§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether he is aware that, in consequence of the recent notice as to foreign bronze coinage, such coins are being generally refused by trades people and others in London and elsewhere; and, whether, in view of the very serious losses and hardships which the poorer classes are likely to suffer from the refusal of this foreign coinage, he will take any immediate steps to meet these losses and hardships, by providing for the exchange of these foreign coins, at a moderate percentage of loss to the holders, through post offices or otherwise?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
As a good deal of misapprehension appears to exist about the recent action of the Government in this matter, perhaps the House will pardon me if I take this opportunity of making a somewhat full statement on the subject. The recent Proclamation with regard to foreign bronze coins only prohibits their importation, and does not affect their circulation in this country. This circulation has, of course, never been legalized; and the Government Departments have never accepted foreign coins, though they have circulated with tolerable freedom from hand to hand, especially in London. The late Government were pressed on several occasions to prohibit the circulation of these coins; but they had no wish to disturb the currency, and declined to take any such action. They found, however, that systematic importations of these coins were beginning to take place; so they took power in the Customs Amendment Act of last year to prohibit such importation by Proclamation. However, there was no time to issue a Proclamation under the Act, for the late Government left Office soon after the Act was passed. The present Government have received many similar representations from various parties as to the illegal circulation of these coins, and the inconvenience resulting there from. They felt it, therefore, to be their duty to carry the Act into effect, and the recent Proclamation was accordingly issued. Though the Proclamation is directed only against the systematic importation of these coins, it has, I am aware, had the effect of causing people to_ refuse to take such coins in the ordinary course of business; and I can well believe that a certain amount of hardship may thus indirectly have been caused to the poor, who may have to a considerable extent these coins in their possession. The Government are most anxious to alleviate this hardship to the best of their ability; and I have carefully considered, in concert with the authorities of the Mint and the Post Office, what course had better be followed. The hon. Member is, no doubt, aware that there is an appreciable profit in putting these foreign coins into circulation in this country, a matter which, of course, must not be overlooked. At the 880 current rate of exchange, an English sovereign will exchange for 252 or more 10-centime pieces, and, therefore, there is a great profit in circulating them, as compared with the 240 pence which the sovereign is worth; there is a profit of 1s. on every £1, so that there is about a shilling profit on each pound's worth of these coins put into circulation in this country. The House will, therefore, see at once that it is important to stop the importation of this coin. I understand that fishermen have brought over these coins in their boats from the north of France. I do not know that there has been a regular, systematic importation on a large scale; but the importation has been large, and the amount of coin in circulation at the present moment is very great. If we were to undertake to change these coins, giving 1d. for every 10-cen-time piece, it is clear that it would be an inducement to people to continue the importation, and we should flood the country with foreign bronze coinage; and the Mint, and consequently the taxpayers of the Kingdom, would lose that profit upon the coinage of copper which belongs to every Sovereign Power. I lay it down, therefore, as essential that the importation must be stopped; but what the Government are prepared to do is this:—In order to combine at once the object of relieving the holders of these coins from their difficulty, and at the same time checking the importation, we propose that on and after Monday next these coins should be received in exchange for cash or stamps at any post office at the rate of 13 to the 1s.; no quantity less than 1s. worth being received. After the 31st of May none of these coins will be received in exchange. The cost of the operation will be very slight to the Exchequer; and I trust that the House will not disapprove of the relief thus given to the holders of these coins under the very exceptional circumstances which I have mentioned.