HL Deb 01 August 1853 vol 129 cc1045-50

moved for a Return of all Orders made by the Lord Chancellor under the 16th Vict., c. 23, on behalf of the suitors of the Court of Chancery in relation to the South Sea Annuities and other Funds belonging to them. The noble Lord said that upon a recent occasion an objection had been raised to their Lordships discussing in that House any financial measures that might be in progress in the other House of Parliament; and their Lordships were very well aware that when the measures came up to that House, it was said to be too late to make amendments, because it would interfere with public business, and lead perhaps to a division between the two Houses. But it was still open to him to move for returns, and to claim the attention of the noble Earl at the head of the Government to some particulars connected with a financial subject of some importance. Their Lordships were aware that by the late Act for the commutation of certain public securities, by which it was provided that the holders of stocks, representing the great mass of the funded debt of this country, amounting to about 500,000,000l., should be allowed to commute their claims, on certain conditions, 3½ per cents, 2½ per cents, or Exchequer bonds; and it gave the option to the proprietors of South Sea Stock, South Sea Annuities, and other small stocks, to commute their rights for either of those stocks. With respect to the suitors in the Court of Chancery, who were proprietors of those small stocks, the Act gave power to the Accountant General of the Court of Chancery and the Accountant General in Bankruptcy, under direction of the Great Seal, to elect for them whether they would commute their claims, or be paid off; but no such power was given to the suitors whose moneys were invested in the great mass of the public stock. His noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, in pursuance of the power given by that Act of Parliament, did direct that the 2½ per cent stock should be taken by the suitors in the Court of Chancery, in respect of the South Sea Annuities and the smaller stocks which they held; but as it turned out that the commutation would involve a loss of at least 7 per cent, his noble and learned Friend rescinded that order. As regarded the capital debt of 500,000,000l., in which suitors of the Court of Chancery were interested, he made complaint at the time that no option was given to them, though their rights were the same as the rights of other holders of that stock. The Government, as he understood, felt the justice of that appeal, and therefore promised to introduce a Bill to give the suitors generally the same benefit as had been offered to other holders of stock. That promise, he concluded, had not been performed, because the state of the money market was such that no one would accept the options offered. In proposing a measure in the other House of Parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was reported to have said, that nothing was so unjust as to exclude the suitors in Chancery from the same benefit which everybody else had offered them; that inasmuch as the suitors and joint trustees interested in the capital stock of the South Sea Company could not take part in the meetings of the Company, the resolution of the Company was come to without their assent; and that the measure proposed was intended to correct that anomaly, and was introduced in compliance with a pledge given by Her Majesty's Government in this House. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the pledge given to him (Lord St. Leonards), he could only say he was introducing a measure which he never required, and was not introducing a measure which he did require. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was giving to the suitors of the Court of Chancery, through the instrumentality of the Accountants General, power to convert their share of the capital stock of the South Sea Company. He (Lord St. Leonards) never required any such power, because he considered that, as members of the Company, the suitors would be bound by the resolution of the general body of proprietors, and that as the general body had thought it best to decline the offers of the Government, that was a very good rule for the suitors to go by. He never raised the objection, directly or indirectly, with regard to the capital stock of the South Sea Company, and he could not have raised the objection with regard to the smaller stocks, because the Act expressly gave the suitors, under the authority of the Court of Chancery, power to select any of the three options; and his noble and learned Friend had made that selection, and had since been compelled to rescind the order. But in order to get the suitors' money, the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to do that which he never required, and intended not to do that which he ought to do, which he (Lord St. Leopards) did require, and which the Government promised—namely, if the options were worth anything, the suitors having moneys in the 500,000,000l. of debt should have precisely the same rights as the other holders of similar stock. The options were of no value, and therefore he did not ask for that which justice required, and the Government had promised. But with respect to this measure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it did not actually put the suitors on the same footing as ordinary trustees. Trustees could not consent if the persons beneficially interested were competent to consent, and withheld that consent; whereas the whole power with relation to the suitors was placed in the hands of the Accountants General, to make what election they thought proper. There was another thing in connexion with this subject, which he considered of the utmost importance, and to which he begged to draw the special attention of their Lordships, When the Succession Duty Bill was under discussion, he pointed out the difficulties which would ensue to trustees, and stated that his advice to anybody was, not to become trustees, to be made liable to the same penalties and the same expenses which would be found to attach under the Succession Bill to existing trustees. It was somewhat remarkable that the South Sea Company were now to be authorised, by the authority of the Government, to become general trustees of the kingdom, with a guarantee fund of 300,000l. invested in Government stock. If it were possible to introduce in any single Bill a general mischief, this was that mischief; to make a great public company trustees for all parts of the empire. If one company had that power, other companies would come and ask for the same power; and, they might depend upon it, if a company once got hold of trust money they would never part with a shilling of it whilst there was a single question of law unsettled. The litigation and expense would be greater than had ever taken place with regard to all the trust property ever vested in trustees. The office of solicitors to a company transacting the business of trustees of thousands of people, would be worth thousands a year, and the extent of litigation would be incalculable. He hoped, considering what had passed, he should be excused for directing their Lordships' attention to this subject, and, looking to the importance of the questions involved, he thought some explanation was due from Her Majesty's Government.


said, he was not quite certain as to the facts, but he would communicate with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject, and endeavour to satisfy the noble and learned Lord. He begged to observe, that, it might have been as well, if the noble and learned Lord believed it right to make such representations, if he had given some notice of his intention; and, also, if the noble and learned Lord thought it necessary to discuss the merits of a Bill now before the other House of Parliament, if he had signified Ins intention of doing so. The noble and learned Lord seemed to imagine some new practice had been adopted in reference to Bills of this sort; but he should wish the noble and learned Lord to point out when, since the Revolution, the House of Commons had entertained any alterations in Taxing Bills by this House. He must deny that any new practice or any new principle had been laid down in dealing with subjects of this nature. As he had already said, he would endeavour to obtain from his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer an explanation upon the points to which the noble and learned Lord had more particularly adverted.


explained that he had referred to the opposition of Her Majesty's Government to the Motion of a noble Friend of his for a Select Committee on the Succession Duties, before which the whole subject might have been maturely considered, and suggestions conveyed to another quarter, without damaging the principle of the measure.


said, with regard to the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, he had already stated more than once to their Lordships, anti he was sorry to trouble them again by repeating it, that when the Bill passed for the conversion of these smaller stocks, he was obliged to take measures to ascertain whether the suitors should take the 2½ per cents or the money. He felt he was placed in a very embarrassing position, because the expediency of taking the new stock must depend upon its probable value in January or April, when the notices of payment expired. He consulted the other Judges, and there being a difference of opinion, he proceeded upon the case, almost precisely analogous, when the 5 per cents were converted into 4½ per cents, and the 4½ per cents into 4 per cents, and made an order, unless the parties applied to take a contrary course, to take the 2½ per cent stock. Before, however, the time had expired at the end of which assent or dissent must be signified, political events, the prospect of a bad harvest, or other causes, had made such a sensible alteration in the price of the funds that the order would have been ruinous to the suitors. Of course, it would have been most improper in him if he had hesitated for a moment to revoke his former order; and, therefore, all the suitors would receive, when the proper time came, the full amount of their money. Those two orders were the only orders he had made, and there could be no objection to laying, them upon the table of the House. Be did not desire to keep up the discussion upon the two Bills to which the noble and learned Lord had referred; but he would merely observe that although one was a Money Bill, which, according to understood principles, could not be altered, the other had nothing to do with the subject of taxation—it could be discussed in that House like any other Bill, and no doubt would receive full consideration whenever it came before their Lordships.


said, he in- tended no attack upon the noble and learned Lord, nor did he in any way impeach his judgment when he signed the order to which reference had been made.

Return ordered to be laid on the table.

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