Dadabhai Naoroji – 1893 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Dadabhai Naoroji, the then Liberal MP for Finsbury Central, in the House of Commons on 28 February 1893.

MR. NAOROJI (Finsbury, Central) said he did not wish to go into the question of the merits of monometallism and bimetallism. He wished merely to refer to the chief argument of bimetallists, which was that France had stood by bimetallism for 70 years, and had thereby introduced a fixed ratio between gold and silver. The question now was whether the bimetallism of France had been the cause of keeping the ratio between gold and silver steady, or whether it was not the fact that the ratio of gold and silver was not steady even when the system of bimetallism existed in France. He would ask if bimetallism had steadied that ratio why had it been broken up, and why had France given it up?

When bimetallism existed in France there had been no universal consent between France and the other nations of the world, and why was that universal consent required now if bimetallism had any virtue in it? His contention was that when the time came that the ratio between gold and silver had become steadier they might have bimetallism or not, for it would come to the same thing. But India was the subject on which he wished to address the House principally. It had been said over and over again in the course of the Debate by one side that India had been largely benefited by the fall in exchange, and by the other side that India had been injured by the fall in exchange. It was difficult to arrive at a conclusion as to which side to believe, for each side had said it had official authority for its assertion. Instead of making general statements of that kind he would lay before the House a simple ordinary trade transaction from which they would be able to judge how far the difference in the two currencies in England and India, and the rise and fall in exchange, affected India. But in considering the subject they should always remember that India was in an unfortunate economic condition.

They should consider India in two aspects—both as a self-governing country, like China independent of outside political influences, and as a country under foreign domination, with many important forces influencing her for evil and for good. Let them first take India as situated like China or any other self-governing country that had a silver currency.

As far as trade and commerce between two independent countries were concerned it made no difference what currency existed in those countries. He would illustrate that by a simple trade transaction. A trader in India had to sell a hundred bales of cotton which cost him R.10,000. He sent the cotton to an agent in England to sell with directions to forward him the net proceeds of the sale. When the exchange stood at par rate of 2s. a rupee the trader had in calculating his profits to take that into consideration, as well as freight and insurance, and he would know exactly that he had to get a certain price, say 6d., for his cotton, in order to get his original R. 10,000 back and a profit of say another R.1,000. But suppose the rupee stood at 1s. instead of 2s. in exchange. In that case the trader would get only 3d. per pound instead of 6d. per pound for his cotton to cover his R.11,000. As exchange fell prices fell with it proportionately in England, and all the talk about India getting immense quantities of silver when there was a fall in exchange was simply absurd. The Manchester manufacturer was not such a fool as to pay 6d. per pound for cotton in England when by sending a telegram to Bombay he would be able to get the same cotton for 3d. per pound.

His contention was, that whether there were two separate currencies in the two separate countries or not it had no weight or effect on the one country or the other, commercially, and in any case the Indian trader in the business transaction he had mentioned got back the money he had invested and in ordinary circumstances a profit of 10 per cent. In these controversies there was always a reference to prices. It was said that on such and such an occasion prices were high, and that on such another occasion prices were low. That was a very fallacious test, because the ultimate prices of commodities were not the result of one particular force, but the result of many forces, such as supply and demand, exchange, cost of production, &c. He was exceedingly thankful to those hon. Members who had shown so much sympathy towards India, but somehow or other the argument was always on the side for which it served its purpose. India was at one time exceedingly poor, and at another time exceedingly prosperous. But whatever the state of India might be, the system of exchange had nothing to do with it. Then take India, as it was, under foreign domination. It was true that India, under her peculiar circumstances, felt the pinch. India had to remit £16,000,000 sterling to this country every year. This year, or perhaps next year, it would unfortunately be £19,000,000, because for several years the India Office had got capital paid by Railway Companies in England, and did not require to draw their bills in India to that extent.

The whole evil arising from the fall in exchange was this: that the disease already existed in India, and that fall in exchange came in and complicated it. If the disease of excessive European Services did not exist it would not be the slightest consequence whether the exchange was 6d. or 1s., or 2s. or 4s. the rupee. The position was, therefore, this: India had to send from her “scanty subsistence” a quantity of produce to this country equal to the value of £19,000,000 in gold. As gold had risen, India had to send more produce in proportion to the rise in gold, no matter what the currency was — silver, or copper, or anything. The sympathies of those who wished well to India in the course of the Debate were therefore a little misdirected. The remedy for the evils from which India was suffering did not lie in introducing bimetallism, or changing the currency into gold or restricting the silver currency, but in reducing the expenses of the excessive European Services to reasonable limits.

After a hundred years of British administration—an administration that had been highly paid and praised— an administration consisting of the same class of men as occupied the two Front Benches, India had not progressed, and while England had progressed in wealth by leaps and bounds—from about £10 in the beginning of the century to £40 per head—India produced now only the wretched amount of £2 per head per annum. He appealed to the House, therefore, to carefully consider the case of India. He knew that Britain did not want India to suffer—he was sure that if the House knew how to remedy the evil they would do justice to India, but he wished to point out that bimetallism and the other artificial devices that had been put forward were simply useless, and that India would get no relief from them whatever. On the contrary, much mischief would be the result. With regard to the meeting of the Conference again, he thought it would be useless.

In 1866, when Overend, Gurney, and Company failed, when many of the East India banks broke or were shaken to their foundations, and Bombay was in ruins, entirely on account of the fall in the price of cotton, no man in his senses tried to save this or that merchant, and raise the price of cotton somehow or other. The storm raged and ran its course. Many a well-known name passed into oblivion, but in a year or two no one thought anything more about it; cotton came in as usual from the interior, new men came into the field, and all the ruin was forgotten. The mischief was done in the present instance by the United States.

There was a commercial disturbance, coming from demonetisation in Germany, or the excessive production of silver in America; just as storms arise in the physical world. The United States undertook the absurd feat of trying to stop it, and keep up the price of silver, and the result was that the more it was stemmed the greater force it acquired. Twenty years of suffering had been due entirely to this one mistake. The Indian people would be the greatest sufferers, but the storm must take its course. They could no more stop it than they could order gravitation to become non-existent, or make water run upward. Silver would go on falling until it had reached its proper bottom; the Indian and Chinese currencies would remain; there would be silver-using and gold-using countries, and the amount of silver that would come into operation would be useful in one way or another.

On the one hand they were told that it was law that had made all this confusion, and the very same gentlemen who told them so would rush to the same law again to produce an artificial and worse condition of affairs. They must allow laws, commercial, physical, moral, or political, to be governed by nature. If they tried to stop the storm, the result would be far more disastrous. Conferences might meet, but they would not reach any conclusion except some artificial device which would merely cause more mischief. It was said that France was anxious for bimetallism and laid the blame of her not adopting it on England. But when France and the other Latin nations had bimetallism silver took its own course, and there was no use laying the blame on England now. He was of opinion that England must stick to the sound scientific principle of currency that she had adopted. Nor should she allow the currency of India to be tampered with. He thanked the House for the favourable hearing accorded to him, and hoped that before any step was taken to change the currency system either of this country or of India they would think once, twice, and three times.