HC Deb 22 March 1939 vol 345 cc1299-330

Order for Second Reading read.

3.45 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time"

This is the urgent Bill which I mentioned to the House at Question Time a day or two ago. As the House knows, it arises from action which we have asked the banking institutions to take, and, I think, is generally approved by the sense of the House. The Bill is a very simple one and does nothing more than validate the compliance with the requests that have been made to banks and to holders of gold, or securities which they are holding, on Czecho-Slovakian account. The House will, no doubt, remember that I informed hon. Members of the communication we made to the Bank of England in that respect, and I think it was later in the week that I was able to inform them that we had also communicated in the same sense with the joint stock banks and other financial institutions in order to block transfers which otherwise might be called for from this country to Czecho-Slovakia.

The action which we then asked for has been universally complied with, and we have no case in which any objection has been raised. On the other hand, as the House will understand, the authority of Parliament is needed before the action which we asked them to take could become valid, and those institutions are naturally entitled to have from Parliament—if Parliament is prepared to give its approval—the authority which will make their action unchallengeable; and if there be any case in which they could be held responsible this Bill will afford them an adequate indemnity. I do not anticipate that there will be any case for an indemnity, because if we alter the law of this country on a subject of that sort it would appear to me that these institutions would have a perfectly good answer to anybody who claimed the transfer of the property they held.

That is the whole object of this Bill, because it is not possible to go further than that and to settle details at the moment. This is a very complicated business and will require close examination, no doubt both as regards what we owe to Czecho-Slovakia and what is owed from Czecho-Slovakia to this country, and. except in very general terms, I do not believe that it is possible for anybody to say at this moment how the accounts will work out; but knowing, as we did, that there was in this country a substantial amount on Czecho-Slovak account, and knowing that there were also securities and balances in the charge of these British institutions, it did appear to the Government and myself to be right at once to ask that an embargo should be put on their transfer, and then, at the earliest moment, to come to the House and ask Parliament to ratify and approve it. I am sure that I shall have the approval of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), who is always so watchful over points of constitutional procedure. I do not think the Bill can be a matter of controversy, and I hope very much that before the end of the week we shall have got this authority, and that things will be on a legal footing.

Mr. Logan

Suppose this Bill does go through, as I believe it will, will any refugee having any money invested or in a banking account have the power of drawing upon that account through the English banks?

Sir J. Simon

I am obliged to the hon. Member, who has mentioned an important matter. If he will just let me go on to say something more about the present position I think that will be the best way of dealing with his point. I was going to observe, by way of introduction to that part of the matter, that of course there has already been drawn from London out of that fund of £10,000,000 which the House will recall, a sum of something like £3,250,000. I am not sure that I have ever made it plain to the House that that £3,250,000 which passed from the Bank of England to Czecho-Slovakia before these recent events—the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia by Germany—was composed in part of drawings from what we may call the free gift, £4,000,000, which was directly to assist refugees, and in part from the other amount, which was in the nature of a loan and which the former Czecho-Slovakia Government had undertaken to repay. That is the case. It appears to me that, so far as the amount is in the nature of part payment of loan, we should be entitled to regard it as an amount to be recovered. On the other hand, as far as this large sum of £4,000,000 to help refugees can be devoted to that purpose it ought to continue to be devoted to it. I think that is a principle on which we ought to try to act.

I would like to inform the House that there is one rather special reason which I wish to make clear now. Hon. Members will know that there is a most important body which is coordinating the various private societies and enterprises working in relation to the refugees and which has collected a very substantial sum of money, and that over this committee there presides a very distinguished figure, Lord Hailey. I have had a letter from Lord Hailey calling attention to the fact that that committee, which is helping refugees to come to this country, is in danger of exhausting its immediate resources and suggesting that it would be a very great help to the work which it is trying to do if it were possible to contemplate that this £4,000,000 would continue to be available in some way or other for the assistance of refugees. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested, such a proposal might involve legislation, but I do not think it would be objected to by the House.

This free gift of £4,000,000 was to help refugees from Czecho-Slovakia who might need currency in sterling or in foreign exchange, to enable them to go. Already something like £750,000 of that sum has been actually used for that purpose. Mr. Stopford has been out in Prague and has been in close touch with the Treasury, and a very substantial amount of assistance has been given in the form of foreign exchange to a large number of refugees. So far, so good. His Majesty's Government think that this money should still, if possible, remain available for the general purpose for which it was intended, the provision of foreign exchange for refugees. But we must, of course, see that there are adequate safeguards that the money will be really used for the purpose for which it was dedicated. As I have said, I have had a letter from Lord Hailey, who is chairman of that co- ordinating committee of voluntary societies, asking whether the voluntary societies can continue to arrange to help refugees who have already left Czecho-Slovakia or have got all their arrangements made to leave for this country, on the basis that the balance of this £4,000,000— £3,250,000—would not be regarded as withdrawn owing to the changes that have taken place in Europe, but would, by one means or another, continue to be available to provide for the needs of those refugees, in particular for the passage money to pay for their tickets if they are going by steamer, or for the landing money which they will require when they leave their temporary place of settlement in Europe.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Does that mean that the funds of the Prague Institute will dry up?

Sir J. Simon

The right hon. Gentleman means the refugee institute?

Mr. Benn


Sir J. Simon

That is a matter on which, no doubt, we shall get more information, but I think we ought to proceed in the spirit of that letter and enlarge our purposes, if necessary, as regards the £4,000,000. We shall not fail to assist every case that can be assisted, but it looks as though the need, which is certainly not less than it was before, would be better expressed if we regarded those efforts of the voluntary societies as included; and perhaps that is the best answer to Lord Hailey's question. A good deal of thought has been given to this matter and there is a good deal of real sentiment about it, and it will probably be along those lines that we shall be able most practically and effectively to give this help.

Sir Ernest Shepperson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is possible now for a Czech to leave Czecho-Slovakia? We have been led to believe that no further passports are being given, and that they are bound to stop in their own country.

Sir J. Simon

That is a matter that can be looked into, but it does not invalidate what I was saying that this money can be used in many other cases in order to assist refugees who have already left and are still without the means to provide themselves with transport or with the necessary landing money. If we are prepared to devote this £4,000,000 to such a purpose, limiting it strictly to the cases of refugees who are eligible, we shall be acting in accordance with the spirit and the intention of this House. This matter is one which has greatly exercised the mind of His Majesty's Government. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate my point that there will be plenty of cases in which assistance would be very valuable in the form of foreign exchange, and I hope that we shall be able to make arrangements to meet that sort of case, even although it may go beyond the particular class of case for which the money was provided.

That is all I can usefully say now. I have explained to the House that this is a very urgent matter for the purpose of protecting the banks. It is not right to ask the great institutions to abstain from acting in accordance with the demands made upon them by those who have deposited funds with them and then to leave those institutions to face the racket. If the Bill is passed, they will have a good answer, and the result will be that we shall have to answer for it. That is right, because this House is prepared to do it. I hope that we shall get the Bill through rapidly. I have no doubt that all sorts of difficulties will have to be got over before the matter is finally concluded, because this is a very complicated business. I hope that the principle of the Second Reading will be accepted by everybody. I am very much encouraged by indications I have already received that this request which I have urgently made is one which the House would like to see met.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

In normal circumstances I am always very strongly opposed to hasty legislation. Unless there is a wide measure of agreement between all parties in the House it is never possible to carry a Bill with great speed, and that wide measure of agreement is in itself a sort of danger, because when there is no opposition any point that may have been overlooked is liable sometimes to go by default. My experience of Bills carried through the House with great expedition is that very often they are not wholly satisfactory. Sometimes they are found subsequently to include proposals which the House had no intention of including, and sometimes they are found to be quite ineffective for carrying out the purpose which the House wanted fulfilled. Though that is my general view, I am not in the least dissenting from the view that there are occasions which are so abnormal and where celerity is so much of the essence of the matter that the usual procedure must be departed from and quick action must be taken. In such cases it is of supreme importance that the whole House should address itself to three questions: First of all, whether the Bill does in fact achieve the purpose for which it is designed; secondly, whether at the same time inadvertently it achieves other purposes which may be most undesirable; and, thirdly, whether it carries as a consequence developments for the future which may be entirely unforeseen.

I have applied my mind, as far as is possible for an outsider who has no inside information, to this very serious and grave Bill. It seems to me that in one respect the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not quite fair to the House. He did not give any description of the Bill. He said it was to implement a decision which he had asked the Bank to take. That was putting the cart before the horse. The real fact is that the Government, having come to the conclusion that it was-necessary to take an exceedingly important and grave step, and in order to see that their intention was not frustrated, gave on Monday last or during the week-end an instruction to the Bank, or made a request to the Bank in anticipation of subsequent action by this House, and today the House is called upon to pass this Bill, and if it passes the Bill it is not because of that instruction by the Government but because the House in its entirety approves of the principle of the action which the Government have taken. The Bill is incidentally also an indemnity to the Bank for what has already been done.

It is no good pretending that it is not a very grave and very stern Bill. As far as I know this is absolutely unprecedented action on the part of the Government. It is action taken in view of a very grave emergency but it is action which I do not think has ever been taken before in peace time. Therefore the House should devote its attention to the three points that I have mentioned. It is particularly important that all Members of the House should bring their minds to bear on the question, because owing to the hasty character of the legislation Members are deprived of the assistance which is usually afforded to them by expert persons throughout the country who, knowing the facts better than any Member of Parliament can know them, are generally able to advise Members of this House. We have to act to-day without that advice.

As far as I can see the Bill does achieve the main purpose which the Government have in view. That main purpose, as I understand it, has nothing whatever to do with the Government loan or gift of £10,000,000 to Czecho-Slovakia. I am not taking the smallest exception to the very interesting and important remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The House was only too anxious to hear what he had to tell us and what was the Government view with regard to the £10,000,000, but I think the Chancellor will agree that what the Bill is concerned with is not in any way that £10,000,000. It is concerned with entirely different sums of money, which for other reasons are at the present time either at the Bank of England or in other banks to the credit of the Government of Czecho-Slovakia or of certain firms, companies, and private individuals in Czecho-Slovakia. Looking at the Bill without possessing any inside knowledge and with only a limited experience, it does seem to me that the Bill covers the necessities of the case. If any Members of the House think otherwise I hope they will take this opportunity of expressing their views. I will not say that if they fail to do so they must "for ever after hold their peace," but, at any rate, now is the moment for them to speak, for the day after to-morrow it will be too late.

I come now to the second of my two questions: Does the Bill, in doing what it is obviously the intention of the Government and the House to do, at the same time do nothing undesirable? According to my information the instructions given to the Bank earlier in the week did produce certain consequences which were not intended. Persons who had come to this country from Czecho-Slovakia and who were residing here found themselves in a peculiar predicament. When they went to the Bank for small sums for ordinary expenses to carry them through the week, they found that they could not withdraw the money. That was not the wish or the intention of the Government but that is what happened. Naturally the banks, having received this rather sudden request from the Government, were anxious not to break in any way the intention of the Government, and they put an embargo on the drawings. I am given to understand that now the text of this Bill is before us—presumably in the form in which the Bill will pass into law—these people will not be subject to such consequences. There will, however, be border-line cases, and no doubt the Government will do anything they can to prevent undue hardship arising by accident as a result of the passing of the Bill.

In my judgment most important of all is the question, what ulterior consequences may flow from this action? It is quite impossible to disguise from ourselves that the Bill will not be regarded with exceptional favour and approval by the Reich Government. It is designed obviously to prevent the Reich Government taking undue advantage, so far as this country is concerned, of the military occupation of Czecho-Slovakia. Therefore it is the duty of the Government and of this House to make sure that they are prepared to face such action as may be taken in retaliation. In the Debate a few days back I pointed out that foreign affairs to-day were like a game of chess. A player starts with a plan but it is necessary for him to alter that plan according to the moves of the player on the other side. It is necessary, before rigorous action is taken, to make sure that you are in a position to make a later move if an intermediate move by your opponent is intended to upset your plan. It would be most improper for the Government to explain to the House in detail what they will do on some subsequent" occasion if the Reich Government take a certain course, how they will meet this, that and the other, but I think it is up to the Government to tell us in broad general terms that they have given detailed and meticulous consideration to this point, and have come to the conclusion, in taking this very grave step, that if there is any attempt to meet it by retaliatory action they are in a position to act so that the retaliatory action will do no injury to this country. The House is entitled to that general assurance. I recognise that this moratorium, as it is in effect, is desirable, and even necessary, but I consider that it is a very grave action, and I ask for an assurance from the Government that they have contemplated all the consequences that may flow from it.

4.15 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward

I should like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the promptitude which he has shown in introducing this legislation, and, as the case is one in which speed is the essence of the contract, on the still greater promptitude which he has shown in giving instructions to the banks to take the necessary executive action, which has been done. It is true that, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), this is an unprecedented case as far as this country is concerned, but it is not unprecedented in the world; it is not unprecedented in Europe. Most countries have already taken similar steps with regard to British balances lying there, and I think it is regrettable that action was not taken earlier by our Government to put those countries which had placed an embargo on British balances in a similar position. The Chancellor will no doubt say that the answer is simple—that there were no balances in this country to block. If that be so, he is even more to be congratulated on having taken time by the forelock—on having locked the stable door before the horse has escaped.

With regard to the balances and gold which are still lying at the Bank of England and in joint stock banks in this country, I think we can be perfectly easy in our minds as regards the balances in gold in the name of the National Bank of Czecho-Slovakia, because the National Bank of Czecho-Slovakia is every bit as much a Government institution as is the Post Office of Czecho-Slovakia. With regard, however, to private balances, private funds and private securities which are at the moment in this country, I do not feel quite so easy in my mind. Ever since the occupation of Sudetenland, a good many Czechs have been getting money out of the country. No one can blame them for that. They have seen what has happened to the Jews in Germany and Austria; they have seen those unfortunate people turned out of the country penniless; and, as any provident-minded men or women would, they have been endeavouring to get a little money into the country to which they expected to have to fly in the course of a very few weeks or months. When the occupation of the Sudeten area took place, many people in Czecho-Slovakia realised that it was more than likely that similar action would be taken in regard to the rest of the country, and when they got a certain amount of money away into the country to which they would have to escape, they were only taking what might be regarded as a reasonable precaution.

The transfers of money from there to here have, as far as I have been able to find out, mostly taken one of three forms. Either an account was opened with a British bank, or lease of a strong box was taken at one of the numerous safe deposits in this country. That, however, in the majority of cases, meant paying a visit to this country, and a great many of these people have not been able to do that. The third method, which has been adopted by people in a small way who were fortunate enough to have a friend or relation in this country on whom they could rely, has been simply to put their securities into a registered envelope and address it to a friend over here, accompanying or preceding it by a letter asking their friend to be kind enough to look after their money for them. Such is the confidence which people abroad have in the honesty and integrity of people in this country that that sort of thing, I am told, has gone on to an amazing extent.

I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is going to be the position of a refugee arriving in this country, who has money here, but who finds on arriving here that he cannot obtain it. In spite of the fact that no one is now allowed out of Czecho-Slovakia, refugees are undoubtedly slipping over the frontier in two or three directions. They have slipped over in considerable numbers into Poland, and have also been getting into Yugoslavia. In a short time, probably, some of these unfortunate people will be arriving here, and they will find that their balance, which has been placed in a bank in London or elsewhere in this country, has been blocked; or, if they have money at a safe deposit, they will not be allowed access to their strong box; or, if they have sent securities to a friend, that friend, if he interprets this legislation as he should interpret it, will not be allowed to hand them over to the original owner. Nor will anyone be in a position to advance money on the security of that property, because at any moment the Treasury may insist that securities held privately which belong to Czecho-Slovak nationals must be declared, and, if necessary, handed over and placed in the general hotchpotch of Czecho-Slovak money.

Sir J. Simon

Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me for interrupting him, because I do not want other Members of the House to dwell on this difficulty. I had that point most clearly in mind when I helped, as Chancellors of the Exchequer do, to draft this Bill, and partly for that reason there is introduced, and I think there must be introduced, a provision that this embargo, the prohibition to pay out, shall not operate without the consent in writing of the Treasury. It is essential that we should put some confidence in the administration of the Treasury, who are naturally in touch with the banks, and I have not the slightest doubt that if any such cases arise, they will be dealt with on their merits. They must be dealt with on their merits, and I think the House may trust us to deal with them properly and rapidly.

Sir A. Lambert Ward

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman; he has met the case that I had in mind. What I particularly wanted was an assurance that refugees who arrive here owning money of their own will be placed in a position in which they can live in reasonable comfort, and not become a charge on their friends or on refugee funds which have been subscribed for that purpose.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Mander

We on these benches desire to give hearty support to this Bill, and congratulate the Government on the celerity with which they have acted. It shows that, if necessary, we can act in this country just as rapidly in the protection of our interests as can those in the Fascist States. I understand that the German Government have already been collecting gold and securities from the Prague National Bank in lorries, and taking them away, which shows that we over here were right in acting at the earliest possible moment. It is a very different situation from what happened in the case of Austria. Then there was no question of taking any such action, and I understand that all the funds belonging to the Austrian State were taken over automatically by Germany. There is another matter, which I can only just mention in a word, but which I feel sure the Chancellor has in mind. I trust that, in the case of Memel, he will, if necessary, act in exactly the same way and with the same celerity as in this case.

In the case of Austria, of course, attempts were made by the German Government to put pressure upon Austrians who had money over here, by putting them in concentration camps and asking them to say where their money was banked in England and to sign cheques handing it over to the German Government; and no doubt a number of these poor people were obliged to accede to that pressure. The present proposals will make it impossible to exercise that pressure, because obviously the money is not going to be paid out, whatever the owner may do. A good many changes have already taken place in the control of Czech businesses in Germany, and instructions have already been sent to banks here notifying those changes. That is another reason for stopping the whole thing short.

When the whole question is balanced up, and the necessary compensations and adjustments are made on the two sides, I take it that there will be left over in this country a substantial sum in favour of what was the Czecho-Slovak Government. I hope that a considerable amount of that money will be used, as far as may be necessary, for the support of refugees, and I should also like to throw out a suggestion. I do not know whether it is practicable or not, but I think it may be worth considering. It is that, if there is left available a still further sum belonging to Czecho-Slovakia, with which it is not quite clear how to deal, the Government might at any rate consider placing it in trust for the provisional Czecho-Slovak Government which possibly will be formed, as in the old days, in America, pending the time when Czecho-Slovakia comes into her own. They will then have awaiting them a nest-egg in the form of their own funds, which they can take over when, as it surely will, the free democratic State of Czecho-Slovakia arises once again.

I should like to put one or two questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though I think that in his intervention just now he made the position clear. I gather that in all reasonable cases refugees, both those in this country at the present time and those who may arrive later, if they can prove their case, will be permitted to draw out their resources here. There is also the case of persons in Czecho-Slovakia who own property in this country as shareholders in companies. Could it not be arranged for such persons, provided they can prove that prior to 14th March, let us say, they owned such property, and disregarding all changes since, that facilities should be given to them to draw out funds to which they may be entitled? Another question which has been raised is as to whether it will be possible for persons having money in the blocked account to move it from one bank to another, providing that it remains blocked. I cannot see any objection to that. We shall do everything possible to facilitate the passage of this Bill at the earliest possible moment, and I hope the Government, in all their dealings with this grave international crisis, will show the same spirit of action and resolution as they have in this case.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Petherick

In common with other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome this Bill. I share with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench some nervousness over the Bill being thrust through with such haste, but in this case I recognise that haste is absolutely essential. My first point is quite a small one; it may be a Committee point, but I should like the Chancellor to take note of it. Under Sub-section 1 of Clause 1, persons in this country who own securities are not allowed to part with them without the consent of the Treasury. At the end of that Sub-section, the words "securities or gold" are used, and further on, securities are defined as including stocks, shares, annuities, bonds, debentures and debenture stock, and any certificate or other document of title relating thereto, and Treasury bills. I wonder whether that covers the case of an ordinary commercial firm in this country which has money owing to Czecho-Slovak banks or exporters of Czecho-Slovak goods. Could my right hon. Friend give some indication of the amount of Czech balances which it is envisaged that this Measure will cover? Could he subdivide it into two—how much is owing to the National Bank of Czecho-Slovakia and how much to firms and private citizens in this country? I would like to reinforce the plea of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on the subject of Memel. It is a different case, but I think it is well worth examination. Although it may not be possible for the Government to give an answer during this Debate, I hope they will consider it. There was one point on which I did not agree with the hon. Member. He suggested that, after the allocation which my right hon. Friend has made, any balances which may be left should be, perhaps, held over in trust for a possible Czech refugee government. I do not think that is either advisable or possible. It would not be possible to tell whether that government in fact represented the Czech people, because no mandate would be given to them, and it would be very difficult for a government, or shall we say the trustees who might hold this surplus, to know anything about the personalities of the refugee government.

Mr. Mander

I really did not mean that a lump sum should be handed over to this Provisional Government. I meant that it should be held in trust for the day when there should arise once again a Czech government in Czecho-Slovakia.

Mr. Petherick

I understood the hon. Member, when he mentioned a refugee Czech government being in existence, to mean that the trust fund should devolve on that government, and not to be held for the eventual government which might be set up for the State of Czecho-Slovakia, or Bohemia. The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned that some £4,000,000 would be, in effect, allocated to the refugees, and he mentioned a coordinating committee of refugees. I hope he will give an assurance that His Majesty's Government will be represented on the board, because it would not be right for any body to have such an amount under its control without any Treasury representation whatever. I hope the Bill will pass through all stages, here and in another place, at the earliest possible moment.

4.36 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

I want to support the plea made by the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) with regard to the effect of this Bill on private individuals. I think it is an almost unexampled thing in the history of our legislation to pass a Bill taking away the rights of private individuals, not through any fault of theirs but for the fault of another State, of which in some cases they are the victims. It surely is a most lamentable thing that we should do this, and I hope that, before the House parts with the Bill, the Chancellor will see his way so to amend it that we shall materially safeguard the rights of private individuals who will suffer—I am sure, against his wishes—under the Bill.

Sir J. Simon

What sort of individual has the hon. Member in mind?

Mr. Harvey

Clearly, both refugees in this country and in other countries, and members of private business firms who did not wish to have themselves incorporated in the Reich, and were in no way responsible, but who are compelled to go on living where they are in Czecho-Slovakia, and who may have accounts in this country. Why should they have to suffer for the misfortunes that have fallen on the country?

Sir J. Simon

They have not.

Mr. Harvey

But their accounts will be blocked.

Sir J. Simon

Special cases will be considered by the Treasury. I cannot define such cases except by saying that if there is such a case it will be dealt with on its merits.

Mr. Harvey

If you are doing injustice, it is not sufficient to say, "I will consider, in special cases, whether I will remove that injustice" I entirely agree with the intention of the Government, in seeing that money which was granted to the Czecho-Slovak State does not go to another State for which it was never intended, and that money meant for the Czecho-Slovak banks is not taken away by the banks of another country, but why should the honest individual, who is in no way concerned with the horrible events that have occurred, have to pay the penalty of coming as a suppliant for justice? The Treasury should see that small sums can be drawn on an account without special application to the Treasury. If a poor doctor has come with a few hundred pounds to this country and he wants £5, has he first to make a special application to the Treasury? All of us who have to deal with refugees know that, with the greatest good will—and there is good will on the part of Government officials—it takes weeks or months to see that everything is all right before any grant is made. I am sure the Noble Lord opposite knows the immense difficulties that have to be faced. I do not doubt the good will of the Government in this matter, but I beg that, before the Bill takes its final form, the utmost will be done to see that it does not involve an injustice to individuals which I am sure no Member wishes to come to pass.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Boothby

I am not sure whether the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) was referring to Czechs in Czecho-Slovakia or in this country.

Mr. Harvey


Mr. Boothby

There is a great difference between the two. With regard to Czech nationals in Czecho-Slovakia, they might get a portion of any money the payment of which was sanctioned by the Treasury, but I doubt whether it would be very substantial. With regard to Czech nationals who have the good fortune to live in this country, I think they may congratulate themselves, even if they have, for a brief period to live, if I may put it vulgarly, "on tick," that they are out of Czecho-Slovakia and in this country.

I do not find myself in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on every subject, but in this case I would most sincerely congratulate him on the speed with which he has acted, and the great courage he has shown. The annexation of Czecho-Slovakia has undoubtedly affected British interests. The Chancellor has dealt with the direct British Government interest in this matter, arising out of our payment of £3,250,000, and he has dealt with it in a manner highly satisfactory to hon. Members on both sides. Hon. Members would wish that, in so far as it is practicable and possible, the bulk of this money should be applied to the assistance of the refugees; and I am sure the Chancellor met the desire of the House in this matter. But there are British banks and others doing business in this country who also have credit balances in Czecho-Slovakia, and they must not suffer either. It is clear that the realisation of these balances held by British firms, institutions, banks and individuals in Prague has been made quite impossible by what has taken place. Even if the debtor in Czecho-Slovakia wished to pay, he undoubtedly would not be allowed to do so.

I do not want to detain the House for long, but I would like to make one or two suggestions as to what should be, or might be, done with the very considerable sum of money of which my right hon. Friend is now possessed—which will prove in the end, I believe, to be much more substantial than was originally thought. Many people in the City originally thought that the sum involved, belonging to private concerns, would be £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. I think that ultimately it will be found to be considerably larger than that. I would suggest that, as this is a matter of the greatest urgency, a register should be made as speedily as possible of all Czech holdings in London and all British holdings in Prague. Then you will be able to ascertain the balance between the money owed and the money now held, or blocked, in this country.

I think it is important to set up as soon as possible some kind of clearing institution to deal with these important questions as quickly as possible, either in the form of a public trustee, or some other institution set up by the Government, empowered to decide what money should be distributed in the immediate future to those who have immediate claims. It is obvious that you cannot have a fluid situation continuing indefinitely, where such a large sum of money is involved, and where considerable hardship may be caused in the immediate future to comparatively small creditors. I suggest that nothing should be liberated from the fund until such a balance sheet has been established; and therefore the sooner that balance sheet is made up, the more satisfactory it will be from every point of view.

I would like to answer one statement of my hon. Friend sitting behind me with regard to the Czech National Bank holdings in London. It is very important that all the assets of private institutions in Czecho-Slovakia should be treated as one unit together with the assets of the Czech National Bank. By Czech law, as it prevailed before the occupation, every resident, firm, or individual in Czecho-Slovakia was obliged to deliver all foreign devizen to the Czech National Bank, which in effect became the owner of all such devizen. Every holding had to be disclosed to, and registered at, the Czech National Bank; and no bank in Czecho-Slovakia and no individual citizen had the right to dispose of it without the permission of the Czech National Bank. Therefore, for all practical purposes, you can say that all foreign devizen was in fact owned by the Czech National Bank, which to-day has a complete check on all devizen held in London. Had it not been for the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this devizen would be finding its way back to Prague, and into the pockets of the Nazi party, at this very moment.

There should be a single fund established as quickly as possible of all the Czech assets in London, in order to pay off those British creditors who either left funds in Czecho-Slovakia or invested funds in Czecho-Slovakia, relying upon the assurances of the British Government and the other Governments signatory to the Munich Pact. This is a point well worth making. There are a number of British investors, and other investors, who, after the Munich Pact, regarded Czecho-Slovakia in some respects one of the safest places in which to put their money [Laughter.]—;Hon. Gentlemen may laugh. I know it may be said that the average investor is not a very intelligent person; but to the ordinary man, who is not a trained politician, it seemed that Czecho-Slovakia was going to become a sort of Switzerland, with a four-Power guarantee of its frontiers, and everything else. It was to be a veritable harbour of refuge for capital in Central Europe. I think His Majesty's Government at one time sincerely believed that this was going to be the case.

Mr. Ede

They believed it.

Mr. Boothby

I think they did. But it has not turned out to be the case; and it ought to be borne in mind that a lot of private investors, not actively engaged in politics, genuinely believed, when they read the terms of the Munich Pact, and the declarations of the Governments concerned, that Cezcho-Slovakia was a reasonably safe place in which to invest money. These people ought now to be protected from the consequences of their action. Every person—and I would apply this to Czech residents in this country as well as to British subjects—who can prove assets held in Prague ought now to be paid out of the fund, at the last quoted rate of exchange prevailing prior to the seizure of Czecho-Slovakia. This applies particularly to Czech bonds.

Czech sterling bonds lying in London will, of course, be paid in full out of the fund. But there is one technical point I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. The Czech Government repurchased about half of their outstanding bonds in the City of London, and these bonds are back in Prague. I do not want to see them realised now for devizen in the; London market by the German Government. I, therefore, suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought to consider whether it would not be advisable that while paying out of the fund which must be established those Czech bonds still held in London, dealings in Czech bonds on the Stock Exchange should be temporarily suspended. I certainly do not want to give any money arising out of the situation in Czecho-Slovakia to Germany at the present time.

I feel, and I am sure the House as a whole feels, that there is really great necessity for speed in this matter. We are rightly giving an indemnity to the Government and to the banks in respect of the wise, courageous and quick action they have taken. But it is very necessary, especially in view of what my hon. Friend above the Gangway said, that the position arising out of the credits held at present by British citizens in Prague, and by other citizens resident in this country, should be cleared up at the earliest possible moment, and that the minimum of hardship should be involved.

I beg of the right hon. Gentleman, if he contemplates, as I imagine he does, setting up a fund, that this should be done, and the fund distributed as quickly as possible. Even after all the creditors have been paid off, there will still be, according to my information, a substantial balance lying in London to the credit of His Majesty's Government, or rather to the credit of the fund. The question will then arise, as the hon. Member who spoke for the Liberal party pointed out, as to what is to be done with the surplus, which I have no doubt at all will exist, even after all existing claims have been fully met out of the fund. I think we would all desire that these credits should be maintained in a suspense fund of some kind, either for the use or benefit of refugees, or for such other purposes as this House and His Majesty's Government may at a later date determine. One thing is perfectly certain, in view of what is happening in Europe now, and that is that the refugee problem is not going to diminish with the passage of time; and it may well be that the Government will be glad in a few months, or a few years time, to have this money at their disposal.

4.54 p.m.

Colonel Nathan

I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Government on doing something highly unconstitutional, and doing it very speedily. I am glad that the Government have come to the House so swiftly with a Bill for the confirmation of their action. I should like to pay my tribute to the Treasury for its alertness and for the speed of its action in this matter, and for the courage it has displayed in acting without legislative sanction. There is one point which I confess occasions me a little anxiety with regard to this Bill, the whole purpose of which, naturally, I support. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) said, this is an important thing to do, and it is a very unusual method of procedure. The City of London depends for its financial reputation upon the fact that money deposited here can in normal circumstances be withdrawn at will. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he would consider prefacing the Bill by a Preamble stating that the seizure of Czecho-Slovakia by Herr Hitler was a breach of a solemn undertaking, and that the British Government regard that seizure as unlawful and do not recognise it. That would give a basis for this Bill, which it is very desirable to have, so as to show, if nothing else, that this is a very exceptional occurrence taking place under most unusual conditions. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be good enough to give the matter some thought.

There are a number of small points in the Bill to which I wish to draw attention. The Bill, especially in view of the short time available for drafting it, seems to be admirably adapted to its purpose. But there are one or two points in it which seem to provide some loopholes. For instance, in Clause 1, Sub-section (1, a), the persons who are prohibited are persons carrying on the business of banking. Bankers are prohibited from making payment out of accounts to persons ordinarily resident in Czecho-Slovakia. I do not know whether a "person carrying on the business of banking" would include an acceptance house. If I am right, there would be nothing to prevent the meeting of an acceptance for the benefit of a person ordinarily resident in Czecho-Slovakia. Obviously, the draftsman has been alert on this point as he has proceeded with the Bill, because in the next paragraph he makes another restriction with reference to any person or persons ordinarily resident in Czecho-Slovakia: that paragraph refers not to ordinary accounts but to "any securities or gold." Even so he has not covered the whole of the ground. There are certain amounts of gold and securities held by Czechoslovak subjects here in the vaults of banks, in private safes in banks and minor banks, and also in private safe deposits.

As far as gold or securities deposited by a person in a safe in a bank or a safe deposit are concerned, the bank or owner of the safe deposit does not hold the securities or gold for the Czecho-Slovakia at all. He is merely in the position of the lessor of the safe, and under this Bill there will be nothing that I can see to prevent the Czecho-Slovak depositor from going to the bank or the safe deposit, opening his safe and removing his gold and securities, the reason being that the bank and the safe deposit are not persons who hold the gold or securities, but simply, in the circumstances I have indicated, the lessors of safes. They have no answer under this Bill to any action that may be brought against them by the depositor. That I conceive to be the position.

While it is true that there are relatively large balances in this country and deposits of gold, they are by no means the only sources of sterling which the German Government would like. It is within my experience that the German Government have, in the case of German subjects, called upon them, if they have been insured with a British insurance company, to apply to the British insurance company to accept a surrender of the policy against the payment of a surrender value in sterling. The German subject has been very unwilling to do that. He has to act under the compulsion of the Government under whom he lives, and the same thing, I imagine, will apply to the Czecho-Slovak. Where the Czechoslovak subject has a life insurance in this country, the German Government will call upon him to surrender the policy and hand over the sterling proceeds to the German Government. Great pressure is brought to bear upon such persons to act in the way I have indicated, a pressure which they find it impossible to resist.

There are substantial book debts due from this country to Czecho-Slovakia and they are not covered by the Bill. I would suggest the desirability of covering them speedily, because the German Government have a pretty little habit of appointing commissars, or persons of some such kind, to control businesses within German territories—and Czecho-Slovakia is now within German territory for this purpose—and the commissar then comes to the English debtor and says, "I am the person who is authorised to collect the debt and I am the only person authorised. Pay it to me." Some rather misguided people sometimes do it, though if they sought the decision of the courts they would probably find that they were under no such compulsion. It may be desirable to cover, in addition to the matters mentioned in the Bill, the insurances and book debts which I have mentioned. Another hon. Member has referred to shares held in British companies. I wish that some restriction could be placed—I do not think it would be difficult to devise a formula—on dealings in shares in English companies by persons ordinarily resident in Czecho-Slovakia.

I have heard with a great deal of appreciation, as no doubt have others, what the right hon. Gentleman has said with regard to refugees and the application of funds for their assistance. As he said, that question does not, strictly speaking, arise under the Bill, and I will not mention it except to express my appreciation. But there does arise a question about refugees which has been touched upon more than once and was referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, and that is the operation of their banking accounts. The Chancellor gave an explanation as to how the Bill would work, which may be satisfactory to a number of Members, especially those who raised the question, but the matter is not by any means so simple as all that. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not allow a general rule to be made that Czechoslovak refugees in this country may at once draw out the whole of their banking accounts. Very often the German Government brings pressure to bear upon refugees in this country to draw out money and remit it to Czecho-Slovakia or to Germany, and it is only on condition of the refugee acting in that way that they will either allow some near relation to leave Germany or refrain from putting some relation into a concentration camp. In fact it is a method of blackmail, and I am sure notwithstanding what the hon. Member for the Combined Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) has said, that the refugees will welcome the fact that they are prohibited from drawing their money out except with the consent of the Treasury, because it is a complete reply by them to the pressure brought to bear on them by the German Government. One could multiply instances in which the pressure is so great that the Czechs, although they have fled from Czecho-Slovakia, are only too glad to be prevented from drawing their own money.

The hon. Member also referred to the position of persons who have not left Czecho-Slovakia but are still there, and he commiserated with them as unhappy persons whose private rights were being interfered with. I do not hesitate to say that those private traders who are still in Czecho-Slovakia and who have bank deposits here are only too glad to have them blocked, because it is a complete answer when they are called upon to transfer their balances to Czecho-Slovakia, for when they do transfer them they do not get what they have drawn from the British bankers; they get Czech currency only. There will undoubtedly be a large sum available to be dealt with and I very much hope, though it is not contemplated by the terms of the Bill, which is merely of a negative character, that the Government will introduce legislation in the near future under which a clearing arrangement will be established. What should be done with any ultimate balance is a. matter that can be considered when the balance has been ascertained, but I am sure it will be a matter of profound gratification to those in this country to whom money is owed from Czecho-Slovakia to know that there are resources to which under proper clearing arrangements they will be able to look for reimbursement. I hope we may be told that legislation directed to that end is contemplated in the not too distant future.

5.7 p.m.

Captain Cazalet

I also warmly welcome the Bill. Naturally it is bound to lead to certain complications, but I accept the fact that the Treasury must be given authority and power to deal with those complications that arise. I think the mere fact that balances cannot be withdrawn without the consent of the Treasury will be the greatest protection to many individuals in Czecho-Slovakia and elsewhere who have balances in this-country. I knew several cases in respect of Austria where individuals were forced to sign papers transferring their balances in this country to the German bank. There is only one point that I want to stress. If I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer aright, out of the original £10,000,000 loan and gift to Czecho-Slovakia so far only £3,250,000 has been expended. Some of it has-already been spent on refugee work. Am I to understand that the part which has been spent on refugees is going to be counted as part of the £4,000,000 gift which we have promised to make for refugee work. I was very glad to hear, in regard to the remaining part of the £4,000,000, that the Government will give a wider and more generous interpretation as to the way in which it is to be spent in assisting the refugees. I hope that the-coordinating committee and the Czech committee will be given the greatest possible latitude in dealing with this sum. It is impossible to exaggerate the work that the Committee have done and are doing for refugees and they alone can know what are the circumstances of the refugees. Some of them are not in Czecho-Slovakia. Some are in Hungary and Rumania. I know of some who are in Holland. These people, for whom we have direct responsibility—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going a long way outside the scope of the Bill.

Captain Cazalet

I was only referring to a specific point which the Chancellor raised. I hope that the Czech refugees who are not in this country, and have no means whatever of getting to this country or to the Dominions, for whom we have a direct responsibility, will be allowed to be assisted out of this £4,000,000. I am grateful for what the Chancellor has said and I hope the Government will come to some decision quickly and generously on the point.

5.10 p.m.

Miss Rathbone

I join with other speakers in congratulating the Government on the celerity with which they have acted. I share the fears of my colleague in the representation of the Combined Universities that it may work hard on some individuals who would not be able to draw their balances, but I recognise that it is a necessity. May I submit this small point? It would be a still further advantage if a balance which a refugee now in Czecho-Slovakia has in a London bank could be transferred to another bank. It may fall into the hands of the Gestapo, and then pressure may be brought to bear on him and, although it is true that the blocking of his balance in one bank may be one safeguard, it is really a greater safeguard if he can conceal from the German authorities as far as possible the amount of his potential resources. What would be the difficulty of permitting a transfer from one banking firm to another if the balance remained blocked?

I am glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to reserve the whole of this money, but I was rather astonished to hear several Members say they anticipated that at the end there would be a considerable credit, and various suggestions have been made as to how the amount left in the fund should be used. Why is it anticipated that there will be more than enough, or indeed enough, to deal with the problem of the refugees? What happened last week has enormously increased the number of potential refugees. Up to last week it was anticipated that there were something like 6,000 or 7,000 persons who might for their own safety leave Czecho-Sovakia. Of that number only about 2,000 have reached this country and only about 1,000 have reached other countries, thanks to interminable delays in the Foreign Office making up its mind as to its policy and conducting negotiations for the loan, and to delays in the Home Office. To many of us it is a bitter thought that thousands of those refugees are now probably in the hands of the Gestapo.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We cannot have a Debate on refugees as a whole.

Miss Rathbone

I was only referring to that very briefly to make this point, that many have not got out for whom it is too late, and that there are about 350,000 Jewish refugees now in Czecho-Slovakia. All this money will be wanted and more than wanted. We have now to deal with a number of potential refugees infinitely larger than we expected to deal with only a brief 10 days ago. It may or may not be possible to extricate those people, but probably the whole of those 250,000 Czecho-Slovakian Jews are likely soon to be subjected to the Nuremburg laws. It is most essential that we should not only regard this £4,000,000 as a debt of honour to be kept for the use of refugees from Czecho-Slovakia. We have also to consider what is going to happen to the £4,000,000, or what has not been expended of it, which was not a gift but a loan. We do not want to make money out of this miserable affair. Out of the whole of the money originally intended for the assistance of refugees only £4,000,000 was for the emigration of refugees.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is really getting out of order now.

Miss Rathbone

I was just finishing. There was £8,000,000 allotted for the assistance of refugees in some shape or another, and all this money will be wanted.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. F. Anderson

I desire to raise a few points which have not so far been touched upon. I want to raise the question of industrialists who reached this country before 15th March with the object of establishing new industries in the Special Areas. These people have entered into certain commitments, and I want to ask whether they are entitled to have these commitments met without having to make application to the bank where they have accounts in this country. The Bill refers to residence and qualifications —it says "ordinarily resident"

Sir J. Simon

Are the people to whom the hon. Member is referring in this country now?

Mr. Anderson

Yes, they arrived about the 12th March. I think the Treasury have already had some correspondence with regard to the points I am putting. These people are industrialists and have entered into certain commitments. What is their position? From my knowledge of what has been done it appears that nothing has been said for these people in regard to their application to the bank for the release of money from their accounts in order to meet these commitments. Two applications have been made, and the bank, a well known bank, is not in. a position to say what can be done. Is that position covered by the Bill? Is it one of the points which will have to be considered on its merits by the Treasury? If these people who are entering this country to establish new industries have on every occasion to go to the Treasury for the purpose of obtaining sanction to spend money in certain ways it will make it impossible for them to carry out their business ideas.

My second point is this. Some persons have arrived—I am not speaking of ordinary refugees but of people who desire to establish industries in this country— after 15th March. What is their position? I have had a case in the last day or two of a person who has many thousands of pounds in a bank in this country. He has had to go to the bank and say that he wants permission to pay his hotel bill. Surely it cannot be intended that such a person has on every occasion to make application to the Treasury in order to meet his hotel expenses? What is going to be the position of people who have arrived after 15th March? Is there going to be a general acknowledgment that they can establish their businesses, and that in the circumstances they will not be asked, every time they want £100 or £200 from the bank, to go to the Treasury for sanction? I would like these points cleared up, because there are a number of industrialists, from Czecho-Slovakia in particular, who are in this predicament to-day and unless the matter is cleared up serious injury might be caused to these people, who are anxious to establish in this country industries which will find useful employment for many of our people.

5.22 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Euan Wallace)

The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) began his remarks by saying that the Bill is a stern measure. I agree; it is, for we are living in stern times. That is the justification for the Bill. He asked whether there was any precedent for this form of legislation in peace time. The answer is that as far as this country is concerned there is, so far as I know, none; but it must be recognised that other countries have frequently done precisely what we are doing in this Bill by means of exchange restrictions. Therefore I do not think that our withers should be unduly wrung on that score. The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask whether the Bill was concerned with other accounts and other balances besides the £10,000,000 concerned in the Government free gift and loan, about which we have recently been legislating. It is, but the House must recognise that the effect of the Bill is also to block—and it does block—the accounts relating to the £10,000,000, both the £4,000,000 gift and the £6,000,000 loan. Hon. Members will also realise that this legislation, which is to deal with an urgent situation, must deal with it on broad lines, and I do not suppose that anyone will assume that the provisions of the Bill represent finality in dealing with this difficult problem.

A question which has agitated hon. Members in all parts of the House, and which has been raised by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Anderson), is, to put it in a rather flippant way, the difficulty at the present time for the Czechs to cash cheques. It is an unfortunate situation, but it is only temporary. It is the direct result of an obligation to bring in legislation quickly and in general terms. The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh approached me on the subject two nights ago, and I have made some general inquiries into the whole position. I understand that where individual applications have been made to get money out of the banks by people resident in this country, who obviously have every right to get money out, the applications have been dealt with expeditiously by the Treasury, generally within 24 hours. If any hon. Member has any cases of this kind—they are probably bound to arise—and will communicate with the chief cashier of the Bank of England or the Treasury we will do everything we can to put the matter right and see that their cases are dealt with. As regards the particular point put by the hon. Member for White-haven, people who came from Czecho-Slovakia before the 15th March are not within the scope of the Bill at all, and they should have no difficulty whatever in dealing with any money or assets they have in this country.

Mr. Anderson

Only to-day a person who arrived on 12th March went to the bank and has only been granted a few pounds, whereas he required £200 or £300. The bank people say that they are not at liberty to do any more.

Captain Wallace

I, of course, accept what the hon. Member says, but I give this assurance to him in all good faith, that we will deal with these cases as expeditiously as we can. The House will recognise that in a Measure of this kind, introduced as a matter of urgency, difficulties are bound to crop up in the first few days. The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh talked about the ultimate consequences of this legislation. My right hon. Friend appreciates the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman took on this matter and his unwillingness to press us for any detailed reply. When he asks whether we have contemplated the consequences of any retaliatory action, I would point out that foreign balances in Germany are at this moment subject to exchange restrictions, and retaliatory action is going on at the present moment.

A question which has been raised is the amount of the assets of the Czecho-Slovakian Government which are held in this country. We do not know what they are, and it will obviously take some time to find out, but I would like hon. Members not to get any exaggerated idea as to the amount these assets may be. We have had a number of speeches dealing with aspects of this question which, if I may say with all respect, deal with operations subsequent to this Bill, and therefore I hope hon. Members, notably my hon. Friend the Member for East Aber- deen (Mr. Boothby), will forgive me if I do not attempt to deal in detail with a number of extremely interesting suggestions which have been made regarding our future action. As the hon. Member for East Aberdeen said, speed is the essence of the case, and we have been obliged to act in what perhaps might seem a rather rough and ready manner.

I have listened very carefully to the Debate this afternoon, and I "am glad to have failed to discover in any part of the House the view that there is any other method of dealing with the present situation save the method that we have adopted of putting an embargo on those assets which would be liable to be transferred out of this country. In these circumstances, I hope the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading, remembering that on this occasion my right hon. Friend and I have been obliged to cut into one of the days allotted to the Opposition, and that any time which we spend on this Bill is taken away from the time available for the discussion of another very interesting subject.

Mr. Mander

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman be good enough to deal with the question of moving a blocked account from one bank to another? Would it be permissible for that to be done?

Colonel Nathan

Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman also look into the question I raised as to safes in banks and safe deposits?

Captain Wallace

Certainly, I will look into that point and also the other interesting points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan). All I will say to him at the moment is that the most important thing, and the object of this Bill, is to stop the big loopholes, and that we are doing, although we may have to let some small ones remain. I assure the hon. and gallant Member that any suggestions that may have been made in this Debate, or that may be made outside, will not go un-considered. As regards the question put by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), certainly we shall consider the question of the removal of blocked accounts from one bank to another, while keeping them blocked. If they are accounts belonging to people in Czecho-Slovakia, obviously it cannot be done unless they give authority. If the people are in this country, we shall consider every case on its merits, as we are anxious to do, and as, in fact, we shall be obliged to do, because the whole effect of the Bill will be inevitably to give us a large number of individual cases to deal with as a result of the general measure for the protection of these assets in this country.

Miss Rathbone

I was sorry to hear the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that the question of allowing a blocked account to be transferred from one bank to another will be considered only if the refugee is already in this country. There may be cases where he is not in this country and yet may be able to make his wishes known, through relatives or organisations in this country, in a completely unmistakable manner. This is a matter on which some of those who have had practical experience with regard to this subject feel strongly that it would be a safeguard if the balances could be transferred from one bank to another.

Captain Wallace

If it is possible for somebody who is not here to give us his consent in an unmistakable manner, I am certain that the Treasury will consider that individual case on its merits.

Mr. E. Harvey

I should be obliged if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would give some further information regarding the present restriction on banks paying out even small amounts to refugees. I am sure the Government do not wish to cause any hardship in those cases, and therefore, before the Treasury have decided on the question of the withdrawal of larger amounts, would it not be possible for general instructions to be given to the banks that they are not precluded from paying out small amounts that may be urgently required in order to provide maintenance?

Captain Wallace

I do not think I can say more than I have done on that matter. In reply to the hon. Member for White-haven, I sought to make it clear that we recognise these hardships and are anxious to deal with them as rapidly as we can. We think we are doing that. It would defeat the object of the Bill if we were to drive a coach and four through the general instructions that we have given to the banks regarding the blocking of accounts. Therefore, these cases ex hypothesi must be dealt with as individual cases.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]