§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That the Clause be now read a second time."
§ (4.40.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I rise to a point of order. This is a Bill the object of which is to throw upon the Consolidated Fund a charge such as was contemplated by the Standing Orders of the House, which provide that the House cannot proceed with the consideration of such a Bill until after Resolution submitted in Committee.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I have carefully examined this matter, and the fact stands thus. There is no charge not already authorised thrown on the Consolidated Fund. Hitherto the interest of 5 per cent. and some interest between 1 per cent. and 3 per cent., which is allowed for the Sinking Fund, have been charged on the Consolidated Fund, and the arrangement now proposed will operate in this way. At the end of 15 years pretty nearly the same amount as is now paid will be the result. What is proposed is that the charge shall come to a termination much, earlier than it otherwise would under the existing arrangement. I believe that for the first three or four years there will be a slightly decreased charge, and at the end of 15 years the charge upon the Consolidated Fund will be nearly the same as it is now. There is no extra charge on the Consolidated Fund, and it is sought to repay the money in a less period than under the existing loans. In no year will the charge be higher than is now authorised.
§ MR. A. O'CONNOR
I hope I shall not be considered guilty of undue persistence if I ask you, Sir, to look at the wording of the Bill. There is to be a charge on the Consolidated Fund of 6,250,000 Dutch florins, which, but for this Bill, would be spread over a period of 25 years. It is true there are provisions for raising the money, but the fact remains that there is to be a charge on the Consolidated Fund to the extent I have mentioned.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
In 1891 the sum will be £47,000; the proposed annuity will be £40,000, which sum will be continued throughout until 1905, instead of the charges at present amounting to £47,000, £46,000, £44,000, £43,000, and down to £40,000. It is proposed that the charge shall cease altogether in 1905, whereas under the present term for which the loan is contracted, it could not be paid off for ten years beyond that period, so that there is a decided advantage to the Consolidated Fund and to the general public, and the charge in no year is increased beyond that authorised by law.
§ *(4.46.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
I think that before the Bill is read a second time the House is entitled to some further information with regard to this Dutch loan with which the Bill deals. The transaction took place so long ago that it is difficult to obtain any authentic information concerning it, but it appears to have been one of those mysterious and doubtful financial transactions which took place in the early part of the present century. What was the object and what was the original amount of the loan? Upon what terms, to whom, and for what purpose was it originally granted? For 76 years we appear to have been paying 5 per cent. interest upon it. Are we to go on paying that rate of interest, while the interest on Government Stock is only 2¾ percent.? It does seem to me an extraordinary thing that we should go on paying such a high rate of interest to the Emperor of Russia or some other potentate.
§ (4.50.) MR. A. O'CONNOR
The Bill is, I think, a very good one, embodying a judicious and economic proposal. But the Government have not adopted the right course in dealing with the matter. In the year 1815 a convention was entered into between the Emperor of Russia and the Sovereign of this country for the purpose of meeting-certain liabilities to a large money-lending firm in Amsterdam. The Government of this country and the King of the Netherlands both adopted a responsibility to the extent of 25,000,000 florins. One of the conditions was that Belgium should not be separated from Holland. But in 1831 that separation took place, and a year or two later 173 another Act of Parliament had to be passed to provide for the payment of the annuity under the loan. The annuity was to be 250,000 florins, unless the Emperor of Russia required that the sum should be repaid at 3 per cent. instead of 1 per cent. The Emperor of Russia has, however, made no such application. By the operation of the Sinking Fund the original debt has been reduced to something like 6,250,000 florins, and as the arrangement now proposed will relieve the country of liability for a loan on which it has to pay 5 per cent., I do not dispute the wisdom of the proposal. But this Bill proposes to throw upon the Consolidated Fund for the present year a total sum of £516,529, which but for the Bill would have been spread over the next 25 years. Such a proposal ought first, I think, to have been submitted to the House in a Committee of the whole House, and if the course adopted by the Government is to be taken as a precedent all sorts of proposals will be submitted to the House without being passed through the preliminary stages which are provided for Money Bills.
§ (4.56.) THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON,) Leeds, N.
The hon. Member has stated the facts both clearly and accurately. He seems to think that the Government wilfully and deliberately and for some purpose of their own avoided proposing the usual Resolution in Committee. I at first entertained the view that the Resolution ought to be taken. I therefore, before introducing the Bill, consulted the officers of the House as the persons able to decide the question, and I was advised that, inasmuch as the charge which will fall upon the Consolidated Fund will not be an increased charge, but will represent a saving of £180,000, it was not necessary to introduce the Bill in a Committee of the whole House. The charge with which the Bill deals is already borne by the Consolidated Fund. The only desire of the Government has been to follow strictly the Rules and Orders of the House. The object of the Bill is to get rid of the 5 per cent. interest alluded to by the hon. Member for Shoreditch, and to payoff the loan in a period not exceeding 15 years. The effect of the transaction will be to reduce the rate of interest from 5 per cent. to 3 per cent. for the whole of the term.
§ *(4.59.) MR. CREMER
The right hon. Gentleman has not told us what was the original object of the loan. Is it lost in obscurity?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.