HC Deb 23 July 1832 vol 14 cc640-2

On the Motion of Lord Althorp, for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of Supply,

Mr. Goulburn

said, he was anxious to put a question to the noble Lord, before the House went into Committee, relative to certain transactions which had taken place on account of parties not having complied with the option tendered them in relation to the reduction of the four per cents. It appeared, according to a financial account, that there was charged upon the Consolidated Fund a certain sum of money for persons holding four per cent annuities, who had not accepted the three and a half in lieu, when the four per cents were reduced. It appeared, that interest had been paid on a sum little short of 200,000l., by which a considerable sum had been lost to the public. Now, according to the Act of Parliament passed in the Session of 1830, parties in England holding four per cent annuities were allowed to July of that year, and, parties living abroad, to October, to make their election whether they would accept of the new fund created, or have their principal paid off. He understood that persons had received interest for their money in the four per cents subsequently to the periods specified in the Act; and he was anxious to know by what authority a distinct provision of the Act had been disregarded? Upon what ground was it, that the noble Lord and his colleagues acted in this matter?

Lord Althorp

, in reply, stated, that the parties to whom the item in the accounts referred, were, at the time of the altera- tion, resident in the East Indies, and, in consequence, were not in a situation to make their option until the 5th of April, 1831, long after the time appointed by the Act. As soon as they possibly could, they had had an application made at the Bank, for their money, having decided not to receive the commuted rate of interest, but were informed, that the Treasury was the quarter by which alone their application could be entertained. They, in consequence, memorialised the Treasury, and the case was referred to the law officers of the Crown, as the Commissioners doubted whether they were empowered to depart from the letter of the Act authorizing the commutation. The opinion of the law officers of the Crown was, that the parties had a claim to be paid at the rate of four per cent up to the period that they received their money; and they so reported. The Commissioners of the Treasury, however, still felt disinclined to make the payment, as it was at variance with the letter of the law, and the law officers were requested to reconsider their decision. They did so, and, upon consultation, convinced him (Lord Althorp) that their former opinion was correct, and, consequently that the parties were in justice entitled to be paid their money, at the rate of four per cent, up to the period of the payment. Such were the circumstances of the case to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and he trusted they would be found satisfactory to the House. It might be truly urged that the money had been lying in the Bank of England, for a certain period, for the redemption of the non-commuted annuities. That was true, and the parties, provided they had been cognizant of the fact, would not have had a claim to the rate of four per cent on their money; but, from the distance at which they were placed, it was out of the question that they could have been apprised of the alteration which the Legislature had instituted; and, therefore, although, by the letter of the law, no payment at the full rate of interest, after July, 1830, could be demanded, he maintained it would be an act of great hardship to bind those parties to an engagement, of which it was wholly impossible they could be apprised. It would be quite as just, in the case of a mortgage, if the mortgager paid into the hands of a banker the amount, without the knowledge of the mortgagee, to say that the latter party was debarred from recovering interest, from the period when the money was so paid in, although it was done without his knowledge or privacy.

Mr. Goulburn

would content himself with observing that, in his opinion, the law officers of the Crown had acted upon an erroneous view of the case, the effect of which would be, that the public would have to pay the interest on the annuities twice over. Several similar applications had been made to him while in office, all of which he had refused.

The Attorney General

said, that he and his learned friends had given the subject every degree of consideration previous to giving the Treasury the advice upon which it had eventually acted.

Sir Robert Peel

maintained, that no payment by Treasury orders, in opposition to the letter of a law, ought to be made, without the intervention of Parliament. Nothing could be more dangerous as a precedent; and he was sorry to find his Majesty's present Administration attempting to establish it in two cases. In the present instance, it was to be recollected that there were no negotiations on foot, and, therefore, it was the more dangerous. He begged to ask, if the noble Lord would have any objection to lay upon the Table the Treasury minute under which the payments were made?

Lord Althorp

wished to have a little time for consideration before he gave an answer to the right hon. Baronet, relative to the production of the Treasury minute.

Mr. Hume

hoped, that the opinion of the law officers, together with the case submitted, would be produced.

Mr. Robinson

concurred in the view taken by Government, and said it was impossible for them to have acted otherwise.

The Attorney General

conceived, that the conduct which Government had pursued was strictly in conformity to the law.

On the question "that the Speaker do leave the chair,"

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