HC Deb 18 October 1946 vol 427 cc1193-231

11.3 a.m.

Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, to leave out "cupro-nickel," and to insert "nickel."

There are on the Order Paper a large number of Amendments which are consequential upon this one, and which will naturally fall when this has been disposed of. During the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, there was, I think, unanimity amongst all those who spoke that nickel would give us a much more satisfactory coinage than would the alloy which the Government propose in Clause 1 Every speaker in every quarter of the House who expressed a view about this, came down in favour of a nickel coinage. Very little attempt was made either by the Chancellor or by the Financial Secretary to make out that cupro-nickel would be equally satisfactory, and the only argument produced by the Government against the adoption of a pure nickel coinage was the technical difficulty of producing this coinage in the Mint at the present time. The Chancellor said that our present machinery at the Mint was adapted to stamp cupro-nickel coins, but would need various modifications and changes to stamp pure nickel, and he was advised that, for all practical purposes, cupro-nickel would do. That is not very high praise of cupro-nickel.

As I understand it, the technical difficulties at the Mint are mainly the lack of furnaces which will heat the metal to its melting point, which is the highest melting point of any metal except iron. I am advised that the melting point of pure nickel is some 1,450 degrees Centigrade. Of course, these furnaces could be produced, and could be installed in the Mint, but that, I take it, would involve the Government in some little delay. On the question of delay I would say this: Our liability to repay a large quantity of silver to the United States does not fall due immediately. Our liability is to restore the borrowed silver to the United States during a period of five years beginning at the date when the President of the United States declares that the war emergency is over. That date, I understand, has not yet been reached. Therefore, there is no immediate urgency about the introduction of the new coinage, except to this very limited extent, that so far as we are retaining silver in our currency the Chancellor will have to buy, every year, a very small quantity of silver to replace coins which will have to be withdrawn from circulation through becoming bent or battered or in other respects unusable. That urgency does not seem to be so great as to justify the immediate introduction of an alloy which, it is admitted on all sides, will be unsatisfactory.

I am advised that the furnaces which the Mint require could be installed from British production within 12 months, but I also believe that they can be immediately obtained from the British zone of occupation in Germany. I should be happy to furnish the Financial Secretary with some particulars on that point if he desired to have them. Germany had a pure nickel coinage before the war and the machinery is there, and since other people are removing capital plant from Germany for various purposes I cannot for the life of me see why, if the provision of these furnaces is the main obstacle to the adoption of a pure nickel coinage immediately, we should not remove certain furnaces from the zone of British occupation in Germany, and instal them in the Mint.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

The right hon. Gentleman is as bad as the Russians.

Mr. Peake

Well, there has been a war, and we have won it, and we are entitled to some measure of restitution in kind where things which could be of use to us actually exist. I cannot conceive that there would be any complaint from any quarter in this country if the furnaces necessary to adopt a pure nickel coinage were transferred to here from Germany. I will not repeat the arguments in favour of pure nickel as against cupro-nickel, but, on all counts, nickel has it. Nickel will be cleaner, harder, and much less difficult to counterfeit. It will last longer, so that annual renewal of the coinage will be very much less, and it will preserve undoubtedly a much finer appearance. There has been experience with cupro-nickel coins in India which have been extremely unsatisfactory. They were introduced not so many years ago, but they have had to be withdrawn, and are now being replaced by pure nickel coinage.

11.15 a.m.

The only other argument against adoption of pure nickel which the Chancellor brought forward was, as it were, a point of prejudice in regard to the Mond Nickel Company. I have no connection whatever with that Company, but I am convinced from the statistical evidence that the amount of nickel required for this purpose, only some 16,000 tons, over four or five years, would form a comparatively insignificant part of the total production of nickel by the Mond Nickel Company. Moreover, nickel, of course, is an Empire product, and from the point of view of Canadian sentiment, so well expressed by the Agent-General for Ontario and Lord Tweedsmuir, in "The Times", there would be an advantage in that respect through adopting a metal which is produced almost entirely within the confines of the British Empire. Then there is the point that there is, in South Wales, a factory for treating nickel, which is now working below capacity, and we all want to do what we can to prevent distress coming back to South Wales on the scale on which it existed there before the war.

I would implore the Chancellor, if only from a personal point of view, to give us this concession. I do not think there is all this hurry about the introduction of the new coinage. Nickel, undoubtedly, will be more satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman will go down to history as the Chancellor who abolished our silver coinage, and introduced a baser metal. In recent years, we have seen more than one Minister introduce, either by force of circumstances or by design, a memorial to himself. In these days of universal suffrage and of public relations officers, Ministers seem rather to like to be associated with some physical object. We had the Anderson shelter, the thing known as the "Morrison Mousetrap"—now useful, I am told, for housing chickens, or producing mushrooms—and then the perfectly hideous bright yellow orbs which have defaced our highways for so many years, and which derive their name from a former Minister of Transport. I am anxious for the reputation of the Chancellor. If we are to have a coinage which becomes dull and yellow, attracts dirt and becomes unhygienic, and embodies the worst features of the coinages which some of us who have travelled abroad used to meet on the Continent before the war, then I am very sorry for the Chancellor's reputation.

The Chancellor, in his unregenerate days, was a scholar of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, and although he is not here I might perhaps remind him of a classical quotation in which the poet Horace told his readers that his poetry would prove a more lasting memorial than would anything raised in brass or bronze: Exegi monumentum äere perennius wrote the poet Horace I should like the Chancellor to raise a memorial to himself more enduring than cupro-nickel. I am sure it would be better for his reputation, better for the country, and better for our reputation as a great trading and commercial Empire.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

I wish to support the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). This is not a party matter, and, now we are in Committee, we should try to get the best coinage for the country that we can. I have looked into the question of the cupro-nickel amalgam. It has been used hitherto only in coins of very small denominations, the one exception to that being the 6d. in Eire, which was introduced as a war emergency measure, because nickel was very short. That is the only exception I can find. Therefore, if we adopt the proposal in this Bill, this country will be the first country in the world to use cupro-nickel for denominations like shillings and halfcrowns. The Committee should ask itself whether that is a wise step. My right hon. Friend referred to the Indian experience. As the Committee knows, cupro-nickel coins were introduced in India, and had to be withdrawn after a comparatively short period. The amalgam was precisely the same as that proposed in the Bill, namely, 75 per cent. copper, and 25 per cent. nickel. The Indian coinage had to be withdrawn because of counterfeiting, an ancient hobby of the Indians. When one turns to the Chancellor's statement in the Second Reading Debate on the danger of counterfeiting if we have a cupro-nickel coinage in this country, one finds that he said: It is no more easy to counterfeit and forge than the existing silver coins."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October. 1946; Vol. 427, c. 810.] That is not accurate. First of all, I will refer to the Financial Secretary's remark that the melting point of cupro-nickel was some 200 degrees above the melting point of the existing silver coinage. I checked that and the facts are, as given to me by the best metallurgist I could go to, that the melting point of cupro-nickel is 1,180 degrees and the melting point of silver is 1,130 degrees. Therefore the difference is only 50, which is not really very significant. The real point is that the counterfeiter of silver coinage uses other metals, such as lead and zinc, and therefore, the counterfeited coin is com- paratively easy to detect; but the counterfeiter of cupro-nickel coins does it with the same metal. Moreover, it is easy to get hold of cupro-nickel scrap, of which there is always a lot on the market. That makes the counterfeiting of cupro-nickel much easier than the counterfeiting of a coinage in which one of the principal objects for which the counterfeiting is being done is to get rid of the precious metal in that coinage and substitute a base metal. On the question of counterfeiting, the Committee ought to be careful before accepting the argument of the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary and there is nothing in it. There is something in it, because it is very easy to get hold of cupro-nickel scrap, whereas pure nickel scrap is exceedingly hard to get.

The Financial Secretary said that an argument in favour of cupro-nickel, and therefore, against nickel, was that the dies would have to be changed if nickel coins were minted. That is true but the dies are always having to be remade. Dies are not immortal. At any time the Mint is making new dies and bringing them into service. Furthermore, the Mint now makes nickel coins for Iraq, so that it has had a pilot plant experience of nickel coins. I do not think the die argument is one that should be considered seriously.

I come now to the question of the furnaces. As my right hon. Friend said, that is really the main difficulty. I was glad to hear that there is some hope of getting these furnaces from Germany, but surely in the meantime, even supposing we cannot get those furnaces, it would be possible to get the blanks made outside the Mint while the furnaces are being installed, even if it were to take a year or 18 months to get furnaces under the direct operation of the Mint. I am impressed—perhaps more so than my right hon. Friend—with the argument that we do not want any delay, because I agree that to spend our foreign exchange, of which we have all too little, on buying more silver would be a mistake. It is, therefore, a good thing that we should try to make a practical arrangement to introduce a substitute for the silver coinage in time not to have to go into the market and spend foreign exchange on silver. Perhaps the Financial Secretary could tell us whether the Treasury would be willing, for the next 12 months, to put out to sub-contract the making of nickel blanks so as to get over that period during which the Mint would not have furnaces. If so, I think the furnace argument is not a very strong one. We know that the question of additional expense is not an argument for nickel or cupro-nickel. It was not advanced as an argument by either the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary, and I do not feel that we should deal with it today.

I cannot believe that any question of the particular company which mines and smelts nickel really influences the Chancellor's mind. One has only to consider from where we get the copper. If there was an ideological argument behind the Chancellor's refusal, and he did not want to go to what is practically a monopoly in nickel, one can only say that if he wants copper, he will have to go to a company like Rio Pinto Company, and I will not enlarge on other copper companies. There is nothing in it ideologically. We must have some better reasons given against having nickel than were given in the Second Reading Debate. The fact that these coins tarnish, that they look cheap and nasty after a short time, can be vouched for by those who have seen such coins after they have been in circulation for a number of years. We do not want cheap and nasty coins. We want coins that will be a credit to the country. The country's credit is not only dependent upon putting down the interest rate, it is dependent on a whole lot of other things as well, and one of them is a decent coinage. I hope that the Committee, in no party spirit, will examine the question of cupro-nickel versus nickel. We may be fortunate today and find that the Financial Secretary is able to do something which the Chancellor previously refused to do. I hope that we shall be able to secure from the Government a reconsideration of the whole matter, and, if possible, an outright promise that nickel will be introduced as soon as it is practicable to do so.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Perrins (Birmingham, Yardley)

It may be of some interest to the Committee to know that in Birmingham, the city of a thousand and one trades, we possess a Mint, and the opinion of the managing director of the Birmingham Mint might be of some interest and value to hon. Members. I would commend to the attention of the Committee a letter which appeared in the "Birmingham Post" this morning from Mr. W. F. Brazener, the managing director of the Birmingham Mint, in which he deals very effectively with the question of the possibility of counterfeiting. He says that those who have some knowledge of the subject know that it is equally difficult to counterfeit coins of pure nickel or of cupro-nickel, and goes on to advance the argument that cupro-nickel was used extensively by the Admiralty during the war in condenser equipment, because of its resistance to pitting and corrosion. I feel that his argument is a very definite answer on that point.

Mr. Waiter Fletcher (Bury)

I support the Amendment, and I think that we should remember the phrase used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day in a rather cheap jibe which he was making against the Mond nickel when he referred to the necessity of having an entirely detached and scientific point of view. I feel that the arguments against cupro-nickel are overwhelmingly strong, but there are some other arguments which I would like to adduce. There is no doubt that the effect of the quality of the currency of this country on other parts of the Commonwealth and on other countries must of necessity be very considerable. It is true that the Far Eastern people and the African and other native people pay particular regard to currency. I remember in 1923 what the feelings were in Uganda when the florin was introduced: there was a great upset in the native mind on matters of currency; and huge quantities of silver currency, which had been hoarded, started to come in, and even the old Maria Theresa Thaler, a first-class coin, came in, in thousands of pounds.

Many people regard currency, and the form of the currency, as being a sort of sign manual of the standards of their country. If we introduce into this country, in order to save an insignificant sum, a coin to our prejudice, it will not fall in entirely with "the detached and scientific point of view." If we introduce currency that is visibly not so good as the one which we might introduce, we shall be making a very considerable mistake. We have today an exhibition called "Britain Can Make It," and the reason behind it is to stimulate our export drive and to show people what can be made and produced in this country, based on the high standards of all the goods we produce. If one of the main things which we produce, currency, is to be in the eyes of visitors who come to this country a second-rate coinage, and not so good as that which we could produce at little extra cost and trouble, we shall be making a costly error. I feel that the effect throughout the Empire, and through the world, will be much greater than those who have no first-hand knowledge of this subject imagine.

During the war, one of our main problems was the introduction of currencies and coinage by the enemy into countries where they would have a vital effect on economy. I know—and I think the Financial Secretary will bear me out —that it was a great worry to the Treasury as to what would happen after the war, and whether we would be able to introduce currency which would have an attraction to the native eye and make them continue in their belief in us. In the native eye, a coinage is much more than a token and a sign manual. It is a visible expression on which they base their respect for a country. I would strongly urge that we should have consultation with other countries in the Empire, and then adhere to the best currency which we can afford. There is no doubt in my mind that we shall have difficulty with other countries if in parts of the Empire, such as Australia, South Africa, Malaya, Hong Kong, we have differences in the metals used and in the outward appearance and quality of their coinage. I would ask for a reassurance that the currency of this country, and of the other parts of the Empire, is not to be lowered in quality and appearance.

One has only to go to France to see the present lighter than air currency—subject to the law of levity rather than the law of gravity—to realise that the first comment one makes in arriving in that country is "What a dud currency there is." In view of the small cost which will be entailed, I strongly urge the Treasury to reconsider, from the scientific and detached point of view, the necessity of having nickel and not crypto or cupro-nickel currency.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

When this Government came into power I had little hopes of it on other grounds, but I hoped that it would not be indifferent to public amenities. This country is rapidly qualifying to be considered the most philistine, the most indifferent to the artistic and pleasant things of life, of any country in the world. We have during the last 100 years pulled down more beautiful buildings and put up more ugly ones than any other country in the world. Our cities have the dirtiest atmosphere of any country in the world. Our postage stamps, which advertise this country not only to the visitors to whom my hon. Friend has just referred but all over the world, are among the dullest in the world. But at least up to now we have had an attractive coinage. If the difficulties of accepting this Amendment are insuperable, I would beg the Financial Secretary to give us an assurance that, at the earliest possible moment, these new cupro-nickel coins will be called in and nickel coins substituted, so that once again we may have a pleasant coinage.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I would like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman below the gangway on the speech which he has made. I quite agree with him that, in the ordinary everyday life of the ordinary person in this country, coinage is of great importance, and should not in any circumstance be swept into the arena of party politics. It comes very close to all of us, and when we are handling a matter of this kind, whether it is nickel or cupro-nickel, we should be able to feel that it is something which belongs to everyone of us. Because of that—looking into the future—and having made some attempt to find out if cupro-nickel was really satisfactory, I felt obliged, the other day, to warn the Chancellor of the Exchequer, lest, by falling into this pit, he might take to himself a lifelong name of opprobrium, which would outlast possibly his own time. I did it with a genuine desire to save him from difficulties and trouble, and that is why I welcomed the speech of the hon. Member below the gangway, because it did, for the first time, bring forward some practical evidence. I wish that he had developed it from his own very considerable knowledge—I am sure it must be very considerable knowledge—but possibly he may be reserving himself to do that later in this Debate on this question whether we can maintain a nickel coinage.

May I refer to what I think was an error made by the Financial Secretary in his speech referring to me the other day, when I made reference to the value of a magnet? The hon. Gentleman said: The hon. Member for Torquay suggested … that one advantage about nickel is that a magnet can attract it. I believe this is perfectly true, and if we do come to nickel I imagine that all of us will carry magnets about with us on our watch chains to be quite sure that we are being given no counterfeit coins." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1946; Vol. 427. c. 844.] That idea had never occurred to me, but naturally it does occur to the bureaucratic mind which would insist upon us all doing something inconvenient and awkward. What I really said about it—and I think it is worth being accurate on these occasions, even at the Treasury—was: By an ordinary magnet one can detect whether a nickel coin is good or not. That is an advantage"— only "an" advantage— worth consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 824.] I will not enlarge upon that method of being able to detect a nickel coin except to say that there must be occasions, not for the ordinary person in everyday life —that was far from my mind—but for those who are handling coins in considerable quantities, when a magnet might be of some use. A case in point might be those persons who handle vast amounts of coins in a tote. As a purely personal point I should like to correct as quickly as possible a false impression which has been given since I do not want it to be asserted that I am in any way responsible for the suggestion that we should always have to carry magnets. That is the kind of bureaucracy I would never undertake.

May I now deal with some considerations which I do not think have been sufficiently or accurately weighed up by the Government concerning the advantage of nickel? The other day I gave one of the reasons why I think nickel should be used as against cupro-nickel, and I received a considerable amount of support from Members of the Liberal Party and from Socialists and others. My reason was that we already had a factory in this country where this metal could be rolled and refined. This factory happens to be in South Wales, a part of the country which has suffered badly from depression in the past, and I hoped that the Government would take up this point. But in spite of the support I received from their allies below the Gangway on this side of the House and from their own back benchers, I do not think any notice was taken of my remark. Another thing I wanted to know was whether at the present time, this factory was in anything like full production of nickel. If not, surely this would be a most admirable opportunity to ensure that at any rate for a considerable time to come, the raw material which we import from Canada should be refined and rolled and put into its preliminary state for coinage in our own country. That seemed to be a very great advantage, but it is a typical Tory idea because it would give employment and would help the working people. I did not think the Government would be so allergic to this idea that they would take little or no notice of it.

We had a very interesting speech just now from one of my hon. Friends who sits in front of me and who represents, I believe, one of the Cheshire divisions.

Mr. W. Fletcher


11.45 a.m.

Mr. Williams

I knew it was one of those places up there, but in any case hon. Members from both Lincolnshire and Cheshire make very valuable contributions to our Debates from time to time. The vigour was such that I thought it might be either. What I really wanted to say about the very valuable contribution of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) was that I am very sorry that we had not the great advantage of the Chancellor of the Exchequer being here to hear it. I miss him very much although I am sure the Financial Secretary will do his part in his usual manner. What we learned from the speech in question was a very valuable fact that had not come out in the Debate before, namely, that when we are dealing purely and simply with the question of which metal should be used for making coins it is essential to choose one which, wherever it goes, upholds the high prestige of the British Empire. By that I mean all kinds of prestige, but above all, the high standard of workmanship which has been the great asset of our country in the past. If we provide bad material to work with, as is intended in this case, the best workman cannot possibly make goods which last and keep well. For that reason I urge that from the widest point of view —that of the high standard of workman ship in this country—it is regrettable that nickel was not put in in the first stage of the Bill. On the arguments which have been advanced for it I hope that on this occasion, at any rate, we shall have the privilege of hearing the Government say, "Well, thank goodness we can meet you on this point." Whether they will or not I do not know, but I am one of those optimists who think that occasionally the Government may have some sense.

Another point which has not been dealt with and upon which I should like some information is the definite advantage or otherwise of cupro-nickel or nickel. I think it lies with nickel so far as slot machines are concerned; at least, that is the tendency of the information I have been able to collect. These coins will have to be of a type which can be used in slot machines, or else the whole of those machines will have to be scrapped or changed. This is a point which should be considered with care. At the present moment we are without knowledge as to which of these materials is likely to be the better, but since cupro-nickel is undoubtedly softer, surely the tendency would be that the best metal to use as far as these machines are concerned would be pure nickel, from the point of view of hardness alone. Weight is also important in connection with slot machines, but I imagine the Government must consider seriously whether the actual variation in weight of these coins in relation to silver will have any effect. Those are two points which are of value but little has been said about them in the Debate.

The question of the Canadian supply was raised by my right hon. Friend in the excellent and amusing speech with which he introduced the Amendment—if I may be allowed to criticise the Front bench to the extent of describing a speech from that quarter as excellent. Some play was made the other day about Canada. Surely, when we have a great Dominion which has helped us just as much as the United States in the matter of Lend-Lease and which has something like 90 per cent. of the nickel supply of the world, we might at any rate decide to give them the first chance and preference in the matter of supply. I know that a great deal of copper comes from other parts of the British Empire which are equally deserving of help, but nickel is one of the specialities of Canada and that country holds a great influence in the world. If we can do this to help from the Imperial point of view, I appeal very strongly indeed to the Government not to be guided by any prejudice that it may take a little longer or that they have not quite the right machines for cutting —a theory which has been rather exploded this morning—but to go boldly ahead from the Imperial point of view.

Certain other serious matters must be referred to. The hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) pulled a coin out of his pocket, and I would like to ask him to tell us whether he thinks that is the best that Socialism can do. Whatever he thinks of me, I think very kindly of him, and I want to prevent anything of the sort to which he referred happening again in the immediate future. I hope I never see another international war, as no doubt other hon. Members do, but it is essential to the prevention of war to try to secure reserves of materials. We might secure considerable reserves of nickel in this country if we had a pure nickel coinage rather than one of cupro-nickel. Of course, I do not think that nickel is better than silver, but I certainly think it is better than cupro-nickel. It is of more lasting quality and there is not the same waste of material as there is with cupro-nickel.

I would press the Government to answer the important questions which were put to them by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). I understand that this amalgam was introduced into India, and the coins made from it had ultimately to be withdrawn. What were the reasons for that withdrawal? Was it because of the deterioration of the coins or the facility with which they could be imitated? We have the right to know why metal which has proved a failure on such a great scale as I believe it did in India should now be brought in here. It is possible that since that time a new chemical or metallurgical process has been invented to overcome the difficulties experienced in India. Have the people at the Mint, or those who work in metal, discovered any reason why we should use the metal here?

The Government urge us to assist in the great export drive. Surely there will not be any great export value in cupro-nickel, and it cannot be intended for export in any considerable amounts. In relation to their own policy, the Government would be well advised to introduce a pure nickel coinage. It is stated that this is only a temporary measure, until we can get the right method of dealing with nickel; if that is so, is it necessary to change our coinage now, in the very last days of the Session and to insinuate this base metal, for a short time only? It is a disadvantage to use a metal of this sort when it will not be permanent in any way. I am sorry I have not had time to give more reasons in favour of nickel. I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will accept the Amendment and that it will not be necessary for us to say anything of the things which we shall be obliged to say if this inferior coinage is forced upon us. I support the Amendment wholeheartedly, as, I believe, almost every hon. Member does, in favour of a metal which is more worthy of the British people, more in keeping with our national standards and which experience shows is not so inferior in quality and in durability as cupro-nickel.

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

After listening to the speeches, I am rather disturbed that the discussion did not finish after those of the mover and seconder. The mover put his case in a very reasoned way, with which one with any knowledge of the subject could sympathise, but as soon as the matter got into the hands of his back benchers it was taken out of its serious vein into the field of cheap party politics. It is a great pity that hon. Members behind the right hon. Gentleman do not realise the importance of this matter.

Squadron-Leader Sir Gifford Fox (Henley)

Why is not the Chancellor of the Exchequer here?

Mr. Scollan

There is a very competent Financial Secretary here with a very complete knowledge of the subject, and so long as we have people like him we do not require the Chancellor, or Ministers, on these occasions. I sympathise with the mover of the Amendment because I do not think that sufficient study has been given to this Measure before it was brought in. When the Financial Secretary replies, I hope that he will let me know that I am wrong, but that is my honest opinion. The change in the currency has only been hinted at. My. hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) tried to give the Committee some idea of the effect of the baser metal used in British currencies abroad.

12 noon.

The first thing that strikes anyone when he goes outside these shores is the currency of the country he visits. Consider the effect in the trading communities of the Far East and of Africa, and take into consideration the prestige which was talked about of the half-crown, the shilling and the sixpence of our silver coinage. Only the American Continent will be left with a silver coinage—[HON. MEMBERS: "Abyssinia."]—We must face the facts of the penetration of American business firms into the European Continent, to say nothing of Africa and Asia. American capitalist imperialism goes on apace despite the fact that the Americans deny that they are imperialist, and we are placing in their hands a very valuable weapon, not because they have designed for some ulterior motive to get the better of us in trade, but because of the exigencies of our having to pay back this silver.

Is it not possible to get some extension of time prior to paying this back? To-day, our exports are growing and we are gradually overtaking our prewar figures. The world is crying out for more of our goods. Like a snowball, our exports are growing larger and larger. Would it not be possible, even at this late stage, to go into the question of trying to retain our silver coinage by some means and not hand it over to America? I wonder if the Americans who are so anxious to get the silver coinage out of this country realise that they created a crisis when they monopolised the gold and that they are not helping by monopolising the silver. It is a very serious matter.

I was very pleased that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) did not raise any more points, or many of us would have had little chance of taking part in the Debate. I was thinking when he was speaking that if a porcupine came up to be discussed in this House and the hon. Member for Torquay got up to cover all the points, he would be as old as Methuselah before he finished.

Mr. C. Williams

If the hon. Member will forgive me, I should never try to cover every point unless it was absolutely necessary. I have more respect for the House of Commons than that. My choice in these matters rests solely upon whether the Chair sees me on such occasions.

Mr. Scollan

I agree with the hon. Member for Torquay on that point, but, unfortunately, after Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy-Speaker or the Chairman of Committees calls an hon. Member, the hon. Member is the sole judge with regard to the importance of the point. That is the very difficult point that is troubling me. When the Committee is discussing a matter of such grave importance as this, I really do not think that the question of slot machines is of very great importance.

Mr. C. Williams

I agree.

Mr. Scollan

But a great deal of time was taken up discussing it. As to the nature of the metal to be used, I said on a previous occasion that I come down heavily in favour of nickel as against cupro-nickel. I have seen cupro-nickel coins. I do not know what age they were, but they were nothing very inspiring to look at. They were a very poor type of coin. Probably they were many years old. As to the coins which were placed in the Library, any base metal can be made into coin and shown in the Library and look well. We want to see them after a couple of years' existence. After all, we do not call in coins because they are dirty and make new ones to replace them. I appeal to the Financial Secretary to tell us whether every avenue has been examined to try to stave off the need for this. Supposing we pass the Bill now, can it be staved off long enough for the country to have an opportunity of repaying this loan in some other way? I sincerely hope that we can do that.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

The hon. Member for Renfrew, Western (Mr. Scollan) has deplored the fact that so many back benchers have intervened in the Debate today—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, frivolous."] During the Debate everything has pointed very definitely to the superiority of nickel over cupro-nickel—

Mr. Scollan

I did not deplore the fact that back benchers were taking part in the discussion but that they dragged the discussion down to the level of an ordinary brawl.

Mr. G. Williams

I differ from the hon. Member on that point. I hope that many back benchers may speak this morning because, like the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), I am somewhat optimistic about the outlook for this Amendment. I believe that there is a very great chance today of even some humble back bencher like myself being able just to tip the scale in the right direction. For that reason, we make no apologies for our humble efforts.

This country has built up her trade on the solidness of that trade and the good stuff she has put into what she has exported. We are not expecting to export coins, but these coins are tokens of our respectability and our solidness. If a foreigner comes to this country and sees an inferior coin, it is bound to have a psychological effect on his mind. That man at present knows that the cars we produce in this country last longer than the cars of other countries, that we produce the best cloth in the world and that our furniture is solid and of long duration—or it used to be. That is the reputation we have and the reputation we want to maintain, and we do not want to mar that by now introducing an inferior coinage.

The obvious comparison, which is, of course, odious, is that with other countries who use 100 per cent. pure nickel and no substitute. If we are to be in the minority of the countries who use the mixture, it will be a retrograde step at the present moment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary have made it perfectly clear that they are considering this as a temporary measure, and I think that all hon. Members of this Committee have the impression that the Chancellor himself prefers the pure nickel article. If that is the case, the only excuse for producing an inferior article now is that we have not got the machinery to produce the pure nickel coins. It has been pointed out today that that machinery may be obtainable in Germany, but in any case I am going to make another suggestion. Why should we not put off the introduction of this new coinage for a short time, perhaps six months or a year, while we either make the machinery ourselves or procure it from another country? Will the Financial Secretary consider what would be the consequences of doing this? There would be two obvious consequences. The first is that he would lose the interest on the silver that he would otherwise draw into his pocket. That, surely, would be a small amount, but he is the best judge of what it would cost in loss of interest by not having the silver for a year or so. The other consequence would be that he would be faced with the annual cost of replacement by ordinary wear and tear and waste and the substitution of worn out coins, and he might be forced to go on to the market to buy silver for that very purpose. Perhaps he would tell us what exactly that would cost? If he is prepared to lose his interest, I suggest, for a year, and if he is prepared to buy enough silver for replacement purposes, it may only be for six months if he is also prepared to look into the best and quickest methods of setting up the machinery to produce pure nickel coins.

If he will do that, I believe the country will ultimately be very grateful to him for having done it, rather than rushing in hastily to produce an inferior article which is not worthy of this country when, by waiting a few months, he could produce the pure nickel coin which would hold up the high standards of this country of which we have been proud in the past.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

Naturally I have no desire to curtail the discussion, but we have now spent an hour on this matter and it has occurred to me that the view of the Government, in the light of what has been said, may help us to come to a decision acceptable to all concerned. I have to ask the Committee to reject this Amendment for the reasons which, perhaps not as fully as some hon. Members might wish, we put to the House on Second Reading. It is not because we have any serious, or any objection at all to the use of pure nickel. The Government have quite an open mind on the material that is finally to be used. What we want, and what I am positive hon. Members in all quarters of the Committee want, is that we should have a coinage of which we can be proud—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and that if we have to change the substance from which our token coins are made, the substance chosen should be the best available in all the circumstances. That, as I hope to show the Committee quite shortly, is what we have done.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) asked if the Government had given as much attention to this subject as it deserved. I can assure him that we most certainly have and, since the Debate on Second Reading, when fears were expressed in all quarters of the House that perhaps we were using the wrong material, I have, at the request of my right hon. Friend, given a good deal of attention to this subject. I have been down to the Mint, I have discussed this matter with the Deputy Master there, Sir John Craig, and others, and we have gone into this matter as fully as possible.

12.15 p.m.

The reason why cupro-nickel has been chosen is that it is essential in our view to stop buying silver now. I hope I may carry the Committee with me because, as one hon. Member said, this is not a party issue. We have no stocks, and it would cost the Government about a million dollars a month to continue to buy silver. It would be a drain on our dollar resources which we want to avoid. In addition, as my right hon. Friend—and I think I also made the point—pointed out on Second Reading, there is a rising market for silver owing to the very large demand by industry for silver for commercial uses. If we compete with others, it means that the price may go up still further. In addition, we have under Lend-Lease received from the United States 88 million ounces of silver, and we undertook to repay that in the course of five years, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) knows, bar for bar. We cannot pay in goods, we have to pay in silver. Although it is true that they are not pressing us for repayment, it is an obligation which has been entered into, and we must, as a nation, honour our bond. Therefore, the sooner be begin to reclaim the silver in order to repay the United States, the better it will be.

So, in our search for a substitute for the silver part in our present coinage, we had to find a material which could be coined without delay. That is the whole core and substance of this matter. As I have said earlier, we have no objection to nickel; there is a great deal to be said for nickel and, other things being equal, we would be content to use it, but we had to find something that could be used without delay. We cannot use nickel because it would mean extensive re-equipment at the Mint; we would need new melting furnaces, new rolling mills, more up-to-date annealing furnaces, and we would also want—for reasons I will give in a minute—more powerful cutters for the discs.

The right hon. Member for North Leeds suggested that we might take from Germany the necessary rolling mills and the furnaces. I will confess that I have not gone into that but, supposing we did bring them over, we would not know where to put them. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Mint is a beautiful building to look at, but the equipment it contains is in some respects not modern. One day this nation will have to consider rebuilding its Mint, and I think it will have to use another site. Therefore, if we brought this equipment over, we would have to build on another site a place in which to put it and that would take time. Those are some of the insuperable objections to the use of nickel at this moment —we have not the equipment, it would take time to get the equipment, and it would take time to build premises to house it.

Another suggestion was that even if we cannot deal with the raw material ourselves, why should we not go to some commercial firm? The name of the firm has been mentioned, and there is no harm in my repeating it. It was suggested that we should get the Mond Nickel Co. to enter into a contract with the Government for the provision of the discs. I think that if the Committee consider this for a moment they will agree that that would not be satisfactory. I, naturally, have nothing against the firm. I know it only as a name. But it would be intolerable if a great nation should have to rely on a single private firm for the material in all its processes right up to the final stage. We should be in their hands for fineness, for thickness, and in every way for the finish of the metal, right up to the time when it went through the machine and had the dies pressed upon it. Therefore, we rejected the suggestion that we should go to that company. As a matter of fact, they would only produce the nickel, since I believe most of the processes would be done in the Birmingham area where there is one firm, and one firm alone, which would have to handle it. Nickel, as many hon. Members know, has what is called "work hardness" and flows reluctantly, even under extreme pressure. That means we should need new dies. We could not use the present dies, which are used on the silver alloy now being produced, and which can be used on cupro-nickel. It cannot be denied—although quite a number of statements from this Box have been challenged from the other side—that in hardness nickel is in a class apart. New dies with a lower "relief" would be needed, because of its hardness. If we used the present dies, coins would have to be a good deal thicker and less in diameter. Here I will join forces with the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). It would mean a great deal of inconvenience in regard to slot machines used by railway companies and others. Nothing has been said today about a change of design, but if we did embark on new dies that would be an opportunity to change the design. However, that would mean delay, and I think I have already indicated that delay would be impossible.

A great deal has been said by almost every speaker in favour of nickel as against cupro-nickel. The dog has been given a bad name and, apparently, there are few friends who are willing to speak up for it. Actually, cupro-nickel has a great deal to commend it. My hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins) read extracts from a letter in the provincial Press this morning which gave reasons why cupro-nickel is not so bad as it is painted. It was said the other day, when we debated the matter, that cupro-nickel was drab, dull, and yellowish in appearance. That is quite untrue. Hon. Members who go into the Library and see the coins placed in the glass case will agree that it is white, and as bright as nickel.

Mr. C. Williams

Can the hon. Gentleman give an absolute guarantee that in two, five, or 10 years, this metal will still possess that bright outlook?

Mr. Hall

It would be very difficult to give that guarantee, and I think the hon. Member will also realise that it would be useless if I gave it. How could I imple- ment the guarantee? These things are outside our control. The whole burden of my reply is to the effect that we are doing the best we can in the circumstances which face us. I will try to show that the fears about cupro-nickel which have been expressed in all parts of the House will not materialise. I had an excellent example a couple of days ago of how difficult it is to tell the difference between cupro-nickel and nickel. Someone had been to Switzerland and came back with a lot of coins. There were between 20 and 30 coins, and I was invited to pick out the pure nickel from the cupro-nickel. I tried, and in only one case did I pick out the nickel coin. We looked at the dates on the coins and found that quite a large number of them had been in circulation for the best part of 30 years.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

Were they of the same alloy?

Mr. Hall

Yes. Incidentally, the Master of the Mint was quite unable to differentiate any better than I was.

Mr. Nicholson

When the hon. Gentleman says the Master of the Mint, does he mean the Deputy Master?

Mr. Hall

The Deputy Master and the Superintendent saw these coins. We looked at them together, and the only way in which they could tell with certainty which were which, was by the use of a magnet. That goes to show that the fears which many people have felt and which have been voiced with such clarity and force in this Committee, may not materialise. In Ireland where they have the two coins used side by side, they find it difficult to know the difference. In fact they never trouble their heads about it. There is no truth in the suggestion that cupro-nickel is soft, and loses its shape. It does not do that any more than do other coins.

We have had no representation whatever from the Canadian Government on this matter. It is quite true that a letter appeared in "The Times". It was a very long letter but was not accurate in its facts. It was from the Agent-General for Ontario. I would ask the Committee to remember that he is not a Government official, but, if I may use the phrase without casting any reflection on him, he is perhaps the shop window for a Province in Canada. He probably thought he was doing the best he could for an industry, a very great industry which is to be found there. We must not put more emphasis or reliance on that letter than we should. I was surprised, and rather sorry, to see the following day that a noble Lord had also written a letter. Many of us remember his father in this House, not only the speeches he made but the very great literary quality and charm of his books. I deprecate that his son, without going into the matter, thought fit to write the letter to "The Times". The facts are entirely different. We have not been approached by the Canadian Government, and this is not an insult to Canada whom we are anxious to help, in any way we can.

12.30 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) said that cupro-nickel was only used for small coins. Without going into too great detail, I would point out that in Norway there is the krone, which is worth a shilling, in Costa Rica there is the dollar, worth 2s., and in the Argentine there is the 20 centavo, which is worth 10d. Therefore, it is not true to say that other nations have refused to use this alloy for coins of the higher denominations. There is a great deal more which I could say. Perhaps I ought to deal with what happened in India because more than one hon. Member has referred to that. There is no foundation for the statement that cupro-nickel coins were found to be unsatisfactory in India and were withdrawn. Those coins are still in circulation. What happened was what happened here in 1919. The coining of silver half and quarter rupees was suspended by the Indian Mint and, as a temporary expedient, eight anna and four anna pieces in cupro-nickel were issued instead. When the price of silver fell India decided to revert, but we in this country did not. We all understand and appreciate the action taken by Sir Austen Chamberlain after the last war when silver rose so high that its intrinsic value was greater than its face value. We did not however return to silver when the price fell, as India did. This Bill carries the matter a stage further for the reasons I have given.

Mr. C. Williams

The question of what happened in India is of considerable importance. Was the sole reason for going back to silver that silver became cheap? Has there been no other change in the coinage except back to silver from cupro-nickel?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Yes, but after all, what happens in India does not really affect our Debate here. We must take the thing on its merits and decide the matter in the light of the circumstances facing us. India went back to silver, and why not? Silver is a very pleasant material to use. We would like to use silver and there is no reason why we should not if times were different. India did not stop minting these coins because they could be easily counterfeited, nor because they were filthy or liable to become pitted. India decided to turn to other metals and she is now using those metals. These coins were not withdrawn and they are still in use along with the new ones. So far as the material is concerned, there is not a great deal in the suggestion that we are failing to support Canada by using cupro-nickel. The amount of pure nickel required if the coins were to be of that material is relatively very small compared with the output of the Mond Nickel Company. I cannot give the figures though I can assure the Committee that even if we changed over entirely to pure nickel, the percentage of the total output of the Mond Nickel Company which we would require would be negligible.

In reply to another point made by an hon. Gentleman opposite to the effect that if we used pure nickel it would form a useful reserve of that kind of metal for war purposes, I would point out that during the war much was made of this point in various parts of the world, but, there is not much in it. If we take the whole of our 1939 coinage in circulation as a basis, and if it was made of pure nickel, the amount of metal that could be recovered would be no more than 7,000 tons. I will not weary the Committee any longer. I have perhaps taken long enough in discussing this matter and there are a variety of Amendments on the Order Paper which deal with the point. I know the Committee feel rather disturbed at this change and that hon. Members have been impressed, either by letters in the Press or other means, with the suggestion that we should wait and use nickel. The point is that we cannot wait. Cupro-nickel will give us an excellent coinage. We can go over to nickel later if the views now expressed by me are incorrect. At present cupro-nickel is the only material that can be used. I hope the Committee will realise that and approve this Clause without Amendment.

Mr. Peake

I do not want to speak at any length on a second occasion upon this Amendment, but I must confess that I am very disappointed by the reply which we have just heard. In fact, the Minister has gone no further towards meeting us on this Amendment today than he was prepared to go at the end of the Second Reading Debate two days ago. The hon. Gentleman told us that he has visited the Mint since the Second Reading Debate and that he found the premises to be less satisfactory in many ways than he could have wished. I entirely agree with him. When I informed him earlier in this Debate that the necessary machinery and equipment for making nickel coins were available in Germany, I hardly expected that argument to be countered with the reply that there would be nowhere in which to instal these machines if they were acquired. Of course, the machines would be installed in place of those very antiquated machines which I have often seen at the Mint.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am sorry to interrupt. We have gone into that point, not in connection with machines coming from Germany, but when considering whether it was possible to instal machines supposing they were available. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it would be quite impossible in the space available and with the foundations of the buildings as they are to instal these machines, which are extremely heavy and which would need far more space than we could spare at the Royal Mint.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

"Britain can make it."

Mr. Peake

I am sure the hon. Gentleman has had the best available technical advice. I ask him, first of all, to inquire about the German machinery, of which I am prepared to give him particulars, and to see whether that machinery could be installed in the premises at the Mint. Further, I ask that if it proves to be impossible to instal that machinery in the Mint, he should consider acquiring some alternative premises in which to mint our coinage. The hon. Gentleman gives as his main reason for rejecting this Amendment that he and the Chancellor have to stop buying silver immediately. He tells us that we are spending one million dollars a month in order to maintain our silver coinage. If my arithmetic is accurate, one million dollars a month amounts to £3 million a year. Therefore, a delay for six months in order to procure the necessary machinery for minting pure nickel coins would involve us in an outlay of only £1,500,000. Surely, it is worth while considering an outlay of that character in order to secure a perfectly satisfactory coinage.

The hon. Gentleman said that the existing dies at the Mint could not be used for minting pure nickel coins. At the Mint they are continually replacing old dies with new dies. It is happening all the time. Dies wear out and their replacement is a continuous process. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Mint continually undertake the production of coins for other countries, whether inside or outside the Empire, and the cutting of new dies does not really present such insuperable difficulty as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

There has been some controversy as to the experience in India. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), one of the hon. Gentleman's supporters and a most respected Member of this Committee, said in the course of the Second Reading Debate: In India, some years ago, this alloy"— that is the cupro-nickel alloy— was introduced. There it was found to be very easy to counterfeit the coins. Consequently, those coins had to be withdrawn very shortly afterwards."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Tuesday, 15th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 825.] That is not a statement from this side of the Committee; it is a statement from one of the most respected hon. Members on the benches opposite and was never controverted at the end of the Second Reading Debate. Now the hon. Gentleman has some further information and says that in India they reverted to silver of their own volition. I hope I have not misunderstood him.

Mr. Glenvill Hall

When my hon. Friend spoke in the Second Reading Debate I was out of the Chamber getting the usual cup of tea, and that is why I did not take up the point when I replied.

Mr. Peake

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. This statement was made on good authority by the hon. Member for Wrexham, and it is perfectly clear that there is a dispute on the facts which has not yet been satisfactorily resolved Then we had the experience in Ireland cited in support of the Government's case —that a cupro-nickel sixpence has been circulating in Ireland for some years. I believe the Chancellor said that the inhabitants of that island do not readily distinguish between this coin and the ordinary coins, but the facts about Ireland are very interesting. Until 1928 they had a silver coinage, but in that year they adopted a pure nickel coinage in its place and, in 1942, as an emergency measure, they introduced a cupro-nickel alloy sixpence for the first time. It will be seen, therefore, that what the inhabitants of Eire have to do is to try to distinguish between a coin made of pure nickel, which is some 20 years old, and a coin made of this new alloy, cupro-nickel, in the proportion of 75 per cent. copper and 25 per cent. nickel, which is only two or three years old. The cupro-nickel coins in Eire are virtually new coins compared with the pure nickel coins which have been in circulation there for the last 18 or 20 years. Therefore, I must confess that I find the arguments adduced on behalf of the Government on this Amendment extremely weak and disappointing.

In winding up the Second Reading Debate, the hon. Gentleman said he would give us an assurance. I thought he was going to give us something very striking in the way of an assurance. What he actually said was: I have been asked if the Government will keep an open mind as to the metal to be used. I readily give this assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Tuesday, 15th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 842.] An assurance, if you please, to keep an open mind. If the headmaster at the annual school prize giving, in disposing of the prize for English composition, said, "I award the first prize to Jones Minor, but I keep an open mind as to whether Smith Major's composition was not the best," that would really be doing what the Government are doing. It is just as if the Speaker were declaring the result of a division, reading out the numbers and saying, "The Ayes have it" and adding, sotto voce, "but I keep an open mind."

12.45 p.m.

They stipulate in the main operative Clause that it shall be a cupro-nickel coin. A few months' delay would have enabled them to have a much better nickel coinage; and a little foresight, on the other hand, would have enabled them to foresee this situation and to have made a plan against it 12 months ago. They have known perfectly well all along that they were under this liability to restore 88 million ounces of silver to the United States. That has not been sprung upon them suddenly, and they know that when the President declares the war emergency to be over they will have another five years in which to hand that silver back.

Surely, they might have begun plan? for installing higher temperature furnaces and for cutting new dies at the Mint. They might have laid their plans for all that six months or a year ago. In that event, we should not be in the difficulty we find ourselves in at the present time. I confess that I am so disappointed with the reply of the Financial Secretary that I must advise my hon. Friends to take this matter to a Division.

Question put, "That the word 'cupro-nickel' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 152; Noes, 47.

Division No. 287.] AYES. [12.46 p.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Gibbins, J. Neal, H. (Claycross)
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. Goodrich, H. E. Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Noel-Buxton, Lady.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) Oliver, G. H.
Attewell, H. C. Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Orbach, M.
Austin, H. L. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Awbery, S. S. Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Paton, J (Norwich)
Ayles, W. H. Haire, Fit.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe) Pearson, A.
Balfour, A. Hale, Leslie Perrins, W.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley) Piratin, P.
Barstow, P. G. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Porter, G. (Leeds)
Barton, C. Haworth, J. Ranger, J.
Battley, J. R Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Reeves, J.
Bechervaise, A. E Hewitson, Capt. M. Royle, C.
Belcher, J. W. Hobson, C. R. Segal, Dr. S.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Holman, P. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Berry, H. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth) Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Simmons, C. J.
Bing, G. H. C. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Skeffington, A. M.
Binns, J. Hynd, J. D. (Attercliffe) Skeffington-Ledge, T. C.
Boardman, H. Irving, W. J. Skinnard, F. W.
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Jay, D. P. T. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Jeger, G. (Winchester) Snow, Capt. J. W.
Bramall, Major E. A. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley) Sparks, J. A.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Steele, T.
Brown, George (Belper) Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Key, C. W. Stubbs, A. E.
Chater, D. Kirby, B. V. Symonds, A. L.
Chetwynd, Capt. G. R. Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Clitherow, Dr. R. Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Collick, P. Longden, F. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G. McAdam, W. Thurtle, E.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) McEntee, V. La T. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Mack, J. D. Viant, S. P.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. McKay, J. (Wallsend) Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.) Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Macpherson, T. (Romford) Warbey, W. N.
Davies, Hadyn (St. Pancras, S.W.) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Diamond, J. Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Willey, D. G. (Cleveland)
Dobbie, W. Marquand, H. A. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Dumpleton, C. W. Medland, H. M. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Messer, F. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Edelman, M. Mitchison, Maj. G. R. Williamson, T.
Edwards, John (Blackburn) Montague, F. Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Moody, A. S. Yates, V. F.
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Morley, R.
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ewart, R. Moyle, A. Mr. Collindridge and
Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Naylor, T. E. Mr. Popplewell.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Nicholson, G.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Beechman, N. A. Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Peaks, Rt. Hon. O.
Bower, N. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C. Renton, D.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Howard, Hon. A. Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H. Savory, Prof. D. L.
Byers, Frank Linstead, H. N. Smithers, Sir W.
Carson, E. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Challen, C. MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Macdonald, Sir P. (Isle of Wight) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Darling, Sir W. Y. Mackeson, Brig. H. R. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Duthie, W. S. Maclay, Hon. J. S. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Eccles, D. M. Marlowe, A. A. H. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Erroll, F. J. Mellor, Sir J.
Fletcher, W. (Bury) Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fox, Sqn.-Ldr. Sir G. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Major Conant and Major Ramsay
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. Neven-Spence, Sir B.

Question put, and agreed to.

Mr. C. Williams

I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, to leave out "forty," and to insert "sixty."

It will be noticed by anyone who has taken the trouble to look—and I am sure every hon. Gentleman has, as well as every right hon. Gentleman, or some of them—that the main basis of this Clause, as stated in the marginal note, is: Cupro-nickel coins to be legal tender for payments up to forty shillings. We have been dealing with the first part of those words, and the point with which I wish to deal is whether 40s. is really the right amount to have as the maximum legal tender for payment by coin. That is the principal point of my Amendment. I raise this at the present time because it must be realised that in this country we have had the fixed sum of 40s. as legal tender for a very long while. I am not sure how long. It is like other things which have gone on for a long while. They are not necessarily good, and when dealing with figures of this kind they are not necessarily the right amounts. I raise the matter today because I realise very clearly that a matter of this kind, although not of vital importance to many of us, may possibly come to be of importance at any point in the life of any human being in this country—that is to say, the maximum amount we can pay in coinage.

It is a matter which has rarely been discussed in the House of Commons. I do not know how long it is since it has been discussed. I have no doubt the Financial Secretary will be able to tell me. What is the good of a House of Commons if on a matter which affects the ordinary, everyday life of the individual, when we have a chance in Committee, as we have today, of going into it, we cannot be allowed more than a minute or two to see whether, in fixing the figure of 40s., we are deciding something which is an approximately right amount for the maximum payment in coin which can be tendered legally? I have suggested the figure of "sixty" in lieu of the figure of "forty." If the Committee will do me the honour of accepting my Amendment, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury view my Amendment with approval— which, of course, undoubtedly they should do—then the amount which could be tendered in coinage for legal payment would, in future, be 60s. Quite frankly, I am not wedded to that figure in any way. If the Financial Secretary says, "Well, I am a bit of a Tory and I ought to go further, to, say, 65s. or 75s., and we will accept that sort of Amendment," I am perfectly willing to agree. However, I am not willing merely to accept the figure of 40s. simply because it has been there for a very long while, and because it is a revered sort of figure which we will not change when we get the chance. We have a chance to change it today.

1.0 p.m.

With those few, preliminary remarks, may I give one or two reasons why I think 40s. is not the best figure? Before I do that I would like to ask the Financial Secretary for how long 40s. has been the right legal payment, and if in drawing up this Bill, and before my Amendment was put down, the Treasury gave any consideration—as they ought to have, and as I believe they would have liked to have—to whether now might not be an appropriate moment to make a change more in keeping with the modern value of the purchasing power of money. As far as the 40s. is concerned, that has been in operation a long while. While not blaming any party or any Government during the time they have been in power, 40s. now has a lower purchasing power. When it was originally made 40s., it was, I admit, deemed a convenient amount of cash which might be handed over; and when the sum was above that amount, it was right and easier to pay it, presumably, in those days in either gold or notes. But, today, when we no longer have gold, and when 40s. is very much less in value than it was, I would suggest that this is an appropriate occasion when, from many points of view, we might allow a larger payment in cash to be legal, if accepted on both sides, rather than keep to this somewhat prehistoric figure.

Let us look at the matter of wages. It may or may not—generally speaking it would—be convenient to have wages paid in paper money, but I can conceive occasions, especially if we get to the time when we have a very large number of slot machines, when it might be much more convenient occasionally, not ordinarily—I am using my words very carefully on the matter—to have a larger sum paid in cash. There is another thing. I think that at the present time the Government are taking some interest in the tote and in betting. Here is a thing of which, I admit, I speak in complete ignorance, but I have no doubt that, at any rate, one of my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench can help me. Perhaps the sum of 40s. as legal tender, either from the tote or in ordinary booking circles, may be increased. I understand everyone pays 2s. into the tote and when it pays out it has to pay out in notes. Might it not be easier, in certain instances, for amounts up to 60s. to be paid out in coins? This is not a thing about which I know, but, at any rate, on the Front Bench opposite there are three highly placed betting men.

There is another point. One of the cases where payment in cash is most demanded at the present time is in the courts. There has been a tendency for fines to go up. If the Government are pushing up the fines in the courts, then, surely, they ought to be able to accept legal tender in their own coinage to a larger amount than 40s. That is one of the points I would emphasise. Here is another instance of why this sum of 40s. should go up. Think of the enormous amounts of increased taxation today. At every turn, wherever one goes in ordinary life, one can find an instance of where 40s. really represents very little as compared with what it did when originally the payment of 40s. in coins was made legal tender. These are only a few considerations as far as the actual 40s. is concerned, but I wish to make another point. We have been told that these "dirty Daltons" will help the Government in the urgent need to get silver back. They want it for repayment. If it were legal to pay a larger sum in silver in respect of taxes, would it not be an encouragement to the public to pay in silver? The Government would be able to hasten on the time of repayment tremendously if one could pay up to 60s. or 80s. in silver coinage. I am willing to meet the Government on the point of the higher figure. We would get the silver very much quicker than we shall by keeping the 40s. maximum as legal tender. It is, obviously a point which they must consider before they reject my Amendment. My suggestion is one which will help them to get enormous quantities of silver back quickly. They will have a real and hopeful way of getting their silver quicker, to pay it over under Lend-Lease; and that is the whole object of the Bill.

These are some of the reasons why, in moving this Amendment, as I do, I hope the Government will look at it. There is the point of view that 40s. is not necessarily the right figure, and that they could get their silver very much more quickly and be able to pay it out to America. I cannot find very much reference to the point of the legal tender having been discussed for a very long time, and for that reason I think it is the clear duty of the Committee to ask, and of the Government to inform us, why, on this occasion, the Government still keep the 40s. limit, as the right and ideal one for legal payment. Above everything else, I urge the Financial Secretary not to miss the chance—he and the Treasury may not have thought of it—of getting the money in more quickly, so that we can repay silver in bars to the Americans.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) in this matter. Earlier today we heard some observations about the amount of time taken up by Back Benchers discussing this important question, but I am one of those who believe that this is a most important question, and that it is basically one to which the Committee must give close consideration. I am one of those who have respect for money, and lack of respect for money is indicated by these empty Benches. When we had the Second Reading of this Bill I noticed that the whole time taken was two hours, 27 minutes, and that the Chancellor gave us only 14 minutes of his time. It is true the Financial Secretary has amply, in his way, made up for those disadvantages, but I would say we have not given anything like the intimate consideration to these many projects that we should. The Amendment deals with a matter which, I agree with my hon. Friend, doubtless has not been considered for at least half a century. It seems to me the time has now certainly come to review it.

We know the attitude of some Members of His Majesty's Government is that money is merely meaningless symbols, but a very different view is held by their very considerable following in the country. Money is not meaningless symbols to the wage earners and voters of this country.

This change of the figure of 40s. to 60s. is certainly one which arises very properly, for it is important. There is a preference in the public mind for metal tokens, and this gives the public an opportunity of exerting their preference more extensively. Rightly or wrongly, there is still a larger measure of confidence in in metal coinage than there is in paper money, and the increase of the token payment, of the legal tender payment, from 40s. to 60s., as proposed in the Amendment, would, in my opinion, march with the tendency generally in financial affairs. The hon. Member for Torquay gave many examples. I do not want to multiply them, but the Financial Secretary must be aware that the amount of token coinage required is greatly increased by certain enactments of the present Government. The normal price of commodities in earlier days was £2, or £2 10s., or £3, and so on. But now we find that owing to the incidence of Purchase Tax there are odd payments, such as £2 16s. 8d., or £1 14s. 10d., and the like. There is a greater variation in the standards of prices, and that would offer some justification for abandonment of this legal tender limit of 40s. At any rate, the Financial Secretary must justify the present sum, because such a change as is proposed needs consideration and, if reconsideration, justification. If 40s. was good enough half a century ago, is it good enough now? Great changes in our financial and social structure have left this figure unmoved. Are the Government determined at all costs to follow precedent? We heard a few days ago that they were not returned to follow precedent, but to repudiate it. I do not know whether the Financial Secretary accepts all the opinions of those behind him, but that view was, nevertheless, expressed and louldly applauded. I want to know whether the precedent of 40s. is to be maintained, and if so, why?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am sure that the Committee is indebted to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) and the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) for raising this matter. I fully realise why they have done it. They are desirous of taking this opportunity to help the public to greater facilities and wider limits when paying bills. But I am sorry that I must ask the Committee to reject the Amendment. This form of words is in the Bill because we must put cupro-nickel coins on exactly the same footing as silver alloy coins. The amount for which the present token coins is legal tender is 40s. That limit has been in existence since 1816, and this ground might be a reason why the amount should be looked at. However, the limit causes no inconvenience whatever to the public. It does not mean that they cannot tender more than 40s. in token coins if they so desire, and does not prevent a shopkeeper or anyone else from accepting a higher sum than 40s. in cupro-nickel or silver alloy coins. The wording of the Bill continues the existing arrangement. If we accepted the Amendment this is what would happen: If you had silver alloy coins in your pocket you could only legally tender them up to the value of 40s., but if you had cupro-nickel coins you would be able to tender them up to a value of 60s. That would be an absurdity. I think that the hon. Member for Torquay must have forgotten that the coins will look very much alike—

Mr. C. Williams


Mr. Hall

Indeed they will. That is our view, and time alone will prove it correct or not. The only way one will be able to tell a cupro-nickel coin from a silver alloy coin will be by the date. It would be the height of absurdity, in our view, if one set of coins, according to their date, were legal tender up to 60s., and the other were legal tender up to 40s. only. For that reason, if for no other, I must ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

The argument of the Financial Secretary is so completely hopeless, and can be so easily overcome, that I cannot let it go unanswered. What he said about the difficulty of having one set of coins of legal tender up to 40s and another set of legal tender up to 60s can be simply overcome by the means of a slight Amendment on the Report stage. It may be that I should have looked at this Amendment before from that point of view, but never have I heard from the Treasury the sort of argument which the hon. Gentleman has just put forward. They know, as well as the newest Member of the Committee knows, how easy it would be to amend this Clause if the Government wished to study the public convenience. If that is all they have to go on then they have no case for rejecting the Amendment. The Financial Secretary said that no one is prevented from paying, or being paid, more than 40s. Of course he is not; no one ever supposed that he was, least of all myself. It never entered into my mind that the hon. Gentleman would put forward such an argument. What it does mean is that you can refuse to accept more than 40s. as legal tender. I am not a lawyer, and I notice that, as usual, the lawyers, on this purely legal question, have completely neglected the Committee, although they have very little to do nowadays. Two dummy rabbits have been put up by the Financial Secretary, and I am bound to say that I have never heard anyone representing the Treasury put forward such an argument. I am sorry to take that point of view, but when we are discussing affairs concerning the people, and we get such flippant replies, I think it is a shame to take the House of Commons to that low level.

The Financial Secretary said that the present figure had been in existence since 1816. That is 130 years ago. During the whole of that time there has been no change, here we have a new Government pledged to put everything right, and with a chance to do something in that respect in this Bill. The Financial Secretary does not think that this is a convenient time for a change. I have heard that sort of thing from Front Benches before, and it usually means that the change will not be made for a long time. A little consideration by the Treasury, and other Departments, could have put this matter right. They need not have left it to the inspiration of a Private Member. We should not be tied to something that was done in 1816. From those points of view, the Government have hot treated this Amendment, which could affect every human being in the country, with the respect that it deserves. I regret that the Government have refused to accept the Amendment, and have not brought serious arguments to bear upon the matter.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. C. Williams

This is a fundamental Clause, but as we have had a discussion on the question of cupro-nickel and the exact amount for which the coins should be legal tender, we have already said much of what could be said on the Clause. I would, however, like to ask one or two questions. The Clause states: A tender of payment of money, if made in coins of cupro-nickel which have been issued by the Mint in accordance with the provisions of this Act, and have not been called in by any proclamation made in pursuance of the Coinage Act, 1870 (in this Act referred to as 'the Principal Act'), shall be legal tender…. The question I want to ask is whether there is any proportion of coins in existence today which have not been called in under that Act. Whether or not we are actually legislating on that matter, I am not sure, but I would like to know why the 1870 Act is the only Act that is brought in. We are largely without legal advice today on this very technical matter, and we are being asked to accept the 1870 Act as the grading principle in this Clause. For that reason I would like to have the information for which I have asked.

Although I do not accept the principle of this Clause, I must say that, if we have to leave silver, this Clause could have been, and would have been but for the obstinacy of the Government, much better than it is. There has been a lack of attention on the part of those who should have been here, the leading figures on the Government Front Bench. In saying that, I would like, however, to thank the Financial Secretary for his courtesy to me and to other hon. Members. It is unfortunate that this Clause, which could have been amended and made better, still goes as one of the principles in the Bill. It lays us open to a coinage which will be indifferent in character, a sad falling off from the old coinage, and one which will not be a credit to the Government or people of this country, or to the trade and industry of our community and Empire.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.