§ Mr. G. Campbell
I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 36, at the end to insert:(a) to arrange urgently for research and experiments to be carried out in the handling of cash in the new currency and to make such recommendations as they consider appropriate as a result to the Treasury.We believe that this should be set out in the Bill as an urgent task of the Decimal Currency Board. There were discussions about this in Committee, and my hon. Friends and I were astonished at the statement by the Financial Secretary, at col. 26, that nothing further had been done about this matter since the Halsbury Committee reported about four years earlier. There had been no experiments in the handling of cash in typical situations such as in shops, on public transport, and elsewhere, during peak periods.
One of the matters which we feel ought now to be given urgent consideration, and should have been looked into earlier, is the question of giving and receiving change, especially during the transitional period, which is expected to last for about two years, when two currencies, both the old and the new, are to be circulated. We regret that during the last four years the Government have not arranged for experiments to be carried out in life-like conditions, because I believe that this could have influenced the decision which the Government took on the adoption of a decimal system.
In Committee, the Financial Secretary indicated that this would be a task of the Decimal Currency Board. I believe that this is clearly urgent, and should be written into the Bill. For this reason we propose that it should be paragraph (a) in the functions of the Board, so that its importance and urgency is underlined. The present paragraph (e) does not make clear that this job should be done by the Board, and done with a high priority. As the Minister said in Committee that this would be a task for the Board, I hope that the Government will have no difficulty in accepting the Amendment, or, if they do not like the wording of it, in putting in similar wording of their own.
§ Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)
The Amendment concerns the handling of cash, and although there 1872 are many points about it which should be made I propose to make only one.
The present and proposed cupro-nickel coinage is much too heavy, and decimalisation offers us our only chance of lightening it. I think that we all agree that our present coinage is too heavy. Anyone who has tendered a £1 note at an Underground station and received 19s. in cupro-nickel change will agree with that. It is five times as heavy as it was in the nineteenth century in terms of weight for purchasing power, and it is by far the heaviest major currency today. Between 20,000 and 30,000 tons of cupronickel coinage is in issue, all of it being carried about by hand in small lots all the time, and it ties up more than £10 million worth of valuable metal into the bargain.
Whatever decimal system we finally choose, all—not some—of our coins must be changed so that the current value shall appear on them. All that 20,000 to 30,000 tons of coinage will have to he reminted. Therefore, now is the time to make the new cupro-nickel coinage lighter—
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are not on the new coinage at the moment. The Amendment asks for research into the handling of decimal currency.
§ Mr. Smith
I feel that one of the major aspects of coin handling is the weight of the coins to be handled, its effect on their transport, and so forth. Lord Halsbury did not deal with this point. He considered not the weight, but the diameter of the existing cupro-nickel coinage and concluded—and I agree with him—that we cannot alter the diameter of the shilling and the florin because of the enormous cost of altering gas and electricity meters. Those machines work off diameter, and I suggest that we should lighten the coinage by reducing its thickness. Our present coinage is—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With respect, I know the hon. Member's knowledge of financial matters, but this Amendment asks that we should have research into and experiment with the handling of coinage. It is not an Amendment for the reform of the coinage.
§ Mr. Smith
I cannot help feeling that the prime aspect in handling coins must 1873 be connected with their bulk and substance, but if the Amendment is directed to some other aspect that I cannot at the moment perceive I will conclude by saying that the difficulties connected with lightening our coinage by making it thinner are all to do with machines. Making it thinner would not suit the machines that mint the coins, or the machines for weighing coins at the banks, or the machines into which we put coins in order to obtain services or goods. It is no good saying to us that we must live with these coins, in order to suit the machines. The new coins must be made to live with us. To do that satisfactorily they must be made lighter, and now is the only chance in our lifetime of bringing that about.
§ Mr. MacDermot
The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) has raised a matter on which he spoke at rather more length in Committee. With great respect to him, I do not think that the kind of research for which I understand the Amendment asks is directed to the problem which he has in mind, because, as is made clear in the opening words of Clause 5, the functions of the Board will be… to facilitate the transition from the existing currency and coinage to the new currency and coinage provided for by this Act …and for better or worse we are providing for the size, dimensions and weight of the various coins.
The purpose of the Amendment is to have research and experiments carried out in connection with what will be very considerable handling problems for those who have to handle large amounts of cash during the transition period. We discussed the kind of problem in Committee. There is the problem faced by the bus conductor who will operate, to start with, with our existing currency, and later with the decimal currency. He will have his fares tendering money in different currencies. What is he to do? How is one to convert from one to the other? What form of change will he give? There is the physical problem of how he will keep coins, and where.
Those are the sort of problems with which the transport authorities will be concerned, and there will be other 1874 problems for retailers. It is this kind of thing into which the Amendment suggests more investigation should be made.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) criticised us because we had not done this already, but, as I explained in Committee, we felt that the Halsbury Committee had itself carried out sufficient investigations into these problems to assist it, as much as was needed for the question which it had to decide and which now the Government have had to decide, namely, what is the best system to choose, what kind of currency.
The problems which this Amendment raises are, we consider, properly problems for the preparatory stage, the stage from the passing of the Bill till the actual time of decimalisation, and it is for that that we have set up the Decimal Currency Board. The Amendment proposes that we write into the Bill that the Board should carry out this research. I can only advise the House that we consider this wholly unnecessary. The present wording of Clause 5, both the opening words which I have already quoted, and subsection (1,e), are quite wide enough to empower the Board to do this.
The Board is, of course, intending to do it, and indeed, I can assure the House that this particular problem has been raised already by the Retail Decimal Committee with the Board. A reply was sent on 22nd May by the secretary to the Board telling that Committee that the Board realised the importance of doing research into cash handling problems of the changeover. It is giving careful thought already to the timing of the coinage changes and to doing this research. It will want to work very closely with the trade associations and the Retail Decimal Committee and has invited their co-operation on it.
I hope that that will be sufficient to assure the House that this matter is well in hand. The Board is thoroughly seized of it. With this assurance, I hope, the hon. Gentleman will agree that it will not be necessary for him to press his Amendment.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
Very briefly, I would say first to my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) that we 1875 intended through this Amendment that weight, which is one of the many factors which might arise, should be one on which the Board could report and, we hope, make recommendations. Whether the Government will take any notice of those recommendations is another matter.
The Financial Secretary is right in thinking that the main intention of the Amendment was that experiments should be carried out into the cash handling problems which will arise, particularly during the period when two currencies are circulating together, and when there will be no fewer than six new coins, as there will be by that time, in the new currency. We can foresee that there will be really difficult problems to be solved, and at rush hours there could be exasperation unless this is regulated and thought out beforehand.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not commented on the question of recommendations, because we believe that the Board, in looking into this, could probably make useful recommendations as it goes along.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I am sorry I omitted to deal with that matter. There will be a duty on the Board to make an annual report, but that will not stop the Board from making recommendations from time to time, and I would expect those to be made public.
§ Mr. Campbell
That is a further assurance which the hon. and learned Gentleman has given.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Halsbury Committee and the research which was carried out for that Committee, but that was only a limited amount of research needed for the purposes which the Committee had. There was no question of the research and experiments carried out by that Committee covering the very wide range of situations which will occur in every day life all over the country. We have, in this Amendment, drawn attention to the urgent need for this task to be carried out. The Government have given an assurance that this is already covered in the Bill. We would much have preferred to have had it clearly written into the Bill, because that would have carried out what the Minister said in Committee, 1876 but, in view of what the Financial Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 4, line 12, at the end to insert:'and in particular to capital expenditure incurred by any person carrying on a business in Great Britain in providing any new coin-operated machinery or coin-operated plant for use in Great Britain in which one shilling or two shilling coins are used'.In Clause 5(1,d) the Bill refers to the circumstances in which compensation might be payable. The Government have been extraordinarily vague about how and when compensation might be paid to people who are disadvantaged by the conversion to decimal currency. In the White Paper the Government say that the principle of compensation is not acceptable and that it might militate against an efficient and economical change-over. I will turn to that sentence in a minute.
One cannot defend that proposition in a case in which a particular industry is liable to face very serious costs, out of all proportion to those which will fall on the rest of industry or the consuming public as a result of the conversion to decimalisation. I refer to the coin-operated machine industry, in respect of which there is a special case which the Government ought to take into consideration.
Lord Halsbury estimated that by 1970 it would cost £21 million to convert all the coin-operated machines in this country, but since then the estimates have been revised. In representations which were submitted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which the Financial Secretary will remember were discussed with him at a meeting at which I was present, the Automatic Vending Machine Association said that, according to its present estimates, to convert the automatic vending machines would cost double the estimate in Lord Halsbury's Report, which means about £13.2 million. This is a very large sum indeed to fall on a section of the community which has not the resources to enable it to meet that bill.
I have no particular brief for the vending machine operators, and do not represent them in this matter at all, but I think 1877 that in equity they have a case which deserves consideration by the House, notwithstanding that, as I said earlier, there may be some truth in the proposition set out in the White Paper that compensation as a general principle might militate against an efficient and economical change-over.
What I understand by that phrase is that if we were to tell industry generally that it would be paid the full amount of the cost of the change-over, it would take no steps to minimise that cost, and when the time came there would be a very heavy bill to be met by the taxpayer. That is a situation which I wish to avoid, just as much as does the Chancellor.
If the Chancellor looks at the Amendment he will see that I have restricted the compensation which I should like the Decimal Currency Board to consider to machines handling 1s. and 2s. pieces.
I have done that for the obvious reason that those coins would convert exactly in weight and dimensions to the new 5d. and 10d. piece so that clearly it would be of very great advantage if one persuaded any manufacturer selling goods through coin-operated machines to alter his packaging at this stage. For example, if he were selling chocolates, cigarettes or other articles through this medium, they could be sold in units of 1s. and 2s. and then, after the change-over, there would be no alteration in the mechanism but the new 5d. and 10d. pieces would be used in the same machinery. In that event, the total cost to the economy of manufacturing coin-operated vending machines over the transitional period would be very much less.
I wanted to suggest a much simpler means than that of asking the Decimal Currency Board to make recommendations. Had it been possible I should have suggested that investment grants should be paid on all such machines which are manufactured between now and D-day in 1971. Unfortunately, I could not do that, because I was advised that an Amendment to that effect would be outside the terms of the Money Resolution.
So I am making the alternative a much weaker proposition, that the Decimal Currency Board should be required to consider as a special case meriting, attention, quite apart from any others 1878 which hon. Members may suggest, the group of manufacturers and operators of coin-operated machines. I hope that I have demonstrated that there is a case in equity to treat the operators of these machines rather differently from the general run of people affected by the change-over. Accounting machine operators, for example, will, no doubt, benefit from new orders received. I am not concerned about them receiving compensation, as I am in this case, for a variety of reasons into which I could go if there were time.
In the period of transition, while denominations are being altered, there will be a loss of sales to the owners. I suggest quite seriously that these people are in a special position which merits compensation and, therefore, I have put in my Amendment an injunction to the Decimal Currency Board to consider them on their own.
I would like the Financial Secretary to deal with this sympathetically and say whether the Government might be prepared to accept my other alternative of offering investment grants to those who instal such machines between now and 1971. That will be even simpler than asking the Decimal Currency Board to consider it. I am sure that the House will agree that a good case has been made out for this.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I should like to support the Amendment which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has moved. I have had the advantage of reading the submissions made by the Automatic Vending Machine Association of Great Britain to the Decimal Currency Board in its claim to be regarded as a special case.
From the discussion we had in Committee on compensation generally—and perhaps we will come to this on the next Amendment—it was far from clear whether owners and operators of coin-operated machines were to be regarded as the sort of special case which fell within the Clause of the Bill which enjoins the Board to make recommendations about compensation. Having read the submissions, I find them very telling and I feel that they require special treatment.
It seems that these owners and operators stand to gain precisely nothing out of the decimal currency change. They 1879 will have to operate their machines, which sell a wide variety of products, with a much less flexible system than at present and this will place them in a difficulty. They will also be in extreme difficulty when the two systems are operating in parallel and every machine will have to operate on one system or the other. The availability of coinage in the customers' pockets will substantially curtail their sales. This is not the sort of case the Government had in mind, it appears, when they drafted the provision.
I am attracted by the solution suggested by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). Instead of just shelling out money to the owners and operators in an attempt to deal with the costs that they will incur as a result of this change, it is an attractive idea to encourage the manufacturers of these machines to provide new machines more rapidly—by the provision of investments grants or a system equivalent to such grants—than would otherwise be done.
When we debated the industrial development legislation it was claimed by Board of Trade Ministers that the system proposed by the Government would be more flexible and would allow the grant system to support other measures of Government policy more closely than did the old system of investment allowances, the old system being allied to the tax system. We are now discussing such a case. The Government are anxious to press ahead with decimalisation, which is the right thing to do, but they are adopting a system which will impose considerable difficulties on the owners and operators of coin operated machines.
These people do not appear to come within the compensation provisions of the Bill, and the Amendment would seem to offer an ingenious solution for easing the problems that will face the industry and operators.
§ Mr. MacDermot
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) raised, somewhat generally, the question of compensation and then dealt with it more specifically in relation to the machines referred to in the Amendment. On the general question, I have nothing to say beyond what has already been stated as Government policy in the White Paper, namely, that it is our view that, in general, 1880 those organisations which will have to incur substantial change-over costs are, in the main, those which will stand to benefit most in the long run from the change-over to decimalisation. Compensation as a general principle is, therefore, not acceptable, and we have made it clear that we would not entertain a claim for general compensation.
However, we have set up the Decimal Currency Board in order to have an impartial body which will look into all these questions. One question which we are particularly asking the Board to look into is that of claims for compensation. We invite people who consider that they have a special case to say why they, contrary to the general principle, should receive compensation and that, in the first instance, they should make out that case to the Board.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was careful to include among the membership of the Board people who would be able, from their experience, fully to understand and judge the technical problems which will undoubtedly arise in these submissions. It will then be for the Board to make its recommendations to the Government about whether compensation should be paid in any of these cases and, if so, of what nature and on what basis. Of course, the Government will not be bound by the recommendations of the Board. It will be for the Government then to decide what action should be taken; and this is probably a matter which would be brought forward in the second Decimal Currency Bill which, as has been made clear, will have to be brought before Parliament before decimalisation itself.
It would, therefore, be wrong for me to try to prejudge or comment on the case of vending machine manufacturers. Indeed, it is not for me to prejudge the issue at all. The hon. Member for Wan-stead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) said that he had seen their submission and had been impressed by it. I know the general nature of their case, because I had the pleasure of receiving a deputation from them. As I told them, it is to the Decimal Currency Board that they must make their case.
The Amendment proposes a more specific area of compensation—that of persons providing any new coin-operated machinery or plant in which 1s. or 2s. 1881 coins are used. I confess that until I heard the hon. Member's explanation of his Amendment I was bewildered by it because, as he pointed out, these are the two coins which will be the psychological anchors as they will have the exact equivalent and be coins of exactly the same size and form as those which machines in use today will take, the 5 cent or a 10 cent coin.
The hon. Member said that every encouragement should be given to the manufacture of 5 cent and 10 cent machines and people should be encouraged to buy them because of the saving which would be produced later. As he said, there is already an in-built inducement. Because of this advantage, anyone contemplating buying a coin-operated machine obviously, other things being equal, will be led to buy a machine which operates on a 1s. or a 2s. coin. There would not seem to be a particular reason for a particular incentive of that kind.
The hon. Member said that he would like the Government to consider investment grants in relation to this. Of course, manufacturers of the machines will
§ qualify for investment grant in relation to their capital plant to manufacture the machines. He is urging, I understand, that manufacturers who buy the machines to instal them in works' canteens or for welfare purposes for the staff, should qualify for investment grant. I shall draw the suggestion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, but I think this would create too great an inroad into the principles on which investment grants are given for my right hon. Friend to entertain that proposal.
§ I do not think that any action is called for by the Government in terms of making special assistance of that kind available. If there is a case to be made for compensation, the procedure is for it to be made to the Board. The Government will then consider what recommendations they receive with the benefit of the expert advice of the Board. For this reason, I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 18, Noes 136.1883
|Division No. 383.]||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||McMaster, Stanley||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Bessell, Peter||Montgomery, Fergus||Teeling, Sir William|
|Cooke, Robert||Nott, John||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Farr, John||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||Russell, Sir Ronald||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Longden, Gilbert||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Mr. Eric Lubbock and|
|Mr. Richard Wainwright|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Archer, Peter||Delargy, Hugh||Haseldine, Norman|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dempsey, James||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Hooley, Frank|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Dobson, Ray||Horner, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Bennett, James (G' gow, Bridgeton)||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Howie, W.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Eadie, Alex||Hoy, James|
|Blackburn, F.||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Huckfield, L.|
|Boardman, H.||Ellis, John||Hynd, John|
|Booth, Albert||English, Michael||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Brooks, Edwin||Fernyhough, E.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (C'gow, Provan)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lestor, Miss Joan|
|Cant, R. B.||Foley, Maurice||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Carmichael. Neil||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Ford, Ben||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)|
|Coleman, Donald||Forrester, John||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Fowler, Gerry||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Conlan, Bernard||Freeson, Reginald||MacColl, James|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Gardner, Tony||MacDermot, Niall|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Gourlay, Harry||Macgonald, A. H.|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||McGuire, Michael|
|Dalyell, Tam||Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hannan, William||Maclennan, Robert|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Harper, Joseph||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)|
|McNamara, J. Kevin||O'Malley, Brian||Urwin, T. W.|
|MacPherson, Malcolm||Oswald, Thomas||Varley, Eric G.|
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Wainwright Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Palmer, Arthur||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Manuel, Archie||Park, Trevor||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Marquand, David||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Wallace, George|
|Mason, Roy||Pentland, Norman||Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)|
|Mendelson, J. J.||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Millan, Bruce||Price, William (Rugby)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Miller, Dr. M. S.||Rhodes, Geoffrey||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Short, Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Woof, Robert|
|Moyle, Roland||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)||Yates, Victor|
|Neat, Harold||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Newens, Stan||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Norwood, Christopher||Slater, Joseph||Mr. Ioan L. Evans and|
|Oakes, Gordon||Small, William||Mr. Neil McBride.|
|Ogden, Eric||Swain, Thomas|
§ Mr. G. Campbell
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 4, line 12, at the end to insert:'and to make such recommendations as the Board consider necessary and appropriate in regard to compensation'.The Amendment seeks to deal with similar problems to those described in the discussion on the last Amendment, but in a wider context. Paragraph 65 of the White Paper makes it clear thatIn the Government's view those organisations which will have to incur substantial change-over costs are in the main those which stand to benefit most from the change in the long run.Many of us do not think that this proposition is correct. Even though it is qualified by the words "in the main", we can already identify at least one large group which is unlikely to benefit at all from decimalisation and which will run into considerable costs. This is the vending machine industry, where the costs of the change-over are estimated at about £10 million. The manufacturers will be involved in the costs of converting or scrapping and of other action. The Government have said that the manufacturers may get extra business out of the changeover and that this would offset any costs incurred. Extra business is unlikely completely to offset the costs incurred.
There is also the position of vending machine owners and operators. No one can see what benefit they will receive from decimalisation, yet they will incur considerable costs in the change-over. As there is this category which is not covered by the statement in the White Paper, there may well be others. Paragraph 65 says that the Government do not accept the principle of compensation, but the Government have given the Board 1884 the task of receiving representations in special circumstances. The Government have not properly understood the size of the problem if they think that there will be merely some special circumstances in which representations may be made.
We propose that the Board should be able to make recommendations on the subject from time to time. As the Bill is now drafted, all that the Board is expected to do is to make an annual report. In our view, it should be clearly stated in the Bill that the Decimal Currency Board, having heard representations about compensation, should be able to make recommendations to the Government on the matter. All that the Government have said in paragraph 65 of their White Paper, which seems to be the beginning and end of their ideas on the subject at present, is that they do not accept compensation in principle and believe that most of those concerned in the change-over will benefit in the long run. In fact, there is at least one important group which is an exception to that expectation, and there may well be others.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I support the Amendment, more particularly in relation to the small trader. I have had complaints from small traders in my constituency, and they have been backed up by the chamber of commerce. They have written to me saying that, already, people are thinking about altering their cash registers against the day of decimalisation. One enterprising company has gone round to small traders saying, "We will alter your cash register for £35 now, or £42 in 1971". That may not seem a lot of money, but for a small tobacconist, whose profits are probably 1885 only about £10 a week, it is quite a sum to pay. I have been asked who is to pay for these alterations to business machines and cash registers.
I took the matter up with Lord Haisbury and he pointed out that compensation was not a matter which the Government had referred to his Committee. I then wrote to the Decimal Currency Board, which, in a full and thoughtful letter, pointed out that it was not expected that the Government would give any compensation except in exceptional cases, which, of course, might or might not cover vending machines and cash registers.
Further thought should be given to the position of small traders and business men. This Amendment should be made for their sake, if for no other. In a small shop, there may be a couple of cash registers costing £70 or £80 to convert. What is to be the benefit out of it? Will it be sufficient for small traders who have to meet costs of this kind?
§ Mr. MacDermot
The general question of compensation, which is raised more directly by this Amendment, was raised by a side-wind in our discussion of Amendment No. 6. I stated the Government's view then, and I shall not repeat it now.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) raised the specific case of retailers and small traders who have machines and who may want to consider converting them at a fairly early date. I understand that the Decimal Currency Board will be discussing with the companies which specialise in this kind of machine conversion the problems involved in that connection and that it will, no doubt, discuss also the question of what are appropriate charges to be made for such conversion.
One of the things that minded us to set up a Decimal Currency Board at such an early stage is that we learnt from the Australian experience the great advantage of a long preparation period precisely on questions such as these. In Australia, the cost of machine conversion proved in practice to be far less than had been feared and expected when the decision for decimalisation was made. It is on that sort of practical issue, apart from 1886 other questions, that we think that the Decimal Currency Board will have a useful role to play.
Sir William Fiske, the Chairman of the Board, and the Secretary will be going to New Zealand to watch the conversion as it takes place there, and we also hope to benefit from their experience.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Could the Financial Secretary say at this stage that it is probably not advisable for small traders to accept the offer of £35 for the conversion?
§ Mr. MacDermot
I would prefer traders to ask the advice of the Decimal Currency Board on that. It would be better able to give them useful advice.
The Amendment asks us to write into the Bill a requirement that the Board should make such recommendations about compensation as it considers necessary and proper. It is the intention that the Board will make recommendations having considered all the representations made to it. I would go further than the Amendment and say that we contemplate that those recommendations will be made publicly. This is not a matter on which there should be any secrecy. Then the Government will have to come to their decision on the recommendations and in due course bring legislation before the House. This will be fully open to debate by the House, which will have the benefit of the recommendations and reports of the Board.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we do not envisage the Board being confined to its annual report to make recommendations. It will be an important executive body. Action will flow from its work and it is important that that action should in some cases be acted on quickly, so that it will be very free to act as it thinks necessary and make its recommendations and reports as and when it wants.
There is a particular reason for not writing this provision into the Bill. There are matters other than compensation on which the Board would also make recommendations and reports, and in accordance with general drafting principles it is not right to write in a requirement in relation to one because a doubt is raised as to whether the Board can or should make recommendations on the other matters.
1887 In our view, its general functions as described in the opening words of Clause 5, which I have already read to the House, are quite wide enough and apt to imply that it will take whatever action is appropriate in particular cases, including the action of making recommendations, and making them public. In view of that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel it necessary to press the Amendment.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
The Financial Secretary has agreed that the Decimal Currency Board should, and is expected to make, recommendations on this subject. In the short paragraph 65 of the White Paper it is stated that the Government will consider any recommendations the Board may care to make on compensation.
The beginning of Clause 5, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just referred, describing the functions of the Board in general, says nothing about making recommendations. I cannot understand why the Government should not accept the Amendment, which so clearly sets out what they intend. If the Financial Secretary cannot do it to the small paragraph, at least he could have made a general paragraph about recommendations referring to all the points on which, as he says, the Board will be expected to make recommendations.
I cannot understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman should ignore this opportunity, on the last Amendment on Report, to accept the only Amendment which the Government would have accepted throughout the whole of the Bill's passage through this House.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have gone over the Amendments to the Bill so fully that I am certain that no hon. Member will want to go over them again. I have found our discussions to have an intellectual fascination about them which is lacking in some legislation. One can argue endlessly about problems of this kind and whatever answers there have been to questions have only thrown up other problems.
However, the Bill is now reaching finality in this House and, however many 1888 dissentient voices there may be about the choice of system, I am sure that everyone will now be concerned to co-operate in making a success of what will undoubtedly prove to be a historic decision for this country.
The main limelight will now fall on the Decimal Currency Board, which will have a very big job of work to do between now and D-day in helping us to prepare for the change of decimalisation.
§ 11.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
This is the same Bill, without a comma altered, which was ordered to be printed by the House of Commons on 1st March. We expressed the view of the overwhelming majority of the Tory Party then and, as it is the same Bill, I do not propose that we should divide the House tonight. I will keep my remarks to a span of about two minutes.
I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but I read with fascination the excellent debates there. The Financial Secretary was unfailingly courteous and well informed and although, on this side of the House, we are to some extent unorganised, perhaps I may congratulate him; I thought that he did it excellently.
Talking of being organised and unorganized, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I had a short brush earlier. I have looked up the figures since then and I offer him my congratulations—in a slightly different sense—on getting more than 250 of his supporters into the Lobby.
The Bill now goes to another place. My hon. Friend the Member for Wan-stead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), to whose assiduity I again pay tribute, made some comment about what might happen there. I do not presume to suggest what another place should do. No doubt it will study the voting on the different Amendments and the different levels attached to them.
However, I am bound to say that the discussions which we have been having towards the end have centred on the question of the half-cent in the Government plan, the absence of one in the 10s. plan, and the halfpenny equivalent. The Government said in Committee more than once that if they were convinced by argument in favour of the halfpenny equivalent, they would want to look again at the main unit, and I am sure that that was right.
1889 I regard the addition of a fraction as a bigger disadvantage than the gain of a halfpenny equivalent, but I have no doubt that if the halfpenny equivalent had to come, it should have come on top of the 10s. cent system. I suspect that I am almost getting out of order, because that is not in the Bill, and I will rapidly move away from that. I am very sad about it, because I am convinced that we are making a mistake, but I will not labour that. I have made my view clear on Second Reading.
I return to a more pleasant note. I am glad that we intend to decimalise. I am sure that the system in the Bill will be a vast improvement on the one that we have now. £ s. d. will go, future generations of school children will be delighted, and so will many people in industry and business, after we have got over the teething troubles. I believe that we have not picked the best system, but at least we are making an advance from the one we have now.
I leave the Bill with an expression of regret that it is nothing like as good a Bill as it could have been, if only the Chancellor of the Exchequer had listened to what has been put before him.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Lubbock
As one who has always advocated a decimal currency, this is rather a sad day for me. Like the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), I think that it is a great pity that, in moving forward to a decimal currency, the Government have not had the sense to listen to the many arguments adduced in favour of an alternative system.
They are arguments which have taken place not only in the House, but among consumer interests, the general public, and among the traders about whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer is so scathing but who probably know a good deal more than he does about the facts of every-day life and about the great nuisance this system will be in terms of handling currency in the 80 million transactions which take place every week in shops, on buses, and elsewhere. It is not appreciated how great the mistake which the Chancellor is making will appear to the general public.
As I say, I have been a staunch advocate of conversion to a decimal cur- 1890 rency for many years. I said as much in my election address at the time of the 1962 by-election, much to the discomfort of my agent, who said that it would not attract many votes. However, the Government have made a mistake in the way in which they have introduced it, and it is a great pity that they have been impervious to the arguments from well-informed sources outside the House which have said, practically unanimously, that the 10s.-cent system is vastly to be preferred to that which the Government have adopted in this Bill and which is in course of being approved without the alteration of one dot or comma.
That is a good indication of how ready the Government are to listen to sensible arguments put forward from either side of the House, because this is not a party matter. Many of the strongest pleas for some alternative system have come from the Government side.
There is now a huge job to be done in educating the general public between now and the day of conversion in 1971, and we have not yet started on it. In our schools, we are still using old arithmetic books in which there is heavy concentration on sums in £ s. d., which will be useless to our children by the time they leave school. By the time my 13-year-old son leaves school we shall be using decimal currency, yet he spends hours of useless work on tasks such as multiplying £3 17s. 11½d. by five. That is the kind of matter to which we shall have to address ourselves if the country is to benefit from the system now proposed, which is at least a good deal more readily comprehensible than the extraordinary system of currency which we have had for many centuries.
One benefit which it has is that, even with the half which the Government obstinately insist on keeping, it is that much easier to understand. It will be of great benefit in our educational system and in the handling of coins, in spite of the defects to which I have referred.
One other matter to which I must refer is the way in which back benchers opposite, in spite of their natural conviction that the 10s.-cent system is to be preferred to that which has been adopted, have trooped sheepishly into the Division Lobby in favour of the Chancellor's proposals. I do not want to go back to 1891 the argument about whether there was a two-line Whip, or a three-line Whip during the various stages of the Bill, but I say to the Chancellor and to those behind him who have not had the courage of their convictions on this matter, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Mr. Cant), that their conduct in speaking in favour of the 10s.-cent system, and then voting in the other Lobby immediately afterwards, is something which will have to be drawn to the attention of their constituents and all those who represent consumers in this country.
§ Mr. Cant
I am sure that my constituents appreciate that in this party I have complete freedom to say what I like from these benches, or, indeed, anywhere else. If I choose to vote for a Motion, it is because I support the Government which represents the party of which I have been a member for more than 30 years. If this seems to the hon. Gentleman to be a piece of hypocrisy, I am very sorry about that, but I can support the Government without approving every little piece of legislation which they want to put through.
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Gentleman's conduct will be as incomprehensible to his constituents as it is to me.
§ Mr. Lubbock
That need not be quite so large next time.
When people discover how hon. Gentlemen opposite have behaved in this matter, how they have consistently, and rightly, advocated that the 10s.-cent system should be adopted, and have then trooped sheepishly and slavishly into the Division Lobby behind the Chancellor, they will be mystified about how we conduct our affairs. Their conduct should be drawn to the attention of consumers and those who will suffer from this ridiculous "half" during the next few years before the conversion date in 1971. It is their duty to explain the discrepancy to their constituents, but, whether they do so or not, we shall make sure that the facts are as widely known as possible.
§ 11.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
I rise to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) 1892 said about the Financial Secretary's conduct of the Committee and Report stages of the Bill. Although we have a Measure which is identical in every respect to that which was read the First time some months ago, the arguments which have been put from both sides have been meticulously answered. I do not say that the answers were always good ones, but I can honestly say that, with only minor exceptions, every argument was adverted to, and a genuine attempt was made to deal with it. This is one of the great attractions of our Parliamentary system.
I do not want to get embrangled in the argument which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has had with hon. Gentlemen opposite. I know that it is votes that count, but the arguments are important, and those who have been supporting me in the case which I have made have been impressed by the way in which the Treasury Bench has felt necessary, and has taken great trouble, to reply to the points which I put.
There is one matter in the Bill to which no reference has been made, but which I think the Government might like to consider during the passage of the Bill through another place. I am referring to the use of the term "new penny". I am not sure that this is the right term to use, but the Chancellor, when he made his announcement in his mini-Budget speech at the beginning of March last year, showed a personal predilection for the term "penny", and a life-long affection for it; indeed, the American cent is referred to by many Americans as a penny. The existence of an old penny and a new penny could give rise to transitional difficulties for quite a long time.
If we are to have a new system with a new coin bearing a new value, there is great advantage in having a new name for it. If the £ is to be divided into 100 minor units, it is completely logical and rational and would be well understood by foreigners that they should be called cents. The difficulty with the new penny is that within a short time the word "new" will tend to drop out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer nods in agreement. I have no doubt that that is what he intends.
Although it is not a strictly parallel case, I was very much struck by what I was told by a French banker with whom 1893 I lunched the other day. He said that even now, as the directors sit around in conclave discussing how far the overdraft of Monsieur X should be allowed to go, when figures in terms of thousands of francs are bandied about, it requires great courage, but is sometimes an essential step for somebody to ask, "Are we talking about old francs or new francs?"
Pennies are a different case, but I can well imagine businessmen sitting round the table and pricing products which will be priced in pennies, and somebody asking, "Are we talking about new pennies or old pennies?" I hope that the Government will think about this again. I find the term "new penny" cumbersome. I believe that there will be confusion for many years between old and new pennies.
Apart from that, my views on the Bill are well known. I remain convinced that the £ is the right answer, not for associability, but simply for continuity. To be able to hang on to something fundamental in the whole structure is a point of great advantage, and I voted for the Government on Second Reading because I believed that that was right.
When I talk to women who do the vast amount of their shopping in units smaller than the £, I find that they want to have an anchor. They want a piton in the mountain on to which they can fix, and that will be the £. This proposal will now go forward. It has my support.
However, I am convinced that the subdivision is the wrong one. I would not dare to advise what another place might do. When I mentioned it earlier, I was not in any sense attempting to indicate what I thought that it should do. The fact is that the Bill goes to another place, and I have no doubt that many of the arguments which have been rehearsed here will be rehearsed there, where somewhat different considerations of voting and whipping apply, and it may well be that a different view will prevail. If it does, I for one would regret it.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Perhaps I might conclude the proceedings. I intended to give an encomium to the work of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) and the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), but it is getting a little too much 1894 like a school prizegiving. I hope, therefore, that those hon. Members will take the words which I would have said as meant even though not uttered. In reading the proceedings, I, too, was stimulated, because I understood what was going on and what the argument was about. That is always an encouragement when dealing with these problems.
I thought that one or two speeches made by hon. Members opposite were rather encouraging those in another place to take a certain action even though they have disavowed the intention of so encouraging them. It is not for me to comment on what another place should do, nor shall I comment on what this House would do if another did what it might do. All these are things for the future.
One thing, however, which is clear at the end of the proceedings on the Bill in this House is that the differences with which we all started remain unresolved. None of us has succeeded in convincing anybody else. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] I beg pardon. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Ronald Atkins) was converted from 10s. to the £ by the speech of the hon. Member for the cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith). What the followers of Parliamentary democracy make of that, I am not sure. At least, it is something for which the hon. Gentleman should take credit. I do not know what has got into the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I do not know whether he lost his shirt at Ascot today, but he has been in such a foul temper all the evening that I assumed he had. Otherwise, I could not understand why he should be wearing a shirt of such a horrible colour—
§ Mr. Lubbock
To keep the record straight, I have never been to Ascot in my life, and never intend to go there.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That does not leave any explanation for the hon. Member's foul temper.
The hon. Member said that I was rather scathing about the traders, but I went out of my way to say that their views should be taken into consideration, although they were not the only element. If the hon. Member gets so passionate about this, I can only say that if he intends to fight the next election on this issue, good luck to him, but if he believes 1895 that Governments should govern on the basis that they do not put on the Whip on any item of Government business I fully understand why the Liberal Party is in its present position.
I want the hon. Member to understand —although this is an internal party matter and nothing to do with the House—that we had a discussion of the matter in the so-called privacy of our so-called private meeting, and that a vote taken at the end resulted in a substantial majority of those present voting in favour of the £, and that was it. There were no Whips, or anything like that.
I even convinced my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) on this—
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
As a matter of fact, at the party meeting I voted the other way. The only time my right hon. Friend convinced me was on the Selective Employment Tax, and I am thinking differently about that now.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That only goes to show the loyalty which my hon. Friend shows to democratic decisions. I know that he always votes in accordance with party decisions.
There were three issues connected with the Bill. One was the change to decimalisation. There is general agreement in the House about that—and no dissent has come from Labour, Liberal or Conservative on that score. On the issue of the unit to be selected, there has been a difference that has not been resolved except in the normal way of counting votes.
On the third issue, there has been general agreement that we were right to set up the Decimal Currency Board at this stage. The problems thrown up by the hon. Members for Moray and Nairn, Orpington and Wanstead and Woodford, and other hon. Members go to show that the Decimal Currency Board is the best means of resolving these matters.
I appeal to traders of all kinds and to other interests to turn to the Decimal Currency Board for advice and assistance. Sir William Fiske and Lord Erroll are men of great experience and can be of great assistance to industry and commerce, consumer organisations, and private and local bodies. They can be of assistance to all in resolving the 1896 problems that will emerge and which are emerging.
I invite the co-operation of the Press, of the B.B.C. and I.T.A. and all the other organisations in helping this venture forward so that there is full understanding of what is involved, and that people do not get too terrified about it—it is nothing like as formidable as some people seem to have been making out.
The production of coinage will take place at Llantrisant. Already, under the Government's powers, work has started on the clearing of the site there and, subject to the Bill getting its Third Reading tonight and going through another place, we hope that the decimal coinage will start to be produced within a little over 12 months from now.
This is a formidable task that we are undertaking, but there is general agreement in the House that there are great advantages to be derived for this country from the change-over to decimals. I am very grateful for the consideration that the House has given to the Bill in an attempt to make the venture a success.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.