§ Order for Se ond Reading read.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he 1089 wished to know whether the Bill was printed, and whether it was in the identical form of previous Bills of the same character? He asked this question, because it so happened that on a former occasion a clause was introduced into the Appropriation Act which upset its main provisions, and a promise was then given that in future this Bill should be printed like all other Bills. He also wished to inquire out of what fund and by what authority the sum of £13,000 for costs and damages in an appeal case from the Court of Admiralty at St. Helena, in respect to a vessel called the Newport, seized and condemned there, had been paid? He believed that that sum was paid out of the "droits of the Admiralty," and he wished to know whether that fund was dealt with like other public funds? He would next call attention to a matter which it was important for the House to consider. A very great increase had taken place in the funded debt, and the relation of the funded debt to the unfunded debt was materially altered. This had been done without any legislative interference on the part of Parliament, and some measure ought to be passed to prevent any increase of the funded debt without a resolution or an assent on the part of that House. To prove the fact that the funded debt had increased, he might state that in the financial year ending the 31st of March, 1859, the total amount of the funded debt was £790,671,215, whereas, in the financial year ending in March, 1858, the total amount was £783,360,257. Thug, in the year terminating in last March, there had been an increase in the funded debt of £7,310,958. The annual charge of the debt had also increased from £27,660,000 to £27,895,000, or not less than £235,000. The unfunded debt, on the other hand, had been reduced by the amount of the addition which had been made to the funded debt, and the unfunded debt at the end of 1859 was but £13,277,000, as compared with £20,927,000 at the close of the previous year. This was produced by the conversion of unfunded debt into funded debt in a manner which entailed a loss to the nation. Of course, if it were the pleasure of the House to make this conversion it must be done; but let it be done after a discussion and when the will of the House was distinctly ascertained. He should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state whether it was intended in the ensuing Session to make any amendments in the law in conformity with the recommenda- 1090 tions of the Committee on Public Moneys? At present half the financial system seemed to rest on fiction or on statutes not carried out. He wished to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer contemplated any change in that portion of the existing system which enabled the Executive Government, without any authority, to convert the unfunded into funded debt, upon conditions onerous to the public purse? He regretted the absence of the Home Secretary (Sir G. Lewis), who, in the last Parliament, had imputed to a Committee upon which he (Sir Henry Willoughby) had served, with reference to this subject, that they did not know the difference between buying Exchequer Bills at a premium and at a discount. The error was, however, on the part of the right hon. Baronet, and the Report of that Committee showed that the nation had lost upwards of £2,000,000 in consequence of the gigantic system of stockjobbing which had been pursued. In 1844 Mr. Goulburn, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in receiving a deputation on the subject of savings' banks, denounced most strongly the class of transactions to which he was referring, and stated that so far as his influence extended, such proceedings should never occur again. He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would seriously consider the matter to which he had called attention, for he was persuaded that our system of finance rested upon a very hollow foundation, and that the law, instead of being observed, was in many important respects a dead letter.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
stated that, in conformity with the general practice, the Consolidated Fund Bill had not been distributed, for it was only printed when some change took place in its form, but it could be obtained by any hon. Members at the Vote-office. The other topics to which the hon. Baronet had referred were of very considerable importance. The hon. Baronet had asked whether it was his intention to propose any changes in the law in consequence of, or in conformity with, the report of the Public Moneys Committee. He agreed generally with the hon. Baronet that the whole system of our finance—by which he meant what related to the custody and management of public moneys as distinguished from raising them on the one hand and spending them on the other—was in a state of considerable incongruity, and although we lived in a country which made it a boast that theory and practice never agreed, and 1091 ought not to be forced too much in order to make them square with each other, yet certainly the principle was pushed to a very great length with respect to our finances. He was disposed to agree very much in the spirit of the recommendations of the Public Moneys Committee. He would study their suggestions during the recess, and he hoped next Session to be enabled to submit to the House such proposals as might seem desirable. The hon Baronet had raised a specific question of great importance with respect to the powers possessed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to the conversion and reconversion of public securities—not without the authority of Parliament, for whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer did was done with the authority of the law—but without the distinct cognizance of Parliament in reference to the particular transactions. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought, and had expressed the opinion on a previous occasion, that the powers of the Finance Minister in this respect were larger than they need be, and that they ought to be brought within certain bounds. He was not about to enter into a history of the transaction to which the hon. Member had referred, but, in order to judge whether the reconversion of Exchequer Bills into stock had been an operation profitable to the public or not, they ought to know upon what terms the money had originally been acquired when the Exchequer Bills were purchased. He apprehended that the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time must have found that the course he pursued was more advantageous to the public than the contraction of a loan, In order to form a judgment on the subject, however, a careful examination of the facts would be necessary. He would pronounce, however, no opinion upon the merits of that particular transaction, but he agreed with the hon. Baronet, that it was not desirable that large operations for conversion and reconversion should take place without being brought under the distinct notice of Parliament. The hon. Baronet was a vigilant Member of that House, and was not repelled by the apparent dryness of these subjects from examining them in minute detail; but as that class of hon. Members was very small, he thought it was most desirable that better provision should be made than was at present provided by Jaw for keeping the operations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the distinct and habitual view of the House of Commons. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had given some 1092 evidence of the sincerity of his opinion on this subject, for on the eve of quitting office in 1855 he had introduced a Bill which he thought would have gone far towards meeting the views of the hon. Baronet. That Bill, however, was not passed, in consequence of the change of the Government. Without giving any positive pledge on the subject, he could only say that he was anxious to do all in his power to place the control of the House of Commons upon a more effective basis.
§ MR. LAING
stated, that the "droits" of the Crown was a fund derived from moneys of persons dying intestate, of convicted felons, and from the seizure of vessels, and other sources. The sum of £13,000, which had been paid out of this fund, was for the costs and damages in the case of "Hopper v. the Queen," which arose out of an appeal from the decision of the mixed court at St. Helena in the matter of a slave vessel which had been condemned by that Court. The "droits," of the Crown, like the hereditary revenues of the Crown, presented difficulties in adopting the practice in other cases of bringing the gross receipts into revenue and voting the whole expenses by estimates under the control of the House. At the same time any information respecting the fund could be obtained by any hon. Member who moved for any Return on the subject.
§ Bill read 2°.