The Cautious Revolution: Britain Today and Tomorrow

By Ernest Watkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
First Steps in Nationalization

The bill for the nationalization of the Bank of England, the first item on the Labour Government's list, was introduced in the first session of the new Parliament in October, 1945. The proposal was expected, and the first reaction, even of those opposed to nationalization of anything at all, was not very strong. Why interfere, they asked nevertheless, with an institution which was already working harmoniously as part of the financial and economic structure of the country?

So far as its stockholders were concerned, it was a public institution. Its dividend had remained unchanged at 12% since 1923; its semiofficial historian, Sir John Clapham, could write that "The Bank has ceased to think of raising the dividend on its stock." The stockholders, as such, had no control over its activities; they did not even elect its Court of Directors. The court itself was a self-perpetuating oligarchy, its replacements selected by the existing court from those leading figures in finance and industry who, they felt, would fit in with and continue the tradition of the institution. Although the Governor of the Bank under its charter was bound to come up for re-election every two years, the last Governor, Lord Norman, better known as Mr. Montagu Norman, had been Governor for twenty-four years in succession. What the Bank possessed above all things was continuity of experience.

In the words of The Economist: "When other and younger central banks ask for its rules or statutes, they are told that there is no book of the rules, that its charter would be of very little use to them and that its relations with the Exchequer have never been codified."

The defenders of the old regarded this as an almost perfect arrangement. Here was the substance of a sound working institution, with no nonsense about trying to put it into writing. They said, in

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