HC Deb 02 May 1895 vol 33 cc304-6

I will now state the figures with reference to the National Debt. The extent by which the debt has been reduced within the year is—Funded debt, £1,615,000; terminable annuities, £3,508,000; unfunded debt, £3,296,000; other debt, £110,000,—making a total reduction of £8,529,000. But money has been borrowed for barracks and other objects, by which the debt is increased to the extent of £720,000. The reduction, therefore, of the gross liabilities of the State is £7,809,000. Of this sum, however, £1,576,000 was derived from the portion of the new sinking fund of 1893–4 which was held over to 1894–5, in order to discharge the debt outstanding under the Naval Defence Loan. It will be remembered that it was part of the plan of the Finance Act, 1894, to discharge out of the new sinking fund and the old sinking fund, if any—(1) the debt under Naval Defence Act, £3,146,000, and (2) the debt under the Imperial Defence Act, £2,600,000, making, altogether, a debt to be discharged of £5,746,000. In order to carry out this plan, the available portion of the new sinking fund, 1893–4, held over for the purpose, £1,576,000, and of the new sinking fund, 1894–5, £1,718,000, amounting together to £3,294,000, have been applied to discharge the whole of the Naval Defence Loan, which amounted to £3,146,000; and so that head of debt is finally cleared off and done with. The balance of £148,000 was applied to the reduction of the Imperial Defence Loan, leaving £2,450,000 outstanding. There will be available for its final discharge in the current year, (1) the old sinking fund, which is the surplus of the present year, £766,000—and (2) the new sinking fund of this year, which will be more than sufficient to discharge the balance. In this manner the complicated obligations of the Naval Defence Act and the Imperial Defence Act will be finally wound up in the present year, and we shall know them no more. The mortgage on the Suez Canal dividends has been discharged, the new sinking fund will henceforth be released from its special appropriation, and the public revenue will be liberated from all further entanglements in respect of these particular debts. I have always desired to reduce the amount of the Unfunded Debt. The reduction in the present year has amounted to £3,296,000. Exchequer bonds in the hands of the public to the extent of £2,656,000 have been cancelled, and £1,320,000 issued in the more popular form of Treasury Bills. About £2,000,000 of Treasury bills arid Exchequer bonds in the hands of the National Debt Commissioners have been discharged. The Unfunded Debt now stands at £17,400,000 (as compared with £36,000,000 in 1891, and £21,000,000 in 1893), of which £10,272,000 only is held by the public, the rest being in the hands of the National Debt Commissioners. The net reduction of debt in 1894–5 was £7,809,000, but, as I have just now stated, that reduction was partly due to a sum held over from the new sinking fund of the previous year, of course making the reduction of the previous year less than it would otherwise have been. It will, therefore, be most correct to take the reductions effected in the two years (1893–4 and 1894–5) jointly. Together they amount to £12,718,000 or an average on the two years of £6,359,000, which is somewhat higher than the average of the last eight years (1887–94). I think that is not an unsatisfactory result of the appropriation of the new sinking fund in the last two years. The gross liabilities of the State now amount to about £660,000,000 (a reduction of £100,000,000 in the last 20 years as compared with the figures in 1874); but, as against those liabilities, there are certain assets on the credit side of the account. Hitherto, when Consols ranged below par, there were large deficiencies oil the trustee savings banks' capital account; but the remarkable rise in the value of Government securities has converted this estimated deficiency into a considerable surplus. There is, moreover, another asset which has developed a great value. I refer to the Suez Canal shares, which have now become, for the first time, entitled to their full interest and dividend, and which may, consequently, be valued at their ordinary market price. Estimated at that value, they would amount, at the price of the day, to about £23,900,000. This is, of course, to a certain extent, a hypothetical valuation, based on the assumption that the whole could be realised at their present value, which, of course, is not the case. But, in any event, it represents a very solid set-off against the gross liabilities of the State, and ought to be taken into the public account as such.