HC Deb 28 February 1826 vol 14 cc920-8
Mr. Thomas Wilson

being loudly called on by the House, said, that before he proceeded with the motion of which he had given notice, for a select committee to inquire into the present distresses of the commercial world, he wished to know from the chancellor of the Exchequer, whether any thing had occurred, in the course of the day, to render it necessary for him to make a communication to the House?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that in answer to the appeal which had been made to him by the hon. member for the city of London, he had to state to the House, that a communication had taken place between his majesty's Government and the Bank, for the purpose of ascertaining how far that body would be disposed to extend relief to the existing depression in the trading, commercial, and manu- facturing interests of the country, by such a departure from their ordinary rules and practice as would be involved in the principle of advancing money on the security of goods. And in answer to that communication, he was able to state, that the Bank had expressed their acquiescence in the principle, and had now under their consideration the best means of giving effect to such intention.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, after what had fallen from the chancellor of the Exchequer, it would only be necessary for him to make a very few observations; although be thought the right hon. gentleman might have gone further. It was of the highest importance, that if any thing more was intended, it should be perfectly understood, and that the House should be rightly informed on the subject. What he understood to be the case was, that a communication had been made, that there was no disinclination to the proposition on the part of the Bank, and that that body would make an advance of three millions of money, upon goods, on the understanding that the government would bring forward some measure to bear them harmless, and afford some facilities in regard to their issues until October. If this was the nature of the arrangement, he should hail it with the utmost satisfaction. The Bank had done themselves honour to a degree, far beyond his powers of description; but he was unable to express the same sentiment towards his majesty's government. They had allowed the distresses of the country to proceed to too great an extent, and they were quite culpable in allowing such a state of things to exist from week to week, without adopting some measure of relief. However, he was happy that an arrangement had been come to; and if the proposed relief would have the effect of invigorating trade, and restoring public credit, he should not be fastidious as to the mode; although he was convinced that the measure proposed was not the best way of affording relief. But he hoped the advance of three millions would produce very general good. The country was much indebted to the Bank for using their best efforts to diminish the present alarming distress. The relief would not apply to the merchants of London merely, but to the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country. The Bank had done their duty nobly, and he should therefore ask for leave to withdraw the motion of which he had given notice.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that, before that motion was acceded to, he was desirous to reply more specifically to the points adverted to by the hon. member for London. He had before stated, that the question was under the consideration of the Bank, as to the best mode of extending aid to remove the present distresses of the country. He had now to state, that it was the intention of the Bank to carry their advances to a point not exceeding three millions. They would not, of course, be bound to go to that extent, but that was the utmost limit to which they would feel themselves justified in advancing. It was stated to the Bank, that it was the intention of government to propose to parliament, in the course of the session, a measure by which a considerable portion of the advances made by the Bank to Government would be paid off; and he had now further to add, that his right hon. friend, the president of the Board of Trade, meant to submit to parliament the propriety of accelerating the period at which the measure he had introduced last session, relative to the law of Merchant and Factor, should come into operation. His right hon. friend would do so for the purpose of effecting the objects which the House had in view when that measure was submitted to their consideration, and of facilitating the purpose which they now had in view. It was only at a late period of the day that he had been made acquainted with what the Bank had proposed to do; it was, therefore, impossible he could have communicated it earlier. Under these circumstances, he thought the hon. member for London would be acting a prudent part in withdrawing his motion.

Mr. Pearse

thought it necessary to set the House right as to the communication which had been made. The Bank was strongly of opinion, that the other mode of relieving the distress of the country would be much preferable to that now under consideration; but being most desirous to meet the present difficulties of the country, they had consented to waive their own opinions. He was sanguine in his expectations that so much money would not be required. Confidence was the great thing to be established; and he was satisfied that confidence would be restored even by the knowledge that something was about to be done.

Mr. Ellice

was desirous to know whether it was in contemplation to extend this relief to the great manufacturing towns, and whether personal security, as well as security on goods, would be received?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied, that the precise mode in which the plan might be carried into effect he was unable to state. One of the main considerations which had influenced the Bank, in the course they proposed to adopt, was the hope of being able to contribute to the relief, not merely of the city of London, but in an especial manner to diminish the distress which existed in the manufacturing districts.

Mr. Tierney

wished to be informed whether it was intended to proceed by bill on the measure for securing the Bank?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he had not stated that it was the intention of government to bear the Bank harmless. All he had said was, that government meant to propose to parliament a measure which would reduce the advances made by the Bank to government, and relieve the Bank from the embarrassment consequent thereon. Nor was it his intention to propose any bill for the purpose of establishing a commission. The measure which government meant to propose, was one that would afford relief, by accelerating the operation of the law between merchant and factor.

Mr. Tierney

said, he understood the right hon. gentleman perfectly, but was sorry he could not agree with him. He was still convinced, as strongly as when he had first expressed the opinion, of the propriety of issuing Exchequer-bills; and although he, believed the proposed measure might have a good effect, still he was persuaded it would not have the desirable effect of restoring confidence. But he was at a loss to know how to argue this question; for, in fact, there was nothing begun: but he trusted some opportunity would be afforded him and his friends of expressing their opinions on the subject. It appeared to him that the measure they talked about was nothing more than a mere, shift to do something, which, in effect was nothing. The Bank had certainly behaved very kindly in putting themselves in the gap when nobody else would. But then, this measure did not come recommended by their approval. It was not brought forward like the measure of Mr. Pitt, which was recommended by a committee. The House was asked to adopt it, because, forsooth, a noble earl at the head of his majesty's government had thought proper to declare, that nothing on earth would induce him to consent to the issue of Exchequer-bills; and then, to save that noble earl's honour from stain, the country was to be left to struggle through her distresses. This was not the kind of treatment the country deserved. If this was not a question for the interference of the legislature, he did not know what was. He trusted he should have a proper opportunity of expressing his opinions on this subject, for he felt it deeply. He did not wish to oppose government on the question of the currency, for he agreed with their general principles; but he should disgrace himself if he gave his support to such a measure as this. But, if the chancellor of the Exchequer would tell him when it would be convenient to discuss this question, he should be happy to accommodate the right hon. gentleman as to the period for telling him all the objections he had to the proposition. But the measure, as it now stood, was all soap and oil—no one could lay hold of it. The government of the country brought forward their grand panacea for all the evils of the country, which no man could discuss.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he did not feel very sensible of the accommodation proffered by the right hon. gentleman, in requesting a convenient opportunity for censuring the conduct of himself and the government. However, he must say he should hare no objection to meet the discussion on fair grounds, if the right hon. gentleman should think proper to bring forward, the question in the shape of a specific motion, or should avail himself of the opportunity of his right hon. friend's motion relating to the law of Merchant and Factor. He understood the right hon. gentleman to want an opportunity for calling the attention of the House to the question; if so, he had better choose his own day, and then the government would do their best to contend with the arguments of the right hon. gentleman.

Mr. Manning

thought it would be much more convenient to the merchants to have a commission established; but, as the measure had only been agreed upon that afternoon, it would be impossible to enter into all its details at present.

Sir Francis Burdett

said, he thought the conduct of government calculated to ispire any thing but confidence. As this was a subject on which almost every gentleman entertained some difference of opinion, he could not help thinking the House itself was hardly in a state to come to any legislative measure upon the subject, and therefore he regretted most exceedingly that the hon. member for the city of London had withdrawn his motion. Whether the accommodation came from the Bank or the Government was, in his opinion, one and the same thing to the public. All he wished was, that it should be done in a way which would give the most effectual relief to those most distressed. He could see no other reason upon earth for giving the accommodation in an indirect way by the cumbersome machinery of the Bank, instead of giving it in a direct way by the Government, than the declaration of the noble earl at the head of the Treasury, that nothing should induce him to consent to an issue of Exchequer-bills through commissioners. The noble lord had precedents for such a measure; and why he should be anxious to set a new precedent and relinquish the old ones, which had been completely justified by their result, he could by no means conjecture. The present measures were not calculated to afford immediate relief—on the contrary, they were all measures of a prospective and doubtful nature. What, then, was the House doing? Legislating in the dark, without information, when it was not hurried for time, since all its measures were to take effect at a future day. Reflection and thought ought to be bestowed on subjects of such importance as those which had been recently agitated; and yet parliament had shown a disposition to do any thing rather than bestow reflection and thought upon them. For his own part, he dissented entirely from all the measures which the House had hitherto adopted. He would not enter into a discussion of them at present, because it would be irregular; but one thing he would say regarding them, that he could not agree with any man, on either side of the House, in believing that it was either necessary, expedient, or possible, to return with haste to a currency of a metallic nature. It was not possible, he said, to pay in cash, and support the monstrous establishments of the country. And that consideration naturally led him to another; namely, that in the present distressed state of the country, it became the ministers of the Crown to come down to parliament with reduced estimates of those establishments—with such reduced estimates as the country ought to have had even if there had been no distress, and such as it was constitutionally entitled to in this, the eleventh year of peace [hear, hear!]. This was a crying evil; and he was convinced that no difference of opinion existed on the subject out of doors, whatever might be the feeling within the walls of that House. This was not a just return to the country—it was not treating the people with consideration or fairness, after all they had suffered, and the continued support they had given the government. As to the measure which had been opened to them that evening, it was the only one of the recent measures of administration to which he could give his concurrence. It did appear to him most extraordinary that government should have augmented, instead of allaying, the late panic at its commencement; that it should have withheld relief at the moment when it was calculated to be most effectual; that it should have proceeded for a time on the stern path of principle, without reflecting on the mischief it was inflicting by so doing; and that it should not have departed from it until it was compelled,—yes, he repeated the words, until it was compelled—to do something for the immediate relief of the community. He was of opinion, that if the issuing of Exchequer-bills had been tried in the first instance, it would have done great good, and he was of that opinion, because the experiment had been tried formerly, and had been eminently successful. The government, he allowed, was placed in an awkward situation; for the question was now come to this—whether the country should continue to be distressed, or whether there should not be an immediate advance of money to relieve it. All the merchants of the country—and on such a matter they were undoubtedly the best judges—thought that the most effectual relief which could be administered to them would be, by an immediate issue of Exchequer-bills. But his majesty's ministers had conceived a different opinion; and because they bad once expressed it in public, they were determined not to recede from it. He thought that there was clear proof in the proceedings of ministers, that they had not sufficiently considered the measures which they had propounded to parliament. The first proof was in the alteration which they had made in their plan for regulating the circulation of one and two pound Bank of England notes; and the second, in their acceding to a plan which they had formerly scouted. Their whole course of proceeding ought to induce the House to pause in passing these measures; but it ought to induce them not to pause one moment in reducing the enormous and overgrown establishments of the country.

Mr. Brougham

said, he did not rise for the purpose of continuing this discussion, which, it must be admitted, was already sufficiently irregular. He could not, however, allow the present opportunity to pass without stating, that he concurred with every observation which had fallen from his right hon. friend, the member for Knaresborough, and with almost every observation which had fallen from the hon. baronet at the close of his speech. If the measure which they had heard of for the first time that night were one which ought to be resorted to at all, it ought to have been resorted to before the present moment. The true mode for government to have acted was to have one openly, fairly, and at once, that which u was bow going to do in a round-about way—in a way of which the Bank, if it were called upon to make advances to the extent, or to half the extent, of the sum which they had just heard, would be the first party to repent; for the arrangement into which it had entered was as contrary to all the true principles of banking as any measure could possibly be.

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that when the fit opportunity should arrive, he would undertake to show, in the first place, that this measure was not the same as an issue of Exchequer-bills, and that many of the objections which applied to such an issue did not apply to it; and, in the second place, that the reluctance of government to issue Exchequer-bills was not founded upon any idle respect to the words of a noble earl, but upon a candid and anxious investigation of all the objections to which it was liable, and a sincere conviction that it was not their duty to consent to such a proposal. That opinion he would under-take to justify at the proper season, by such arguments as he trusted the House would deem conclusive.

Mr. Tierney

said, that, as a motion regarding the issue of Exchequer-bills stood for that night, he gave the right hon. gen- tleman notice, that to satisfy his own mind, he should avail himself of it, to discuss the project which he had just Opened to them.

The motion was then withdrawn.