§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. 1 take it that the right hon. Gentleman has indicated to a Minister, as he has not indicated to the Chair, that he wishes to raise a new topic on the Adjournment.
§ Sir D. Glover
Mr. Speaker. I have indicated my desire to speak on the Adjournment to the Minister of State, Board of Trade. He does not appear to be here at the moment, but I passed him a note to that effect when he was here for the previous debate and told him that it was my intention to raise the subject of the 50p coin.
I see that the hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber. He will be aware that there is a Motion on the Order Paper, signed by a good many hon. Members,… regretting the confusion inevitably caused by the introduction of a metal 50 penny piece, urges the Chancellor of the Exchequer to replace it without delay with an appropriate paper note of equivalent value.I cannot speak of the experiences of other hon. Members, but I find not only in my constituency but in my home town, where I do a great deal of household shopping, increasing and. growing hostility to the new coin. Shopkeepers have 1599 related to me at least a dozen instances of old-age pensioners, possibly due to their simple-mindedness or because their eyesight is not so good, handing over a halfcrown and a 50p coin thinking that they have tendered 4s. 6d. and, as a result, risking the loss of 8s.
There is enormous hostility in the minds of the public in that the new coin is so difficult to distinguish from what we know as the 2s. piece. Although it has this odd shape, the edges are so narrow that, in the dark, it is very easy to confuse it with the present 2s. piece or the new 10p coin. It is even more difficult to distinguish it in the winter when one is wearing gloves. Probably taxi-drivers represent the one section of the population to be in favour of them. Certainly, after midnight in the cold weather many people will, by accident, give tips of 10s. instead of 2s. It is a very bad coin, and something should be done about it.
The shape is unsatisfactory, as are the size and the look of it. The shape is such that it is so nearly round that, as I have said, in the dark and when wearing gloves, people will not realise the difference between 50p and 10p. In fact, Mr. Speaker, before you called me, I took out the coins from my pocket and I had to study them for some little time before deciding that there was not a 50p coin among them. I have seen the coin very often, but I cannot tell the difference between it and the new 10p piece. The ridges do not stand out in any remarkable way, and I believe that there is a great danger that people will give away far more than they intend.
The size, too, is wrong. A coin which is the equivalent of 10s., in my view, should be bigger than the coin which is worth only one-fifth of that amount so that automatically one knows that it is a coin of greater value.
And the look is wrong. We spend a great deal of time in the House discussing tourists. The new coin, in appearance. is about the cheapest one that we have. I believe that many tourists, Americans especially, will throw them away as if they were quarters and not realise until they have been in the country for a week that they have spent all their foreign currency.
In normal conditions, the Government could rise in their wrath and say that we 1600 took a decision and that it must stand because it will cost a lot of money to put it right. However, this is one of the few occasions in our history when the Government can put matters right and make a profit. Perhaps I should get permission from M.I.5 before disclosing this horrifying fact, but the coin is worth more melted down than it is as currency. If that is the case, and there is an overwhelming body of opinion in the country that the Government have made a mistake in evolving the coin, it can easily be withdrawn.
I am not attacking the Minister of State. I know that this matter was not decided in the Cabinet Office. The Government took advice from the Mint, and leading artists were commissioned to design the coin. Here is an opportunity, when there is overwhelming opposition to the coin, to alter the system or the policy and make a profit on the deal.
One of my hon. Friends from Edinburgh reckons that if the Government called in all the coins and melted them down they would make a profit of £4 million. As the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) and I know, £4 million is a lot of money. If this can be done and we can thereby make the public happier, then I think that we should do something about it.
I am not speaking in a vacuum about the problem. Although admittedly it is only a small part of our society, the Isle of Man has produced a very attractive 50p note to carry out the function that this new 50p coin will perform for us. If the Isle of Man can do it, then we should do the same.
I do not know about the experience of other hon. Members. but it is quite fascinating to go shopping. If a customer gives a £1 note for 20 cigarettes, a pound of apples or 2 lbs. of sprouts, the shopkeeper does not give him his change just like that. He gives him his change and then puts alongside it this awful 50p piece, and says, "Watch that, Guv'nor. Otherwise you will lose it." This is the attitude of the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper has not reached that attitude by accident. He has reached it because he finds his retail customers hostile to the new coin.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts> >(Bedfordshire, South)
Is it not really a matter of getting accustomed to the new coin? This 1601 is true of any coin in the first few weeks of its introduction. But after a time I feel that people will treat it with the contempt, if I may use that word, that they treat the rest of our coinage.
§ Sir D. Glover
They will certainly treat it with contempt, because it is rapidly losing any value. I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that point. I do not think that his argument is valid. We had no difficulty about the new lop piece. It is this one coin that has created the controversy.
I do not know about the hon. Member for Bedfordshire. South—he may live in a totally different world—but I have not found anybody yet who has a good word to say for the new coin. I have found some people who are neutral who say, "Well, I suppose we will get used to it". But I have not found anybody who has said, "It is a jolly good coin. I am glad that we are using this coin of this shape and not a note". All I got from people was a very guarded neutrality. But the great mass of the people are very hostile to the shape, size and look of the new coin.
§ Sir D. Glover
If it were to cost £20 million to make the change I could understand the Government being so rigid in their attitude. But if by changing the system the Government would make a profit, because the price of nickel is so high, surely this is the moment for them to come clean and say: "All right. If you do not like it we will alter it and make a profit on the deal".
What astonishes me is the way we approach these matters. For instance, I think that the change in our system to decimalisation ought to have been done on the basis of 10s., not the £. We shall have the most complicated decimal system in the world, purely because the Government of the day arbitrarily took a decision and did not, as far as I can make out, consult anybody but the so-called experts who usually travel round signing cheques and never change any money. They did not talk to Joe Soap in the pub, in the shop, and so on, about the form of currency we were to have.
I am a simple minded chap who always thought that the whole basis and advan 1602 tage of decimal currency was that it could be divided by 10 and that that automatically gave the result. If it cannot be divided by 10 to give the result, what is the advantage? To a foreigner, our new system of coinage will be even more complicated than the present system. The only justification for changing the present system is that we think it too complicated for the foreigner—for example, our half-crown is not the equivalent of something else in another currency.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. Before the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) gives way, I should draw his attention to the fact that any change in the system would involve legislation, and it is not in order to discuss changes in legislation on an Adjournment debate.
§ Sir D. Glover
I give way and accept your Ruling implicitly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. But I should think that on an Adjournment debate, when discussing and arguing about a particular coin in our system, it is within the rules of order to refer to the nonsense created by that coin. Had it not been for past events the coin would not exist.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Yes. But the hon. Gentleman must not suggest that the system should be changed.
§ Sir D. Glover
I willingly accept your Ruling. In fact, I should be in awful difficulty if I did not, so I had better leave that point.
I apologise to the Minister for the short notice that I gave about this Adjournment debate. However, I did not know when we started our Business today that the important debate, as I thought, on the Report of the Public Accounts Committee would finish as early as it did. There was enough meat in that report to have kept us here until the early hours of the morning. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that I sought to raise this subject out of vicious spite.
I suppose I might have had an opportunity to raise a different subject. At the moment, there is the teachers' strike. There has been trouble with the dustmen. All sorts of different things have been 1603 happening. But in the last six weeks I have received more correspondence about the 50p coin than anything else. People have expressed their opposition to it, their dislike of it, and their fear that it will cost them money because they will give it away when they should not. They have asked me to do what I can on the Floor of the House to get the system altered before it is too late. Therefore, I thought it my duty, as a Member of Parliament, when the opportunity arose, to raise the matter on the Floor of the House.
Recently we have had Questions asked about this coin. From the replies to those Questions the general impression appears to be that the Government will not alter it. That may be the Government's decision. All I can say is that when there is an opportunity to alter something which will not cost money but will make a profit and will give satisfaction to the great mass of people in this country—we are supposed to live in a democratic society—then we have a responsibility and a duty to make that alteration. The Government could justify not making the alteration if it would cost the State a lot of money. But that is not the situation. Therefore, I ask the Government, before this matter goes too far, to accept that the general view of the great mass of the British people is that this coin is wrong in shape, size and design and ought to be altered for their benefit. Before it gets too far into our history, I ask the Government to think again.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
I am sure that the House will forgive me if I leave shortly after making this very brief intervention. I have another commitment. Like the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), 1 had not intended to take part in this debate, but I happened to be here when it began. I opposed the hon. Member in the 1959 General Election.
§ Mr. Roberts
Unsuccessfully. Since then I have supported him in the House on some aspects of decimalisation. I did so especially in defence of the 6d. piece. But I am not with him this evening.
1604 The hon. Member suggested that the general reaction to this new 10s. piece was hostile, but the other day I heard very eloquent testimony in its support. It came from a blind man, who said that for the first time in his life he was able to tell the difference between 10s. and £1. I agree that he represents only a small section of the community, but it is an important section, and the new coin is benefiting it.
The hon. Member further said that the shopkeeper isolates the coin as though it were a monstrosity which had to be kept apart and pointed out to the shoppers. It is purely a matter of usage. The difference between the introduction of this type of coin and that of the 3d. piece is that this coin is a much more valuable one, and the shopkeeper is consequently extremely anxious that the customer should be able to identify and value it. When the customer is more used to it—and that will not be in a matter of weeks or months; it will be a year or more before he becomes used to it—it will be passed over the counter to the general public in the same way as is any other coin, without hesitation.
The hon. Member also alleged that this coin was not convenient to the foreigner. The very justification for decimalisation —if there is a justification for the whole process—is the advantage that it brings to people who are used to decimal currencies. In some cases foreigners are used to having coins of quite a high value.
§ Sir D. Glover
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any country that has a currency based on the equivalent of £1, and not 100 cents?
§ Mr. Roberts
I am with the hon. Member on that. But I am on a different plane of argument. I do not argue with him about the £ unit. I have always felt that the may be the wrong unit, and that it might have been far better to have had a 10s. unit. But from the general point of usage this coin will not produce any difficulty for a foreigner who is used to the decimal system.
The hon. Member today is a little off beam. He is placing far too much weight upon the initial reaction of the public. I feel a warm glow towards this coin. That glow which will gradually spread among members of the public.
1605 The hon. Member was quite wrong when he said that the Government will not change their mind on this matter. I have been present at Question Time when this matter has been raised, and I have got the impression that the Government are merely waiting a reasonable time so as to ascertain public reaction.
The Government are giving the public time to decide. If, in a year or 18 months, the public are still as resistant and hostile to this coin as the hon. Member suggests I am sure that they will follow his lead and withdraw it. But it is still too early to judge this coin properly, and I feel that it may yet make a valuable contribution to our currency system.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I cannot refrain from commenting on the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts). His view seems to be that it is better to wait until a thundering big mistake has been made before putting it right. I would have thought that logic lay with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), when he said that if a mistake has been made the time to rectify it is at once. I cannot see much sense in protracting an experiment until the mistake has achieved an outstanding degree of costliness.
I also disagree with the rather grand submission that we shall get used to the coin. Of course we shall get used to it—because we shall have no choice. Hobson's choice will be our only one in respect of this coin, which I now have in my hand. It will be the only 10s. unit in the country. It is called 50p, but I am old-fashioned, and regard it as a 10s. piece. The question that the hon. Member should ask is whether it is a better coin than the alternative—the existing 10s. note. He says that he has a warm glow for this seven-sided effort. I can only tell him that I have an even warmer glow for the 10s. note, which I find extremely convenient for many reasons, not least because it is easy to carry.
I hope that the Minister will tell us in some detail whether or not the Government made it their business to discover how the public would react to a seven-sided coin. Did the Government conduct 1606 any experiments? My hon. Friend asked whether they had consulted Joe Soap in the pub. I should like to know whether they even consulted Joe Soap in the House of Commons. I very much doubt whether any consideration was given to the views of hon. Members, who are supposed to represent the people. I hope that the Minister will tell us what consultations he has had with the people that matter.
I am not asking whether he consulted so-called experts in numismatics, or whether he went into the question of base metals or other metals with people in the Treasury. I want to know how many housewives or shopkeepers he consulted before this coin was agreed to as part of our currency. I suspect that the Government had only one reason for introducing this coin, and that that reason was based on cost. Perhaps they can show that the 10s. note wears out quicker and therefore costs a little more to keep in circulation than does this lump of metal. This coin still wears out our pockets and purses, and all sorts of other things, but the Government do not care about that. They do not care about our purse or our wallet, we all know that; what they care about is that it might save a little on the cost of keeping the 10s. note in circulation.
A very much better approach would have been to ensure that the 10s. note, an excellent item of currency, was made of better paper, so that it did not wear out so rapidly and the problem which the Government are trying to solve with this miserable coin would have been solved more intelligently. So I want to know whom they consulted and the reason for introducing this coin, if it was not to save a little money for the Treasury at the expense of the rest of the country.
My objections to the coin are those of many of my constituents, especially shopkeepers. When they tot up in the evening, it is much easier for them to bundle up their notes than to pull together all these large and rattling coins. I suspect that shopkeepers will continue to object to this very real difficulty.
§ Sir D. Glover
This is a very interesting point. I used to be in the retail business. When we totted up on Saturday nights it took as long to tot up £10-worth of coins as perhaps £500-worth of notes.
§ Mr. Griffiths
My hon. Friend speaks from experience: he has actually done it. He of all Members of the House knows that this is the last thing the Government considered. If they had consulted him and others like him, they might not have made this mistake.
The second group who concern me are housewives, who may be confronted with five or six of these wretched things. In a housewife's purse they are far more awkward to carry than the equivalent number of notes. But which housewives were consulted by the Government? Will they consult housewives' organisations now? I hope that the Minister of State —in spite of his conversation with the Whip—will take note of this point. If this is an experiment, they should find out the views of housewives' organisations.
The third group are the least of us all, the mere males. I have recently been in the United States, South Africa and elsewhere. When I arrived back at London Airport and was presented with one of these things, I naturally assumed that it was a 2s. piece—
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, but there are many like me. I think that my reaction was typical.
I looked at this object and wondered what it was and whether I had got off at the wrong airport. When I discovered that I was in London and that, in my absence, the Government had perpetrated this thing, I began to examine it in some detail. I do not know whether you have ever done this, Mr. Speaker, in the quietness of your own private life, but this is a most perverse little job. There is a representation on one side of our Sovereign and all of us would agree that it is a charming likeness. But the date, 1969, comes after the letters D.G.REG.F.D. and on top of the Crown, instead of underneath, where we have been used to finding it, lo, these many centuries.
I am old-fashioned enough to believe that there is some merit in keeping the date where it has always been and I cannot see why this mania to change everything has got into the Treasury or the Mint so they must put the date in a different place.
1608 Then I look at Britannia. We have heard much of Britannia in this House. Before I had the pleasure of sitting here, I listened from the Gallery to one of the hon. Member's hon. Friends being described as "a Britannia" by no less a person than the late Sir Winston Churchill. But Britannia on this coin no longer comports with my idea of Britannia. There is a rather stuffy and sedate lion peering out from the back of her skirts. There is a shield rather on one side which looks a very uncomfortable shield to sit on. Then she has this fork over her right shoulder. The combination of this rather superior lion and the askew shield and the general figure of Britannia, who is holding out, I think, three ears of corn, seems an extraordinary hagiology to have on the back of one of our coins. So I agree that this coin's appearance is not attractive to British people.
Also, I do not like the seven sides. I do not know why we have to have seven sides on a coin. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South, who made a speech and then left, no doubt for a very good reason, said that it was important for those who are blind, and I recognise the force of that. But his argument comes slightly unstuck because the blind people I know have no difficulty distinguishing between a 10s. note and a £1 note, because the £1 note is larger. Therefore, this argument is simply "phoney", and a slander on blind people, who can make this distinction between our existing notes because of their different sizes.
The nations of the world are coming more closely together and it is important that those who travel, as I do, should have an easy familiarity with the currencies with which they are asked to deal. One of the striking things about our European neighbours is that Germany, France, Belgium and Italy are moving towards units of currency which are almost the same size and look very similar. It may be a mark piece, a new franc, a gilder or a Belgian franc, but the currencies are similar and will eventually form the basis of a common currency in Europe.
I understand that it is Her Majesty's Government's policy to seek association with the E.E.C. The Minister of State, I know, is a strong supporter of this policy, as I am. I should have thought that a little foresight would have led the 1609 Mint, the Treasury and Ministers at least to try to make our largest and most valuable coin similar to those European currencies.
Instead of this, they have created something which is unique—a seven-sided 50p piece—and they have, therefore, taken a backward step.
There is merit in coins increasing in size as they increase in value. For example, in the United States they have the dime, the quarter and the 50-cent piece. Certainly, they made a mistake in having the nickel slightly larger than the dime, but they regretted it. The broad philosophy of American currency is to increase the size of coins as their values increase. I should have thought that a sensible and logical British people would consider that the sensible way to organise our coinage, but the Government think differently.
Instead, the Government have produced a coin which is neither particularly bigger nor smaller. It just has more size. This is neither logical nor sensible. Sometimes in a nation's history there can be too many changes in too short a time. Indeed. I am sometimes tempted to start a political party for leaving some things alone.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that he is already a member of a political party the whole principle of which is to leave things alone, be they good or bad?
§ Mr. Griffiths
There are many things which 1 wish had been left alone under Labour. I was about to mention some of them, although I would be out of order if I mentioned too many.
We have recently seen proposals to change our telephone book, to paint our postboxes yellow instead of red. While many of them may be desirable, and some may even be useful, people sometimes get fed up with everything being changed without good reason and without their being asked. That is the burden of my criticism about the 10s. coin.
In his usual temperate way the Minister will not regard my remarks as offensive when I tell him that in my constituency these coins are not known by the name of our Sovereign, but as "Wilsons", because they are manysided and two-faced. This may be an unfair way for me to attack the coin, 1610 but it is fair to tell the Minister that this illustrates the dissatisfaction of many people both of the Government and of their coinage.
We should have been consulted, but we were not. The Government should have recognised the merits of increasing the size of the coin with its value. They now have an opportunity to get out of their mistake at minimum cost. Indeed, it is conceivable that they could make a profit in that if they abandoned the 10s. coin now, it would soon become a collector's item and be extremely valuable within a few years. I am sure that the Minister will accept the logic of the arguments that we have adduced about this wretched object which should disappear from our midst as soon as possible.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. William Rodgers)
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) was kind enough to let me know 45 minutes before he rose to his feet that he intended to raise this question tonight, so I have no complaint on that ground.
I too, agree that this is a serious subject, though I would have preferred to have discussed it in different circumstances and at a different time. Not that on such an occasion would I have been able to have come forward with the sort of undertakings for which I have been pressed. I do not think I could have been able to say more than I shall say tonight about how the coin was chosen and why some of the strictures passed on it by hon. Gentlemen opposite are not wholly fair.
As for the design of the coin—the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) used his full descriptive powers to tell us what we already knew —I personally regard it as a rather beautiful piece of work. Whatever might be said against it on other grounds there should not be any criticism of those who designed it, from the point of view of its appearance and style.
I do not deny that there is some concern about the coin. Like many other people. I still tend to refer to it as a ten-shilling piece. That is not a bad thing and not necessarily a criticism because all of us must adjust over a time to the coming of decimalisation. The fact 1611 that I rather like it and find it convenient —I find all 10s. notes dirty and torn—and the fact that I can put a 50p coin in my pocket in about half a second whereas it takes me more than a minute to take out my wallet to put away a 10s. note are reasons why it makes better sense to me. However, I undertake to consult my children about this. It is my impression that they, of a different generation, find this a convenient coin to have and much prefer it to 10s. notes which get torn in their money boxes. A nice shiny coin is more acceptable to children than a dirty piece of paper not much different from what they draw on and play with. Thus, some of the strictures against the coin are somewhat unfair.
I am sympathetic in so far as a new coin of this kind is bound to create some problems and lead to certain misunderstandings. There are those who find it difficult to accept something new. In particular, I have every sympathy with old people, who find the adjustment to something new like this not only perhaps rather difficult but a little uncongenial as well.
On the other hand, I could not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) and speak of a warm glow. Nor could I go as far as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds in his frigid distaste for the coin.
Some people, it is true, have expressed dislike of the coin, but from my personal experience it is not necessarily that customers do not like it but that shopkeepers believe that they may not want it. I have been in the position of being asked by a shopkeeper, "Do you mind having one of these?", referring to a 50p coin. I have replied, "Not at all. I think they are rather good", to which he has replied, "So do I". I believe that the feeling has been engendered that it is not an acceptable coin, since we acquire these habits of mind from what we are told and what other people believe.
The view expressed tonight about the coin by hon. Gentlemen opposite is not necessarily representative of opinion in the House as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South showed in a powerful way that on this side there are those who think that the 1612 coin is right. I well remember, when this matter was discussed at Question Time on 4th November, the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) saying that the new 10s. coin was not at all bad. This is, therefore, not a matter between the parties and it is certainly not a matter on which there is any unanimity of feeling that a mistake has been made.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Gentleman will realise that my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), whom I love dearly, always takes the minority view.
§ Mr. Rodgers
Were there to be a free vote I think that the hon. Gentleman would find that his hon. Friend was not taking the minority view on this occasion but that he, the hon. Member for Ormskirk, was in that category.
The decision to bring in this coin was certainly not made hastily. Nor was it an arbitrary decision of Government. The first Report of the Decimal Currency Board was published by order of this House as long ago as 10th July of last year and set out fully the circumstances in which a coin of this kind was decided upon. It was the Decimal Currency Board which advised the Government on specification for a new coin and its Report gives some account of how it was decided that a seven-sided coin might best serve the purpose. It states that the shape was suggested by its own technical member who was, at that time, President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Both hon. Members opposite referred to the characteristics of the coin; to its material, its size and its shape. I ask them, if they are in any doubt, to inquire more fully, if they wish, of the board about the circumstances in which it considered the specification. The board did consider various types of metal and different sizes and shapes. It decided that brass would not hold its colour or lustre for long, and could be confused with cupro-nickel in poor light. Bronze was associated with low value coins. That was why the board decided to recommend the cupro-nickel coin. As to size, experience shows that very large coins are unpopular in every day use and for that reason it was considered that the size recommended was likely to be right.
1613 Again, the board carefully considered what the shape should be. It decided that the coin could not be round as it might be confused with other coins. It considered the possibility of four, seven, 10 and 12 sides. It then had very full consultations with, among others, banks, retailers, transport organisations, consumer interests—and I stress the consumer interests—and organisations representing the blind or the partially sighted. In addition it commissioned an investigation by the Applied Psychology Unit of the Medical Research Council. It conducted tests in which housewives— and before hon. Gentlemen are contemptuous, I may say that these were tests in which housewives themselves were asked to recognise different coin shapes.
On this point it can be argued that the Board should have consulted this group of individuals or that, one particular shopkeeper or another, but I think that the board, whose responsibility this was, had very full consultations, indeed. It took the best advice available to it in the circumstances, and if it made a mistake in its recommendation—which I cannot concede—it was not out of indifference to the importance of the issue or due to a failure to look very closely at the possibilities of consumer reactions.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I have two questions arising out of that statement. First, why did the board decide to have a coin? This is not clear. Secondly, the Minister said that the board consulted all these people, but what did the people say when they were consulted?
§ Mr. Rodgers
The hon. Gentleman's first point bears on what he said about cost. He suggested that in some way a decision made on grounds of cost was, as I think he put it, a Treasury decision. That is a very interesting argument, because a decision on grounds of cost, because a 50p coin lasts a great deal longer, would not be made in the interests of the Treasury but in the interests of the tax-payers as a whole. Whether the decision itself was right or wrong, surely it was a proper consideration for those who were faced with deciding, whether having a coin would, in the long run, save more 1614 of the taxpayers' money than having a note. That is a proper and fair criterion.
As the House will probably know, the coin may have a life of 50 years, whereas the note has a life of only a few months. There is, therefore, here involved a point of the greatest importance, even though it may be argued now whether or not the decision was right—
§ Sir D. Glover
The wallet I am using has notes in it: I have been using it for 10 years. The trousers I am wearing are about five years old, and both pockets, because they have had coins in them, have been repaired.
§ Mr. Rodgers
With respect, that argument cuts several ways. At the moment, I am concerned only to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and the short answer is that the coin does save the taxpayers money and that is an important consideration which should not be needlessly overlooked. As I have said, in my own personal experience there are considerable advantages. I will find it less wearing on my suits to put a 50p coin in my pocket than to have to take out my wallet every time I want to put a note in it. In that personal sense I shall be better off than hitherto because of the coin. These are matters of personal taste: they cannot ultimately be matters on which the Government can have a clear view.
The decision was made on the best available evidence. The Decimal Currency Board carried out the proper responsibilities given to it, weighed all the advantages and made the appropriate recommendation. I understand now that there is some anxiety and some concern. I am certainly not arrogant enough to suggest that this coin should simply be accepted, and that, irrespective of the way public opinion moves, we should say that having decided upon it we shall never change our course. But to change the course immediately would be as mistaken as to be arrogant enough never to consider change. We shall watch very carefully how things go, we shall note public reaction to the coin, and we shall take account of it in whatever decisions are made.
§ Sir D. Glover
Before the Minister sits down, I should like to say how much I appreciate his courtesy in replying to this debate at very short notice. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and I have had a reply to our arguments far more full than 1616 we probably had a right to expect. We are very grateful to the Minister.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Eight o'clock.