HC Deb 20 March 1890 vol 342 cc1287-91
(6.10.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

Before we reach the Irish Votes I want to say a word or two upon item 18, relating to the Mint. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer two questions: first as to the state of the gold coinage. As the Committee is aware the right hon. Gentleman has called in the pre-Victorian gold coinage, and I wish to ask him if he is satisfied with the steps he has taken under the Act of last Session, whether he himself believes we have practically got in the pre-Victorian gold coins? Assuming that is the case, and I hope it is, what does he propose to do with reference to the Victorian gold coinage? I think I am within the mark when I say that three-fifths of that coinage in circulation is light. This is a question the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised every year to deal with, and as he is now in possession of ample funds—I do not ask him to make any reference to his forthcoming financial policy—I ask him, does he propose to deal with the light Victorian coins? Another point upon which I wish to ask him a question has reference to the silver coinage. I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer is aware of the general inconvenience caused by the confusion created by the Jubilee coinage not having the value of the coin marked on the reverse. I consider the new double-florin piece or dollar a very valuable coin, and I am glad to see it put into circulation, but at the present time it is undistinguishable from the five shilling piece. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the other night, I understand, that the coins were distinguishable by the four shields on the reverse of the double-florin and "St. George and Dragon" on the crown piece, but I do not think that practical every-day people will remember this distinction. I do not see why we departed from the practice of putting the value upon the coin. The florin bears in a circle outside the shields the words, "one florin—one tenth of a pound." We ought not to regard a coin as a medal. The first consideration for a coin is its convenience, not its medallic beauty. I can quite understand that the authorities at the Mint have a preference for a beautiful coin—whether they succeed or not I will not say. I will not discuss the artistic beauty of the Jubilee coinage. A florin, shilling, sixpence, or threepenny piece, with its value marked upon it, is of far more use as a coin than a merely artistic medal. I can quite understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer relies on the opinion of the Mint Authorities, who may be unwilling to interfere with what they consider a fine work of art, but among the general public there is a good deal of dissatisfaction because of the inconvenience of not having the silver coins marked with their value, and I refer particularly to the double florin, which should have on its face the words, "one dollar—one fifth of a pound," just as the florin is marked "one tenth." Further, I would call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the great scarcity of shilling pieces in circulation in the manufacturing districts; there is an ample supply of the larger silver pieces, but not enough shillings; perhaps he will use means to have this inconvenience removed by increasing the coinage or issue of shillings?

(G.15.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. J. G. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square

With regard to the last point mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, the dearth of the shilling piece in the manufacturing districts—I can only state that the supply of shillings, according to the Bank of England, is ample, but the great difficulty is in providing that the coin shall reach those who most want it. The Government have very little power in circulating the silver coinage, and I shall have something to say in the Budget on the manner in which we have been able to supply the demand of the public for more silver coins. But while we have done our best to supply silver coins there have been complaint from some quarters that we have supplied too much. Bankers do not like silver coins, and this is an illustration of the difficulty of inducing sufficient circulation of silver to meet the popular demand in all parts of the country at the same time. It would be a great mistake to flood the country with silver; yet I am the last person to wish to see a dearth of it, and the right hon. Gentleman may rest assured that I will do what I can to increase the number of shilling coins if necessary, or to facilitate the circulation. With regard to the pre-Victorian coinage, I am not entirely satisfied with the pace at which it has flowed into the Bank of England. As soon as it appeared to be known that a good full-weight sovereign could be obtained for a light sovereign there was no longer any desire to part with the light coin, and it became necessary to put pressure on the bankers to assist the Government in getting in the pre-Victorian coins. In some cases I regret to say that bankers have re-issued light coin rather than incur the slight expense of sending it to Loudon for exchange. Since notice was given that after a given day light coins would no longer be exchanged for full-weight ones, they have been flowing in with greater rapidity, but the amount is still far short of the amount estimated by the Mint to be in circulation. With regard to the future, I will make futher statement in the Budget, but I may say that I certainly intend to go forward, if the House encourages the Government to do so, with the rehabilitation of the Victorian gold coinage. But the public, who are mainly interested in the work, must assist the Government. Private bankers and others who have great influence in the matter should also assist, and if the Government are so encouraged, we will take steps to rehabilitate the gold coinage and make it the credit to the country that it ought to be. I observe from the applause on both sides of the House that greeted the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman that there is a general desire that convenience rather than art should be consulted in the design of the coinage. Numismatists allege that it is barbarous to put the amount of the value on a coin; but, whether this is so or not, there appears to be a growing desire that something should be done in this respect, and I will consult with the proper authorities on the point. I think, however, that, as a rule, when a particular coin becomes thoroughly known people recognise it at once by its general appearance; for instance, there is a great difference in general appearance between the double florin and the five- shilling piece, as there is also between the florin and the half-crown, and few mistakes should be made in those coins. At the same time I am quite ready to consult public opinion on the matter; and I will do what I can to meet the wishes of the House and the country.


With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said as to light coinage, I am sure the Government will have the support of the House; in any well-considered measure for putting the coinage of the country upon a proper footing, a position it does not certainly occupy now. I was much surprised to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said of the conduct of bankers in not sending in the light coin. There is certainly a heavy responsibility resting on bankers in the matter, for they know perfectly well that the issue of light coin is contrary to law, and the fact that they should go on issuing it when they know they can exchange it for sterling coin of proper weight will not meet with the approbation of any one who is interested in the currency of the country.


The right hon. Gentleman must not think it has been the general practice with bankers. It would be unfair if I said anything to convey that impression. What I said was that there had been instances of the re-issue of light coinage, but I do not desire that any exaggerated statement should go forth.


I was not contradicting the right hon. Gentleman's statement, for I believe there is too much foundation for it. It is quite enough that there should have been instances of such conduct; it is a course which no banker ought to follow, for it is an evil example to the community, and throws the light coinage on the public in an unjust and improper way. I hope that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said on the point will serve as a warning, for it is a serious thing when persons who are placed in the fiduciary relation to the public which bankers occupy do not carry out the responsibilities placed on them. As to the question of art in regard to the coinage, and defacing it by any addition, I think that since the recent Jubilee coins were issued the artists might be left out of consideration altogether. It would be a considerable advantage to deface the work of the artists on those coins, for it is not possible to produce anything more hideous than the recent coinage, or to make it uglier by adding anything to it. At all events, lam very glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer means to do something in the matter of the light coinage, and I hope that whatever is done will be done speedily and effectively.

(6.25.) MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, N.)

Just a few words in regard to the 4s. pieces. I put a question the other day on the point, and the right hon. Gentleman will hardly be surprised if I take the opportunity to illustrate the inconvenience that arises from similarity in the currency. I have in my hand a letter from the chief cashier of a London Railway Company, and he says that frequent errors arise between the 4s. and 5s. pieces, and if these mistakes occur with experts in the handling of coins, how much more frequent they must be among those persons who have but an occasional acquaintance with the double florin. There is an instance brought under my notice in which a conductor of a London omnibus handed a passenger 4s. 11d. change for a double florin. I have another letter from a secretary to a club, and he says that members finding that the 4s. piece is not liked in ordinary circulation bring the coins to the club and so get rid of them, making the club a sort of shoot for coin they cannot readily get rid of elsewhere. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will seriously consider the desirability of withdrawing either the 4s. or 5s. piece, or both.