§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, he felt bound to express some little surprise that the noble Lord had not on any occasion—either on the first or second reading, or on the present Motion—taken the trouble to explain to the House anything in connection with this Bill, the consequence of which was that hon. Members found themselves in a state of complete ignorance as to the character of the measure, the necessity for its introduction, and its probable effects. But, although, looking at the matter casually, the majority of Members of the House might imagine that it was of no great consequence, in reality it affected a great many interests, and interests of a very serious and substantial kind. He had hoped to hear from the noble Lord on the present occasion some statement of the nature of the fund which it was proposed to affect by the Bill, as well as an account of the alterations which had from time to time occurred in it and, in the rates of interest allowed by the Government of India upon the money accumulated, and also a statement of the surplus which was now in hand. This information was most desirable, because it was absolutely impossible for any private Member—certainly for the majority of private Members—to arrive at anything like a reasonable judgment on the provisions and conditions of the Bill as it stood without having a clear exposition of the materials with which it was proposed to deal. He had moved some time ago—immediately Notice of the Bill was placed on the Paper—for certain Returns relating to the Bombay Civil Fund, and the noble Lord had been good enough to furnish some Returns. But he had not given him 711 those he asked for; and those which he had given were so very imperfect that, although they enabled one to arrive at a general notion of the character, history, and extent of the meausre, they were altogether insufficient to enable anybody to judge, except in a hazy way, of the probable effect of this Bill when it became law. He did not wish to detain the House at that hour (2.15 A.M.); but he must say that if they were asked to do Business so late in the evening, they ought, notwithstanding, to do it properly, and that, if it were impossible, owing to circumstances, to bring forward Business at a reasonable hour, the House should have an opportunity of doing work relating to India, and, still more, the work of this country, at an earlier period in the Session. As far as he was able to gather from the Papers furnished by the noble Lord, it appeared that this fund was originally started amongst the members of the Civil Service in India, by subscription, in order to enable them to provide for the widows and children of members of the Service, and also for some members of the Service compelled, by ill-health, to retire. There seemed at first to have been a payment of 2½ per cent by the subscribers, and it eventually became a recognized custom for every person in the Service to pay this percentage; but, on an emergency, it was proposed by the members of the Civil Service that a further ¾ per cent should be imposed. The Government then agreed that upon this further fund, raised by voluntary contribution, the rate of interest allowed on the balance should be 8 per cent instead of 4 per cent; whereupon there arose a kind of duplicate fund, a portion of which was allowed interest at the rate of 4 per cent, while the remainder was allowed interest out of the Revenues of India at 8 per cent. The consequence of this, as anybody might have anticipated, was, that after a time the 4 per cent fund ceased to have any balance, and the only balance that existed was that which received from the Revenues of India interest at the rate of 8 per cent. That balance went on accumulating, and at last there was a large sum of money, with interest accruing upon it at 8 per cent, which latter came out of the pockets of a portion of the taxpayers in India. Moreover, it was admitted in the Papers furnished by the noble Lord, 712 that the large additions to the fund in the three Presidencies became very unsatisfactory, and this state of affairs was noticed by the Government as far back as 1872; and from that time until the present, there had been a wrangle between the Government of India and the Civil Service as to how much money was entitled to the higher rate of 8 per cent, and how much was to receive only 4 per cent. The Government made up its mind that it would somehow or other put an end to the fund; and it appeared from the Papers that the Secretary of State for India had intimated to the Civil Service that if they would consent to close the fund they would not only be secured with regard to the balance of the 8 per cent fund., which ought never to have existed at all, and which was made by means of unfair proceedings at the expense of the taxpayers of India; but he went further, and said if they would allow a new fund to take over the subscribers, he would not only secure them the benefits they were now receiving, but would also secure the widows £60 a-year. After further dispute, the Civil Service wrung from the Secretary of State for India an apparently reluctant consent, that if they were willing to surrender the fund altogether into the hands of the Government, they should have not only all the advantages which they were entitled to, but also £100 a-year for the widows. That was, no doubt, a very satisfactory arrangement for the Civil Service in India, but it was very unsatisfactory to the inhabitants of the country; because the Civil Service, who all along had been receiving very considerable benefits at the expense of the unfortunate taxpayers, were now to be benefited by a new fund, which was also to be similarly kept up by the taxpayers in India, apparently without their deriving any advantage whatsoever from the arrangement made by the Government. He had been in hopes that the noble Lord would have explained the object of the Government in getting rid of the fund, and that he would have stated generally what the effect of the passing of this Bill upon the Revenues of India would be; therefore, he could not but express regret that the noble Lord had not thought fit to offer any explanation to the House.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he should have been most happy to 713 give any explanation in his power had he thought the House desired it. He had not supposed for one moment that the House desired any further information than was contained in the Bill itself; on the contrary, it appeared to him that if the two parties concerned were satisfied—namely, the Government of India and the Trustees of the new fund, it was not necessary to define the legal effect of the amicable arrangement arrived at. The hon. Member for Queen's County had given a fair account of the origin of the fund, and had correctly stated that the way in which the question had presented itself was that for a long series of years there had been a controversy between the Government of India and the subscribers to the fund as to the amount of money on which the Government was to pay interest at the rate of 8 per cent. The hon. Member said the Government of India ought never to have paid 8 per cent at all; but, however that might be, they had contracted a legal obligation to do so. The controversy to which he referred, appeared to be utterly incapable of settlement; and, after several valuations of the fund, and examinations of the whole subject by competent persons, the Government of India determined to take over the fund on the most equitable terms that could be arrived at. He ventured to say that the only course to be adopted was to take the advice of eminent counsel as to the legal rights of the subscribers, and the opinion of the most competent actuaries as to the value of the fund at a certain date, and as to the terms which the Secretary of State could grant. Accordingly, an arrangement had been made on the advice of counsel and on the opinion of competent actuaries. It had been accepted by the Secretary of State, and by the subscribers, or, at any rate, a very large majority of them. As to the actual details of the arrangement, they were so intensely complicated that he could not pretend to give any opinion on the merits of the arrangement arrived at; but he ventured to think that no other course could have been adopted than that which had been followed—of referring the matter to the most competent authorities that could be found, in order to arrive at what was, on the whole, an equitable compromise both with regard to the interest of 714 the taxpayers and the interest of the subscribers.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
had no wish to detain the Committee, but rose simply to say, with reference to the explanation offered by the noble Lord, that he had not shown that this Bill did not impose a very unfair charge on the Revenues of India. It was perfectly open to the Government, as appeared by the despatch from the India Office, signed by the noble Lord on the 23rd of March, 1882, to have refused to continue to pay an exorbitant rate of interest upon the fund. The Bill threw an enormous charge upon the Revenues of India, notwithstanding that there had been complaints before the India Office officials, over and over again, of the serious injustice done to the taxpayers of India by the arrangements hitherto existing.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.