§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE, Edinburgh, Midlothian)
It may be for the convenience of the House to learn the exact terms of a telegram received from the Viceroy of India to-day, communicating the steps taken with respect to the Report of Lord Herschell's Committee on the Indian Currency. The telegram is this—Council has passed an Act, which takes effect at once, to carry out the plan recommended by Lord Herschell's Committee. Act provides for close of Indian Mints to free coinage of silver from and after date of passing. Arrangements will be made to issue rupees from the Mints in exchange for gold and sovereigns at the rate of 16d. per rupee [until further notice] and to receive sovereigns and half-sovereigns at Public Treasuries, in. payment of Government dues, at the same rate. It is intended to introduce a gold standard into India, but gold will not be made a legal tender at present.Then there has also been a consideration of the question of silver which was on the way to India, and which has, of course, been shipped in ignorance of this proceeding. The communication made on that subject from the Secretary of State in England is as follows:—On the question whether silver now on its way to India will be admitted to free coinage, the Government of India have been instructed that it is open to them to admit it in any instance that they think fit, each case being considered upon its own merits.There is also the Report of Lord Herschell's Committee, and there is likewise a Correspondence between the India Office and the Indian Government, both of which are prepared for immediate circulation, and are at present in the Vote Office for those who may wish to refer to them.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I am sure the House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for communicating this information at the earliest possible moment. I gather from the statement that silver on the road to India shipped before the knowledge of the closing of the Mints may possibly still be admitted to free coinage.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Would not that establish a great difference between silver in the hands of Europeans and silver in the hands of natives of India? I do not 60 quite understand how it can be proposed that silver still in the hands of Europeans should be admitted on the old terms to the Mints, while the £100,000,000 of silver in the hands of natives would, as I gather, be excluded from any right to be presented for coinage. I am not alluding to the coined silver in the hands of the natives, but I am alluding to that which I always understood to be the great difficulty in the question—namely, the large amount of silver in bullion which is in the hands of the natives. I should like to ask whether that bullion will be excluded, whereas other bullion may possibly be included? I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether I am correct in understanding that gold is not to be legal tender though it is to be the standard, but that the rupee is to be legal tender? In which case will the fact not be that the whole of the legal tender of the Indian Empire will practically be different from the inherent value of the silver in the coinage if there should be any further fall in silver? Will he practically not have a token coinage for the whole Indian Empire?
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I must speak with caution and reserve, because I really have no positive information of any kind beyond what I have communicated to the House. What I understand—though this is matter for argument rather than reply to a question—is that at the present moment no step is taken with regard to legal tender in India. With respect to the previous question of the right hon. Gentleman, there, again, I have nothing to say absolutely except what I have read. The right hon. Gentleman will observe that this is not a wholesale resolution or announcement that all silver on its way to India is to be coined freely at the Mints. The right hon. Gentleman raises the point whether a distinction can be drawn between the silver shipped for India and the considerable amount of silver bullion in the hands of the natives. I can only answer that, conditionally. What I presume is that, if the Indian Government find cause to act in any of these cases, it will be because they are satisfied from the plea of the parties that they have taken a particular step in the faith which they reposed in a given state of public arrangements. With regard to the bullion in the hands of the native population, it does not 61 appear that any step has been taken or that they will be in any respect damaged in consequence.
§ SIR SEYMOUR KING (Hull, Central)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether it is intended to place an Import Duty on silver?
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
That is entirely a new idea to me. We have heard nothing on that subject, and I am not aware of any such intention.
§ MR. MACFARLANE (Argyll)
May I ask whether the Prime Minister or the India Office is in possession of any information which would lead to the conclusion that there is a large mass of bullion in the hands of the natives of India, or whether it is not the fact that the reserve of silver is almost entirely in the shape of ornaments worn by the women?