HC Deb 25 April 1967 vol 745 cc1330-7

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


TO ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will give consideration to a site for the new Mint in Ulster before reaching a final decision upon where it is to be set up.

135. Mr. LUARD

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will now make a statement on the future location of the Royal Mint.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. James Callaghan)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. 133 and 135 together.

It is 12 years since the rebuilding of the Mint was announced. Since then output has trebled mainly for export, and capacity for minting the decimal coinage is now also required. The existing site cannot be developed economically for these purposes, and in accordance with the Government's dispersal policy a number of new sites have been examined in the development areas.

In the light of this examination the Government have decided that a new Royal Mint should be built at Llantrisant, in South Wales. Its first task will be to produce the new decimal coinage and a work force of about 400 to 500 will be recruited mainly from the surrounding areas. These workers will continue to be needed when the Royal Mint itself moves to Llantrisant, which will be by 1973 at the latest.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Is the Chancellor aware that the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland has risen to 9 per cent., due to his economic policies? Since he is not to site the Mint there, what other action is he to take to reduce this quite unacceptable level of unemployment?

Mr. Callaghan

Although many sites were examined, it would not have been regarded as economic to transfer coinage to and fro across the Irish Channel. The general policy was debated yesterday. There are many Government measures—and this is a further one—which are having and will have a considerable impact on the development areas.

Mr. Luard

I regret that the Chancellor has not thought the royal City of Oxford a suitable site for the Royal Mint. However, is he aware that there will be general satisfaction that he has decided to site this important institution in an area of high unemployment, a development area, such as South Wales? I hope that this is the forerunner of many other decisions to site more Government institutions outside London.

Mr. Callaghan

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. It is the Government's policy wherever possible to disperse Government work in this way. This decision has been taken at a time when we are pressing this policy on private employers and it would obviously not have been right for the Government to be exempt from the same pressures.

Mr. Lubbock

I approve the Government's decision to transfer the Royal Mint to another area. However, is not this the second public Department to be moved to South Wales in recent months? In taking the decision, did not the right hon. Gentleman consider siting the new Royal Mint plant in Scotland, instead of South Wales? What capital expenditure is expected, particularly on decimal currency, and how does the proposed opening date of 1973 fit the introduction of decimal currency in February, 1971?

Mr. Callaghan

The new Mint will be coping with decimal currency and I hope that that will be brought into operation by the end of 1968. The decimal currency will mount up there, and the functions of the Royal Mint will then be transferred after decimalisation by 1972, or, by the latest, 1973.

Many sites were looked at, but the Cabinet took this decision, on balance, on all the factors involved. To enumerate some—because it is important that these matters should be taken into account—they included accessibility to the existing Mint, the need to transfer coinage easily to the main centres of population, the views of the management, the reactions of the staff, the reports of the consultants, the suitability of the site. All these were factors which the Government as a whole took into account in reaching their decision.

Mr. Arthur Pearson

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his statement will gladden the hearts of the people in an area where, through rapid economic change, the deepest unemployment shadows lie and that their gratitude goes to those who, by their judgment and influence, have made possible this new siting of the Royal Mint? Will my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Much as I respect the hon. Gentleman, questions must be brief.

Mr. Pearson

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I will be brief.

Will my right hon. Friend say what measures are being taken to train the new personnel required? Will the Royal Air Force Station at St. Athan, where there are excellent facilities for this purpose, be used?

Mr. Callaghan

It is proposed to acquire training facilities. This morning I asked the workpeople at the Royal Mint—I think that the House would not object to my seeing the staff there this morning before I informed the House—for their full co-operation in the matter of training.

I must tell the House—I told the shop stewards and trade union officials and the staff side that I would say this—that the staff do not wish to move. The staff feel that their lives are being torn up by the roots. I think that this is a factor which must be taken into account, and I undertook to tell the House this.

I have tried to explain the basis of what I think is inter-party policy on the matter of dispersal. I have asked for the full co-operation of the staff in making the transfer a success. I fully believe that when the staff have reflected on the matter they will offer full cooperation in making training a success.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Could the Chancellor help the House with one point about staffing? He said that 400 to 500 people would be recruited locally. Quite apart from that, how many will move to the new area?

Mr. Callaghan

Initially, I should think that about 50 volunteers will be required out of the existing Royal Mint strength of 1,300. By 1973, about 20 percent. of the present staff of the Mint will have retired and, therefore, it will be possible to make up the new total at Llantrisant out of the 400 to 500 recruits who will be coming in.

Mr. W. Baxter

Is not this decision of the Government's a disgraceful one? If it is not a breach of the Act of Union, it is a breach of expectations, at the time of the Act of Union, that the Mint would remain in Scotland? As the town of Stirling is the source of the word "sterling" and as the original doorway of the Mint still exists in Stirling, I see no reason why this decision should have been made in the manner in which it has been made. The Mint should be in Scotland. There is no dubiety about that.

Mr. Callaghan

I would not wish to be a party to undoing the Act of Union. I have too great a respect for my Scottish colleagues for that. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not focus on this as the only example of decentralisation and dispersal or of taking new work to Scotland. I was delighted to read in the Scottish Press this morning of plans that one very great firm has for expansion on the East coast of Scotland. There will be many more.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Does the Chancellor realise that this decision, following upon the location of the Motor Vehicle Registration Office in Cardiff, of the Steel Corporation in London, of the Computer Centre in Manchester, and of the Forestry Commission in Basingstoke, is making many of us on this side wonder whether there is a Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet at all?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not carry the figure in my head, but I believe I am right in saying that over the last five years about £115 million has been made available to Scotland in relation to the provision of new jobs. This is going on at a very fast rate. The case for Scotland is very well put by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, continuously and regularly. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not have any difficulty in facing the hon. Gentleman over it.

Mr. James Griffiths

In reply to an earlier supplementary, my right hon. Friend mentioned the concern of the staff about the transfer. Will he bear in mind that 20 years ago it fell to me, a Welshman, to establish the central office of the Ministry of National Insurance on Tyneside. At that time there was concern amongst the staff about moving from London to Tyneside. Since then many have told me that they are very glad they went. Will my right hon. Friend assure the staff of the Royal Mint that they will have a very warm-hearted welcome when they come to Wales?

Mr. Callaghan

I will certainly convey that sentiment to the staff, although I have already been able to do so from my personal knowledge. What my right hon. Friend said about the Ministry of National Insurance—I hope that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) is listening to this—demonstrates that these decisions must be made on the overall merits of the case and on the balance of the argument as it arises.

Dame Irene Ward

What has happened to the North-East Coast? No one has mentioned it. Can we have a Secretary of State for the North-East Coast to put our point of view?

Mr. Callaghan

Alas, there are 630 Members but only one Mint.

Mr. Urwin

Although I am sure that my colleagues representing the Northern Region will join me in congratulating Wales on having secured this plum, I must draw attention to the claims of the Northern Region in such matters as this. With unemployment figures similar to those obtaining in Wales and Scotland, we feel that we have been very considerably left out in the decentralisation of Government Departments. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear very strongly and seriously in mind the claims of the Northern Region when any future decentralisation takes place.

Mr. Callaghan

Yes. While thanking my hon. Friend for the generous way in which he put what he said, I must assure him that a great many sites were considered. No area was excluded. More than 20 sites were separately considered. The decision was clearly a difficult one, because a good case can be made out for a great many areas. It was the Cabinet's job to take a decision on what it regarded as being the balance in this case. When there are future dispersals—I trust that there will be in due course—the merits of those cases will have to be looked at, also.

Mr. Tapsell

If I may put aside constituency considerations for a moment in what is essentially a national question, may I ask the Chancellor whether he will bear in mind that some of us, on reflection, may feel that a great national institution such as the Royal Mint really ought to remain in the capital city—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Even if the Cabinet refuses to accept that point of view, will the right hon. Gentleman at least ensure that what may be described as the showcase element of the Royal Mint remains in London?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not think that there is universal agreement, from what I can make out, with the proposition that the hon. Gentleman has advanced. I do not think that it is essential that the manufacture of coins should be carried out in London. There are, after all, two other capital cities, namely, Cardiff and Edin- burgh. Both of them, I have no doubt, would feel that they had claims to this institution.

As to its being a showcase, the Royal Mint gets a good many visitors and it will be delighted to receive them still. However, the staff are there to do a job of work. That is the main purpose. I have already had discussions with the Deputy Master. I want to see a Mint erected which is something of which we can all be proud. I hope that it will be of good architectural design. I do not think that it should be regarded as just another factory. I think that we ought to erect a building which the House will approve of, even if not unanimously.

Mr. Wilkins

If the House is now entering upon a Dutch auction in bidding for the siting of a new Royal Mint, may I ask the Chancellor whether he has considered the claims of South-West England, and particularly North Devon?

Mr. Callaghan

I can only repeat what I have said. We were guided by the advice of consultants, who had a free hand in looking at any site they wished to consider within a wide region. They came up with certain proposals, and out of those proposals the Cabinet had to make an invidious choice.

Sir G. Nabarro

The Government have selected South Wales, where unemployment is 4.1 per cent., compared with Scotland, where is is 3.9 per cent. or the North-East, where it is 3.9 per cent., but is not the real reason their knowledge that the run-down in the coal-mining industry will be far greater in South Wales than in any other mining area of Britain?

Mr. Callaghan

I have already indicated the considerations which led the Cabinet to take the decision they did. Clearly, the original proposal to send the Mint to a development area was related to employment prospects, but it would be wrong to assume that the decision was taken wholly on the question of the future of the coal industry.

Mr. Woodburn

As a Member for both the Stirling and Dollar areas, may I assure my right hon. Friend that we shall be satisfied that the money should be made in Wales if, when it is produced, more of it is directed to the development areas?

Mr. Callaghan

I shall bear that in mind.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Where will the Master of the Mint take up his duties?

Mr. Callaghan

The present Master took up his duties two and a half years ago, and he is due for trial on 4th May to see whether the coinage is still pure and perfect. I am awaiting the verdict with some anxiety.

Mr. Spriggs

Will my right hon. Friend inform the Government of Northern Ireland that no further assistance will be given to them until they stop all forms of discrimination and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. These are Questions about the Mint.

Sir C. Osborne

What will happen to the new Mint when Wales gets its independence?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that many hon. Members wish to ask questions about the Mint, but I must protect the business of the House.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter again at an early date.

Mr. Orme

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? Why was the question from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) ruled out of order, as one of the original Questions had been asked by the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham)?

Mr. Speaker

The fact that the original Question was asked by an hon. Member from Northern Ireland does not mean that all the political affairs of Northern Ireland can be discussed on a Question about the Mint. That is how it seems to me, anyhow.