to be the general wish of the House that a Select Committee should be appointed on this subject; and, although he thought there was no necessity for one, yet he would yield to that desire. Even if he had determined to introduce a Bill in the first instance, he believed that the majority of the House would have referred it to a Select Committee. There was a general desire, both within the House and out of doors, that the subject should undergo investigation before a Committee. On referring to former Committees upon this subject, he found that they were generally composed of twenty-six or twenty-eight. The last Committee was composed of twenty-six. In proposing, therefore, a Committee of twenty-two, he did not choose an unreasonable number. The many applications which had been made to him by hon. Members desirous of being appointed on the Committee induced him to believe that it was the general wish that the Committee should be composed of at least twenty-two Members.


complained of the absence from the list of every hon. Gentlemen representing the manufacturing districts in the north of England.


expressed his approval of an inquiry by a Select Committee as a preliminary step to the introduction of a Bill.

Then it was Ordered, That the Committee be a Committee of Secrecy, and do consist of twenty-two Members:—Committee nominated:—The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. DISRAELI, Sir JAMES GRAHAM, Mr. SPOONER, Mr. GLADSTONE, Mr. GEORGE ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Mr. CARDWELL, Mr. WILSON, Mr. HILDYARD, Mr. GLYN, Mr. BECKETT, Mr. HANKEY.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That MR. POLLARD-URQUHART be one other Member of the said Committee."


proposed the substitution of Mr. Vance's name for that of Mr. Urquhart, on the ground that the latter represented an agricultural, while the former represented a mercantile constituency.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the name of "Mr. POLLARD-URQUHART," and insert the name of "Mr. VANCE," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the name of 'Mr. POLLARD-URQUHART' stand part of the Question.

After a few words from Mr. NEWDEGATE,


thought that it was not the first time that the hon. Gentleman had made a Motion of a similar nature with respect to his colleague; and he also thought that his colleague had made a similar Motion with regard to himself. He himself would adhere to the names which he had set down, and, as among those names were the names of the hon. Member for the University of Dublin, an accomplished financier, and of the hon. Member for Westmeath, who had on previous occasions exhibited considerable acquaintance with the subject, he did not think that Irish commercial interests were not fairly represented.


disclaimed any intention of placing himself in antagonism with the hon. Member for Westmeath, but at the same time he begged, in reply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to state that he had never proposed his colleague to serve on any Committee, and he hoped that his hon. Colleague would now withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, "That Mr. POLLARD-URQUHART be one other Member of the said Committee," put, and agreed to.

Mr. JOHN LEWIS RICARDO, Sir CHARLES WOOD, Mr. CAYLEY, Sir FRANCIS BARING, Mr. MARTIN TUCKER SMITH, Mr. WILKINSON, and Mr. FERGUS, nominated other Members of the said Committee:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records. Five to be the quorum.

The House adjourned at Twelve o'clock.