HC Deb 09 March 1891 vol 351 cc569-71

10. £15,005, Treasury Chest.

(11.50.) DR. TANNER

A few words of explanation on this would not be out of place from a high Financial Authority like the Chancellor of the Exchequer. How is it that he, with his great knowledge and experience, cannot in connection with these bi-metallic questions, make such provision as will save the Treasury from this large loss? This money only deals with the silver dollars of Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements, and, I think, Ceylon—only a small portion of a large colonial area. I hope we may not be told by such a great master of finance as the right hon. Gentleman is accounted by many to be, that it is due to chance that this loss occurs. Any want of foreknowledge on his part could be amply supplied by a right hon. colleague, the present Minister for Agriculture, who, we all know, has mastered the intricacies of the bimetallic system. I should like to know if these silver dollars are paid to the officials in Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements—are they obliged to submit to the loss by depreciation? I hope we shall have some explanation.


I am sadly in want of a little enlightenment, and candidly confess I do not know what the "Treasury Chest" means. If it has occurred in the Estimates before it has escaped my notice. Is there a "Treasury Chest" for India? So far as I can make out, this Vote has the laudable object of making up the difference between gold and silver in payment of salaries in Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements. Now, we know there have been constant complaints that officers in India suffer heavy loss by the depreciation of the value of the rupees in which they are paid. If there is a Treasury Chest in Downing Street which puts this matter right for Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements, why is there not a Treasury Chest for India, where the loss is felt in a more marked manner? This Vote arises, I presume, out of questions connected with the bi-metallic currency, and there may be a reason which has special reference to Hong Kong and the Straits. Settlements, but the sum is large, and I think we may well ask for some explanation.


; I must ask to be excused from going into the whole question, and as to regulations concerning India—payments there do not come from the same fund, and I have no knowledge on the subject. I must leave that to my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for India. But in regard to the present Vote, I may explain that during the past eight years there has been a gain to the Treasury Chest on the exchange of about £90,000. But this year, owing to the change made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in favour of soldiers and sailors, the Treasury Chest has suffered a loss of about £15,000.


But what is the Treasury Chest?


It represents the balances held by paymasters in different parts of the world. The exchange is fixed at the beginning of each quarter, and if it goes against us there is so much loss, and during the past year this loss has been £15,000. That represents the loss to the Treasury Chest out of about a million of money.


But I want the Point to be made clear—is it due to depreciation in silver or to rate of exchange? I think we ought to have the distinction drawn. I know these matters are much mixed up by Indian officials. For my own part I do not pretend to know much about it, and so I seek information.


I should have thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman would have known that the rate of exchange is more or less governed by the price of silver.


But it is not the same thing.


The price of silver has fallen considerably—from 54 pence to 44 pence an ounce in the last year.

(11.57.) MR. CONYBEARE

But surely it will not be denied that the rupee, which 12 months ago was worth 1s. 5d., now is worth something near 2s. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, without arguing this, I pass to the point I wish to put. We understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that in some years there is a considerable difference in favour of the Treasury Chest, a surplus of from £20,000 to £50,000, and if that is so, why does not the surplus in one year balance the deficiency in another?

*(11.58.) MR. JACKSON

The accounts for each year are kept separately.


I only wish to say it is most desirable that soldiers and sailors should be paid in currency, the amount representing the real value of their pay. I know from personal experience how in former times both officers and men suffered very material loss from being paid in Government paper, which was only encashed by merchants as a favour, and at a large discount.

Vote agreed to.

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