The prohibition, as already related, was modified in the year 1826 and removed in 1833. Even then the privilege of limitation of liability was not permitted to any other bank but the Bank of England. The result was that when joint-stock banks were first formed many persons of good means were kept back from becoming shareholders, that is to say partners, in banks. For up to the date of the act of 1862 permitting "limited liability," every shareholder in a joint-stock bank was liable to the extent of the whole of his means (see the article Company). Even as late as 1858 when the Western Bank of Scotland and 1878 when the City of Glasgow Bank failed, very great hardship was inflicted on many persons who had trusted with over confidence to the management of those banks. The failure of the City of Glasgow Bank was the cause of the Companies Act of 1879, passed to enable unlimited companies to adopt limited liability. In limited companies the shareholder who has paid up the nominal amount of his holding is not liable for any further amount, unless the company issues bank notes, in which case the shareholders are liable in the same way as if the company were registered as an unlimited company.
The facilities allowed by this act were used by almost every joint-stock bank in the United Kingdom except those banks which were at that date limited by charter or by special act.
To return to the early history of banking - thus, as no bank Private banks. could be formed with more than six partners during the whole of the period from 1694 to 1826 and 1833, the majority of the banks formed throughout England and Wales for more than a century were necessarily small and usually isolated firms. Further, when a partner died, his capital not infrequently went out of the business; then a fresh partner with sufficient means had to be found, constant change was the result, and confidence, "a plant of slow growth," could not thrive, except in those instances when a son or a relation filled the vacancy.
The banks in the country districts had frequently branches in the small market-towns close to them; those in London had never more than one office. These banks were sometimes powerful and generally well managed, a considerable number being established by members of the Society of Friends.
The restriction of partners in private banks to the number of six continued till 1862. By the act of that year they were allowed to be ten. This power, however, did not extend to issuing private banks, which were restricted to six partners as before. The power of increasing bank partnerships to ten has been made but little use of. The difficulties of carrying on business on a large scale by private firms were augmented by certain legal technicalities which practically rendered large private banks impossible in ordinary circumstances. Hence banking business did not begin to assume its present form till almost half-way through the 19th century. The gradual change followed the passing of the acts of 1826-1833, of 1844-1845, of 1862 and of 1879. Incidentally the act of 1844 had an unexpected influence on the constitution of the banking system. After favouring the existence of small banks for many years, it gradually led, as the time arrived when the establishment of large and powerful banks in England and Wales became necessary, to their formation.
No new bank of issue whatever was allowed to be established - restrictions were placed on the English issuing banks - private issuing banks with not more than six partners were allowed to remain, to amalgamate with other private issuing banks and to retain their joint issues. The joint-stock banks which possessed issues were also allowed to continue these, but when two joint-stock banks amalgamated, the continuing bank only retained its issue. Also when a private issuing bank was formed into or joined a joint-stock bank, the issue lapsed.
The greater number of the provincial banks in England and Wales had been banks of issue up to 1844. The act of 1844 restricted their power of issuing notes, which at that date and even subsequently continued to be of importance to them, in such a manner that, as Sir R. H. Inglis Palgrave stated in giving evidence before the committee of the House of Commons at the banking inquiry of 1875, these banks possessed in their issues a property they could use, but were not able to sell. The statistics forming part of Appendix 14 to the report of the select committee of the House of Commons on banks of issue (1875) give interesting information as to the proportion of notes in circulation to the deposits of banks in various districts of the country and at various dates. The statements were supplied by twenty-one banks, some in agricultural districts, some in places where manufactures flourished, some in mixed districts, commercial and agricultural, or industrial and manufacturing. In all of these, the inquiry being carried as far back as 1844, the proportion of the circulation to the banking deposits had greatly diminished in recent years. In several cases the deposits had increased three-fold in the time.
In one case it was five times as large, in another nearly seven times, in another nearly twelve and a half times. The proportion of the circulation to the deposits had very largely diminished in that time. In one instance, from being about one-third of the deposits, at which proportion it had remained for five years consecutively, it fell to 9% at the end of the term. In another from being 22% it had diminished to 1&FRAC12;% of the total. In all cases where the detail was given it had diminished greatly.
The Bank Act of 1844 was arranged with the intention of concentrating the note issues on the Bank of England in order to secure the monopoly of that bank as the one issuer in England and Wales. The result was that nearly all the provincial banks in England had by 1906 lost the right of issue. Doubtless all were destined to do so before long, a result by which banking in England and the industries of the country must lose the advantage which the local issues have been to Scotland and Ireland. Had the English country banks been allowed, as the Scottish banks were, to associate together and to retain their issues, powerful banks would many years since have been established throughout England and Wales, and the amalgamations of recent years would have been carried through at a much earlier date, and on terms much more favourable to the public.
No security was ever required to be given for the local issues Security of note issue. in the United Kingdom. The provisions of the acts of 1844-1845 which compel the Irish and Scottish banks to hold specie against the notes issued beyond the legal limit, do not make the coin held a security for them. The legislation of 1879 which made the note issues a first charge, with unlimited liability, on the total assets of the joint-stock banks which accepted the principle of limited liability for the rest of their business, has been the only recognition by the state of the duty to the note-holders of rendering them secure. It has been a real disadvantage to England that this duty has never been sufficiently recognized, and that the provincial note issue, which is a very convenient power for a bank to possess, and incidentally a considerable advantage to its customers, has been swept away without any attempt being made to remedy its deficiencies. There may be objections raised to a note circulation secured by the bonds of the government, but the security of the note issues of the national banks of the United States made against such bonds, has scarcely ever been questioned.
A different policy was followed by Sir Robert Peel in Scotland and in Ireland from that which he established in England. By the acts of 1844-1845 the Scottish and Irish banks were allowed to exceed their authorized issues on holding specie to the amount of the excess, and no restrictions were placed on amalgamations among banks in these countries. In Scotland and in Ireland notes for less than £5 continued to be allowed. The result has been that the ten large banks in Scotland, and six of the nine banks in Ireland, possess the power of issuing notes. The large proportion of local branches in these countries has been greatly assisted by this power.
Originally, besides the Bank of England, nearly all the provincial Amounts in circulation. banks in England and Wales possessed the privilege of issue. These banks continued their operations as previously during the time while the Bank Act was discussed in parliament. When the arrangements which that act created were made public, nine banks, of which eight were private and one was a joint-stock bank, ceased to issue their notes prior to the 12th of October 1844, when the act came into operation. Of these, the Western District Joint-Stock Banking Co. was dissolved, one of the private banks was closed, the remaining seven issued Bank of England notes and were allowed certain privileges for doing this. By the act of 1844 the maximum circulation of the English issuing banks was fixed at the average circulation of the twelve weeks before the 27th of April 1844.
The number of the banks to which the privilege of circulation was then allowed and the amount of notes permitted were, in England: -
207 private banks with an authorized issue of
72 joint-stock banks with an authorized issue of
The actual circulation of the country in October 1844 was as follows: -