HC Deb 01 August 1899 vol 75 cc1062-6

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith), in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—


The object of the Amendment I rise to move is to reduce the limits of this Bill. There is a very strong feeling on the part of some Members that this measure has been brought forward under very unusual conditions. In the first place it has been read a second time without the House having any information upon the points which are embraced or the policy proposed to be pursued; in the second place the Bill has been hurried through the House in the most unprecedented manner; and, lastly, the amount is a very large one to be voted away without any information at this time of the session. It cannot be urged in respect of any of the items, except two, that there is any special reason for proceeding with them now rather than six months hence. The difficulties which the Bill is intended to remove have existed for years, and the policy proposed cannot be carried out in six months, and therefore most of the items can very well wait in order that Parliament may give fuller consideration to them than is possible in the last week of the session. Another ground for limiting the Bill to the two cases which I propose is that those cases, being cases of emergency, do not commit us to the principle to which the acceptance of the Bill as a whole undoubtedly would commit the House. That principle has never yet been discussed, and for those reasons I press the Amendment upon the consideration of the Committee.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 6, to leave out the words 'the Colonies,' and insert the words 'Bar-badoes and St. Vincent.'"—(Captain Sinclair.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'the Colonies' stand part of the clause."


I rise for the purpose of making a suggestion to the Government which they may be able to accept. The Secretary of State for the Colonies has just put into our hands a few copies—in fact, they are only proofs—of a Paper containing an explanatory statement of the proposed loans and of the circumstances under which they are sought by the different colonies. Nobody has had time to study this information. I recognise fully that it is meeting our desires to give us the information we require. Our principal complaint has not been that the Bill was necessarily a bad Bill and that these were improper loans, but that the House of Commons was expected to give its assent to these proposals without any information at all. Here is information supplied by Her Majesty's Government, but we have not had time to look at it or digest it. I would suggest that it might possibly lead to a saving of time if progress were reported and the Committee stage resumed to-morrow. I would suggest that my hon. friends should not take advantage of the additional time to manufacture new Amendments or anything of that sort, while probably a good many of these Amendments of which they have given notice would disappear because of the information which has been received. In the meantime the Government might proceed with the Board of Education Bill. In that way no time would be lost, the proper forms would be observed, and an unpleasant disputation avoided.


I think the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman has a good deal of force behind it, and I entirely appreciate the spirit in which it is made. I admit that the Opposition have an apparent ground of complaint in the fact that the information which the Government has been anxious to supply has been so long delayed. I did not think that the Second Reading of the Bill was a convenient time to give the information; in fact, I was not then aware of the exact nature of the information desired. I thought it probably would be most convenient that it should be given when we came to discuss the schedule. I am informed that a full supply of the Papers will be in the House at eight o'clock, and I am inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, pending that full delivery, it might be advantageous that the Debate should be adjourned. I will only make one further observation. The hon. Member for Forfar has said there is no urgency about these loans. That is an entire misstatement. The position is a very peculiar one, and one not likely to recur. For two years past the introduction of this now system has been in contemplation, and the country has had notice of the intention to introduce the new system, of which the Colonial Loans Bill is the first step. When a loan is applied for by a Colonial legislature, and sanctioned by the Secretary of State, the Crown agents put the loan on the market. It was introduced as a Treasury Bill and not as a Colonial Bill, and when that was decided the Crown agents ceased to place this loan upon the market. Now they find themselves liable to a demand of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 sterling, and if those loans were called in a great inconvenience to the public service in the Colonies would be caused. It becomes, therefore, absolutely necessary, whatever may be thought of the principle upon which the Colonial Loans Bill was originally founded, that we must have the money, a large portion of which has been already spent and another large portion of which we have already entered into obligations to pay. When that is done, and this Bill is passed, the Government do not consider that the House will be committed to the principle, and the whole matter will be considered by the Government in the future, and we shall have to determine whether or not it is advisable to abandon this proposal or introduce it again next session, at a period when full time can be given for its discussion. Hon. Members may rest assured that we shall not consider any concession which they may make now by passing this Bill as more than a reasonable arrangement to deal with a particular emergency, and we shall not consider that they are in any way pledged to the principle of the Colonial Loans Bill.


Perhaps I may be allowed to explain my position upon this question. I am very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of this Bill is not to be considered as a precedent, and that he sees no early prospect of a large loan of this kind being required. But what I wish to say more particularly is that there are two aspects in which we look at this measure. First of all there are its individual merits, and in the second place there is the fact that it is being hurried through the House. Of course the latter objection arose through lack of information, and it ceases to operate with the information that has now been supplied. But I must not be understood as promising that there will be no criticism upon individual loans and in individual cases. Of that I have no knowledge, and I do not intend making any criticism upon that point. All that this agreement disposes of is what I consider the serious argument against the proceedings of the Government—namely, the circumstances in which the House of Commons is called upon to vote this money.


I quite agree with the further explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. I am quite prepared to submit to any criticism upon any particular loan, and I am willing to give any further information which hon. Gentlemen opposite may desire to have. The only point I want to make clear is that the whole of these loans would, in the ordinary way, but for the fact of their introduction by the Treasury, have been settled without coming to this House at all in the usual course, and would have been put upon the market, but they have all been damnified by the delay caused by the introduction of the Bill. If we can get over that difficulty there will be no emergency with regard to any future loan, and the whole policy will be open to reconsideration by the House. I beg to move that we now report progress.

Committee report progress; to sit again To-morrow.