HC Deb 06 December 1803 vol 1 cc135-8
Lord Castlereagh

moved the order of the day, for the House to resolve itself into a committee on the bill for regulating the rate of interest on the bonds issued by the East India Company. On the I motion, that the Speaker do now leave the chair,

Mr. Dent

rose, not to oppose the committal of the bill, but to call the attention of the House to the principal feature of it, which he considered rather extraordinary, as giving an indulgence to the East India Company, which he thought extremely partial, and one from which every individual and corporate body in this kingdom, was precluded. A few nights since, the hon. Secretary of the Treasury, in answer to a question put to him by an hon. member on his side of the House, respecting the tax on property and income, amongst other things had declared it to be the intention of government, to go through with the assessment of the tax, during the present year, in the manner prescribed by the existing bill. Now the present bill introduced by the noble lord, was calculated to affect, by a side wind, an exemption of the bonds of the India Company from the law to which every other species of public stock was liable; and, consequently, to give those bon is a considerable advantage at market, over Exchequer Bills and every other species of stuck; for the whole of the interest payable on Exchequer Bills, amounted to 51. 6s. 3d. per cent, per aim. payable yearly, and he could see no reason why an exemption should be extended to India Bonds, which would give them a preference at market over Exchequer Bills, seeing that they engaged a preference by the interest thereon being paid half-yearly. At least, if such an exemption as this was given to the public funds of the India Company, with a privilege of borrow mg at such an extraordinary advance of interest, he could see no right in precluding other corporations from a similar advantage.

Lord Castlereagh

rose, and, in answer to that part of Mr. Dent's speech which referred to the Income Tax, said, that the declaration of his hon. friend neither had, nor ought to have, any reference to the affairs of the East-India Company; and he trusted that the House would not consider, at the present crisis, that any regulations which his Majesty's ministers might deem necessary in assessing the income Tax upon the property of individuals, ought to stand in the way of an important and necessary regulation, most materially interesting to the funds of a great commercial company, with the success of whose concerns die public revenues of this country were so deeply interested. He begged to call the attention of the House to the annual amount of the revenue paid to this country by the East-India Company, amounting, on an average, to £3,226,000 annually; and he trusted the House would feel too sensibly the importance of that concern which the country must have in the welfare of a company yielding such important aid to the state, to refuse, on light or trivial grounds, its assent to such regulations in die management of their funds and capital, as should be absolutely necessary to carry on their commercial concerns, under the present circumstances of the empire, without material disadvantage: for it was the province of the East-India Company, even under all the vicissitudes and disadvantages of war, to promote the commercial prosperity of the country in the most distant quarters of the globe; and this was not to be done unless they were enabled to keep a certain quantity of their funds afloat, and prevent them from returning back to their treasury, whereby their capital would be most materially diminished, and their means of trade consequently cramped. This could only be effected by enabling (hem so to regulate their rates of interest, as to maintain that respectability to their bonds, at market, which would prevent a decided preference of other-funds, to the depreciation of theirs. The hon. member had said, that the bonds of the company stood in no need of such aid, for that they at present enjoyed an advantage at market over Exchequer Bills, on account of their interest being payable half yearly. The fact, however, was otherwise; for Exchequer Bills were now at a premium of one shilling above par, whereas India Bonds were at a discount of two shillings. The noble lord then went generally into some financial statements of the company, in support of the bill: and contended that the increase of interest on their bonds was necessary to give them currency abroad. He concluded by expressing a hope that the House would not refuse this indulgence to a great trading company, in whom the revenue and the state were so materially concerned.

Mr. Johnson

said, the statement of the noble lord this night was in perfect consistency with the conduct adopted uniformly by him respecting the affairs of the company. In the last session, he amused the House with a pompous statement of the flourishing situation of their finances, and the brilliant prospects of their prosperity: but what is the first illustration the noble lord gives in this session? Why, a new plea of embarrassment, and a new appeal to the indulgence of the House, for the privilege of borrowing money, to answer their exigencies, at a much higher interest than any other corporate body, or individual in this country, dares venture to offer. Such was the conduct he should ever expect from the noble lord, so long as he presided over the conduct of India affairs; ever complaining of existing embarrassments, and ever holding out specious promises of future prosperity.

Mr. Vansittart

said, that the present bill purported no more than a temporary relief to the India Company, from a species of embarrassment which in time of war must more or less affect all borrowers, public or private. The government of the country, at such times, always filled up its loans upon worse terms than were to be had in times of peace; and no company or individual could expect to be exempt from similar disadvantages: there was nothing, therefore, unreasonable, or unfair, in this mode of enabling the India Company to meet the terms upon which only their demands could be supplied.

Mr. Charles Grant

said, the object of the bill was not to place the company in a better situation, but to prevent it from being placed in a worse situation. India bonds were coming in every day to be paid, and if the Property Tax was to be deducted at the India-House in fractional parts, according to the number of weeks and days upon which it might be necessary to calculate, it would create endless confusion and embarrassment, and must tend to depreciate the bonds.

Mr. William Dundas

also supported the bill; and denied there was any truth in the arguments of the hon. gent, opposite him (Mr. Johnson), that there was any proof in this bill of any embarrassment in the circumstances of the East-India Company, or any thing which could found a fair opinion against their prosperity.—After some further conversation, the question was put and carried, and the House having resolved itself into a Committee upon the bill, went through the same, and it was ordered to be reported to-morrow.