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House of Commons Hansard
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Postponement Of Payments Bill
03 August 1914
Volume 65

All Stages Passed

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I have to move, "That the Standing Orders be suspended."

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That Motion will not be necessary. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to ask leave to introduce a Bill. If so, he can do that straight away without moving the suspension of the Standing Orders.

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Then I ask that leave be given to bring in a Bill to "authorise His Majesty, by proclamation, to suspend temporarily the payment of Bills of Exchange and payments in pursuance of other obligations."

I understand, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, that perhaps it would not be desirable at this stage that I should enter into a full explanation of all the circumstances which had arisen because the House will be anxious to hear the explanation of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with regard to the position. For the moment I shall simply say that the circumstances are very well known to every Member of the House which have rendered it necessary to ask leave to bring in a Bill of this kind, Before the proclamation is in force an opportunity will be given to the House of Commons to discuss the whole subject, and it will be undoubtedly conducive to the public interest if it is possible to get this Bill through in as short a time as possible. If I obtain the leave of the House to introduce the Bill I shall then move for the suspension of the standing orders in order to get the Bill through and send it up to the House of Lords if possible this afternoon.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Montagu. Presented accordingly, read the first time, and printed. [Bill 353.]

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I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve into Committee on the Bill.—[Mr. Lloyd George.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Clause 1—(Power To Postpone Payments By Royal Proclamation)

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I have no idea what are the contents of the Bill, and I think that even in the extraordinary circumstances in which we are sitting, we ought at least to have the Clause read out to us before we pass it. I do not think that it is consonant with the dignity of this House that it should pass absolutely blindfold words which it has never heard read.

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I do not think it will take a minute to read it.

"Bill to authorise His Majesty by Proclamation to suspend temporarily the payment of Bills of Exchange and payments in pursuance of other obligations.

Be it enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Clause 1—(Power To Postpone Payments By Royal Proclamation)

(1) His Majesty may by Proclamation authorise the postponement of the payment of any bill of exchange, or of any negotiable instrument, or any other payment in pursuance of any contract, to such extent, for such time, and subject to such conditions or other provisions as may be specified in the Proclamation.

(2) No additional stamp duty shall be payable in respect of any instrument as a consequence of any postponement of payment in pursuance of a proclamation under this Act unless the proclamation otherwise directs.

(3) Any such proclamation may be varied, extended, or revoked by any subsequent proclamation, and separate proclamations may be made dealing with separate subjects.

(4) The proclamation dated the third day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen, relating to the postponement of payment of certain bills of exchange is hereby confirmed, and shall be deemed to have been made under this Act.

Clause 2—(Short Title And Duration)

(1) This Act may be cited as the Postponements of Payments Act, 1914.

(2) This Act shall remain in force for a period of six months from the date of the passing thereof.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

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The Leader of the Opposition has put a question to me with regard to a matter which he brought to my notice some time in the course of the day in regard to the extension of the Bank Holiday. There has been very considerable pressure by bankers and business men throughout the country to extend the Bank Holiday. To-day there was a meeting of bankers and merchants of the City of London, and they unanimously asked the Government to issue a Proclamation extending the Bank Holidays for three days. We felt that under the special circumstances it was desirable that that should be complied with, and an Order in Council will be issued this afternoon.

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I am not going to take up the time of the House, but when I had an opportunity of reading the Bill, I felt that there was a danger that the one Proclamation by itself might inflict hardship upon other people, and that the Government should have a day or two in which to consider the whole situation, and with that view I am glad to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has agreed.

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It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that it is the Government's duty to prevent the infliction of hardship upon other people as much as possible, but it must be perfectly obvious to every Member of the House that to extend the Bank Holiday for three days is going to inflict tremendous hardship upon a great many other people. There is the question of wages—all that must be stopped. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I hope not. If you extend the Bank Holiday, it must mean that for piece-work, apart from time-work, wages are not going to be paid. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If I am wrong, Mr. Speaker, it is perfectly easy to correct me. Where there are large masses of people—

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This only applies to banks.

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We have got a Bank Holiday to-day, for instance; that does not apply only to banks in the ordinary course. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, legally!"]

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It is a matter of custom entirely that the country takes advantage of it, but it is only obligatory upon the banks.

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What I want is the ventilation of the point, which is a very important one. If this is going to be technically a holiday for banks only well and good. The more assistance we can give for that the happier we shall be; but I should like it to be said—and that is why I rose—that we hope that this extended Bank Holiday will not mean that general industry will be stopped, so that those who will be bound to suffer later on will not have that suffering intensified. If that is the understanding we shall certainly support it.

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If other employers keep their men on for these two days will the naval establishments be kept at work?

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I am confident that the desire expressed by the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Leader of the Labour party, is shared by His Majesty's Government; but I think it might be for the convenience of everyone, and for the public weal, if His Majesty's Government would give expression to that wish themselves.

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I am very glad to respond. The Act of Parliament under which Bank Holidays are proclaimed applies only to banks, though by custom it has been extended to other businesses, but, where it is legally extended, it is only to banks.

Bill read the third time, and passed.