HC Deb 17 May 1966 vol 728 cc1105-7
20. Mr. J. H. Osborn

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has had from trade, commercial and industrial associations about the system of decimal currency to be adopted in this country; and whether he will reconsider the decision to adopt the £/cent in view of the complexities resulting from the circulation of a half cent piece.

Mr. Callaghan

I have received only two or three representations indicating a preference for a 10s. unit. The Government gave the fullest consideration to the arguments for the selection of different major units put forward to the Halsbury Committee and decided to retain the £.

Mr. Osborn

Would not the Chancellor agree that this decision means we shall have this awkward half cent piece, which will not fit in with the decimal currency system? Is it now too late to reconsider the decision? Is this the last word?

Mr. Callaghan

I think there was pretty general acceptance of the decision. I think the country was anxious that there should be a decision; and it would be unwelcome to a great many people if argument continued about the matter now because industry wants to get on and to plan ahead. I recognise that the half cent is a transitional deformity in the currency system, but we are devising a system which we hope will last for the next thousand years as the present system has lasted for a thousand years.

Mr. Lubbock

Does the Chancellor recognise that if he had chosen a 5s. cent all coins from 3d. upwards could have been retained and that this would have saved at least £40 million which could have been lopped off the conversion?

Mr. Callaghan

We looked at that. I cannot remember the reasons why we rejected it, although I am sure that they were jolly good ones.

Mr. Sheldon

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the divergence of opinion between the single unit cent and retaining the £ as it is is largely a divergence between the interests of the City and of industry? Would he not think of putting the situation of industry first in priorities and offering some encouragement that we might get this change introduced before 1971?

Mr. Callaghan

I am glad that my hon. Friend has asked that question because it enables me to say that the decision was not reached in the face of divergence of interest between the City and industry. Indeed, some of the organisations representing industry said that they were content to leave the decision with the Government because the argument was evenly balanced. We could have an academic discussion for a long time to come, but if, as my hon. Friend wants, the system is to be introduced as early as possible, I ask the House—the decision having been taken—that we should get on with it now.