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February, moved the appointment of a select committee to enquire into the effect produced upon the foreign exchanges, and state of the circulating medium by the bank restriction, and to report whether any and what reasons existed for continuing the restriction beyond the time fixed by law for its termination. The chancellor of the exchequer moved the substitution of a secret committee to enquire into the state of the bank of England with reference to the expediency of the resumption of cash payments at the periods fixed by law, and other matters connected therewith, and to report such information as may be disclosed without public injury. The object of Mr. Tierney was a full and free enquiry, which should bind ministers to the resumption of cash payments at a specific time; that of the chancellor of the exchequer a manageable organ and vague report which should leave him at liberty to act according to circumstances. The original motion was rejected, and the amendment carried, after a short discussion, by a majority of 277 to 168, and a committee by ballot, which is but another name for ministerial nomination, was appointed. A similar committee was appointed, on the motion of lord Liverpool, in the house of lords.
Both committees made their respective reports on the 5th of April. They substantially and suspiciously coincided. It was plain that they received their inspirations from one and the same ministerial tripod. The bank, under the authority of the restriction act, and in pursuance of a notice duly given, had com
menced the cash payment of certain notes issued prior to 1817. Both reports, greatly to the surprise of the uninitiated, recommended that, in order to promote the speedy resumption of payments in specie, the bank should be restricted from the cash payments already begun ; and further, that in order to pass a bill for that purpose with the utmost expedition the standing orders should be suspended in both houses. The committee of the commons merely reported this counsel to the house, and promised to present, soon after the Christmas recess, its final report, fixing a period and recommending a plan for the final resumption of cash payments. After some strong expressions of surprise and censure by lord Grey and Mr. Tierney, the restriction bills were introduced on the following day in the house of lords by lord Harrowby, in the house of commons by Mr. Peel, carried through all their stages the same evening, and made acts by the royal assent on the following day. Whether the partial cash payments thus restricted were an experiment in the dark by the chancellor of the exchequer and the bank, or intended as a delusive ground for saying that cash payments were resumed, is not quite clear; but not a guinea left the bank which did not instantly take flight out of circulation.
Sir James Mackintosh, on the 2d of March, after a learned and luminous review of the actual state of the criminal law, with reference to capital crime, moved the appointment of a select committee to enquire into so much thereof as relates to capital punishment in felonies, and to report their observ
ations and opinions. “ The state of the case," said he, “ is this: in the first or highest class of felonies, the law has been enforced in every case, in the middle class sometimes, in the lowest never. To correct this anomaly, so subversive of the great purposes
of criminal jurisprudence, is the object I have in view.” Lord Castlereagh, without leisure or capacity to give him the slightest right to an opinion upon the matter, talked meagre common-places, sometimes altogether void of meaning, about “ the wisdom of experience" and“ practical legislation," and moved the previous question. The original motion was, however, carried, on a division of 147 to 128; a result creditable both to the eloquence of the mover and the good sense of the house. The committee thus appointed examined evidence, and made a most valuable report.
The criminal courts both of Westminster and Dublin had been degraded about this period by the farcical exhibition of one of the monstrous barbarisms of English law,- the appeal of murder to trial by battle. It was now abolished by an act of the legislature.
Mr. Peel on the 2d of May made an elaborate report from the secret committee on the resumption of cash payments. The following abstract of this important document will suffice.* The committee divided their labours into two branches ; - the results of their enquiries into the state of the bank of England, and their opinion with respect to the
* See Ann. Reg. 1819.
expediency of the resumption of payments in specie, at the period at which by law they are to be resumed. On the first head they stated themselves to have begun by ascertaining that the sums which the bank were liable to be called on to pay, in fulfilment of their engagements, amounted on the 30th of January last to 33,894,3801., and that the bank were then in possession of government securities and other credits to the amount of 39,096,9001. leaving a surplus in favour of the bank of 5,202,3201. exclusive of the permanent debt due from government to the bank of 14,686,800l. repayable on the expiration of the charter. The committee then informed themselves of the amount of cash and bullion in the coffers of the bank at various periods since 1797, and of the quantity of gold coin issued by it between the 1st of January, 1817, at which period a partial resumption of cash payments had been resorted to, and the 1st of January, 1819; which was found to amount to about 6,756,0001. They next call the attention of the public to the amount of the debt due by it to the bank of England, which, on the 29th of April last, reached the sum of 19,438,9001. After a variety of details and references to evidence connected with this part of the subject, the committee add, that the amount of its advances to the public is urged by the bank as one of the main impediments to its early resumption of cash payments ; and that in order to make preparations for their resumption the bank requires a re-payment to the extent of ten millions. For such repayment, the committee earnestly re
commend it to the house to make immediate provision, and also to establish some permanent provisions limiting and defining the authority of the bank to make advances to the government, and to purchase government securities; and bringing under the constant inspection of parliament the extent to which that authority may be in future exercised.
On the second head of enquiry, the expediency of returning to cash payments at the period fixed by law, the committee proceed to state arguments and detail evidence, from which it appears, first, that the bank have already very considerably reduced their issues of notes since the beginning of 1818; secondly, that in order to secure themselves against the effects of a return to cash payments in July next, it would be necessary for them to make a further and very sudden reduction of that portion of their currency which they have immediately within their control; thirdly, that such reduction in the present state of the trade of the country would be attended with very serious inconvenience; in consequence of which the committee recommend the further postponement of the resumption of payments in specie.
A third branch of the enquiries of the committee had for its object to ascertain the supply of gold which might be required to meet the demands upon the bank, on the resumption of payments in specie, and the practicability of commanding such supply. The evidence on this head embraces a variety of facts relative to the investment of British capital in foreign funds, the rates of exchange, and the effects likely to be produced on such rates by