§ CONSIDERATION. ADJOURNED DEBATE.
§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now taken into Consideration."
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that, at the close of the debate yesterday, he had 1188 asked a question, which he had addressed specially to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India (Mr. E. Stanhope) was not able to speak again; and it was suggested that he should repeat the question on the following day. He thought the question he had put was an important one; and, therefore, he proposed, on the present occasion, to put it a little more fully than on the preceding day. In a few words, the question was this. The agreement that had been made between the Secretary of State for India in Council and the East Indian Railway Company was not, as the House had been informed, an agreement made under the original contract, but an agreement l' aimable, or, as the right. hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Hubbard) had phrased it, au amiable agreement by which the holders of stock in the East Indian Railway Company were entitled to have their choice between two forms of annuity, putting aside the subordinate offer as to Terminable Annuities. For the sake of his argument, he (Mr. Childers) would leave the last item out of sight altogether; but they had the choice, either of a perpetual annuity at 4 per cent on £125, or the equivalent, converted into an annuity terminable at 73 years, at £4 6s. percent. While he was debating the point yesterday, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India had said the annuity would be paid off in 10 years—the perpetual annuity. That was quite true; but it could only be paid off by Her Majesty's Government in 10 years; as far as the shareholder was concerned, he had only the choice between a terminable and a perpetual annuity; and, of course, the Government would not pay off the annuity, unless the rate of interest fell below 4 per cent. Practically, therefore, the shareholders had a choice between two annuities— a perpetual annuity, the interest of which was calculated at 4 per cent, and a terminable annuity of 73 years, at £ 4 6s. per cent. That being so, the question he wished to ask the hon. Gentleman was this— Why, if that agreement were such as it had been described, was the rate of interest for one annuity not to be paid at the same rate as the rate of interest for the other annuity? He 1189 thought the House was entitled to a distinct answer to that question, especially for the reason so strongly put forward yesterday, and, in particular, by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, that this was a contract altogether outside the original contract —a contract made between the Secretary of State in Council and the East Indian Railway Company, by which the shareholders in that Company were not to be tied down to the strict terms of the original contract; but questions as to terms that might, or might not be accepted, were left open. In reference to the terms of the new contract, it was most distinctly stated that the basis of the annuity had been taken at 4 per cent, because there was a certain analogy between the present arrangement and that which was contemplated by the original contract; and, therefore, he maintained that the House ought to be informed— this being the case— why was the terminable annuity calculated at £46s. per cent, and the perpetual annuity—for, so far as the shareholders in the East India Railway Company were concerned, he (Mr. Childers) believed it would be perpetual; because, unless the Government found it convenient to pay it off, it would be perpetual—calculated at 4 per cent? He thought that this was a fair question, and, at any rate, he anticipated that it would receive a complete answer.
After a pause,
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he had not risen at once to answer the question put to him by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), because he thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) might have desired to say something beforehand. He was very glad, However, to answer the question of the right hon. Gentleman at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman was, perhaps, aware that, in accordance with the terms of the contract, the Government of India had only power to pay off the East India Railway Company in two ways. In the first place, they might pay in cash; and, in the second place, the payment might be made by means of an annuity. They had no power to pay in stock in any form whatever. Whom they came to negotiate with Mr. Crawford, the Chair- 1190 man of the Company, the suggestion was made to that gentleman whether, in making the negotiation, it was worth while to take into consideration the question of payment in stock? and the answer made by Mr. Crawford to that suggestion was that he was not prepared, on the part of the shareholders, to accept payment in stock. He said he was prepared to accept payment either in cash, or in the form of an annuity. That being so, the negotiations were carried on on that understanding, and the terms of the agreement, as they had now been arranged, were settled. After the terms had been thus settled, it was represented to his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India that some of the shareholders who were trustees found themselves in this position — they were doubtful whether, under the terms of the trust, they could accept payment in the form of an annuity. On the contrary, they thought they could not do so, and that even if they could, they would be indisposed to accept a security which was not easily saleable; their view of the matter being that the annuities for 73 years would not be so saleable in the market as Government of India stock. Representations to that effect were made to the Secretary of State for India in Council; and he decided that he would, especially for the benefit of the trustees holding in the East India Railway Company, offer stock in lieu of annuities. After devoting due consideration to the matter, he determined on offering £125 4 percent stock, payable in 1888, a period whom the remainder of the 4 per cent stock was redeemable; and, considering the advantage the trustees would acquire in having offered to the a stock that would be readily saleable, instead of a security that would not be readily saleable, it was thought they would at once be prepared to accept the offer. Well, that offer was made to the shareholders, and the result was that the holders of something like £3,500,000 of capital had sought to commute their annuities for 4 per cent stock; but he believed that since Then some applications had been withdrawn. What would be the ultimate result he could not say; but he thought that the statement he had just made was a complete answer to the question put to him by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he should reserve some remarks he desired to make on the point that had just been raised until the Bill got into Committee, whom he would move an Amendment which he deemed germane to the matter. With regard to the question at that moment before the House— namely, that the Bill be considered— he should like, if it were in Order to do so, to move that the consideration of the Bill be postponed for a week, for a purpose which he would explain. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India had made a statement yesterday that had surprised him; and in regard to that statement, he (Sir George Campbell) thought he might say that it was to some extent, unintentionally, of course, misleading. The statement to which he referred was this— the House had been given to understand that in respect of the matter of the disputed interpretation of the contract the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India had not acted without legal advice. The Under Secretary of State for India told the House that the Secretary of State for India in his Council had men who were eminent in many ways, and more especially in regard to their legal qualifications— that in fact, there were no men in England who were more able to give advice as lawyers. He (Sir George Campbell) shared the opinion of the hon. Gentleman on that point; but since the discussion that had taken place yesterday he had had the opportunity of making inquiry into the matter, and he understood that the legal Members of the Council of India had not had the legal question respecting the interpretation of that part of the clause in the contract which affected the rate of interest specifically placed before the for their opinion to be pronounced upon it. They had an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the general policy of the Government in the matter; but with regard to the particular point that had been raised, as to whether the phraseology of the contract in reference to the question of the rate of interest was such as to bear the construction that had been put upon it by the Government, he understood that the legal Members of the Council had not had that point distinctively brought before the, with a view to get from the legal interpretation which they would put upon it. Now, that seemed to him 1192 (Sir George Campbell) to be a very important matter. He was given to understand that the question of this negotiation had been referred to SIR Louis Mallet, the Permanent Under Secretary of State in the Indian Department. There was no man for whose opinion on such a matter he should have greater respect, nor in whom he could repose greater confidence than SIR Louis Mallet. SIR Louis Mallet was not only eminent as a man of business, but he was also what might be called a strict and severe man in regard to matters of finance. In point of fact, there was no man with whom he was acquainted who was more thoroughly and entirely beyond any possibility of imputation that he would be a party to a job of any kind than SIR Louis Mallet—no man in this respect whom he should think it more impossible to suggest as likely to be in any degree participator in a job—no man who had the finances of India more entirely at heart, or who would more willingly suggest anything which he conceived would be beneficial to the finances or people of India. -What had really happened in regard to the matter under discussion was this— Sir Louis Mallet being, as he had said, a very distinguished man of business — a man who was constantly concerned in great and important affairs—a man holding a high position in the India Office, and one who had rendered, in regard to great political and commercial questions, important services to this country—he being a man in an eminent position, and of such distinguished services and wide experience, was not a man who would be likely to have a minute knowledge of anything that savoured of petty stock-jobbing in the City. Tie was not a man likely to have to do with shares, or who could be expected to know from day to day the price of East India stock; and it was just because he was a man occupying so high a position, that it had never struck him, as it would have struck any more petty man of business dealing in petty stocks and shares, that the rate of interest mentioned in the contract was above the rate which the obligations of the East India Railway Company usually bore in the Stock Market. He (Sir George Campbell) had reason to believe that the legal Members of the Council of India were not personally responsible for the legal interpretation 1193 which had been put upon the clause. What he had been endeavouring to ascertain was who was personally responsible for that interpretation. As far as he had been able to discover from the evidence taken by the Committee, the only person who was in any degree responsible for the interpretation of the clause which had determined the rate of interest was a gentleman named Mr. Cave Browne, who held a subordinate position in the India Office. He (Sir George Campbell) had not the pleasure of knowing that gentleman; but he was informed that the position of Mr. Cave Browne in the India Office was not one that would entitle him to solve difficult points of this kind. He, being the gentleman who performed the accountant's part of the business, had, with a light heart, taken it upon himself to interpret a clause which no one else was able to interpret; and he had put an interpretation on it which was, to an extent, favourable to the East India Railway Company. The clause was placed before Sir Louis Mallet; but his personal attention was probably not called to the particular point now at issue— namely, the question of the rate of interest; it had unfortunately happened that that matter had escaped his attention, the result being that the people of India would be saddled with the payment of nearly £3,000,000, which, under another interpretation, they would not have been called on to pay. Let the now see what was the position of the matter at the present moment. The special Committee who had inquired into the case had made a unanimous Report, which conveyed a certain amount of censure on the officials at the India Office; and, moreover, the Resolution moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), which had been accepted by Her Majesty's Government, and by the House, was also one which did, by implication, convey a certain amount off censure on Sir Louis Mallet and the other officials who had been concerned in this business. It seemed to him (Sir George Campbell), and he spoke as an admirer and friend of Sir Louis Mallet, that it would be a very great injustice to SIR Louis Mallet and these who had been officially engaged in this matter, to pass a censure on the and say—"You are wrong; you have been careless in this matter; but you have done what 1194 is irreparable, and as we cannot repair it, we are, consequently, bound to pass this Bill." For his part, he (Sir George Campbell) certainly took another and totally different view. He had not had the opportunity of consulting Sir Louis Mallet on the subject; but he would state his own view, which was this—If he were in Sir Louis Mallet's position, he should say to the House—" No; if I have made a mistake, it is not irreparable. The arrangement that has been made as between me and the East India Railway Company is one that has to be submitted for the sanction of Parliament. Parliament may, or may not, sanction that arrangement." The House knew that the Bill to give effect to the purchase of the East India Railway had come before the House in the form of a Private Bill. Let the House suppose for a moment that the case had been one of a Gas Bill, and it had turned out, while the Bill was still before the House, that a Corporation, which had made arrangements to buy up a Gas Company's property, had been misled in the calculation they had made, and had, consequently, agreed to give a price that was unfair to the ratepayers of the borough for which they were acting. What would the House do in such a case? He believed it would have no hesitation in rejecting the Bill, or in postponing its consideration, in order that an arrangement might be made of a fairer and more equitable nature. It seemed to him that this was the course which might very well be followed on the present occasion— indeed, that it was the course that ought to be followed in justice to so eminent a man as Sir Louis Mallet, whose action in the matter under discussion was called in question. It seemed to him that what had been done was not irreparable, and that if the House thought there had been an oversight— and he was sure it was nothing more than an oversight— they had it in their power to postpone the Bill in order that it might be further considered. They had been told that if they did not adopt the Bill there might be a large amount of litigation, which might lead to very great difficulties. He ventured to suggest a mode by which, as it seemed to him, they might, strictly in accordance with the terms of the contract, get over the difficulty. The contract provided for the case of any 1195 difficulty arising as to the interpretation of the clause with regard to the question of the rate of interest. It provided that, if any question should arise as to the rate of interest to be paid, the rate which should be fixed was to be ascertained by a reference to the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. The object of that reference was to enable the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England— as persons who were thoroughly acquainted with financial and commercial matters, and who must naturally be acquainted with the state of the Money Market to make a calculation such as would put the Government and the East India Railway Company in possession of the real rate at which the interest should be fixed. But there was no doubt that this difficulty would arise. The Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England might say—" This point is referred to us as a financial question; but we find, on looking into the matter, that an extremely difficult legal question is also involved, and, consequently, we have a difficulty in arriving at a decision." Now his (Sir George Campbell's) suggestion was, that it would not be at all difficult, in making the reference to the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, to say—" You may find a difficulty in regard to the legal interpretation of the clause, and if you do find any such difficulty, and it is necessary for you to take legal advice, we will bear the expense." If that position were granted, he could not see the least difficulty in the matter. The Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England would say—" We have been called on to make a calculation as to the rate of interest to be paid under the terms of the clause; but we have a difficulty as to its legal interpretation. Let us take the highest and most eminent legal advice that we can get. That advice will be paid for by the Government of India— we shall not involve ourselves in any personal responsibility on that account. We will procure the best possible legal advice, and the contract being interpreted by that advice, we will make the necessary financial and arithmetical calculations so as to make the Return which the contract requires." If that step were to be taken, the position of the Government 1196 would be wholly unassailable. The Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England would make a Return that would be legally binding on both parties, and which would render it impossible to have any further legal contest. He believed, therefore, that if the House would consent to delay further proceeding with the Bill, there would not be any substantial difficulty in settling the question of the rate of interest under the contract.
He now came to the question, supposing the East India Railway Company should be unwilling to accept the terms that would thus be offered to the. There would only remain the supposed practical difficulty that might arise from their throwing the railway on the hands of the Government. Now, that was a matter of administration on which he did feel that he was in some degree qualified to offer an opinion; and he had a most decided opinion that in regard to this point there need be no practical difficulty whatever. He believed he was somewhat misunderstood yesterday by the noble Lord the Vice President of the Council (Lord George Hamilton) and the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India (Mr. E. Stanhope), both of whom seemed to suppose his view to be this—" If you do not satisfy the East India Railway Company by giving the good terms, you will have to take over their undertaking and manage it yourselves permanently." Now, that was not at all the view he had expressed. What he did say was, that if the East India Railway Company drove the Government into a corner, and said they must take over the railway, the officers employed in connection with that railway were at the present time so completely under the control of the Government officers, that the Government might take the railway rover without creating the smallest hitch or difficulty. They had no need to take it over permanently, if they should really be driven into a corner at the last moment; for he had not the least hesitation in saying that there would not be the least difficulty in taking over the main line on the 1st of February and rendering it back to the Company on the 1st of March, or any other month, in case they had in the meantime come to terms with the Company. Therefore, it did seem to him that there was no practical 1197 difficulty to apprehend in regard to this point, if the House would only consent to postpone further proceeding with the Bill as he had suggested. They had in SIR Louis Mallet a very eminent man, who possessed many excellent qualities that would be of great service in negotiating with the East Indian Railway Company; and if he did omit one important point, they must remember that no man could altogether guard against the possibility of error. His (Sir George Campbell's) own impression was that Sir Louis Mallet, if he were consulted on the matter, would be the first to say—" Do not censure me for what I have done, and Then pass your Bill; but if a mistake has been made, delay the passage of the measure, let me enter into further negotiations, and we will Then see what can be done." This was the view which he (Sir George Campbell) had taken on this subject, and he now appealed to Her Majesty's Government to adopt the course he had suggested. He would move, in conclusion, that the consideration of the Bill be postponed for a week.
§ MR. D. TAYLOR
seconded the Amendment, but upon different grounds to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell). That was a day usually set apart for Business in charge of private Members, and as the present was in many respects a Government Bill, he thought they ought to postpone it until some future day. It was scarcely fair to private Members that the day should be occupied with Government Business.
To leave out the word " now," and at the end of the Question to add the words " upon Wednesday next."—(Sir George Campbell.)
Question proposed, " That the word ' now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that the Government did not desire to stand in the way of Business in the hands of private Members; but the present Bill was a private one, and it had been put down by these in charge of it for that day, which was strictly within their right. If its consideration were now only permitted to proceed, it would be disposed of in a very short time. In reference to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), he (Mr. E. Stanhope) confessed it 1198 filled him with despair as to the possibility of governing India by means of a Council. He meant to speak, as, indeed, he always did, with the greatest respect of the Secretary of State for India's Council, and of every member of it. They had ever shown him the greatest possible kindness; but they and the House must remember that it was his business in that House to represent not only the Secretary of State for India, but his Council also; and it was hardly fair to him, for a member of that Council, who had an opportunity of putting his views on record, to allow matters to pass unanimously in Council, and afterwards to go to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, and authorise him to make different statements in the House of Commons.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that no member of the Indian Council ever went to him. On the contrary, he, that morning, went to one of these members.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
remarked, that the hon. Gentleman had only put it in another form of words; for he understood that a member of the Council had taken the opportunity of making the hon. Member for Kircaldy the mouthpiece for expressing his views.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
denied that any member of the Council had taken the opportunity of making him his mouth-piece. He called upon SIR Erskine Perry that morning, and asked him if he was responsible for a legal opinion, and he said he was not.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
was sorry that SIR Erskine Perry, who was a member of the Secretary of State for India's Council and a gentleman entitled to the greatest respect, should have taken that opportunity of expressing his views on the point. All he (Mr. E. Stanhope) could say with regard to the legal interpretation to be placed on the clause was, that the matter had been considered for years in the India Office. Sir Erskine Perry himself had written Minutes relating to it, and so, in fact, had several Members of the Council. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, having inquired since the previous day, thought he had discovered that the legal interpretation of the clause had been given by Mr. Cave Browne, a gentleman of the highest eminence, who had rendered great service in the India Office. But no one ever asked that gentleman for a legal opinion on the subject; he was a financial officer, who 1199 was asked for a financial report only. As a matter of fact, there was no secret as to the manner in which these negotiations were carried on. SIR Louis Mallet was appointed, with a sub-Committee of the Council, to negotiate with Mr. Crawford; and whom the terms were finally arrived at, they were laid before the Council as a whole, and the Secretary of State for India and his Council having considered the, unanimously accepted the. That being so, he (Mr. E. Stanhope) hoped the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy would withdraw the Motion he had made and allow the to proceed with the consideration of the Bill.
§ MR. CHILDERS
felt it his duty to say, after the remarks which had been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), that on whatever side of the House they might sit they must all hope that what they had just heard would not be drawn into a precedent. Everybody had his opinions on a great many questions of public interest, and whom a conversation took place between an hon. Member of the House and a member of the Civil Service, it was always understood, However free the conversation might be, that it would not be repeated. If conversations such as that which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy appeared to have had with Sir Erskine Perry were to be repeated in that House, and a sort of misunderstanding were to arise between a permanent Civil servant and his official Chief, the first effect would be that the public generally would lose the advantage that they now had of these unrestricted, though confidential, conversations they had with members of the Civil Service. He, therefore, entirely concurred in the observations which had been made by the Under Secretary of State for India; and he trusted that, while SIR Erskine Perry would not suffer in the estimation of any of the on account of what had passed, they would not have the opinions, freely expressed in such conversations by permanent Civil servants, quoted in the House against their official Chief.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he had listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr.Fawcett) in introducing the Motion, and was perfectly prepared to support him, if it were necessary, in the view he 1200 took on that question. The hon. Member merely wished to challenge the preliminary proceedings, and, in doing so, made out a good case; but that case was at an end. He (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) did not think any variation had been made in the statement which would justify the House in throwing any permanent impediment in the way of the Bill becoming law. With respect to the Bill, its arrangement, and its sanction by the Secretary of State for India and his Council, he wished to say that there could be no finality in Public Business, if half-a-dozen men were to sit round a table, apparently transact certain business, and subsequently be permitted to say they did not go into the details which underlay the question and formed the substance of the arrangement. It would be stultifying themselves if they were to accept any such explanation in exoneration of these gentlemen; or if they were, for instance, not to take the present Bill as having received the full and substantial support of every Member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India who had not duly recorded his dissent. Under the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) would really promote Public Business by withdrawing his Motion.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had not made the Motion of which he had given Notice; but had made another of a totally different character, and one which would be still more detrimental to the Bill and the progress of Public Business. He proposed to re-consider the matter next week; but, surely, the subject had already been sufficiently debated. The arguments which the hon. Gentleman adduced against the Bill were really of the most untenable character. The state of the East India Loan, as it now existed, never entered into the minds of these who made the contract, and allowance must be made for the peculiar position in which the contracting parties stood at the time.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he must point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) that the question immediately before the House was the postponement of the consideration of the 1201 Bill for one week, and the right hon. Gentleman was now discussing a clause which it was proposed to amend after the House had decided the question immediately before it. He submitted it would be more convenient if the right hon. Gentleman would postpone his observations until they came to the consideration of the clause.
§ MR. J. G. HUBBARD
said, he was endeavouring to answer the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy's (Sir George Campbell's) speech on the Motion for postponement, and he wanted to show that there was no virtue in the hon. Gentleman's argument. The proposal of the hon. Member was that the Bill should be postponed, and the reason he gave was that there was a defect of a very serious character in relation to the payment of the annuities. The effect of the clause with regard to the rate of interest had been misinterpreted; for it was said, if there had been any doubt at all, recourse ought to have been had to the Governor or Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. But these officials could not be called in by the Council at all, because the rate of interest was to be determined by the rate of interest received in a distinct period-24 months. That period never existed, for before its completion the present voluntary arrangement was made between the Indian Government and the Company. Although the contract to which the hon. Member had referred was there as a guide to the arrangements, it had no coercive power. This was a voluntary arrangement to which the contracts were a guide, but not the rule. Under the circumstances, he trusted the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Amendment, which would have the effect of postponing Public Business without any possible good result.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he could not agree with the right hon. Member opposite (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) in the general view he took of the question; but he did agree with him that there could be no advantage in postponing the consideration of the Bill. It was thoroughly discussed in Committee and in that House on the previous day, and, therefore, further delay would be disadvantageous. In justice to the Government of India, he must say that both the Secretary of State for India and the Permanent Under Secretary of State 1202 stated, in evidence given before the Committee, that it was distinctly assumed that the contracts were not binding; that they were merely to be taken as a basis of the treaty. It would be well if they were now to proceed with the consideration of the Bill, and with the clauses proposed to be amended by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell).
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, he was extremely reluctant to occupy the time, in as much as he had trespassed upon the patience of the House for such a considerable time on the previous evening. He would, However, venture to make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), in the face of the debate of the previous day, not to press his Motion to a Division. He (Mr. Fawcett) was afraid that, if he did so, a very erroneous impression would be produced. Moreover, if the Motion were rejected by a large majority— and, as no sufficient Notice had been given, the vote would not be a fair test of the opinion of the House— the interpretation put upon the Division would be that a majority approved of the Bill. Now, what took place on the previous day seemed to him to be this— they decided that they did not approve of the Bill, and that, consequently, a Resolution was passed unanimously by the House, which, if not a censure upon the Secretary of State for India and his Council, was, at least, an authoritative reminder that what they had done with regard to the present matter must never be done again. He should not have made any further remarks; but he did agree with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India (Mr. E. Stanhope), that it was unfortunate to single out one Member of the Council, and in consequence of a private conversation which an hon. Member had had with him, to make out that he was not responsible for something for which he was responsible. Whatever any Member of the Council might say, they could not throw away from themselves the responsibility for the Bill. Every Member of the Council was responsible for it; it was laid before him; his attention to these points which had been raised might not have been specially directed, but the Bill might have been considered by every Member of the 1203 Council, and it was his duty to consider it with just as much care as it had been considered by the Committee to which the Bill had been referred, and as it had been discussed by the House. They could not say now that they had never considered it, and were, therefore, not responsible for it. It seemed to him (Mr. Fawcett) that a very important lesson might be drawn with regard to the duty of the House in reference to the future government of India. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard), referring to the words of the contract upon which that important dispute had arisen— a dispute which, in this transaction, involved the sum of no less than £3,000,000— said, speaking with his great commercial experience— " A more unbusiness-like contract was never entered into; " and Then he said that the East India Company was responsible for it. The House, However, was responsible, and someone else was also responsible. The President of the Board of Control was responsible, and the House was responsible, because they could not lose sight of the fact that these contracts were submitted to the House; and just in the same way, as he maintained, that the Council of the Secretary of State for India could not escape the responsibility for what had been done in reference to the Bill, that House could not escape the responsibility of sanctioning contracts which they now said were the most unbusiness-like ever entered into. That showed the great importance of their keeping a careful, watchful, and incessant eye upon Indian Business. They would thus render great service to the Secretary of State for India in Council, because of what was done with regard to the present Bill. It had slipped through the India Office without proper criticism; it was on the point of slipping through that House, because the Government were going to refer it to an ordinary Private Bill Committee. No evidence would have been taken, because they could not take evidence on a Private Bill, if it were unopposed. There was no one to oppose it; in fact, it was only to be opposed on grounds of public policy. That showed the great importance of a careful watch over every Bill affecting India brought into the House. Had proper care been exercised in that instance, he 1204 believed the purchase of the East India Railway would have turned out more advantageously for India than it would under the present circumstances. He did not call the transaction a bad one, because, on the whole, he believed it would turn out advantageously. At any rate, great good would come out of the discussion which had taken place, and out of the exhaustive examination which the Bill received by the Committee to which it was referred. The Secretary of State for India in Council might take a lesson, and might receive a warning from the Bill which it would be prudent not to ignore. They might also know from what had taken place that a change had at length come over the House of Commons with regard to the administration of India. He believed the House had, at length, so much awakened to the critical position of Indian affairs, and to the importance of Indian affairs being carefully considered, that the Secretary of State for India in Council might know that henceforth the House would not permit laxity to remain unchecked. He did once more appeal to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy not to take a Division, which would be misunderstood, and which, to a certain extent, would take away the good they had already effected.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing, although he would much rather his Motion was negatived than withdrawn. With regard to the present question raised, he had already corrected the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India, whom he said that a Member of the Indian Council had made him his mouth-piece. In that respect the hon. Gentleman was entirely in error. He must also protest against the suggestion that he had in any way betrayed a private conversation. What had happened was this. Having refreshed his memory by reference to the report of what had happened on the previous day— that was, of what the Under Secretary of State for India had said, he, on coming down to the House that morning, called on SIR Erskine Perry. He said—" I am going down to the House about the East India Railway Bill. I want to know whether you have ever given a legal opinion with regard to the interpretation of the In- 1205 terest Clause?" SIR Erskine Perry said—" No; I never gave an opinion. As a matter of fact, this particular point was not brought before the Council specially." SIR Erskine Perry did not deny the responsibility, in common with other Members of the Council, for having, passed the measure as a whole; but he did deny that, as a lawyer, his opinion was ever asked as to the interpretation of the Interest Clause. He (Sir George Campbell) did not think he had been guilty of any betrayal of confidence. He had only named Sir Erskine Perry whom he found that a wholly erroneous construction was put on the affair, and he thought it best to make a clean breast of it. He must very earnestly dissent from the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), who regarded the Members of the Council of India as permanent Civil servants in the ordinary sense. He took it that they were in an entirely different position; they were a class of men appointed for a number of years or for life—[" Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the hon. Member (Sir George Campbell) was proceeding beyond the bounds of a personal explanation.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON,
referring to the allegation that the Indian Council had not been consulted as to that particular clause, desired to state what had actually happened. A special Committee of the Council was appointed to consider the details of the arrangement, and it was composed partly of the Finance and partly of the Railway Committees. They went very carefully into every detail of the arrangement, and on that Committee was SIR Erskine Perry.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
protested against the present course of Public Business. The seven first Bills upon the Paper for that day were Irish Bills; yet they were precluded from being taken, on account of a Government Bill; for although the Bill was in the charge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard), it amounted to a Government measure. He (Major Nolan) maintained that, in consequence of it being taken that day, there had been a great curtailment of the time at the disposal of Irish Members. He protested against the present invasion of the rights of private Members, and thought that Irish Busi- 1206 ness ought not to be impeded in that manner.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that it must be borne in mind that this was a Private Bill, which was introduced, not by the Government, but by the Chairman of the Committee to whom it was referred. The main discussion upon the Bill took place the previous day, at a time which would have been appropriated to Government Business, and the consequence of the long discussion which took place, and of the whole of the Morning Sitting being occupied by the debate, was that no Government Business could be proceeded with. They had every reason to suppose that after the full discussion which the Bill received the previous day only a few minutes would have been required today to consider the particular Amendments. They really thought the question was substantially settled.
§ SIR JOHN HAY,
in reference to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway (Major Nolan), pointed out that on the Wednesday in last week, whom Irish Business was first on the Paper, a House was not made until late. He wished to call the attention of the House to that matter, to show that the Wednesdays, which were sometimes devoted to Irish Business, were not so eagerly seized upon.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, the House was made last Wednesday about five minutes past 12 o'clock; it was, in fact, the earliest House made that year. The right hon. and gallant Baronet opposite (Sir John Hay) was, therefore, very unfortunate in his illustration.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered.
§ SIR. GEORGE CAMPBELL
begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice. He proposed, in Clause 7, page 20, line 3, to leave out—One million four hundred and seventy three thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds, being at the rate of four pounds ten shillings,and insert—One million three hundred and sixty-four thousand three hundred and ten pounds, being at the rate of four pounds three shillings and three pence three farthings.His Amendment was intended to carry out the view of the large part of the 1207 Committee on the Bill, and, if carried, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) might take the Bill or leave it. The effect of it was that the rate of interest on which the annuity should be calculated should be taken at about £4 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) very forcibly showed good reason why not more than £ 4 per cent should be given to these annuity holders in regard to their claims; and he (Sir George Campbell) thought that, in some respects, the case was even stronger than the right hon. Gentleman had put it; for whereas these who accepted the 4 per cent stock were only secured till 1888, the holders of this annuity were secured for 73 years. The Amendment must commend itself to many hon. Members of the House, because it was an Amendment which was proposed to be inserted in the Bill by three Members of the Committee who sat on the Bill—namely, the hon. Members for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), Birmingham (Mr. Muntz), and Hackney (Mr. Fawcett). These hon. Gentlemen were only out-voted by the casting vote of the Chairman, and, that being so, he (Sir George Campbell) had thought it right to submit the Amendment to the House, whether the House would accept it or not. As to the ground on which he submitted the Amendment, no doubt, it entirely depended upon the interpretation of the clause, which had already been the subject of debate, in the House. According to one interpretation of the clause, the amount to be given to the East India Company was £1,473,750, while, according to another interpretation, the amount was £1,364,310. It was a question as to which was the right interpretation of the clause. It seemed to him that no competent authority of any kind had expressed an opinion with regard to the interpretation of the clause. He ventured to say, again, so far as his information went, that the attention of the legal Members of the Council of the Secretary of State for India was never specially directed to the clause, and that they did not bind themselves to an opinion upon it. He was anxious to justify himself in regard to quoting the opinion of one of these Members, and he asserted positively that the Members of the Council of the 1208 Secretary of State for India were not in the position of the ordinary permanent Civil servants. They held independent positions, and they had a right to record their opinion in a totally different manner from that of permanent Civil servants. If that had been a question between the Secretary of State for India and ordinary permanent Civil servants, it would have been a totally different matter, and he would have done wrong in getting an opinion from the, or they in giving one.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he was bound to say that the hon. Member (Sir George Campbell) was not speaking to the Amendment.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
concluded by moving the Amendment.
[There being no Seconder, the Amendment was not put to the House.]
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he had three other Amendments on the Paper; but the only one he wished to move was, to add to the end of Clause 31 the words—Each amount of twenty pounds or more, to two votes; each amount of one hundred pounds or more, to three votes; and each amount of one hundred pounds above the first hundred, to one additional vote.The effect of the clause in question was to throw an enormous power in the hands of the great and rich shareholders of the Company, and to make the direction of the Company nothing more than a close corporation even much more than it was now. His Amendment would remedy that state of things; but if the clause were allowed to be carried unaltered, the effect would be to make a close corporation a great deal closer still.
[There being again no Seconder, the Amendment was not put to the House.]
Bill agreed to; and to be read the third time.