The Earl of Lauderdale
said, he would trouble their lordships with some motions connected with a question of the greatest moment. The time was fast approaching when the subject of the resumption of cash-payments by the Bank must come before their lordships. He trusted that parliament would not consent to continue the restriction without a full inquiry into the circumstances of the case, which done could enable them to come to a right decision on the whole of this question, upon which more than upon any other the welfare of the country depended. He concluded by moving for accounts of the weekly amount 120 of bank notes in circulation in the years 1815, 16, and 17; the average amount, the highest and lowest amount in each year, distinguishing the notes of different sums, the rates of exchange, the number of licenses granted for the issue of notes, & c.; all of which were ordered.
said, he felt himself called upon to advert to the subject of the Bank, in consequence of having heard, with the greatest regret, from official authority in another place, that doubts existed whether payments in cash could be resumed at the bank at the period pointed out for that purpose. The reason assigned for this apprehended delay was so extraordinary in itself, and so unintelligible to the country, it being impossible to conceive how in reality the negotiation of foreign loans could tend to prevent the resumption of cash payments by the bank of England, that it could only be considered as the ostensible reason, and not the real one. He could not but consider this postponement as a measure the most detrimental to the interests of the country. Without a metallic currency there could be no certainty, no stability in any contracts or dealings, and speculation was let loose upon the country in all its most injurious forms. What would be said if the minister of France were to tell the legislative body of that country that the bank of France could not pay in cash, because there was a loan negotiating there for England or any other country Would not such an assertion be laughed at as a mere subterfuge? and was it to be expected that such an assertion here would not be considered in precisely a similar light? If, indeed, the negotiating of loans here for foreign countries was to be a cause of preventing the bank of England from paying in cash, then he could conceive no time in which that return to a healthy circulation could take place. This was most alarming to the country, nor could he conceive any line of conduct more calculated to produce the most serious injury. Were they to understand, that the government was unable to pay its debts to the bank, and that thus the latter were unable to pay in specie? He deprecated such a system as the most impolitic that could possibly be acted upon, convinced, as he was, that there could be no security whatever but in the return to the sound and healthy circulation of a metallic currency.
The Earl of Liverpool
said, that he 121 should not enter into any discussion of the topics on which the noble lord had touched. They were, it was true, questions which had given rise to much difference of opinion in that House and elsewhere, and he was also aware, that there still existed great difference of sentiment as to the policy of the financial measures pursued in the course of the last war. He was not, however, called upon to vindicate that policy at present. With regard to the particular measure to which the noble lord's inquiry was directed, he had uniformly held, and still did hold, that it was the interest of this country and of the bank that cash-payments should be resumed as speedily as possible. In stating that he always felt the force of this principle, he must also remark that he was equally convinced that the particular moment when the bank ought to resume the regular course of payment was a consideration of the greatest delicacy and importance. Whatever might have been stated during the war as to the resumption of cash-payments on the return of peace, still the question as to the precise period for the adoption of that measure was always understood to be left to the decision of parliament, on a full consideration of the circumstances which might exist at the time. Having said thus much he should only add, that he had ground for believing, and indeed knowing that the bank had made every necessary preparation for answering the demands which might arise by the expiration of the restriction bill, and he saw nothing in the domestic situation of the country, or in our foreign relations, that was calculated to produce any undue delay in the resumption of cash-payments. It was possible, however, that there might be circumstances in existing pecuniary arrangements of foreign powers which would render it adviseable for parliament to consider whether the act ought not to remain in force, as long those circumstances, which were not likely to recur again, continued to operate. If any supposition was entertained of the delay being occasioned by financial transactions between the government and the bank, he could assure their lordships it was perfectly groundless.
said, that he did not impute the continuance of the restriction to any improper understanding between the government and the Bank. He merely meant, that if the Bank were limited in 122 their issues of paper, they could not afford such extensive accommodation to the government as they are at present enabled to do in the taking of exchequer bills.
The Earl of Lauderdale
said, he should consider himself wanting in duty, were he to allow what had fallen from the noble secretary of state to pass unnoticed. The noble secretary had stated, that the particular period for the resumption of cash-payments was a question of expediency, which required great consideration. Now, only two years ago, the noble secretary had treated with great derision all those who ventured to doubt that the Bank would pay in cash within two years from that time. For his part, he had never expected that the Bank would pay in cash at the period promised, nor could such an expectation be entertained by any one who fairly considered the nature of the connexion between the Bank and the government. The noble secretary had declared, that notwithstanding the intended delay, there was nothing in the situation of the country to prevent the restriction act from being allowed to expire, and that the Bank was perfectly prepared to pay its notes in cash at the time fixed by the act of parliament. He knew not on what information the noble earl had found-ed his opinion as to this ability of the Bank. He derived it, perhaps; from some of the directors, but there might be different opinions among them. But though the Bank had made ample preparation, the noble secretary hinted, that still there might be something in the relations subsisting among foreign powers, which ought to retard the resumption of cash-payments; but what that something was, he had not chosen to explain. From what he had said, however, this much appeared—that this most important of all measures to the welfare and prosperity of the country, no longer depended upon the decision of the British parliament on what might be done by the government of France, or of any other foreign country. The noble lord stated, such a circumstance was not likely to recur; but what security could be found for this assurance? Could the noble lord pledge himself that the governments of Russia or Prussia might not choose to negotiate a loan, as soon as the effect of the one now making for France might cease to operate? Would not a loan for any of these powers be as good a reason for postponing the day of paying in cash, as that now nego- 123 tiating for France? Let the case be reversed, and suppose a French minister were to say, to any assembly in that country, that the Bank of France could not be allowed to pay, because a small Joan was negotiating by this country, would he not be laughed at for giving such a reason? In fact, the cause of delay assigned by the noble earl was of so extraordinary a nature, that it called for the most serious consideration their lordships could give it. A full and complete investigation was necessary. The proper course would be to examine the Bank directors; and indeed he thought that nothing short of an inquiry of that kind could satisfy parliament and the country. If the noble earl and his colleagues persisted in their present course, without any efficient investigation, they would expose themselves to a more serious responsibility than any ministers had ever ventured to encounter; for they now placed the country in this situation—that the resumption of cash-payments was no longer to depend on the wisdom of parliament, but on measures which any continental despot or foreign assembly might choose to adopt. Nothing could be more alarming to the monied interest, the landed interest, and indeed to all classes in the country, than such a state of things as this presented.
§ The motions were agreed to.