HL Deb 12 April 1842 vol 62 cc292-4
The Duke of Wellington,

in moving the second reading of the forged Exchequer-bills Bill, observed that it was rendered necessary by the very extensive frauds in Exchequer-bills which had been committed last year, and which appeared to have been carried on for some considerable time without discovery, though that several persons were cognizant of what was thus going on. The subject had already undergone an investigation, but that was only preliminary to a more minute and searching inquiry into each particular case, and the object of the present bill was to appoint commissioners for that purpose, and to define the powers of those commissioners. By the 5th clause of the bill they would have to Inquire into the case of every owner or holder of any document purporting to be an Exchequer-bill which shall be referred to them by the Commissioners of her Majesty's Treasury, and shall from time to time report to her Majesty what they shall find concerning the manner of the issue, circulation, deposit, or possession, of every such document, and especially in what manner the owner or holders of such documents received the same, whether in exchange for other bills, and if so, in what manner such exchange was made, or whether by purchase in open market, or otherwise, and if so, at what rate of purchase; or whether by way of deposit as securities for loans of money, and if so, at what rate of interest, and for what time such loans were made, and whether such loans were renewed, and if so, how often and for what time; and also, whether the owners or holders of such documents received the same in the usual course of business, and whether they employed any and what means of inquiry into the genuineness of such documents. The commissioners on whom this duty would devolve were named in the bill. They were a noble Earl (Earl of Devon), a Member of their Lordships' House, and two Gentlemen (Mr. H. J. Stephen, Serjeant-at-law, and Mr. R. Mitford), who were fully competent to the task thus devolved on them. He had reason to hope that this mode of proceeding would be found satisfactory to all parties, and certainly it would not prevent any of the bonâ fide holders of those forged bills from coming on those from whom they received them, as had already been done in one case. He would move that the bill be read a second time.

Lord Brougham

had no objection to the motion, but he thought there was an omission in the bill which it would be very desirable to supply—he meant a clause for the protection of any witnesses from the consequences which might otherwise follow from their evidence. He thought that where parties were liable to a penalty for a refusal to give evidence, it would be but fair to protect them from any penal consequences for having given it, and it was his intention to move a clause to that effect when the bill was in committee.

Lord Monteagle

threw out for the consideration of the noble Duke whether it were desirable to retain an exception which the bill now contained. He did not see any possible advantage in it; bad as it might be, attended with many disadvantages, he hoped the noble Duke would consult others who had the direction of this matter as to whether it would be expedient or not to erase it from the bill. The words which he referred to were contained in the sixth clause. By that clause it was enacted that the reports of this commission should be laid before her Majesty, and ultimately before Parliament, with the exception of such parts of the evidence as the commissioners of the Treasury should deem it inexpedient to publish in consideration of the public service. He need not say, that he did not entertain any kind of suspicion that any evidence would be suppressed except that coming within the language of the clause; but he could not conceive that any evidence could be produced which would come within the character there described. The late commission was a tribunal of a totally different character, because from it might emanate future prosecution, which it might be most inexpedient to warn against by giving publicity to the proceedings. But this was merely an inquiry into the case of the holders of Exchequer-bills. He was satisfied that no inquiry would give satisfaction to the public which did not lay the fullest possible information on every part of the transaction before them. There was another matter to which he wished to call the noble Duke's attention. He did not see that the public interest would be represented before the commission in any way whatever. He did not believe that the Government could have made a better choice in selecting the members of the commission, or could have named individuals in whom the public would place more confidence; but he thought that some Crown lawyer ought to be present to sift the evidence, and place it in a proper shape before the commissioners, who could only be looked on in the light of judges.

The Duke of Wellington

thought it might be as well to leave the discretion with the Treasury; but he should consult other parties, and give the result of his inquiry.

The Lord Chancellor

observed, that the clause related to reports from time to time during the inquiry. It might be very essential to curtail facts during the investigation; but the question was quite different as to the ultimate publication of the whole. All that was asked was a discretion during the pending inquiry. The noble Lord was mistaken, he thought, in the character of the tribunal. They were commissioners merely to conduct the inquiry, and satisfy themselves of the facts.

Lord Monteagle:

All he desired was, that at some time or other the whole evidence should be published.

Bill read a second time.


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