« PreviousContinue »
Mr. W. Fowler insisted that the Government was making a very improvident bargain, and one of the proofs on which he dwelt most was the rise in the price of the shares in the various companies since the moment when the idea of Government purchase was first started. Applying the ordinary rules to the transaction, he held that 12 years' purchase, with 25 per cent. for compulsion was an ample price to pay, and that all above that was thrown away. In addition to this he urged that the bargain did not include all the ultimate rights of the railway companies, and that in a few years they would bring in a large bill against the State. He characterized the Bill as a leap in the dark, and he justified his interposition at this stage by a prediction that the State might be called on in due time to undertake the water supply of the country.
Mr. W. H. Smith, a telegraph director, said that the companies were not at all anxious to part with a valuable property, and had only yielded reluctantly to the general opinion that the public interest would be promoted by this service being in the hands of the Government. Their profits he showed by statistics had been rising rapidly in inverse ratio to their expenditure, so that the bargain now made was only 16 years' purchase of the last year's profits. Mr. Smith quoted from the experience of his own company to prove that by amalgamation the expense of working could be largely reduced.
Mr. Ward Hunt defended the bargain made by the late Government. Public opinion was strongly in favour of transferring this business to the State, and the Government had to make the best terms they could. He admitted that the telegraph companies had been liberally treated, but that did not make the transaction less profitable on the whole for the State, and if the Bill had been delayed for another year the price to be paid would have been proportionately large.
Mr. Crawford held to his old opinion that the terms given to the companies were preposterously extravagant, but at the same time the House was bound in honour by the Bill of last year.
The Marquis of Hartington, on the contrary, maintained that the Bill of last year only affirmed the expediency of acquiring this business for the State, and that the House was quite competent to revise the terms of the bargain. But having carefully examined it, he believed it to be eminently advantageous, and he defended the Post-office calculations against the criticisms which had been passed upon them. The effect of rejecting the Bill this year would only be to compel the State to pay a much larger price hereafter.
An amendment adverse to the Bill, moved by Mr. Torrens, was rejected by 148 to 23, and it soon afterwards became law.
The consideration of the Annual Financial Statement for India was, as usual, deferred until the fag-end of the Session, in consequence of the tardiness with which the accounts are furnished by the Indian Executive. It was not till the 3rd of August that the
Under-Secretary of State for India, Mr. Grant Duff, was able to make his exposition to the House of Commons. This year, however, the Chief Secretary (the Duke of Argyll) somewhat anticipated the statement in the other House by bringing the subjects of Indian finance and railways before the House of Lords on the 23rd July, when his Grace laid certain despatches bearing on these matters upon the table, and addressed the House at considerable length respecting them. The noble duke showed that in the ten years since the mutiny the revenue had increased by over fifteen millions sterling, i. e. at a rate of 45 per cent., the revenue of the year preceding the mutiny having been 33,378,0007., and that of 1867-8 48,534,0007. Of the gross amount of increase 7,315,000l. was due to increased or new taxation, but the remainder to the increase of returns from old sources, such as opium, the land revenue, and the Customs. Indeed, under several heads the increase of profit to the State had been accompanied by a reduction of the burden on the tax-payer, there having been, for instance, a very large reduction of the Custom's duties, while, again, the proportion which the State derived under the item of land revenue, on which there had been an increase in every province of India, did not now exceed 25 per cent. of the produce, as against 50 per cent. formerly. He showed, moreover, that the two years which he had compared were ordinary years, and that the comparison gave no impression of the actual elasticity of which Indian revenue admitted in exceptional years. Turning, then, to the common belief that the Indian Empire had been for years in a state of chronic debt, he denied that this, as a rule, was true, and he explained that in particular it had not been the fact in three of the years since 1860. Contemporaneously, however, with the increase of revenue there had been in the ten years since the mutiny a slightly greater increase of expenditure, leaving a deficit of about 1,000,000l. The increase had been greatest in military expenditure, which he saw but little hope of reducing, except as to the expense, now enormous, of recruiting; but other heads of increased expenditure were law and justice, the machinery of which had been thereby considerably improved; and 2,305,000l. more than before the mutiny was payable in respect of the Indian debt. As to that, however, he reminded the House that we were borrowing now on easier terms than formerly, viz. at 47. per cent., and that the credit of the Indian Empire as it was stood higher than that of any European power. Public works were a serious additional source of expenditure. The total result showed that on the ordinary expenditure there was an annual deficit of one million, and on the expenditure on public works of from two to three millions. Such a deficit gave, he thought, no ground for alarm, our whole Indian debt not exceeding even now two years' Indian revenue; but he held there was ground for caution, and for introducing greater economy where economy was possible. He suggested that the whole subject of State guarantees of the cost of public works required revision. In particular, in respect of the construction of railways,
he sketched a plan by which the Indian Government should take railway-making into its own hands, and construct the lines on its own account, borrowing the necessary capital on its own credit, and not through the medium of boards sitting in London. He believed the Government could do the work both more cheaply and better than the experience of the last few years showed could be done where the body which contracted and that which had to take the risk were different.
Viscount Halifax had no morbid objection to increased expenditure on its own account, and he saw but little hope of reducing it; but he urged the expediency of facing the fact, and of taking measures to square the expenditure and the revenue. He was himself sceptical as to the alleged re-productiveness in the literal sense of expenditure on public works; but he admitted that was not of itself a sufficient reason against undertaking such works, and he expressed approval of the plan for the undertaking of railway construction by the Government.
The Marquis of Salisbury concurred with the Duke of Argyll as to the wastefulness, and now, though perhaps not formerly, the needlessness, of the policy of guaranteeing railway enterprise.
Lord Lawrence deprecated as injurious, even to our finances, a great reduction in the numbers of the English army maintained in India, which, considering its proportion to the native troops, and considering also the population of India, its size, and the warlike disposition of many of its tribes, especially on the frontier, he denied was now excessive. He saw, moreover, no possibility of making any material increase in the existing taxes, but he suggested that the deficit might be lessened by relieving the Indian revenue from certain charges. For instance, the expense of soldiers who had passed the Indian frontier ought, he maintained, in fairness to fall on the English revenue, on the same principle on which India paid the cost of troops raised for its service before even they left this country. He insisted on the duty of expenditure on barracks and on the policy of expenditure on irrigation. On the question of the guarantee system he thought gratitude was due to the private enterprise which had started railways in India, but he was convinced the expenditure under guarantees was excessive and unreasonable, and he warmly supported the plan referred to by the Duke of Argyll.
Some further remarks having been made by Earl Fortescue and Lord Lyveden, the subject dropped.
Mr. Grant Duff's statement was made, as is customary with Indian Budgets, in a very thin House, and his financial details had been to a considerable extent anticipated by the speech of the Duke of Argyll a few days previously. Mr. Duff, in an elaborate and lucid exposition, divided the matters he had to deal with into three parts, or epochs, viz. 1867, the latest year as to which we had had complete information; 1868-9, two-thirds actual results and one-third estimate; and 1869-70, entirely estimate. In the first period there
had been an income of 48,534,4127., against an expenditure of 49,542,1077., showing a deficit of more than 1,007,000l., exclusive of 700,0007. spent on reproductive works. The largest source of revenue was land assessment-19,000,0007.; and after this the chief items were :-Opium, 9,000,0007.; salt, 5,700,0007.; Customs, 2,570,000l.; excise on spirits, &c., 2,238,0007.; stamps, 2,300,0002. On the other side of the account the largest item of expenditure was due to the army-16,000,0007., of which 12,600,000l. was spent in India. Next came public works, 5,800,0007.; interest on debt, 2,761,8137. payable in India, and 1,498,0007. in England; law and justice, 2,500,0007.; public departments, 1,000,000.; diplomatic service, 240,0007.; and education and other civilizing influences, 780,000l. Passing to the following year, 1868-9, it showed an increase of 750,000l. in the receipts, and of 3,750,0007. in the expenditure, over the amounts stated in Mr. Massey's last estimates. The last increase was caused by the transfer to ordinary expenditure of works which had formerly been counted as extraordinary, the failure of crops, the increased price of stores, &c.; and the general result for the year, according to Sir R. Temple's calculations in March, was a deficit of over a million, though Mr. Duff added he expected the actual result would be less satisfactory. For the coming year, 1869-70, Sir R. Temple had estimated a revenue of about 49,300,000. The opium yield, it was expected, would fall off, but Sir R. Temple proposed, and the India Office approved the proposal, to redeem that falling off by changing the certificate tax into an income tax. The expenditure. for the year was estimated at 49,250,0007., showing a small surplus of 50,000l., about the reality. of which, however, Mr. Duff did not appear to be very sanguine. This estimate left out of sight a proposed extraordinary expenditure of 3,500,000l. on remunerative public works, of which 2,750,000. would be on works of irrigation, and 360,8007. on State railways, particularly the line from Lahore to Peshawur. This led Mr. Duff into a long dissertation on the principles which ought to govern expenditure on public works, and he stated that to carry out the programme of the year, and at the same time to maintain the cash balances at their present pitch-over 10,000,000/-a loan would be necessary. As the borrowing powers of the Indian Government were on the point of expiring, there was a Bill then before the House to empower it to borrow 8,000,000l. On the whole, Mr. Duff took a hopeful view of the condition of India. The revenue was rising, the exports and imports were on the increase, railways were expanding; but for further help we must look to the reduction of military expenditure, the confining of public works within reasonable limits, and the inculcation of economical habits of thought on the Indian public mind.
Mr. Crawford defended the Indian Railway Companies from the charges of extravagance made in recent despatches of the Indian Executive. He did not object to the Government constructing railways for political objects, and lines through the native states,
but he did not think that their interference ought to be carried farther.
Sir S. Northcote expressed a general approval of the Budget, but exhorted the Government to proceed cautiously in its railway schemes. Taking a sanguine view of the future of India, he maintained that when a loan was raised for extraordinary expenditure, even on reproductive works, the necessity became greater for securing a working surplus on the ordinary expenditure, and he impressed on the Indian Government the importance of not overworking its departments, and not overstraining its finances.
Sir C. Wingfield commented on the large amount of the expenditure for barracks, and suggested the adoption of two reforms, viz. the separation of judicial from executive and fiscal functions, and the establishment of native consultative bodies.
Mr. Fowler and Sir W. Lawson joined in reprobation of the opium traffic, and Colonel Sykes protested against the maintenance of an unnecessarily large European force in India. Mr. J. B. Smith, Mr. Bazeley, and Mr. Pratt urged strongly on the Government the importance of encouraging artificial irrigation and the production of cotton.
A subject of interesting speculation was touched upon just before the close of the Session, but was rather started for discussion than actually discussed, which indeed the state of parliamentary business at that time would not have permitted. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer intimated his wish that the matter should be brought under the test of public opinion, and the question having been thus raised formed the topic of much exposition and controversy by the public press after the Session closed. It related to the National Coinage, and originated in some remarks made in the House of Commons by Mr. J. B. Smith, who called attention to the recent Report of the Master of the Mint upon the Gold Coinage, and inquired whether the Government was disposed to recommend the adoption of any measure extending to this country the advantages of the International Coinage Convention of December, 1865.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that the gold coinage of the country was in a most unsatisfactory condition, and that the waste occurring under our present system was enormous, for of 98,000,000 sovereigns coined since 1850, according to Mr. Jevons's calculation, 44,000,000 had disappeared altogether from circulation. Unlike almost every other country in the world, we charged nothing for coining bullion; we gave back the manufactured article, in exchange for the raw material brought to the Mint, without imposing a "mintage" or "seignorage." As a result of this a regular trade had been established (the chief seat of which was at Brussels) of picking out the heaviest sovereigns and melting them down, and they were also largely exported as bullion. Moreover, although after eighteen years' wear, on an average, a sovereign became so reduced in weight as to be no longer a legal tender, we took no pains to call in our light coinage, and the consequence was that 31 per