§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD CAIRNS
presented a Petition of the East India Company, praying to be heard by counsel against the Bill.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL,
in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that although the East India Company was now only a shadow, it continued still a heavy burden on the Government of India; and this measure had been introduced for the purpose of bringing to its ultimate conclusion the arrangement made 40 years ago—in 1833—when the commercial character of the Company was abolished. The East India Company's Charter Act of that year provided that the capital stock of the Company might be redeemed by Parliament, at the expiry of 40 years, by the payment of £200 for every £100 stock, and in the meanwhile secured to the proprietors payment of interest at the rate of £10 10s. per annum. It also provided that 12 months' notice, in writing, signified by the Speaker of the House of Commons, by the Order of the House, should be given to the Company of the intention of Parliament to redeem the debt. The 40 years would expire next year, and already the Speaker of the House of Commons, in pursuance of that provision of the Act, had given notice that the stock would be paid off. The Bill contained the necessary enactments for the purpose. It provided that the dividends and capital stock might be presently redeemed or commuted upon terms to be arranged between the Secretary of State for India and the respective proprietors; and that such proprietors as should not assent to commute should on the 30th April, 1874, be paid off, receiving £200 for every £100 stock. As it was well known that when the time specified by the Act should have expired this would be done, he could not understand how it was that any surprise should be 1115 expressed at the introduction of the necessary Bill. The Bill was, to all intents and purposes, a matter of course—and as such it had been received and dealt with by the House of Commons. Nevertheless, during the passage of the Bill through the other House objections were raised by the agents of the East India Company, who desired some Amendments, for the better security, as they supposed, of the stockholders. Some of their proposals had been accepted by the Government, and were contained in the Bill now before their Lordships. The Bill provided that all redemption money, in respect of stock and dividends which should remain unclaimed for 10 years after the 10th of April, 1879, should be transferred to the Secretary of State in Council, and should be by him held or applied as part of the revenues of India, subject to the claims of the parties entitled thereto. The arrangement proposed by this Bill had been already discounted by the Viceroy of India, who calculated that paying off the East India Company would be a saving to the extent of £450,000 per annum to the Exchequer of our Indian Empire. There was another clause which referred to a matter of the greatest interest. As he had already said, the commercial character of the East India Company was put an end to by the Act of 1833; the power and authority of the Company—much diminished by previous enactments—was dissolved by the Act of 1858, and the Government of India transferred to the Crown. The present Bill would put an end to the last purpose of its existence, and it was difficult to perceive what object there could be in prolonging a nominal existence—it was the shadow of a shade. The 36th clause, therefore, enacted that on the 1st day of June, 1874, the powers of the East India Company should cease, and the said Company should be dissolved. If the noble and learned Lord who had presented the Petition from the East India Company (Lord Cairns), praying to be heard against this Bill, thought it desirable that it should be referred to a Select Committee, he (the Duke of Argyll) was willing to consent to that course; but he did so solely on the ground that the inquiry might elicit further information useful to their Lordships, or suggest Amendments which would facilitate the carrying out of the Bill; but he held 1116 that the Company not being a commercial company had no locus standi before a Committee, their commercial character had been put an end to 40 years ago, and this Bill merely provided legislative means by which the financial arrangements at that time enacted could be carried into effect.
§ Moved,"That the Bill be now read 2a."
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a acordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.