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moment, in the midst of these embarrassments, to propose such a loan; and, though it were transacted, it could not supply the bank with a single additional guinea in cash. Surely it would not be proposed to give up the inquiry into the measure which he had brought forward, and, instead of it, require him to borrow money for such purposes, and with such expectations as this.
The honourable gentleman supposed that taxes were paid in specie, and that the public creditor, on the other hand, was not to be paid at all. The public creditor, however, like every other person, often received notes instead of cash. Upon such a question as this, it was proper to look at general usage. It was a fact well known, that loans were often advanced without any expectation of being paid in specie; nor could the bank ever have it in contemplation, that every quarterly dividend was to be paid in cash; nor did they form their arrangements upon that supposition. All the receipt of the revenue paper was taken in the same manner. The observations of the honourable gentleman were entirely founded in mistake; and, as he hoped he was guided by motives of candour, he would be aware of the false grounds on which he had formed his conclusions. He should repeat, therefore, that the inquiry which was necessary to be entered upon at present was comprehended in his original proposal : whatever went beyond that object might, with much greater advantage, be referred to a future opportunity.
Mr. Sheridan then moved, as an amendment to the motion, " That the committee should inquire into the causes which produced the order of council of the 20th instant.” The amendment was negatived,
244 and the original motion was afterwards agreed to.
March 9, 1797.
The House having resolved itself into a committee of the whole House to take into consideration the reports of the Committee of Secrecy, appointed to inquire into the affairs of thc Bank,
Mr. Pirt expressed himself as follows:
I rise in consequence of the notice which I gave on a former day of my intention to make some propositions on the present state of public affairs, grounded on the reports of the secret committee appointed to inquire into the affairs of the bank, and the necessity of providing for the continuance of the operation of the order in council of the 26th of February last. These reports relate to two distinct points—the state of the funds of the bank, and the necessity of continuing the restriction by which the issue of specie is at present suspended. With respect to the first point, there undoubtedly appeared from the beginning of the discussion an almost universal persuasion of the solidity of the funds of that corporation. It was the opinion of those who were most interested in its corcerns, and it was readily adopted by persons more immediately conversant in pecuniary transactions, who evinced the sincerity of their confidence by the measures which they åt first adopted, and the line of conduct they have since pursued. The report of the select committee confirmed the general impression respecting the stability of its resources; and never till this day have I heard them questioned.* That their assets greatly exceed all demands which can be made on them cannot be disputed.
The only part of the honourable gentleman'st speech on which I find myself called upon to make any observations, was that in which he denied that the eleven millions due from government to the bank formed any part of its funds. The fact is, the sum of eleven millions is the original capital of that corporation. The security of every trader is the original capital that he has embarked in trade; to deny therefore, that the original capital of the bank, if it still remains unimpaired and secure, is part of their assets, is to deny every mercantile principle upon which security is constructed, or trade carried on. When we look at the ultimate solidity of the funds of the bank (and it is to their ultimate solidity that, at present, we ought to look), we must look at their original capital, at the amount of their good debt, in short, at every species of property which is available for the liquidation of their outstanding demands. The honourable gentleman seems in his ideas to have confounded the amount of the property of the bank with another question wholly distinct from this; how far the bank has carried on an advantageous trade. If we were to consider this question, the original capital could not certainly be brought into the account of gain. If the capital was diminished, then they would have lost by their trade, and if it was increased, they would have gained, but the capital in its original state could not be placed in the account of gain. This is a question, however, quite foreign to the present subject of discussion. It forms no part of our inquiry, for we have nothing to do with the internal economy of the bank. Considering it as a corporation, it is sufficient for the public to know that it is a rich corporation, and that, were it now to close its accounts, it could divide among the holders of stock a sum considerably larger than the capital which they originally embarked in the firm. The honourable gentleman contends that this debt of eleven millions is not demandable from government by the bank, and that it ought only to be considered as the principal of a three per cent. annuity. But if government found that the bank was unfit for business, would it continue in its hands the monopoly of a business which it cannot manage ?--and whenever this monopoly is taken from them, this sum of eleven millions must be repaid. The object of inquiry was to ascertain the ultimate solidity of the bank. Its ultimate solidity is asserted in the report of the secret committee upon your table; and so far from being liable to any of the animadversions of the honourable gentleman in the inquiry, the committee would not have done their duty had they not included this eleven millions among its assets. This is a part of their debt, which rests upon the best possible security, because it rests upon the aggregate powers of the country, The report of the committee then confirms the opinion of the stability of the bank ; an opinion in which I had formerly the satisfaction of hearing every person concur, and which even the honourable gentleman himself expressed most decidedly, when the business was under discussion on a former day. But the inquiry into the state of the funds of the bank is nearly connected with the question of the general policy of suspending for a time its payments in specie. A suspension of these payments is a step which certainly ought not to be taken, excepting in a case of the most urgent necessity. If this necessity, however, at present exists, and, after the report of the secret committee it cannot admit of doubt, we must submit to the adoption of a measure, which certainly it would be desirable in other circumstances to avoid, not however without the important consolation that, notwithstanding the temporary embarrasments arising from a combination of causes afterwards to be inquired into, there are funds amply sufficient for the security of those who cannot have their demands satisfied for a time.
* Mr. Sheridan had previously risen to give notice of his intention to move on the next day, that immediate steps should be taken to pay the money advanced by the Directors of the Bank to.
Government. + Mr. Sheridan.
When I come to consider the second report, with all due respect for the committee, I must own that I lament exceedingly, their having confined themselves within narrower limits than what I understood to be the province of their inquiry. We had formerly some discussion upon the difficulty of discriminating precisely between the existence of the necessity and the cause by which it has been produced, and perhaps it is impossible to draw the exact line between them. But without entering at all into minute distinctions, plain sense teaches us that there is a difference between an event and its cause. And when a committee was appointed to inquire into the necessity of the bank suspending
its payment in specie, I did conceive that they would have inquired into the necessity of taking, as well as of continuing, the measure. They have only reported, however, upon the necessity of continuing it, without expressing any opinion upon the propriety of having adopted it. But according to this report, it now appears to be necessary. I admit that it may have become necessary, merely in consequence of having been adopted; in reasoning therefore upon its continuance, I shall not consider the reports as sanctioning the issue of the order in council. I cannot read the report, however, without believing it to have been the opinion of the committee, that the continuance of its operation is necessary for a time; for what time is another question: I certainly feel the ncessity of it on very different grounds than because it has once been taken; but all I wish now is, that the house will proceed upon the recommendation of the committee.
What may be the proper time for continuing it, and how far it may be proper to entrust government with the shorteping the definite time that may be fixed, or how far it may be wise to leave it to their discretion to prolong the period of its operation, if it should be necessary beyond that definite time, will be matter for discussion in the progress of the bill. I shall now only move, that the chairman be directed to move for leave to bring in a bill, to continue and confirm the order in council of the 26th of February, for a time to be limited. The house will feel that, by agreeing to this motion, they will sanction the prohibition with their legislative authority, and the consequent propriety of extending their protection at the same time that they extend their authority. It will be easily seen that I allude to a bill of indemnity to those who upon their own responsibility issued an order, which certainly was illegal, and could only be justified by the urgent necessity of the moment. I am aware that it does not yet appear, whether ministers ought or ought not to be indemnified, nor do I think that this is the proper time for such a discussion, because parliament cannot form any judgment of a measure professing to have been taken on necessity,