HC Deb 06 December 1920 vol 135 cc1838-54

(1) Section eight of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1879 (which enables the exportation of certain articles to be prohibited), shall have effect as if, in addition to the articles therein mentioned, there were included the following articles, that is to say, gold or silver coin and gold or silver bullion.

(2) If any person acts in contravention of or fails to comply with any condition attached to a licence authorising the exportation of any goods prohibited to be exported by virtue of this Section, he shall for each offence, without prejudice to any other liability, be liable to a Customs penalty of one hundred pounds.

(3) In this Act the expression "gold or silver bullion" includes gold or silver partly manufactured and any mixture or alloy containing gold or silver.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "or silver" ["gold or silver coin"].

This Amendment refers to the silver coin. I am not so strong on this point as I am in regard to leaving out the same words relating to silver bullion. It may be quite necessary to restrict the exportation of silver coin, in view of the enormous advance in the price of the metal, and because the market might be depleted of small coinage. In the first place, if the Government pay the market price they can get as much silver as they require, and secondly, the Government are about to issue a new coinage which will replace the old one. I do not know if I am in Order in arguing my two Amendments together, but there is a very real danger in the Government having power by an Order in Council to pro- hibit the exportation of silver except under licence. As I pointed out on the Second Reading of this Bill, the conditions which exist in the Far East are different. Silver plays a very large part in the trade and commerce of China, and often silver is necessary there to secure contracts.

8.0 P.M.

I hope this evening that the Secretary to the Treasury will be able to explain the attitude of the Government in connection with the monopoly that they have granted to a consortium of bankers to operate all Government business in China. I want to point out the enormous disadvantage that this country will be at if the Government persist in the prohibition, except under licence, of silver under this Bill. The British Government have virtually licensed this syndicate as a monopoly for advances in China and for securing the principal contracts for anything that the Governments of China may be interested in, railways, tramways, electrical works, or waterworks—anything the Governments of China are interested in this British syndicate is to have the monopoly of financing, and the Chinese syndicate is to have the monopoly of securing the contracts, and are to get a commission on all the contracts secured. It will be necessary for this syndicate to ship silver, as it always is necessary in getting contracts in China for the people to supply silver, which they have to get from the banks. This syndicate, which has been established by the Government, will have behind it the whole power of diplomacy of the British Empire, you might say. They have made an arrangement with an American financial syndicate, who are to have a share in the finance; they have made an arrangement with a Japanese financial syndicate, who are to have a share in the finance; and with a French finance syndicate; but with none of those Governments, I believe, has His Majesty's Government any agreement that they shall prohibit the export of silver to China excepting through this consortium, and it comes to this, that in the event of contracts being secured, with the assistance of the British Government, such contracts are to be offered, not to British manufacturers, but to the manufacturers of the countries in this consortium. At the same time every British merchant in China is to be prohibited absolutely—boycotted by the British Government—from taking any Government contracts because the Government here—the Treasury—will not allow anybody outside this consortium to issue loans or raise money in this country.

We had the same thing before the War with the Germans. They were able to secure a large number of contracts from the Chinese Government which were lost to us because the British Government refused to help our merchants. Every American merchant will be able to go out to China and to secure contracts outside of this consortium, while they will get the full benefit of any contracts taken by this consortium. You will have the Japanese going out and getting the support of the Japanese Minister in China to contracts, whilst they are not debarred from their share in the contracts of the consortium. You will drive British merchants who in the past have been working for British industry to associate themselves with American, Japanese and French industrials in order to take the orders of those countries, which are not so imbecile as to say that they are going to support one man, and one man only, in the whole of China. If, therefore, silver is included in this Bill the consequence will be that you will have the silver going from our competitors, and you will debar the British merchant, depriving him of any incentive to secure contracts with the Chinese Governments. During the War we saw a large number of American houses start in China, thinking they were going to do the whole business of China because we were occupied, had prohibitions and could not get licences for the shipment of goods to China. The result of that invasion there has been that the majority of those houses have "gone burst,' while the old solid British houses still remain, and it is not at all surprising that the Americans to-day are joining this British group of financiers with a view to eliminating the British merchant with his energy and perseverance. The Americans are only too pleased to come in under the protection of the British Government to secure all the business they can in China and to prevent those men who have created the business in China reaping any benefit from their long work.


I think perhaps the ruling from the Chair will be that we may discuss together the two Amendments affecting the same line and dealing with silver coin and silver bullion, as they cannot very well be discussed separately.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)



With regard to the Government's desire to control the export of silver coin, it appears to me they are unnecessarily nervous about this, for no possible reason. The price of silver is 44d. per ounce, and the value of the silver in our half-crowns and shillings is equal to 64d. per ounce. Nobody is going to ship silver coins out of this country for the value of the silver that is in them, because to that extent they would be losing money. We did see silver go above 64d., and if we see silver go above 64d. again, then the Government have power to issue coin in which the silver constituent shall be worth only 22d., so that the Mint and the Treasury will make a profit whatever happens. If the price remains below 64d., they continue to give us good, sound silver currency, but if the price should advance above 64d. they will have power, given to them under the Act which was passed by this House, to issue silver coin in this country as token coin, and the silver constituents of that shall only be worth 22d. to the ounce. That being so, the Government have no case whatever with regard to silver coin, although it might be a matter of convenience to have it in- the Bill. With regard to silver bullion, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Samuel) has made out a very strong case indeed why control in the matter of bullion would really be detrimental to the trade of the country, and to the ability of merchants to quote for business offered to them in the East with the knowledge before they go for a licence that they will be able to buy silver and ship it from this country. The Government have no claim whatever to interfere with merchants' rights with regard to this export of silver bullion, and I trust the feeling of the House will be such that the Government will be compelled to take cognisance of the position of the merchant and the business man, who says that he will not put himself into the position in which he may be refused a licence to export silver after he has taken a contract. As we have already heard, export is more or less of a monopoly, in the hands of a clique, and I am sure everyone in the House would resent the idea that, knowingly or unknowingly, the Treasury are combining in a matter of this sort with a monopoly who may act to the detriment of the individual merchant. I have great pleasure in supporting this Amendment.


I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill if it is necessary to have the word "silver" in it at all. I can quite understand the Government taking the necessary powers to prevent the export of gold, but silver has no status in this country, and it is boycotted by the British Empire in every part of our Dominions. The question of the coinage, which the last speaker has mentioned, opens up an interesting point. We have not seen anything of these new nickel coins. Are the nickel coins included in this Bill? I do not think the Government need have any apprehension about our silver coins being exported. I presume that we shall not have two sorts of silver coins running concurrently, because, if so, I think an awkward position will arise. The old coinage will run the risk of being hoarded, and there will be the risk of having one sort of coinage at a premium and the other at a discount. With regard to bullion, this Bill protects all the silver in the country at the present moment, but the people who have to deal with silver will have an apprehensive feeling in their mind that if they get silver into this country it may be impounded, and the great institutions that are responsible for supplying the East, both China and India, with silver will refrain from bringing it to this country, and will supply their wants from San Francisco or some other Pacific coast port, and a very large trade, which has been going on in this country for a great many years, may be seriously endangered. If the Government have the intention of keeping silver in the Bill, I hope they will at least accept the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) and let us have a time limit—any time that the Treasury may think fit to impose. I think the possibility of the London market ceasing to be the important market for silver that it now is is worthy of the consideration of those in charge of the Bill.


I do not think it is fully realised that silver is a commodity in the same way as gold or any other article, and if you control a commodity like silver it is sure to affect your trade in the East. When this Bill was first presented the rupee rose in price. I do not know whether any secret got out at the time, but I was told by an Eastern banker that information was current in Calcutta about this Bill prior to it coming before the House. In the last few days the rupee has fallen. Now the essence of the rupee is that it should be on a gold basis. On that basis its value to-day would be 2s. 9d., but, owing to its having become associated with silver, it has dropped to Is. 6d. If it is controlled for more than a certain period it will be a detriment to our trade in the East. Take the case of the Hong Kong dollar, which is based on 50 per cent, of silver; control would affect trade from Hong Kong into China. Again, if you have to have control, it should not be beyond a year, and at the end of the period the offer can be renewed. Then if you have licences there will be difficulty in obtaining them; there will be more expense and more bureaucratic control. I hope the Government therefore will consider the advisability of leaving silver out of this Bill.


I regret that I cannot see my way to accept this Amendment. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Stewart) minimised what we consider at the moment to be a very real risk. There is a strong demand at present for silver coinage from this country in some parts of the Empire which use that coinage, and we are afraid, and we think we are justified in the fear, that if silver coinage were not included, it would be purchased and sent away, and there would not be sufficient coinage for our own requirements, which, as hon. Members know, at present are very great. The real objection is in regard to bullion. I admit frankly, and I said as much on the Second Reading, that the time for safeguarding bullion, as was done during the War, has passed away. I told the House that I would carefully consider the removal of the ban on bullion at as early a date as possible. I have had an opportunity since the Second Reading of considering this question very carefully, and I will give an undertaking to the Committee that, when this Bill has become law, I shall be prepared to draft a fresh Order in Council under the Statute to take the place of Orders in Council which were drafted under the War legislation of 1914, and in the new Order in Council I will undertake to leave out all restrictions on silver bullion. Honestly, I do not see any likelihood of these restrictions being resumed for, possibly, an almost indefinite period; but I feel, if I may repeat what I said on the Second Reading, that although silver is far, far less important than gold, it is desirable, in putting these powers on the Statute Book, to deal with emergencies in time of financial stress, that the word "silver" should be included as well as gold. I hope and believe it may be many, many years before it may be necessary to impose any restrictions, but we are living in very uncertain and unsettled times financially.

I would remind the Committee once more that the new powers given under this Bill cannot be put into force until the matter has been fully discussed between the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being and the City of London, and when they are in agreement it is always possible to raise a question in this House, so that there is no fear of anything being done under the cloak, or behind people's backs, or that one would be ashamed of in the light of day. I do not know whether the pledge I have given will satisfy the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Samuel Samuel), but it certainly does make impossible that very dark picture which he spent several minutes in painting at the opening of this Debate. We propose, as far as silver is concerned, to retain only the powers which this Bill will give us as regards coinage, and that, we believe, is all that is necessary for the present.


My right hon. Friend has, I think, admitted the whole case of those who are responsible for this Amendment, because, with his usual frankness, he states that he does not see any immediate necessity for the exercise of these powers under this Bill with regard to silver. Not only did he say that, but he added that he did not see any likelihood of the exercise of those powers in the dim future. He told us by way of supporting his contention in favour of having these powers that we live in very uncertain times. Certainly we do, and if there is one think that business requires above all other things, it is all the power that latitude and certainty can give it. Nothing so much assists a business man as to know, with regard to any commodity in which he deals, that he is free from Government control unless an Act of Parliament is passed to deal with it. As I have said before, so long as my right hon. Friend is where he is, I feel quite confident that these powers will not be arbitrarily exercised; but that is not the way to legislate. We have to legislate, not upon the personnel of the Ministry, but upon the broad merits of the schemes which they submit. As the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment and all the other speakers upon it have said, the case for the omission of silver from this Clause is really not contested. I cannot understand why my right hon. Friend, with his great fairness and frankness, does not say that what is really meant is that the power is needed for gold. I admit that, but it is business legislation to ask only for those powers that you want, and not for powers which you think you may want years hence. That is the War habit which has got hold of us again. Those hon. Members who have spoken on this matter, with the exception of myself, are every one of them men who thoroughly understand it. It is a matter which either has been or is a part of their daily life. I cannot pretend to be an expert on silver, but I do claim to have some knowledge of business, and I say that the volume of testimony and argument which has come from those hon. Members, who are actuated by no motive other than that of the public interest, is a very serious thing for my right hon. Friend to set aside. I suppose it is too late to ask him to change his mind on the matter, but not a shred of evidence has been adduced to the Committee for the inclusion of silver in the Bill. I do not know whether my hon. Friends are going to a Division, but, if they do, I shall feel bound to support them, although we know what the result will be. I hope, however, that the question will be raised again on the Report stage, and that a larger number of hon. Members will be present to hear the merits of the matter discussed as efficiently as they have been discussed to-day.


I think we ought to have a little more explanation of the prohibition of the export of coin. The financiers of the nation are very desirous of making every addition to their income that they possibly can, and as it is in the power of the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer, through the Mint to sell for 5s. silver which now costs 3s. 8d., I cannot understand the principle which does not encourage the Mint to buy all the bullion that it can and to sell it to those customers of whom the right hon. Gentleman tells us he has so many. I remember that in earlier days it was a very sore point with exporters that they had to go to the Mint and pay 5s. for what at that time was costing only 2s. 2d. or 2s. 6d. For the sake of the nation I do beg the Chancellor of the Exchequer to encourage the buying of silver at its lower price, and, through the Mint, to add to our financial resources, which are in a state of such sore need.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

When my hon. Friend brings something before the House he usually has a good following, but I think he will admit that in this case, both on the Second Reading and on this stage, we have not heard anyone speaking in favour of his proposal. Like other speakers, I cannot understand why either bullion or coin should not be exported. The trade has gone on from time immemorial. I suppose there must be some reason, but no one appears to know it, and, with all deference to my right hon. Friend, he has not explained it. He has said that, after this Bill has been safely piloted through its various stages, he will undertake that there shall be an Order in Council. I do not like Orders in Council; we never know where they start or where they finish. It is the Bill that we want to see. If there is going to be afterwards an Order in Council, why should not the Bill itself be altered, so as to give the merchants the opportunity of exporting the silver either as bullion or as coin? Why has there been a shortage of coinage? It was because the price of silver was as high as 80d. or 90d. an ounce. It is now 44d., which puts a totally different complexion on the matter. There cannot possibly be any advantage now in exporting coin, because there is not the value in the coin itself, and I should like to press my right hon. Friend to say here and now whether there is any specific reason that he knows of for placing this embargo upon the exportation of coin. This is a very important question, and I hope my hon. Friends will divide upon it, although I suppose that the Government will turn the Whips on, and the Government will be "Aye" or "No" as the case may be to a great many hon. Members who have heard nothing about the matter, and know nothing about the matter, with the exception of a few who have spoken against the measure. I think that my right hon. Friend, with his usual generosity and courtesy, might have given us some idea of the reason. If there be

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)

The next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Samuel Samuel) and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Bigland), to leave out the second "or silver," deals with the same

any reason, let us know it; perhaps it may alter our opinions. With the information before me, if my hon. Friends divide, I shall support them.

Question put, "That the words 'or silver ' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 105; Noes, 53.

Division No. 383] AYES. [8.35 p.m.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. C. Frece, Sir Walter de Middlebrook, Sir William
Allen, Lieut.-Colonel William James Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Moles, Thomas
Bagley, Captain E. Ashton Gardiner, James Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred M.
Baird, Sir John Lawrence Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham Murray, C. D. (EdinDurgh)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Goff, Sir R. Park Neal, Arthur
Barnston, Major Harry Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.) Newman Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Barrand, A. R. Gregory, Holman Parker, James
Barton, Sir William (Oldham) Guest, Major O. (Leic, Loughboro') Parry. Lieut-Colonel Thomas Henry
Betterton, Henry B. Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton) Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike
Blair, Reginald Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Perring, William George
Blane, T. A. Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.) Pilditch, Sir Philip
Borwick, Major G. O. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles
Breese, Major Charles E. Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon Pollock, Sir Ernest M.
Briggs, Harold Hilder, Lieut-Colonel Frank Prescott, Major W. M.
Broad, Thomas Tucker Hills, Major John Waller Ratcliffe, Henry Butler
Casey. T. W. Hood, Joseph Rees, Capt. J. Tudon(Barnstaple)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A.(Birm.,W.) Hope, H. (Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn'n, W.) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey Farnnam)
Churchman, Sir Arthur Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central) Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hopkins, John W. W. Shaw, William T. (Forfar)
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Home, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford) Shortt Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)
Collins, Sir G. P. (Greenock) Home, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead) Smith, Sir Allan M Croydon, South)
Colvin, Brig-General Richard Beale Howard, Major S. G. Sprot, Colonel Sir- Alexander
Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely) Jephcott, A. R. Stanley, Major Hen. G. (Preston)
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Jesson, C. Steel, Steel, Major S. Strang
Dean, Lieut.-Commander P. T. Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil) Strauss, Edward Anthony
Dixon, Captain Herbert Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly) Sutherland, Sir William
Donald, Thompson Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George Taylor, J.
Doyle, N. Grattan Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd) Whitla, Sir William
Edge, Captain William Lister, Sir R. Ashton Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)
Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon) Lloyd-Greame, Major Sir P. Wills. Lieut-Colonel Sir; Gilbert
Edwards Hugh (Glam., Neath) Lorden, John William Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)
Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark) Loseby, Captain C. E. Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Elliott, Lt-Col. Sir G. (Islington, W.) Lyle-Samuel, Alexander Yeo, Sir Alfred William
Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M. Lynn, R. J.
Flannery, Sir James Fortescue McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Fraser, Major Sir Keith Martin, Captain A. E. Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.
Atkey, A. R. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M. Smith, W. R. (Wellingborougm
Banner, Sir John S. Harmood- Knights, Capt. H. N. (C-berwell, N.) Stewart, Gershom
Barnett, Major R. W. Lloyd, George Butler Sugden, W. H.
Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk) Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian) Swan, J. E.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Macquisten, F. A. Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas MacVeagh, Jeremiah Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, west)
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Manville, Edward Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Cairns, John Mitchell, William Lane Waterson, A. E.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J. Wignall, James
Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H. Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross) Wild, Sir Ernest Edward
Glanville, Harold James Newbould, Alfred Ernest Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)
Grundy, T. W. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)
Hall, Lieut. Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Wintringham, T.
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Robertson, John Wise, Frederick
Hartshorn, Vernon Royce, William Stapleton
Hinds, John Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Irving, Dan Sexton, James Mr. Samuel Samuel and Mr.
James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Shaw, Thomas (Preston) Bigland.

point which the Committee has just decided.


I understood on the ruling of Sir Edwin Cornwall, that the two would go together. We were fighting on the two.

Major-General Sir N. MOORE

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words Provided, however, that any gold or silver coin and gold or silver bullion which may be imported after the passing of this Act may be re-exported at any time, whether in the same or in any re-melted form or converted form, and a transferable licence to that effect shall be granted at the time of importation. I do not know whether this Amendment will meet with the same fate as the last, but I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury will indicate to us that he is prepared to make an Order in Council instead of proceeding with legislation under this Bill. The Government are endeavouring to regulate or prohibit the export of gold or silver. I am satisfied that while they may regulate the gold that is in this country at the present time, this Bill will have the effect that no new gold will be imported into this country. At the present time there is a regulation or understanding between the gold producers and the Department concerned here under which a licence is given for gold, provided that it is imported into this country and not re-exported before a period of five weeks. We realise that the production of gold has fallen very considerably. The production of gold within the British Empire has fallen from something like £58,000,000 to £51,000,000. If we are to secure our share of it, it is absolutely essential that some undertaking should be given that, with respect to all new gold imported into this country, a licence should be granted enabling it to be re-exported. There can be no harm in that. It means that if we do not get these licences to re-export, the new gold will not come here. It will go, as in the past, to China, America, and India. By such a provision as the one now proposed we shall get the gold here, and then it can take its chance of being re-exported. We want to re-establish London as the chief exchange so far as gold is concerned. I am speaking for people who are actually producing the gold. I speak for and represent the South African point of view, as well as the Australian producers. Therefore, I think the Government ought to pay some attention to the people who know something about the subject. Since the Second Reading debate I have spoken to several bankers, very important people, and they assure me that the provision which I have now proposed should be inserted in the Bill, and they hope the Government will give favourable consideration to it.


I have great pleasure in supporting this Amendment. I do not want to say anything about the general purpose of the Bill except to ask hon. Members on the Labour Benches to realise that, though this is a temporary measure, there is a tendency for these things to become permanent and to create a very dangerous monopoly. This Clause will mitigate some of the worst effects of the Bill. It is exactly the same principle as we are embodying in the Housing Bill, which is not to apply to houses built after a certain date, because it is commonsense that, while you may apply this restrictive legislation to buildings which are already on the ground and cannot run away, there is no use in applying it to houses which are not built, because the result would be that they would not be built at all. The very same point applies here. Having got a certain amount of gold in the country, it may be necessary for some purpose, which is difficult to understand and which I have not seen explained, to put the right to license into the hands of the Inland Revenue, so that a few gentlemen down in the City, who think they know better than the community the natural economic laws and how gold and silver should ebb and flow for the purpose of trade; but if you put that monopolistic power into their hands, you need not think that gold will come into the country.

Gold is the most fluid of all commodities. It is one of those things, like credit, which can take wings and fly, and it will not come here if it going to be subject to the license of a number of highly respectable financiers who deal in gold and silver in the city of London. Speaking for large producers in South Africa, I know that they are very much alarmed about it. Throughout the War they sent their gold, very large supplies, faithfully home to this country and sold it at a less price than they could have got in other countries largely from patriotic motives and also because they had been also in the habit of doing so. They might have made more by taking it out to China or India, and there was the threat held out at the time that an effort would be made not to allow gold to reach its true value and to continue it after peace, and it was when the South African Government took its courage in its hands and refused to allow this restrictive monopoly that gold was allowed to reach its true price, but if these producers are going to be asked to put their head into the trap to bring their gold here and yet not to be allowed to take it out, they will be in the position of the Exciseman who went into the smugglers' cave and was asked, "Did anybody see you coming in?" and when he said "No," he was told, "Well, nobody will see you going out." If they are to be allowed to bring gold in and not to take it out, it will not come in.

Once a monopoly of this kind starts it is very difficult to get rid of, and when the dire effects of the gold produced in our Dependencies going to other parts of the British Empire and the world will be seen with disastrous results to our trade you will still have the gentlemen who have the power of issuing licences still at their work and assuring the officials of the Treasury and the Excise that everything is all right, and so it will be for them, but it will not be for the trade, industry and credit of the country. Therefore, I advise you to put a stop to the action of the clutching hand which is insisting not only on grasping control of the bullion in this country, but wants to make a dive at the stuff which is not yet crushed out of the rock, if ever by any chance people are foolish enough to bring it here. I want to see gold streaming into this country. The more that comes the better for our credit and foreign trade and rate of exchange, and the more the cost of living will be reduced, but if you allow this monopoly to go further than it has gone, if you allow it to go so far as to get hold of the gold which has not yet come in, you will inflict one of the most serious blows that are possible on the credit and finance of the country.


It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I interpose at this moment, because, while I am unable to accept the Amendment as it stands, I have done my best to meet the case which has been raised by the hon. Members, and I hope that I shall be able to satisfy them with the words which I propose. I cannot accept the Amendment because the words as drafted make the proposal far too wide. Referring particularly to the case of South Africa, to which my hon. Friend (Mr. Macquisten) has alluded, it is within his knowledge that there is an agreement at present working with regard to South African gold. We have been approached by those interested in the subject, and we are quite agreeable to give a statutory form to the continuation of that agreement, and to do it in such a way as to give us power to make and give effect to similar agreements for the gold producers in other Colonies and Dominions. The Amendment which I shall propose is to insert at the end of Sub-section (2) the words, Gold produced in any part of His Majesty's Dominions and imported into the United Kingdom under any arrangement approved by the Treasury may, notwithstanding anything in this Section, be exported in accordance with the terms of that arrangement. I saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Thursday evening, when this proposal was first drafted, and obtained his approval. Otherwise it would have appeared on the Paper on Friday. As this may be regarded as short notice, I will move that Amendment on the Report stage. It is an Amendment which the Government have put down in view of the wider Amendment now before the Committee.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give a general idea of the nature of some of the arrangements to which he has alluded?


They vary and may be altered.


What is the general nature of the arrangement between the Government and the Dominions or other parts of the Empire where the gold is produced?


I believe there is some arrangement for gold to be introduced into this country under licence, and to be re-exported provided the re-export takes place within five weeks of its arrival in this country. If it is to be an arrangement of that kind it is not likely to be very much good. I think it will be much preferable for the Government's proposal to be brought up on the Report stage. It would not meet my views at all if it is to be merely an arrangement of the kind I have indicated, and to apply only to a period of five weeks.


If the hon. Member is willing to withdraw his Amendment, I could put mine on the Paper, and hon. Members could then examine it.


As far as I can see, the Treasury Amendment still leaves an elastic power in the hands of the Treasury. If the Treasury have been "got the better of" sufficiently to introduce this Bill it will be "got the better of" to make some arrangement that will do some harm. I cannot agree that this Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend drives a coach and four through the Bill. It seems to exclude just new gold. Why there should be any objection to that I cannot understand, if there is a genuine desire on the part of the Treasury to get gold into the country.

9.0 P.M.


I am certain that the Committee would be very glad to do anything which would facilitate the Government in the passage of a very difficult, very technical, and very important measure. There is a limited number of experts in the House to discuss the Bill, but it is a Bill of very general importance and interest, going to the very vitals of the country's business. If the Amendment of the Government goes on the Paper, what will be the effect? It will come on on the Report stage, and we know what that is. The Report stage provides nothing like as easy or as efficient a way of handling an intricate measure. Hon. Members can speak only once. What the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has suggested is certainly a mitigation of the stringency of the Bill as it stands. But if it is true, as I am sure it is, that gold exported shall not remain in this country longer than five weeks, the proposal seems to me to be futile. I would suggest to the Government that they report progress, that the suggested Amendment be put on the Paper, and that thus we shall have an opportunity of discussing it with knowledge. The Government are not pushed for time. They are quite willing to give days for discussion of all sorts of subjects. The House will undoubtedly be sitting right up to Christmas, because of what is happening in another place. An Adjournment might also settle an Amendment now standing in my name. Give us a little more time to consider these matters in Committee, and when the Report stage is reached it will be almost a formal stage.


I ought to say that there is no Report stage of a Bill which is taken in Committee on the Floor of the House, unless the Bill is amended. We ought to bear that in mind. I do not know whether the Government propose to accept any Amendment on the Paper?


There will be a new Clause of some kind. I shall have to move one in Committee, and there will be an alteration in the Bill.


The need of the Amendment would be abolished altogether if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, "We will pay the market price of the world for gold." We are in the most extraordinary position in England that we are buyers of gold at 77s. 10½d., while in New York the price is 117s. 4d. Why should the Treasury refuse to pay the world price for gold? If the world price is paid here, every part of the Dominions and all the world would ship gold to London. The whole trouble is caused by the fact that the Government are trying to buy something worth £5 17s. for £3 17s. 10½d.


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

It would be for the convenience of the Committee to report Progress, for two reasons. First of all, I think it would be a very good thing for the Members of the House to have the opportunity of seeing the words of my Amendment and, secondly, there is an important point raised in an Amendment by my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). I had approached him earlier in the evening and said that I was considering the point,. but would be unable to give my reply until the Report stage. If the Motion to report Progress is agreed to, we shall be able to deal with that point also, as well as my Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.