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tors of the bank, that it is right. It is your duty to examine the grounds upon which these opinions are formed, and finally to form an opinion of your own. If ever there was a question in which confidence in ministers should be placed out of view altogether, it is this very case. Let us look at the case, and see what sort of a thing it is. Is it a case of treaty upon peace or war? Is it a case of negotiation? No; it is a case of finance, and finance merely—a subject which at all times has belonged, and belonged almost exclusively to this House-a subject which, from its nature, is best considered in a public assembly. Will the minister himself get up this night and say, that administration are, on the face of things, exculpated for every thing that has lately happened to the financial concerns of this country? Will he say, that they have been punctual in the discharge of their duty upon that subject, and that it is not owing to them that we are in our present deplorable condition? Is it not notorious that the prizes of the last lottery were delayed in payment for a considerable time? Has not the public creditor thereby suffered? Has not the public credit of the nation been thereby diminished? Have not bills on government been protested; have not the holders been plainly told that they must wait for a considerable time; and have they not been obliged so to wait? Most unquestionably they have. And the reason assigned for all this delay in payment, has been fashionably called, the want of a sufficient circulating medium, but which, in truth, only proved our insolvency, and the inability of the minister to fulfil the promises which he so readily held forth. All his new schemes of finance have only contributed to bring on the evil which he has from time to time pretended to remove. Is it not no-fuse it to him; but he had too much retorious that he has rejected all the advice gard for the constitutional privileges of that has been given to him from time to this House, to ask for such a confidence. time? He pretended to do away all the What, however, would have been denied evils that arose from the increase of our to the virtue, the wisdom, the eloquence, unfunded debt, evils which we all felt, the glory of that minister, had he asked and for which certainly a remedy was ne- it, is now, I fear, to be given to a micessary. But what was the effect of his nister who has disgraced himself, and pretended remedy, and what has been ruined his country. The House, if it the result of his conduct since he pre- means to have any credit with the people, tended to provide against the mischief? must not confide in any man, but examine Why, that he has so miscalculated the the real state of public affairs, control wants of government, or from time to the executive power, and institute minute time so mistated them, that he has been inquiry, into all the circumstances that obliged to provide for the sum of twelve have led to the calamitous condition in millions, after assuring us that no farther which we are now placed. We must take
money would be wanted for the funding of the navy debt; and after all these assurances from time to time, that he was making ample provision, the navy bills at this very time are at a higher discount than they were at any former period.
Sir, I come now to another point. The directors of the bank often told the right hon. gentleman what the effect would be of his sending such vast sums of money abroad. They remonstrated against such conduct. I will not enter upon the detail of the advice that was given to him at these times; but we all know, and now feel the effect of, his conduct; for he sent money abroad, not only in defiance of the remonstrance of the bank, but against the spirit and letter of the constitution. Such has been the conduct of the chancellor of the exchequer; and I do say, we are now called upon, by the duty we owe the public, to give no farther credit to him for his statements in any public affair of finance; more especially upon the subject which is now before us. It is a subject on which this House ought not to place confidence in any minister, because it is a subject which we ought most scrupulously to examine for ourselves. If the best minister that ever managed the affairs of this country were to ask for confidence in such a case as this, it would be the duty of this House to withhold it. If the right honourable gentleman's father, in the course of the seven years" war, when his measures led to the most brilliant victories, had come to this House to demand such confidence as the minister seems to ask by the speech which introduced the motion which is now before you, I believe, that notwithstanding all the esteem which that illustrious statesman deservedly enjoyed, the parliament would then have had virtue enough to re
care that the man who has brought us into this deplorable state, shall not be permitted totally to ruin us. If we do not do so, the most candid manner in which we can act towards the public is to declare at once that we are persuaded the care of this country is grown above the cognizance of the House of Commons, and that we choose to give it up entirely to the direction of the king's ministers; in which case we shall plead guilty to all the charges that have been exhibited out of doors against us; that we are not the representatives of the people of England, but the servants of the minister of the crown; that it is true, indeed, the theory of the constitution of England is beautiful, but that its practical utility is at an end, as far as regards the functions of the House of Commons, for that now they implicitly commit to the minister of the crown all control over subjects of finance. Let me ask, if this must not be the inevitable conclusion of the people of this country, if you do not enter upon a full inquiry into this subject? Let me ask, if this be not a case for inquiry, what case can possibly be called so? Let me ask, what case can be more violent, and less warrantable by law than the present? Let me ask, if ever since the Revolution there was proposed a measure more fraught with danger to the credit of this country? Let me ask, if any minister ever existed who had less claim to confidence, and whose conduct called more for the jealousy of this House than the present minister? If, after you have turned these questions in your minds, and have agreed what answer ought to be given to them all, you still confide in the present minister, I will then say you will deserve every thing that has been said against you, for you will, indeed, be a House of Commons that has surrendered all its functions to the will of the minister of the
be the conduct of this House when the minister of the crown has been guilty of mismanagement in an alarming degree? What should be the conduct of this House when a minister issues a proclamation in the name of the privy council to destroy the public credit of this country? Let me ask what should be the conduct of a House of Commons towards him who is at least primâ facie a culprit before them and the public,-who is certainly in the situation of an accused person? I think it is not difficult to answer these questions. If there are any who hear me who think that I say this from personal rivalship, they are welcome to charge me with it; they do not know my nature; those who do, will bring no such charge against me. If, however, to charge a criminal minister, in order that an inquiry may be made into his conduct, be a crime, then I am content to be called a great criminal. Let me ask, what is the credit of this nation, if a proclamation, dictated by a minister, is to set aside the provisions of solemn acts of parliament? Long, long experience has taught us, or should have taught us, that punctuality and good faith are the foundations of credit; that credit can have no existence independent of good faith. It has been said, more than once, that we are to trust to Providence in our affairs. It would be a miracle which I have never yet heard that Providence has performed towards man to give credit to those who have no faith. On the 27th of February 1797, for the first time since the Revolution, an act was done in the king's name which has struck at the foundation of the public credit of the country, by seizing the money be longing to individuals, deposited in the public treasury of the public creditor; and afterwards withholding and refusing payment of that money. What can now restore that public credit? Will any man say he knows the remedy for this? If it shall appear that ministers have acted prudently, according to the pressure of the case: that they acted wisely; that they have acted economically; that they looked forward to all the consequences, as far as human prudence could foreseethen I am willing to allow there is no man can blame them, however calamitous our condition may be. If they can show, contrary to the primà facie evidence of the case, that they have not been to blame, they must be absolved; but that is no reason why we should not have a full inquiry
There has been a custom, I confess a very laudable one, to speak well of the navy. It certainly is a service to which the people of this country are prodigiously indebted, and we cannot have too much tenderness for the character of our naval officers, and yet we find it to be the uniform practice of this country to call to a court martial every officer who has been unsuccessful to a certain extent, however meritorious his conduct may have been. Now let me ask, if this be the case with regard to our favourite service, what should
into the matter: on the contrary, it is a very strong reason for such inquiry; and they themselves are deeply interested in having it instituted. But, if it should appear that this crisis has not been brought on without guilt on their part, it must be absolutely for the credit of the public that the truth of the matter should be made manifest to the world. If you shun this inquiry, what will be the consequence? I will suppose, for the sake of argument, that the whole of this measure is the result of inevitable necessity. I wish, then, to know what the public creditor is to think. He will deliberate thus: Although in 1797 the minister struck unavoidably at the public credit, yet what happened in the House of Commons? That in pursuance of a full inquiry it was found to be an act of inevitable necessity, and could not have happened under any other plea? No; it passed upon the assertion of the minister that it was an act of necessity, and there was no inquiry; therefore some future minister may be wicked, although the present one may be virtuous, and may take this as a precedent, and call that inevitable necesssity, which, in truth, will be only an act of convenience to him, and under that pretext appropriate the property of the public creditor to the use of government; so that without a full inquiry into this matter, you can never restore confidence to the public creditor. On the other hand, if this is the result of the misconduct of the minister, you should declare it to be so, and by the punishment of the delinquent show the public you take care of their affairs. These are the only two ways in which you can restore the confidence of the public creditor.
Let us now see what has been the conduct of the present minister in the course of this war, upon the subject of finance. Have any three months passed in which he has not produced some new expedient? And have they not every one of them, without a single exception, proved erroneous? Good God! Sir, let us look at the situation of this country! Year after year the minister has been amusing us with his ideas of the finances of France-now on the verge, now in the gulph of bankruptcy! What computations upon their assignats and their mandats! They could not possibly continue. All perfectly true. But the misfortune is, that while he was thus amusing us, he has led us to the very same verge, aye, into the very same [VOL. XXXII.]
gulph. While he thus declaimed against the finances of France, and predicted truly as to the issue of those expedients, he felt miserably short of his conclusion, that these considerations would put an end to the energy of the French. Their rash expedients have not put an end to their energy; and, perhaps, these rash expedients will not make us a prey to a foreign invader. But, are we to follow their expedients on that account? By no means. We are not in the same relative situation with regard to the rest of the world. We depend more upon our commercial credit than they do. The minister has conducted the war upon the hope, that we should be able to defeat the French by a contest of finance; and you now see the expedients to which we are driven. I am aware that I may be answered, that I propose my panacea,-an inquiry. I plead guilty to that charge; but my panacea has never been tried; the minister's opposition to it has been tried repeatedly; namely, confidence in him. The public have seen the effect of that opposition. All I ask is, that my remedy may be tried; it can never be worse than his. We have for a long time had a confiding House of Commons. I want now an inquiring House of Commons. I say, that with a diligent, inquiring House of Commons, even although it should be an indifferent one with regard to talents, and with a minister of very ordinary capacity, we shall be able to do more for the service of the people of this country, than with a House of Commons composed of the best talents that ever adorned any senate, and a minister of the first abilities would be able to do, if that House should implicitly confide in that minister. If, therefore, I have, in a uniform tone, called for inquiry, and the House has been as persevering, as certainly it hitherto has in confiding, it is not wonderful that we are in our present condition. I say, that without inquiry into the cause of our calamities, the public neither will nor ought to be satisfied. I say farther, that the House ought, for the sake of its credit with the public, to enter into a full inquiry upon this matter, for the authority of an inquiring is much greater than that of a confiding House of Commons.
Mr. Hobhouse said, that when information was received that this measure was to be adopted, all the bankers were struck with consternation. He was afraid that bank paper, would fall into as low a con[5 F]
of the bank, but into that of the property also. He had learnt from the chancellor of the exchequer, that it was the intention of government that the notes of the bank of England should be received from individuals by the public: from which circumstance, if the notes should fall in credit, the revenue must be diminished. The next point was, whether bank notes were to be considered as a legal tender from the public to the individual? Unless this were enacted into a law; it would be impossible to carry on public affairs, for there was not specie enough in the country to pay all the public creditors. The next point to be settled was, whether bank notes should be considered as a legal tender from one individual to another. Unless they were so, he was persuaded that one-half of the public might be sent to gaol for debt, and that the other half would become bankrupts. But, the most important light in which these things should be considered was, the effect which the whole would have on foreigners. It would alter the price of every article purchased from foreigners abroad: it would affect the value of every article exported to foreigners from home. It would shake the credit of Great Britain in the farthest parts of Russia, and be felt in the remotest corners of the earth. He lamented that earlier measures had not been taken to prevent what had happened, especially as the danger had been long foreseen. But he had done his duty. He held in his hand a copy of a letter which he had written to the directors of the bank, so long ago as the 15th Sept. 1795, wherein such measures were proposed as probably would have prevented the sad necessity to which they were now reduced. This letter suggested the propriety of issuing banknotes of 21. and 31. value, as well as notes of larger sums, that should not be immediately converted into specie. Since, however, the directors had not chosen to adopt any preventive measures of that kind, he trusted that if a committee should be appointed, it would consist of able and independent men, and not of persons, who, from their prejudices, habits, or connexions, would wish either to support or oppose the present administration.
dition as even assignats or mandats. It was the duty of the House not to rely upon the assurances that the bank was capable of fulfilling its engagements, but to investigate the causes of its inefficiency to supply the demands upon it, before it undertook to guarantee its payments. At present its causes were enveloped in darkness, and they had scarcely any better idea of the necessity of the measure, than that the people were in dread of an invasion, and had buried their money the earth. He suspected, however, that more money had been buried in Germany than in the ground, and believed that to be the principal cause of the embarrassment. The appointment of a committee would answer no good purpose without a full inquiry into all the circumstances that had led to this dreadful situation.
Mr. Martin said, that the chancellor of the exchequer had proposed an inquiry, which in its nature must be a partial one. Now, a partial inquiry into a question of accounts, appeared to him to be an absurdity, and therefore he could not vote for it. He was ready, however, to agree to any measure that had a rational tendency to support public credit.
Sir John Sinclair said, that the only rational way of judging what ought to be done, was to look at what had been done in former times, for which purpose he should desire an entry on the Journals. The case which he referred to, was the plan adopted by parliament for restoring public credit in 1696, when the bank struggled under similar embarrassments. Mr. Montague was the chancellor of the exchequer at that period and author of the plan of relief; and under his vigorous direction, the affairs of the bank quickly regained their former stability. A committee was appointed to inspect the accounts of the bank, the number and extent of its outstanding engagements, the amount and value of its securities, the causes of its embarrassments, and the most speedy and effectual measures to surmount them. By the report of the committee it was evident that the bank was in possession of more than sufficient property to justify every demand, provided the temporary pressure for cash could be obviated. In consequence of the good effects of this precedent, he could not help thinking that it would be proper to pursue the steps of that committee of 1696, by inquiring not only into the amount of the outstanding engagements
Mr. W. Smith could not conceive the justice of government in first making the bank a corporation of bankers, and afterwards exonerating them from paying the money deposited in their hands. The partnership between the government and
the bank was compulsory and unjust, as being a partnership of an insolvent government, which required a solvent company to bolster up its ruined finances. With regard to the utility of a secret committee, he would much rather take the word of the directors of the Bank, as to the solidity and responsibility of their funds, than the report of the secret committee, who had only the power of making a partial inquiry.
The Earl of Wycombe said, that if the suspension of payment required by the privy council, was intended to remove a public pressure at home, he should have no objection to accede to it; but as he thought all this was intended merely to cover a design of sending money to the continent, to carry on the war, he was bound in duty to give it his negative. The House should reflect on the evils which such a measure as this could not fail to produce. It would lessen the value of the paper currency of the kingdom. He had seen the misery which that had produced in other parts of the world, by raising the price of all provisions, and bringing on a train of evils with which that House was unacquainted.
Mr. Pitt said, it was his intention before the House separated, to move for leave to bring in a bill, which might be carried through very quickly, to enable the Bank to issue notes below 51. value.
Sir W. Pulteney said, that the order of council had given rise to just alarm. He gave ministers credit for having so speedily laid before the House a measure of this importance. He considered the state of the country as no worse in consequence of the present step, provided wise measures were taken upon it. The stoppage of payment in cash was not to be held as a permanent system, but merely as the alternative adopted under the pressure of the moment. The motives, however, assigned by the chancellor of the exchequer, did not satisfy him that it was to be only for a limited time. Indeed, it was impossible to think of it as a measure to be continued. There was a great difference between the measure itself, and the continuance of it. In 1793 the Newcastle banks had declared as now, that they must stop the payment of their notes in cash, under the pressure of a temporary scarcity; but they soon obtained the necessary supply, and went on again as before. Such was the case of the Bank. The Bank had not always beside them the cash for all the notes they issued ; for if they had, why issue notes at all? The Bank merely kept what was conceived to be necessary. They had value, however, in good bills, or otherwise for all the notes they issued, and money was within their reach. They would, doubtless, be able to answer all demands. Such a measure as that adopted by ministers might do no harm for once; but if it again occurred, it would be no joke. It was therefore highly necessary to inquire into the causes, that in future they might be prevented. The plan proposed was not enough. Partial reports from the committee would not be sufficient. To prevent the same dilemma from recurring was the great point. No mischief could arise from a full investigation. The measure of refusing payments in cash must be for a short time, or the consequences would be fatal. In France, on account of an occasional pressure, the bankers joined in application with the caisse d'escompte, that they might not be obliged to pay their notes in cash, which gave a blow to their paper money, which it never recovered. This measure was merely calculated for the emergency of
Mr. Pollen was of opinion that the inquiry which ought to be entered into should be of the most extensive nature. If, upon inquiry, it should appear that ministers were undeserving of his confidence, he should withdraw it from them. He should vote for a full inquiry into the circumstances which had led to the present situation of the country.
Mr. C. Yorke said, that an unlimited inquiry must in its nature be tedious, and delay might be attended with the most fatal consequences. He would therefore refrain from any opposition that might obstruct a speedy report.
Mr. Wilberforce Bird said, he was instructed by his constituents to inquire what method would be recommended to enable them to carry on their business, and to answer the many demands to which it exposed them. He did not intend to put any unnecessary question, with a view to embarrass ministers, but in the desire to obviate the difficulties in which manufacturers must be involved. A rumour had gone abroad, that it was the intention of the Bank to issue notes of one and two guineas each. Such an expedient would quiet the alarm, and enable the manu facturers to answer the many claims that were continually made on them.