HC Deb 10 February 1870 vol 199 cc152-5

, in moving for leave to bring in a "Bill to consolidate and amend the law relating to the Coinage and Her Majesty's Mint," said: The Bill which I am about to ask leave to introduce is concerned with the laws relating to the coinage and the Mint; but it has no relation whatever to the question which I raised at the end of last Session with regard to the position of the mintage on our coinage. That question is in such a state that I do not think it could with any profit be at present brought before the House. We cannot, indeed, properly discuss the question of mintage without reference to the subject of international coinage; and the present state of affairs in France in regard to that subject is such as to make it desirable that we should not take any step just now even if the House were otherwise disposed to do so. The adoption of a single gold standard was recommended by the International Conference which mot in Paris in 1867, at the instance of the the French Government. The French Government subsequently appointed a Commission which also recommended a single gold standard, but it has now thought fit to nominate another Commission to investigate the same subject. Consequently, as a single gold standard is indispensable for the advancement of a scheme of international coinage, the matter must stand over until the French Government shall have arrived at a conclusion on that all-important subject. The subject I now wish to bring before the House has been brought into prominent notice in our Department. The recent death of Professor Graham, the late Master of the Mint, whose scientific attainments shed lustre not only on his own name, but upon the country, occasioned us to take a survey of the whole subject of the Mint. The House is no doubt aware that the Masters of the Mint in the old time—in the time of Sir Isaac Newton, for instance—were not Government servants or employés as they are now. Sir Isaac Newton was a contractor with the Government for the coinage, and I believe he realized in that capacity a handsome fortune. At the end of the last century, however, the Master of the Mint became a political officer who came in and went out with the Government. The last person appointed under this system was Mr. Sheil, on whose retirement, in 1850, the plan was adopted of appointing eminent men of science, the first of whom was Sir John Herschel, on whose resignation, in 1855, the late Processor Graham was appointed to the office. Well, the result of our recent inquiries is this. We found there were two principal officers in the Mint—namely, the Master and the Deputy Master—and we soon became satisfied that there really was not sufficient work for two officers, and that it was not just or fair to the public that two persons should be retained to do duties which would mode-rately occupy the energies of one. The question then arose—with which of these two officers ought we to dispense? We accordingly considered the duties which had to be discharged, and came to the conclusion that the mintage is, after all, a very ordinary and routine kind of manufacture, requiring, no doubt, care and attention, but rarely raising any difficult points which demand the attention of a man of science. Moreover, when such points do arise they can be stated in the form of a problem, which may be easily solved by some of the scientific gentlemen who are so numerous in this country. The daily duties of the Mint require the attention of a man of business, versed in the affairs of public offices, and able to manage and thoroughly well direct the routine of a public establishment. Having arrived at these conclusions, it appeared to us that it was not our duty to recommend that the office of Master of the Mint should in its present shape be filled up. At the same time it was considered desirable not to destroy that ancient office, but rather to hold it in reserve, so that if any new emergency should arise, or if the plan we propose should not succeed, we may be able to revive it. We propose, therefore, to unite it with the office which I have the honour to hold, taking away from it its salary; and to leave the daily executive work of the Mint in the hands of the present efficient Deputy Master, Mr. Fremantle. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will perform all those duties which by Act of Parliament or otherwise require the action of the Master of the Mint, while the executive duties will be carried on by Mr. Fremantle in conference with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being. By that operation, together with certain other reforms which Mr. Fremantle and other officers of the Treasury associated with him have been able to carry out reduction will be effected in the Estimates of the next financial year of £3,500; and I hope before long to be able to effect a still further reduction. Some reports on the subject have been made to the Treasury, and I will lay them upon the table, as they will inform hon. Gentlemen more minutely of the steps which have been taken. Hon. Members will sec that the first object of this Bill is to amalgamate the office of Master of the Mint with that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being, and to take away its salary. The second object of the Bill is to consolidate the rules and regulations of the Mint, for at present nothing can be more difficult than to arrive at a complete knowledge of them. They are contained partly in Acts of Parliament, partly in Orders of Council, partly in Royal proclamations, and partly in the Mint Indentures, which were made part of the law of the land by the Act of 1816. The present Bill will compress all the information on this head into a single statute, so that everyone will hereafter be in a position to ascertain without difficulty what are the rules and regulations of the Mint. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman had relieved his mind of a great weight, and he was sure many other persons would be gratified to learn that it was not his intention to carry out his proposals brought forward last year with regard to the weight and fineness of the sovereign. He believed that the measure indicated by the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfactory to the community.


regretted that the office of Master of the Mint should be retained at all, because it might enable some future Government to revive it during the Recess and unknown to the House. Would it not be better to abolish the office altogether?


said, that the Bill would annex the office of Master of the Mint to that of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, therefore, nothing could be done to fix the salary of the former office upon the country without the consent of Parliament.

Motion agreed to. Bill to consolidate mid amend the law relating to the Coinage and Her Majesty's Mint, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER and Mr. STANSFELD. Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 13.]