But the most important difference between Sir Edward Holden and the Cunliffe Committee seems to be in their attitude towards the gold reserve and the relation between the Bank of England and the rest of the items that compose the London money market. The Committee, working to restore the conditions which made our market the centre of the world’s finance, endeavoured to give back the control of the central gold reserve to the Bank of England by suggesting, among other things, that the other banks should hand over their gold to it. They omitted to discuss the serious question of the greater difficulty that the Bank is likely to find in future in controlling the price of money in the market, owing to the huge size that the chief clearing banks have now reached. But a central gold reserve under central control was evidently the object at which they aimed. Sir Edward will have none of this. He says that if this were done the position of the Joint Stock banks would be weakened, though he does not explain why, since they would obviously hold notes in place of their gold and so would be able to meet their customers’ demands, now that the latter are accustomed to the use of notes for pocket money. He points out that “the gold which was held by the Joint Stock banks before the war proved most useful.... At the beginning of the war the banks paid out gold, satisfied the demands of their customers for small currency, and thus eased the situation until currency notes became available.” He seems to have forgotten that the banks, or most of them, refused to part with their gold, paid their customers in Bank of England notes which, being for L5 at the smallest, were of little use for pocket money, and so drove them to the Bank to get gold; and we had to have a prolonged bank holiday and a moratorium. Sir Edward is in favour of three gold reserves, one to be held by the Government, one by the clearing banks, and one by the Bank of England. If there were differences between the three controllers of the reserve at a time of crisis the consequence might be disastrous.
In view of the admiration expressed by Sir Edward for the new American system which is so clearly based on central control it is rather illogical that he should be so strongly in favour of independence on this side of the water. His opinion is that “the policy of the Joint Stock banks ought to be to make themselves independent of the Bank of England by maintaining large reserves in their vaults.” Independence and individualism are a great source of strength in most fields of financial activity, but in view of the great problems that our money market has to face there seems to be much to be said for co-operation and central control, at least until we have got back to a normal state of affairs with regard to the foreign exchanges.
TIGHTENING THE FETTERS OF FINANCE