HC Deb 19 February 1970 vol 796 cc606-74

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)

I beg to move, That this House regrets the system of decimalisation of the currency to which Her Majesty's Government has committed this country. Although we deliberately drew this Motion in wide terms so that any number of matters could properly be discussed, this debate can properly be called the S.O.S.—Save our Sixpence—debate, for during the last few hours, in particular, there have been signs, first, of distress, and, second, of surrender by the Government on this matter. I need hardly say that I welcome this very much indeed. I welcome the surrender as much as I deplore the method, that of selective Press leaks, which the Government have adopted, and which I believe to be profoundly discourteous to the House.

I think that it would be convenient to the House to say now that if the Minister's speech follows the leak, if I can put it that way, I shall be content for the Motion either to be withdrawn, or to be negatived, and I shall not invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide in due course, because virtually the whole of my speech is, and was planned to be, on the case of the sixpence.

I spend a minute or two only on the background which, although it is not possible to reverse, is, of course, even more important than the question of the sixpence itself. On the Second Reading of the main Bill, on 22nd March, 1967, I declared myself to be, and I still am, an unrepentant ten-bobber. What the House then did was against the advice of virtually the whole of the Press of the country, against the advice of the C.B.I. and the T.U.C., against the advice of the trading organisations, against the experience of every other country in the world, including those closest to us, and even those with most effection for the £ sterling, and it would have been, beyond argument, against the advice of this House if only a free vote—and on looking back I think that we must all regret that it was not—had been allowed at that time.

The case which was allowed to prevail in the end was basically the international case, a case which was destroyed six months later by the devaluation of the £ when, with parity at 2.40, and 240d. to the £, we could say that the penny looked the cent. proudly in the face.

I make only one quotation, very brief indeed, from my speech then. I had reviewed the various systems adopted all over the world, and I said: However, the House should note that the Government proposal is none of these. It is neither two-decimal nor three-decimal. It is a £/penny fraction system. The truth, I am afraid, is quite simple, but once one has taken it in, the conclusion is inescapable: the £ is too heavy to decimalise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1967; Vol. 743. c. 1752.] I believe that to have been the true verdict then, and that it is the true verdict now.

I turn to the question of the sixpence, on which there has been a very remarkable conversion. Only two days ago, on Tuesday, the Minister of State, in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), who asked him whether he was willing to consider keeping the sixpence, replied: …we have made clear in the past our view about the likely future of the sixpence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1970; Vol. 796, c. 193.] Indeed the Government have, and the clearest expression of view came during the Report stage of the second Decimal Currency Bill, when the Financial Secretary spoke these immortal words: The fact is that there is nothing that the Government can do to stop the 6d. from going out of circulation. What would be the result if we were to accede to the arguments which have been advanced tonight and were to say, 'We will see whether or not the sixpence proves to be unpopular.'? The result would be likely to be confusion and frustration and a bringing of discredit on to the new decimal currency system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1969; Vol. 780, c. 1904.] It is precisely that which I understand we are to do this afternoon. Nobody will be surprised, if I may say so in all good humour, that the Government have swapped their speakers, and that instead of the Financial Secretary eating those words the Minister of State is to come to the Box today and eat them for him in a few minutes.

The fact is that the tanner has shown a quite astonishing capacity to survive, in particular over the last year. During the Second Reading of the second Bill on 30th January, everyone who spoke on this subject, including a former Minister of State, the Board of Trade, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts), and the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), now in the Government, said that they wanted to keep the sixpence. The Tories and the Liberals took the same view, and I must, if I may, pay a tribute here, as those who have studied these matters will acknowledge to be well-deserved, to the person who, above all others, has relentlessly urged this case, "Mr. Sixpence" himself, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins).

The Bill went upstairs. There was a fascinating debate in Committee, at the end of which the vote was tied. In accordance with custom, the Chairman declared himself for the Bill, so the sixpence was out. But a few moments later another vote on the Clause deleted the Clause by one vote, so the sixpence was back in. It came to the Floor of the House. The Government moved to put the Clause back in and then they defeated, on a vote, another move to reinstate the sixpence. Then it went to the House of Lords. The House of Lords, on 1st May, 1969, re-established the sixpence only to lose it again on Report. Now we come to what everyone hopes is the last round in this song of sixpence.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

While not in any way quarrelling with the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman has paid to his hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), would not he also, at the same time, wish to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell), who was the first hon. Member to raise this matter in the House?

Mr. Macleod

Gladly, and if I may say so in this atmosphere the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), too, who has fought for the same cause. I meant to indicate that there was pressure from many people.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Including my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray).

Mr. Macleod

And the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray). I do not mind. So long as the Government give way, who cares who gets the credit?

I come to one of the important matters with which I hope one or other of the Ministers will deal. I am suggesting that we should keep the tanner as a 2½p piece, not for all time but for a considerable time ahead. We should not, in my view drop the 2p piece. I am told that come Decimalisation Day, which is 15th February next year, 3,400 million bronze coins will have been minted and possibly a substantial number of others; and a considerable number of them will be the 2p piece.

There are some difficulties and one should state them. It is said, first, that to have a 2p piece and a 2½p piece, or tanner perhaps, for the purpoes of this debate, would be to have in our future coinage coins which are too near together in value. I do not accept that argument. We got on happily with the half-crown and the florin; and I personally regret the disapperance of the half-crown very much. But it is a point of interest that the difference between the half-crown and the florin—which is sixpence—is precisely one quarter of the value of the lower coin, the florin. In the case of the 2p and 2½p coins the difference between the two is precisely one quarter of the value of the lower coin. I feel, therefore, that this argument, although it was put forward, does not stand up.

There is, secondly, the case that the coin may fall into disuse as the 3d. bit, called the "ticky", did in the South African 10-bob system. But the 3d. bit, even in South Africa, lasted six years and I would hope that our more popular tanner will last considerably longer.

The third point—and this is by far the most important, and I referred to it in a speech on Second Reading in 1967—is that it is, of course, technically unsound to import a fraction into our system. It is quite true that there is a fraction there already because, the £1 being so heavy, it has been necessary to have a pound, penny, halfpenny system. We will then have two coins, the tanner and the halfpenny, both which fall outside a true decimal range and both of which are fractions.

The best answer—I cannot prophesy about this, for it depends, among other things, on the rate of inflation in this country—would be for the halfpenny to be demonetised when the time comes and the other fractional coin might go at the same time. I do not guess how many years that might be, but at least then we would have a more flexible system than we have at present. I want to put two questions to the Financial Secretary, because he will have a little more time before he speaks. Will he tell the House what is the state of play about the minting of the tanner? As I understand it is not being minted at the moment, but 85 million were minted during the first six months of 1969. Will the Government tell us what are their intentions? Do they intend to carry on with the tanners we have, to mint a new tanner or a 2½p piece which would have the same value in the coinage?

Another question to the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary: what is to be the position about accounts? When the original Bill went through, and we discussed the halfpenny, it was said then that the banks were not to have the halfpenny as an accounting unit. The difficulty, even with the halfpenny—and it is much more important with the tanner—is that it is wholly desirable that the banking system and commercial accounts should agree whenever possible. If there is time tonight—if not, perhaps it could be done through a Question in the House or in some other way—I would like a Minister to tell us what the banking practice will be, assuming the tanner is kept.

I turn to the arguments against, and I intend now to be very brief. The arguments which I have stated are, in a sense, arguments for the Government's case as adopted until today. The argument against them, which, I am happy to say, seems to have prevailed, can be boiled down simply to one phrase: the effect on the cost of living of the disappearance of the tanner. The item that has caused most interest has been the question of the London Transport fares. There has perhaps been an impression that this has been raised fairly recently.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

And telephones.

Mr. Macleod

Yes, telephones too, and many other things. But it is this one that has caused most anxiety. The Greater London Council were very much "on the ball" on this matter. Though I do not propose to quote it all, I have a letter from Mr. Desmond Plummer to Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, dated 11th July, 1968, quite a long time ago, drawing his attention, among other things, to the absence of a coin between 2p and 5p and the consequent difficulties that would follow.

On the more general question of the cost of living, I propose to read a reference at one end of the scale and then a reference at the other end. This is from a lady whom I do not know and who is the owner of a guest house in Greenwich Park. She writes: The guests' rooms have coin meters for the heating of the rooms where necessary. These are 6d. and penny slot and some are just a shilling, but not many. I am only one of thousands who are in the postion of owning these heaters but I am told by the Electricity Board that it will be my responsibility to pay for the conversion. This I think is scandalous and I am writing to the Board to say so. There is also the telephone box which is in this building and the 6d. piece is high enough for short calls. This lady goes on to say: I have 18 rooms with meters and I have not got the extra money to find for something I did not vote for and never would. This has been forced on the public whether they want it or not. It is a fair illustration of what I might call the small-change argument that hon. Members on both sides of the House will have been receiving in their postbags. The only other illustration I take is from the Multiple Shops' Federation, which represents about 400 multiple retailers, 47,000 shops and 33 per cent. of all retail trade

The federation said in its arguments at the time, when the matter was considered in the House of Lords: Perhaps the strongest argument against the premature withdrawal of the 6d. is that it is bound to lead to inflationary increases in prices. It is argued that manufacturers and retailers will have pricing structures which will avoid 2½p. If this is true it may well result in an inflationary move to prices of 3p. On the important question of giving change, the federation said: Apart from the inflationary effect of abolishing the 6d. too soon, our belief as shopkeepers, on whom will fall the brunt of introducing the new system to the public, is that the 6d. coin will be a considerable aid to transactions in shops. The principle of 'good change-giving' is to use as few coins as possible, and the 2½p coin would avoid the need for giving three coins. The arguments used by the Financial Secretary, then the Minister of State, in Committee, were that experiments had shown that the 2½p piece would be inconvenient. Those experiments were conducted by Dr. Sheila Jones and I have not the slightest doubt that they were expertly and skilfully carried out. I merely observe that I prefer the views of those who run 33 per cent. of all retail trade, apart from the views of about 10 million housewives, who, I am certain, are in favour of keeping the tanner.

It is curious that although it is beyond argument that the Government had planned the disappearance of the sixpenny piece—it would, of course, have been there for the changeover period—the documents put forward by the Decimal Currency Board are dominated by—one might almost say obsessed with—the sixpenny piece. For example, we read, in heavy print, in the board's booklet: These low-value coins should be used only in multiples of 6d. or 2½3 in establishments working in the other currency. That was an odd instruction to give about a coin that it was intended should disappear as soon as the change-over period was completed.

Another point from the same booklet arises from the conversion tables on page 16. They give an approximate conversion for each of our present pennies, from 1d. to 11d., including, of course, the present 6d. It is suggested that five should be rounded up and five rounded down. The board is optimistic, I daresay, about that, but even if that were to happen, for 10 of those 11 pennies there is no precise comparison in the new coinage. For the 6d., however, there is, since 6d. converts precisely into 2½p, and it would be madness for us to let it go.

I am aware that these matters can be dealt with by proclamation under the 1870 Act and Section II of the 1967 Act, but it would be much better to have a clear declaration now. I hope, if the Minister gives it, that it will be clear that it will last for a considerable time. It is obviously important to reach finality in this matter; and at least there will be no dispute between the two sides of the House about that. It is important for those who must change their machines to know what the position will be not just on 15th February next year, but for as far ahead after that as the Government can indicate today.

At the outset of my remarks I referred to some words of the Financial Secretary, when he said that there was nothing that the Government could do to stop the sixpenny piece from going out of circulation. Those words make a good introduction to this debate. I really believe that, for a change—after all, this does not happen often in the House of Commons—we can make almost everybody happy.

The Government will gain some credit for bowing to the public will. The credit will be shared throughout the House, but we should not forget that the matter was pressed most fiercely by my hon. Friends. Thus, the credit will go to those who argued this case for such a long time. I make it clear again that if my hon. Friends and I are satisfied—I expect that, on the whole, we will be satisfied with the Minister's statement—I would be content for our Motion to be either withdrawn or negatived.

I do not want to hack over old battle grounds, but I believe that the most disastrous mistake of this Parliament was the decision to use the unit which was finally accepted for the decimalisation of our currency. The fatal mistake we made at the time was not to listen to what I have previously called the collective wisdom of the House of Commons, which is a very real thing and which can run across parties. I very much hope that the Government will listen today to the collective wisdom of the House of Commons.

I have put the case for retaining the tanner as moderately as I can, and I believe it to be overwhelming. I invite the Government now to accept it.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Taverne. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Mr. Rodgers.

4.18 p.m.

The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. William Rodgers)

I hope that you were not under a misapprehension, Mr. Speaker. I assure you and the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) that there has been no change in the batting order today. I do not think that my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary will feel any embarrassment in what he will have to say later, or, indeed, in what I may say now.

Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman chooses to withdraw his Motion is, clearly, for him alone to decide. For the moment, however, I must say "Wait and see" on the issue of whether he should believe all that he reads in the newspapers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is nothing I wish to say today which is inconsistent with the carefully chosen words that I used last Tuesday, when the question of decimalisation arose at Question Time.

I do not for a moment dispute that decimalisation is a proper subject for the House to discuss at this stage. With a year to go to Decimalisation Day, it is right that we should examine progress and consider whether there are any special and hitherto unforeseen problems ahead. In that sense I welcome this debate and wish that we had more than half a day for it, especially as my speech cannot be short.

Despite the moderate terms used by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, I rather regret the attack which hon. Gentlemen opposite have chosen to make in their Motion because this should not be a sharp party issue but one to be faced calmly and responsibly in the light of our obligations to the public as a whole.

I remind the House, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman, of what happened almost four years ago. On 1st March, 1966, my right hon. Friend who is now the Home Secretary announced in the House the decision to decimalise. There was hardly a squeak from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West will recall that when he wound up the debate for the Opposition on that day the word "decimalisation" did not once cross his lips. So much for vigilance. So much for foresight. So much for the public interest.

It was only at a much later stage that hon. Gentlemen opposite woke up to the fact that there were important considerations here; and it was then that they thought that they could obtain some advantage from them—apart, of course, from the major issue on which it was proper to raise questions for discussion in the House.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that that was a speech made on the economic situation as a whole and that there were several other things which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced at that time, one at least of which, I remember, was never pursued after the election. We had no impression at that time that this or other matters would necessarily be pursued after the election.

Mr. Rodgers

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that defence. The plain fact is that the Chancellor made an important announcement and there are two columns of that announcement contained in HANSARD. There was a passing reference to it by the Leader of the Opposition and no reference at all in the winding-up speech. If this was an important issue it was not thought to be so when the initial announcement was made.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

It may be that the reason for that is that the idea of decimalisation was propounded by this party and put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) in 1961, when he appointed the Halsbury Committee.

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) has anticipated something which I intended to say in my speech. My point is simple, and if the Opposition do not like it they will have to lump it. When the initial announcement was made it was not thought a proper subject for serious debate in the House.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Would the hon. Gentleman confirm to the House that when that subject was introduced it followed an announcement by the Chancellor that there would be no considerable increase in taxation? Was this not much more in the minds of hon. Members than any comment he might have made about decimalisation?

Mr. Rodgers

I am not discussing the proper order of priorities at that time. I am simply recording a fact. I am anxious to make basically a non-partisan speech, because I think that this is a serious issue and I welcome this opportunity to examine it in the House. As the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster has said, it is true that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was responsible for the appointment of the Halsbury Committee, and we know that that committee reported during the period of Conservative Government. It was as a result of discussions which took place that we had the announcement by my right hon. Friend on 1st March, 1966 and then, as a consequence, the Acts of 1967 and 1969.

Since that date, and particularly during the past three years, planning has been going ahead. A great deal has been done not only in the banks, but in thousands of firms and other organisations up and down the country. The Decimal Currency Board has given help and advice in various ways, but it is the individual firms and other organisations that must do the hard and detailed work of planning. There has been no suggestion from any of them of serious difficulties. Planning for the changeover is now well advanced in both public and private sectors.

The board is working to a carefully phased publicity strategy which involved concentrating in the early years of the preparatory period on management and gradually widening the definition of management so that increasing attention was given to the problems of all those involved in handling cash and on whom the main initial burden will fall. It is the smoothness of everyday cash transactions in shops, in post offices and on the transport system by which the success of the change-over will largely be measured.

There is very close exchange of ideas and opinion between the board and the main trade and professional associations and with the industrial training boards. The board's engineering support group is in touch with the main companies responsible for both business and coin-operated machines and has satisfied itself, so far as is practicable, that the plans being made are technically sound and offer value for money to users. Progress generally with machine replacements and conversions is excellent.

During 1970, leaflets and posters will be available to the general public. There will be advertisements in the women's magazines and to help older people the board is to distribute a preliminary leaflet of basic information in question and answer form through social welfare organisations. The board's main general publicity effort, however, will come in the final six weeks before D-Day. It will be a massive campaign of information and explanation with widespread Press and television advertising and the cornerstone of the whole campaign will be the issue of a booklet through every letterbox in the United Kingdom. No one need fear that he or she will be unprepared for D-Day.

Provided that the small businessmen, who are tending to lag behind their bigger competitors, make full use of the remaining year to D-Day to make sensible plans for converting or replacing their essential machines and for informing and training themselves and their staff, and provided that the board, under the chairmanship of Lord Fiske and the deputy chairmanship of Lord Erroll, a former Member of this House, can enjoy the support, as I am sure they will, of hon. Members on both sides of the House, then I am convinced we can look forward to a very speedy and painless entry into the decimal era.

Mr. Lubbock

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman about the leaflet. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a cornerstone, not a leaflet."] May I ask the hon. Gentleman what professional advice he has taken about whether this is the best method of informing householders and the general public of the change-over and whether the money could not be spent better through the medium of television, and so on, with greater effect and with less expenditure?

Mr. Rodgers

The booklet will be issued by the Decimal Currency Board, which has had expert advice on the best way of publicising the change-over. I have been trying to simplify the full story of all the methods the board will use. There will be a booklet available to every household on the eve of decimalisation. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) or any other hon. Gentlemen have particular suggestions they will be welcomed, because it is common cause that the decision having been made, it should be presented in a fully comprehensible manner which is acceptable to those who will be affected.

Let me make it clear that I am not saying there will be no problems, no hitches and no difficulties. There are bound to be problems, not least because a clean overnight switch to decimal currency working on the part of the entire country is impossible. That is why we shall have a change-over period of dual currency working. Nor would I deny that there will be some problems arising as a result of the system to which we shall be changing over. We have always recognised these and they were considered by the Halsbury Committee and were debated in the House in 1967 when the first Decimal Currency Act was being considered. As against this, there are—

Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

That was not the first Decimal Currency Bill. The first was 10 years earlier, when I was one of the sponsors of a Private Member's Bill to that end.

Mr. Rodgers

I am glad to be corrected by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt), but it was the first which became a Statute which now binds us.

The only point that I am seeking to make is that, although we could argue at length about what might be the best system—the right hon. Member for Enfield, West is an unrepentent ten-bobber and others of us may have been in that camp—I am sure that now neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other right hon. or hon. Member would deny that, whatever form of decimal currency we went over to, there would be some problems in the change-over. Although one would hope that a change to any new system would be smooth, it would involve a degree of adjustment to which people would have to become accustomed.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, irrespective of the circumstances in which the decision was made in this House, the question whether the decimal unit was based on a pound or ten shillings was essentially a cross-bench issue upon which it was perfectly legitimate to have different views based on technical and other qualifications.

I want now to turn to the question of prices, because this lies behind the problem of the sixpence which has been so much under consideration in recent days. Not all prices expressed in the old currency will have to be converted on D-Day. Some of them, convert exactly, but others will need to be changed either on D-Day itself or during the change-over period.

The Government's policy towards the conversion of prices to decimal currency amounts was made absolutely clear over a year ago in the White Paper, "Decimal Currency: the Change-Over". Both the Government and the Decimal Currency Board have consistently said that, where it is necessary to change the price of goods and services as a result of the change to decimal currency, and particularly where retail prices are concerned, the rule should be to use the new halfpenny conversion table recommended by the Government and by the Decimal Currency Board.

This table, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, has been designed so that some prices go up on conversion to decimal currency and an equal number go down by the same amounts. This means that, over a wide range of prices, there is a balancing effect and there is no overall increase or decrease. Let me make this point quite clear. The conversion of prices to decimal currency means inevitably that there have to be a great many changes; some of these changes must be increases, but there should be decreases. If a representative selection of goods is taken in a grocery supermarket, for example, then there should be no increase in the size of the housewife's weekly shopping bill.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

Does my hon. Friend seriously believe that firms selling articles at fairly small prices will cut their profit margins by reducing prices in this way? If he believes that, he will believe anything.

Mr. Rodgers

I ask my hon. Friend to be patient. I shall deal more fully with prices. Whether I convince him or not, there are other considerations which he may wish to bear in mind.

In the change-over to decimals, the Government consider it particularly important that the public sector should set a good example. It has been made clear to Government Departments that they are expected to follow the policy to the letter. The prices and charges of nationalised industries and local authorities are the responsibility of the individual nationalised industries and local authorities. Many of them have still to take final decisions. But I will give the House just one example, which seems to have been overlooked, of action by a nationalised industry where the public will not suffer as a result of decimalisation, and this particular example is relevant also to the discussion about the sixpence.

The Post Office has decided that, when the coin-operated machines in its call boxes are converted, they will take the 2 new penny piece and the 10 new penny piece instead of the present sixpences, shillings and florins. The minimum cost of a call will go down from 6d. or 2½ new pence—as it is now, to 2 new pence, with a compensating adjustment of the length of the call. [Laughter.] Before hon. Members laugh, they should reflect that many people find the minimum charge extremely convenient for a short call and that they will find that they can make a short call for a smaller sum than hitherto. That is surely to the general convenience of the public.

I turn now to the private sector. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite will want to claim that the private sector will be less scrupulous than the public sector in this respect—in other words, whether they endorse the apprehensions of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts). But I can tell the House now that such firms as Sainsburys, Marks and Spencer and Fine Fare have decided that when they go decimal—and they intend to do so either on D-Day or very soon afterwards—they will apply the officially recommended new halfpenny conversion table to all the prices in all their shops.

No doubt there are many firms, large and small, throughout the country, which have similarly decided on their policy. It could be advantageous to them, and reassuring to the public, if they were now to make their intentions plain. National firms should come forward with a clear declaration of policy; local firms should be pressed either by local newspapers or consumer organisations to declare their intentions. The public should know where their suppliers stand and be able to judge where to take their custom.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

Is the example which the Government expect them to follow that of the Post Office telephones, so that, if they cut prices downwards, they are expected to adjust quantity?

Mr. Rodgers

There are special problems with machines and that is the crux of the argument about the sixpence. What I am saying is that, on the basis of the conversion table, some prices may be adjusted upwards and some downwards, and I am asking for a plain declaration from those responsible, particularly for retail prices, that, as a result of these changes, there will be no overall increase in the prices of the goods which they put on sale to the housewife.

Mr. Higgins

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question? Is the example they are expected to follow that which the Post Office is setting with telephone calls. If these shops round downwards, are they expected to alter the quantity?

Mr. Rodgers

It is not a question of rounding down in the case of the Post Office. If the shops round down, they are allowed to round up if they use the conversion table. The important thing is the result that there shall be no overall increase in prices. I am sorry that is not comprehensible to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), but there is a clear difference between the conversion of machines and retail prices in shops.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

My hon. Friend says that he hopes the retailers will do this. If it is proved that they are not doing it, is there anything that he can or will do to prevent it?

Mr. Rodgers

That is a hypothetical question, since there is no question of their doing a rounding-up or a rounding-down before D-Day. What I have said, and surely this commends itself generally to the House, is that all possible steps should be taken to encourage retailers, the majority of whom are very reliable and play fair by their customers, not to increase their prices over all when the lime comes, and I believe that that will be the case.

No doubt a tiny minority will not play fair with the public and will blame on decimalisation an increase which would have happened anyway, or will use deci- malisation as a pretext for an increase in prices. I cannot deny that that may sometimes happen, but, over all, I am sure that such firms will not fool the public. There may well be a special role for consumer organisations in this situation to help the customer ensure that he gets a fair deal.

Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)

Many of us are not quite clear about the value of the declaration my hon. Friend the Minister of State seeks to obtain from suppliers. Is it the intention, for example, of the Government to carry out a sample survey following decimalisation which will at least establish what is happening? The point put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) is, what can or will be done if there is a general increase.

Mr. Rodgers

After D-Day, not necessarily the Government direct but certainly the Decimal Currency Board will be looking very closely at what may have happened to prices. If it is found that the situation is not as I have described it, it may be necessary to consider what other steps should be taken. But it is misleading to imply in advance of decimalisation that this is likely to happen. I do not believe that it will.

I turn, therefore, to the question of the sixpence, set against the background of there being no reason at all why decimalisation should result in an increase in prices and thus in the cost of living, and that, in so far as there may be some abuse of the occasion, we would expect the results of that abuse to be negligible.

Let us be clear, first, because there have been misunderstandings on this, that there has never been any question of demonetising the sixpence before the end of the change-over Period. Like the present penny and threepenny bit, it will be legal tender and current coin for the duration of the changeover period. That is to say, after D-Day, the sixpence will remain with us for the time being.

Secondly, whether or not there is a single coin worth 2½ new pence makes no difference at all to the prices of goods and services sold over the counter. A coin worth II, new pence is not necessary to enable a new price of 2½ new pence to be paid. The decimal bronze coins will be worth 2½ new pence, I new penny. 1 new halfpenny. People will not need a sixpence to buy something worth sixpence over the counter; they will be able to use various combinations of the decimal bronze coins, of course, a larger denomination like the 5p coin, for which they will receive change.

Mr. Lubbock

May I give the hon. Gentleman an example?

Mr. Rodgers

I am sorry, but if anyone else is to contribute to the debate I must compress my remarks. I cannot, therefore, give way.

There is no reason why the absence of a 2½ new penny coin should make the slighest difference to these over the counter sales. Those who claim otherwise are misleading the public. If the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has a different argument, no doubt if he is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will put it to the House.

Then there are goods and services sold through coin-operated machines. Compared with the total of all retail transactions, the sales of goods and services through vending machines is very small. The census of retail distribution for 1966 showed that sales through vending machines were 0.1 per cent. by value. Sales through machines operated by the 6d. were a fraction of that number. Most of these machines can be adjusted so that when the coin which operates them is changed there is a change in the value of goods and services sold.

I say this quite explicity about London Transport fares. There is no reason whatsoever, on decimalisation grounds alone, for fares to go up overall either on D-Day, during the change-over, or thereafter. If London Transport wants to adopt a fare structure based on 1s. stages for reasons of its own, this is not a matter for discussion in this debate. London Transport may have its own special problems, but they do not stem from our decision to go decimal, from the system adopted, or from the future of the sixpence. As the decision on Post Office telephone call-boxes shows, it is not the case that decimal bronze coins are unsuitable for use in coin-operated machines or that machines cannot be economically converted to take them.

It would certainly be inappropriate for me to give advice on fare denominations, but there is no reason why the fare structure should not use 1p or 2p coins; they could be used in machines and machines could give them in change, just as they give other coins at present on London Transport. I gather that no firm decisions have yet been made by London Transport, but it will be for the Greater London Council eventually to decide what fare Londoners should pay—and to ensure that decimalisation is not taken as an excuse for any increase.

I hope that I have said enongh to show that the sixpence is not of particular importance so far as prices are concerned. Nevertheless, it can be argued that it would save the expense of converting machines and the conversion of prices of goods and services sold through machines if the sixpence were retained, at any rate until it had come to the end of its useful life. It is suggested that even though it is not to form a permanent part of the decimal coinage system, it could still be continued as a 2½ coin for a time after the end of the changeover period.

The Government's own view, which was explained in considerable detail by my hon. and learned Friend during the passage of the second Decimal Currency Bill last year, is that once the decimal coinage system is introduced the sixpence will, in fact, come very rapidly to the end of its natural life. It is not a necessary feature of the decimal coinage system, in addition to the new halfpenny, new penny and 2 new penny coins. Further more, it will not be a convenient feature of the decimal coinage system, because it does not follow that a coin which is useful and conventient in one system will be equally useful and convenient in another. A large number of countries have decimal currency systems, but very few indeed have a coin worth 2½ times the minor unit.

The Government believe that a coin worth 2½ new pence will not be a convenient coin in change giving. Experiments were carried out for the Halsbury Committee which indicated that the use of this coin in this way for change giving caused errors and delays. Further experiments carried out since have confirmed this and such organisations as the Retail Distributors Association have said that they are against its use in this way. Again, advice to cash handlers by such organisations as the Retail Alliance and the industrial training boards does not suggest that it should be used as a 2½p coin in change giving once a shop has gone over to decimal currency.

Research that was carried out to decide how many decimal coins should be minted showed that the public get most of their coins in change, rather than in wage packets or by any other means. The majority of retail transactions involve change-giving. Coins circulate if people are given them in change; if they are not given them in change, they do not circulate. This is the reason why it has in the past often been difficult for people to get hold of shillings. The Government had minted plenty of shillings, and there were plenty in the banks; but there was no way of making them circulate if retailers did not draw them for change giving.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rodgers

No. I do not think I should give way, because I think the House is interested in the argument and in the conclusion of this part of my speech.

Since there is every indication that the sixpence will not be given in change in decimal shops, and since we already know that retailers will change over to decimal currency very soon after D-Day, it follows that the sixpence will not come into the pockets and purses of the public to anything like the same extent as it does now. It follows from this that during the changeover period the public may find that they have the same difficulty in getting hold of sixpences to use in coin operated machines as they used to have in getting hold of shillings.

If we are right in this, it would not be helpful to attempt to prolong its life after the end of the charge-over period. As I have said there is nothing the Government can do to make a coin circulate if it does not circulate naturally, and there is every indication that the sixpence would not circulate naturally as a 2½p coin. The consequence of purporting to be able to keep the sixpence in circulation after the end of the change-over period would be frustration and inconvenience for the public who could not get hold of them to use in machines, and loss of business for those who operate machines.

There is no question, therefore, of an arrogant decision to get rid of the sixpence against the overwhelming weight of public opinion. In the first place, the sixpence will remain legal tender throughout the transition period; secondly, our attitude towards its longterm future is based on a judgment about the extent to which it will prove a useful coin, convenient and in popular demand. We are not proposing bladly to abolish it against everyone's wishes. But the best judgment that we can make is that it will die a natural death because people will not in fact find it convenient to use. This is not just a matter of a Government decision; it is the best prediction that can be made of public habits and attitudes when we change over to the new system.

The problem with which we and everyone else who has to make decisions and commit money is faced is that predictions are one thing, and decisions are another. Some decisions have to be made now, and should not be postponed. Given our expectation that the 2½p will not in practice circulate during the change-over period, is it helpful to those who have to take decisions to know definitely either that the sixpence will be demonetised at the end of the changeover period or that it will continue as legal tender for a time after the end of the change-over—there being, of course, no guarantee that it will in practice circulate.

The Government have decided that this warrants further consideration. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is asking the Decimal Currency Board for an immediate reappraisal of the situation and an urgent report to be available by Easter in the light of recent comment—and no doubt what is said in this debate—and its own expert knowledge. The board is being asked to advise whether the decision that the sixpence should go at the end of the change-over period should stand, or whether there would be advantage in a decision now that it should continue as legal tender for 2½p for a time after the end of the change-over, so as to allow for full account to be taken of experience during the change-over and for the decision to be reviewed if that experience suggested our present judgment is mistaken. I have no doubt that those who are interested will make their views known to the Decimal Currency Board without delay.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Is the Minister aware that it would be for the convenience of the House if I stated now that in view of that indecisive, insensitive and extremely weak statement we shall certainly seek to divide the House?

Mr. Rodgers

The right hon. Gentleman must be free, and is, to decide what is the proper course. I believe that, on reflection, he will realise that the future of the sixpence should not be a party matter.

Hon. Members

Free vote!

Mr. Rodgers

If, as the right hon. Gentleman has argued, it would be arrogant to go ahead in the face of public opinion with abolishing the sixpence, I would regard it as just as arrogant to make an arbitrary decision now without allowing all those most affected to express their opinions—

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

Take the Whips off.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Rodgers

No. I was in the middle of a sentence, which I intend to complete.

If it would be arrogant, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, to say that despite public opinion as so far expressed we should not consider any possible change in policy it would be equally arrogant not to allow all those most affected, including the machine operators and the retail trade, to express their view. It would equally be arrogant and discourteous to the Decimal Currency Board not to allow it to report to my right hon. Friend to enable him to make whatever may be the right decision.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be committed by the statement he has just made, but to reflect a little longer on the precise terms of what I have said. I hope that he may take the view that in the light of what I have said the right course would be to allow opinions to be expressed and the evidence to be examined, and then to allow my right hon. Friend to make a decision with all the facts before him.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Rodgers

No. I am sorry.

Mr. Atkinson

On a point of order. The debate has somewhat shifted. Therefore, I interrupt in this rather unusual way—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Atkinson

With respect, my point is a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The announcement by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) that the party opposite is to vote presumably means that those voting in favour of the Motion are voting in favour of a new 2½p piece. That being so, may we have an assurance from the Government that those who vote against the Motion are not voting against the introduction of a new 2½p piece?

Mr. Rodgers

I admire my hon. Friend's skill, and only regret that I did not give way to him immediately. Certainly, I can give him that assurance.

I felt, when the Motion was put on the Order Paper, that it was mischievous and without merit. It would be very mischievous if, in view of what has been said, the right hon. Gentleman divides the House tonight. Even if he takes what I would regard as an irresponsible course, I hope that after today's debate the partisan spirit will subside for the sake of all those who are involved in, and those who will be affected by, decimalisation.

This is a momentous change, and one which both parties support in principle. We owe it to the country to help make the transition period as smooth as possible and free from unnecessary disputes.

Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)

The Minister has constantly appealed to the House for a non-partisan spirit. Is not he aware that it was the present Home Secretary who steamrollered the matter through his own party upstairs and then put a three-line Whip on hon. Members opposite for the debate in the House? It is the Labour Party and the Government who have been partisan right from the beginning of decimalisation.

Mr. Rodgers

The question I was putting to the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend was whether, on reflection, and since views on the sixpence are different on both sides of the House, but in particular because of my undertaking, he would now consider it in the best public interest not to divide the House but to enable my right hon. Friend to consider all the evidence which has been put to him.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am surprised that this subject is proving so exciting. I remember calming an audience at Essex University by talking to them about decimal currency. But it is a very important subject, and we owe a great debt to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), who started it all by setting up the Halsbury Committee.

I think that the Government have today announced the right non-decision to keep the sixpence for the time being, but I hope that it will not be kept for too long. The name "sixpence" will survive and be confusing. Moreover, the coin will be firmly labelled "sixpence", but worth 2½p. Mention has been made of slot machines; the sixpence will be far too near in size to the new penny for many coin operated machines.

Keeping the sixpence for any length of time will also mean keeping the new halfpenny long after it is unwanted simply to give change. The sixpence may well prove just as difficult to get out of circulation as the half-crown proved, and it will, therefore, perpetuate prices in fractions. I also hope that the Minister of State will not forget Mrs. Gregory and her experiments with the 40 male British bus conductors, set out in Appendix 8 of the Halsbury Report.

I have two main criticisms of the system to which we are committed. First, the weight of the cupro-nickel coinage is far too great for its value. We have, and shall have, too much avoirdupois in our pocket. The pound in our pocket weighs too much. Secondly, the 10s. coin is too near in size to the florin. These are two interconnected problems.

It is difficult to make an absolutely accurate comparison between the bulk of our new coinage and foreign currencies because these are seldom in a weight-value relationship in the way that ours is. But taking an average handful of white metal change in different countries, our coinage will be 1¾ times as heavy as the American; 3½ times as heavy as the Swiss; seven times as heavy as the Belgian; 5¼ times as heavy as the German; and four times as heavy as the French. It will even be about three times as heavy as the coinage of good old Sweden, which the party opposite admires so much.

Moreover, all those countries have notes of a smaller value than £1. Having the 10s. coin increases the argument for lightening the florin, shilling and sixpence. Whereas previously one had two, three or four 10s. notes in one's wallet, one now has the extra weight in pocket or purse. When the bronze coinage has been lightened, the cupro-nickel will seem clumsier than ever. There are in circulation, in florins, shillings and sixpences, about 30,000 tons of cupro-nickel. The unfortunate people of the country are condemned to carting about in their trousers, or bags, the weight of a decent-sized Liberian tanker. These coins are increasingly too large and heavy for their very modest value.

On balance, the decision to leave the shilling and florin unchanged was right at the time. The 1966 White Paper says of these coins: …If the weight-value relationship stays there is little point in changing their specification, and thereby adding considerably to slot machine conversion costs. The retention of these familiar coins at familiar values will be of great help to the public during the changeover. It would indeed be a great help to the public if anything were retained at its familiar value. That argument was then true. The introduction of the 10s. coin has completely altered the argument. We have more bulk in our pocket, there is confusion between the 10s. coin and the florin and the weight-value relationship has been lost.

The cure is to introduce a 20 new penny or a 25 new penny piece related to the 10s. piece and gradually ease out the florin. Halsbury, appointed in 1961, recommended that the weight-value relationship should be kept. But the 10s. piece has effectively introduced a three-tier coinage and there is no useful weight-value relationship left. Lord Halsbury actually recommended a 20 new penny piece in a weight-value relationship with the florin and because of that it was necessarily a very heavy coin. He envisaged keeping the 10s. note and having, here and now, a 20 new penny piece. The Government rightly rejected this because the coin would be too large.

Lord Halsbury also said that when a 10s. coin was introduced: In our view, it would then be convenient to undertake a further revision of the coinage. Further, the 1969 White Paper said: a 20 new pence or 25 new pence coin in the same tier as the 50 new pence coin could be issued after the changeover if there were a demand. —though there will now be difficulties because of the particular size of the 10s. coin. The gap between the florin and the 10s. coin is far too wide. Most countries have a coin of higher value than a florin and a note of lower value than 10s. As the House is aware, the optimum relationship for coins in a coinage is that they should go up in value by twice in each step. We, however, will have a very peculiar relationship if we keep the sixpence and do not have a 20 new pence or 25 new pence coin. The steps will be 2, 2, 5/4, 2, 2, 5 This is a most erratic and troublesome progression.

The 20 and 25 new penny piece coin will also be a great advantage to the public when buying, from slot machines, such products as cigarettes, which cost more than a florin. Any machine which involves the use of two coins has to be complicated. It has to have some mechanism which will make a conditional response to the first coin and return it if the second coin turns out to be a dud. Losing the florin will not be so inconvenient. In 1962, out of 11 million slot machines only 1 million accepted florins and almost all of these accepted shillings or sixpences as well.

The Government are bound to have some difficulty in deciding whether this new coin should be 20 new pence or 25 new pence and in deciding its size. The fact that they have chosen a 10s. coin, too close to the 2s. coin in size, means that any new coin, 25 new pence or 20 new pence, if it is in weight-value relationship to the 10s. coin will be confused with the shilling. A shilling weighs five- twelfths of a 10s. coin and, therefore, a 20 new pence coin would be of identical size and weight to a shilling. That is their problem, and it may be that the weight-value relationship will have to be abandoned. I do not think, as we are landed with a three-tier coinage, that that would necessarily be unfortunate. The new coin would also provide some welcome work for the Mint, which I understand is an issue at the moment.

Accordingly, since the Government have shown that they are not inflexible on this matter and can yield to pressure, I hope that, in addition to extending the life of the sixpence, they will introduce a new 20 or 25 new pence coin coupled with a statement that in due course they will withdraw the florin to avoid confusion with the 10s. piece.

5.7 p.m.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

I understand that the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) represents, as a Member of Parliament, 50 or 60 of my hon. Friends. I have mixed feelings as to whether he represents their views on this subject. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the controversy between the new 50p piece and the 10s. note or an equivalent note. I spent a lot of time talking to people about this when the controvery was at its greatest and the conclusion I reached was that peoples' misgivings were centred around the fact that they felt that it did not have the same value, because, for some psychological reason, people have come to associate a greater value with paper money.

It was because it was not paper money that people had some resistance to the new coin. The majority accept that a 50p piece has advantages over paper money, but they just have this feeling that it was not of equal value to the 10s. note. It is a question of the feelings of people and probably a lifelong association with paper money. I do not know what the answer is unless we are to have a massive reintroduction of paper money at values less than the £. Since both sides of the House are agreed that we should not do this I am sure that we will overcome the problem in time.

The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) has referred to the pound-penny system. The present Home Secretary once said that having rejected the pound-mil system the alternative, based on the £, must be a bastard system. We all recognise the problems, once having adopted the £ as the basis, divided by 100. There must be a combination of systems by introducing a vulgar fraction into the concept. We are only now beginning to realise the extent of the difficulties. When we think of having more than two figures to the right of the decimal point we can all appreciate the tremendous difficulties for accountancy systems and the like.

In the present system we have two figures to the right of the decimal point and also this curious fraction, the ½ stuck on the end. To do away with that and have a two-figure system to the right of the decimal would mean a minimum coin of 2½p at present values and a built-in escalator for rising costs.

In the original discussion about the adoption of the £, a series of assumptions was made, which I totally reject, one of which was that within 10 years we shall be able to do away with the fraction in our monetary system. It was argued that from 1959 to 1969 there was an increase in the Retail Price Index of about 41 per cent. It is now argued that from 1970 to 1980 there will be a similar increase of 40 per cent. It is suggested that, as a result of the 40 per cent. minimum increase, we shall be able to phase out the ½p by about 1980. The argument is, therefore, that we should resist the introduction of this new coin, which would create the problem of the third figure to the right of the decimal point. The designers of our currency envisage that within 10 years we can have a system with only two figures to the right of the decimal point and nothing else to worry about. I reject completely the assumption on which that argument is based, and I believe that we should do everything possible to avoid an increase in the cost of living during the next 10 years.

Another argument is that 1p is a quarter of a thousandth part of the likely average wage in 1980. This will mean that the ½p will have a meaningless value, that it will be in the same position as the cent in the United States, with all the problems that go with it. I hope there will be an average wage of about £40 in 1980, but I do not accept that it follows from that that the ½p will be unnecessary.

It is a common belief that, once we go over to the decimal system, people will dismiss the ½p as of little value. This would be disastrous to living costs generally. I suggest to my hon. Friend that, in the intensive campaign which he has mentioned, we should ask Thompson's, or whoever handles the campaign, to develop the slogan, "One over two equals 1/". If we can get that message across, people will get an idea of the value of the ½p. They will be able to understand the value much better if we can present that idea to them in a simple form.

We forget that the new 6d. will be referred to as 2½p. That has problems and is an automatic built-in escalator for rising costs. The small oranges which are common in the greengrocers' shops just now at 6d. apiece will be 2½p, and the tendency will be to regard them as being cheaper. There is likely to be, therefore, a change in attitude towards prices., a different level of tolerance, and resistance to new price increases will be reduced.

Undoubtedly prices will be rounded up. I have done a thorough research on this with some colleagues outside the House. Despite what the Government have said and the activities of the Decimal Currency Board, the rounding up is bound to cost an extra 5s. on an average wage of £25 a week. This represents a minimum increase of 1 per cent. in the cost of living.

To give an example, the price of a popular brand of cigarettes with filter tips is 5s. 2d. On a straight conversion that would be 26p, which represents a ½d. increase. We know, therefore, that cigarettes will go up by ½d. next year.

Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)

Will my hon. Friend say what will be the situation of people living on small fixed incomes?

Mr. Atkinson

Those people are the most vulnerable to changes in prices. The most worrying aspect of this is the cumulative effect on people with small incomes. There will be this ½d. increase on a packet of cigarettes next year, and there will also be difficulties with vending machines. The Government should now consider a variation in the tax, so that some of these problems can be avoided. The tax may be rounded up on some things and decreased on others. If we could buy cigarettes at 20 for 25p, the vending machine problems would be overcome. That would mean a reduction of 2d.

I argue for the introduction of a new 2½p piece and against the continuation of the 6d., which is of little value for use in machines because of its nearness in size and weight to the other coins. We should now be considering using the spare capacity at the Mint to produce the new 2½p coin, which would be invaluable for use in coin-operated launderettes, auto-fare buses, on the Underground and in many other machines needing a coin which can be used in multiples.

Finally, on the matter of the cost of conversion, which has been played down, some research has been done. The original estimate was £150 million, which I consider to be an under-estimate. From the figures I have seen, the cost of conversion would appear to be something like £300 million. If commerce, banking, government, local authorities, indeed all aspects of our life including the retail trade, and so on, are to be subject to conversion, involving changes of machinery amounting to that sort of figure, that is bound to affect the cost of living. Most economists to whom I have spoken about the matter estimate that it is bound to mean an increase of something like 1 per cent. in the cost of living. If one adds that 1 per cent. to the previous 1 per cent. in evaluating the costs of decimalisation, it will mean an increase of 2 per cent. in the cost of living. With those pleas to the Government, I hope that my hon. Friend will take particular note of the introduction of a new 2½p piece.

5.22 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)

The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) has given the House some useful examples of the effect of price increases when decimalisation is brought in. I thought that the Minister of State in introducing the matter gave a useful example of the new Ministerial principle, which is that the length of a ministerial speech goes in inverse ratio to the import- ance of what he has to say. I was reminded of the old naval maxim, "When in trouble make smoke". The hon. Gentleman was making smoke, and indeed it was difficult to find until the end of his speech precisely what he had in mind. The more he used the phrase "Let me make this clear", which he did abundantly, the more opaque became his thoughts.

The truth is that the Government have got themselves into a muddle over the 6d., and it is a muddle of their own making. It never would have been necessary to abolish it if the Government had chosen the 10s. unit. Both Australia and South Africa chose the 10s. unit and kept the 6d.—[An HON. MEMBER: "And New Zealand."] I am reminded that was also the case in New Zealand. They have all kept the 6d. in the form of the 5-cent piece.

The problem has been that the Financial Secretary gave an assurance that the 6d. would go, and as recently as last Tuesday the Minister of State said that the Government had made clear in the past their view about the likely future of the 6d. Therefore, in the course of two or three days, despite the intense pressure on them, they could not give up quite as easily as all that. It would never have been necessary to have had this debate had the Government chosen the right system in the first place.

I should like to say a few words about the 6d. piece. It is a happy little coin and it has been around for a long time, I understand since 1551. It is a small and unassuming coin, and one is always glad to have it. It is not as valuable as it was. One cannot go and buy up Woolworths with it as one could before the war, but in recent years it has become increasingly useful as a token of value. It is light. One can carry a lot of them about and it has become the staple coin for anything you want to do in a hurry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not everything."] Whether it is to make a telephone call, to travel two stops on the Underground, to park one's car for a few minutes, or to buy a bar of chocolate, it is the tanner you need.

What then is the future of the 6d.? Ultimately we are told it will last for the transitional period while the matter is being handed over to Lord Fiske to study. The nearest coin in value is the 2p bronze coin—I must admit that when the bronze age is mentioned this Government leap readily to mind—which will be twice as heavy as the 1p piece. If it is to be used a lot, then we shall be wise to have our pockets reinforced. But it will not be the alternative to the 6d., because eventually that will be the 5p piece. There may be a short period of flirtation with the 2p piece when the sixpence goes. We shall be consuming mini-bars of chocolate, and I understand that we are to have a 2p piece slot in telephone kiosks. One will just have time to clear one's throat and say "Hello" before the time is up and one will have to insert a 10p piece.

The coin most commonly in use if the 6d. goes will be the 5p piece, doubling the cost of everything now done by the 6d. It is no good the Government saying that we will get twice the value, because we will not. We will pay double what we pay now for travelling two stops on the Underground. One only has to ask the gentlemen in the ticket office at Westminster Underground how often the 6d. is used to discover that it is the most popular coin in use. Cars will stay much longer at meters, with all the harmful effects that will have on traffic.

What about the cost of converting all the meters? How much will it cost? Why should the ratepayers be saddled with this quite unnecessary increase? The vending machine industry alone estimates that it will have to find £10 million to cover the cost of conversion—a completely unnecessary expense. London Transport says that it will have to bear a cost of £1 million. Therefore, the passing of the 6d. will cost industry a lot of money. But it will not be long before that cost is passed straight on to the consumer. I would guess that the velocity of the 6d. is very high, and so will be the new 5p piece, so that the cost of living is bound to rise rapidly.

It is true that the switch to decimal currency has always been said to be an expensive operation, but why make it gratuitously expensive? The fact is that the Government chose the wrong system in the first place, the unit rather than the 10s. unit. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time that there is …an international argument for retaining the £."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 1746.] That argument was blown sky high by devaluation.

The real trouble was that the £unit became, rather like Clause Four in the Socialist philosophy, an article of faith. No rational argument was possible. The tablets had been brought down from the mountain and that was that. The Prime Minister was reported in The Times of 3rd March, 1967, as saying that there would be no abandonment by the Government of their position on a decimalised pound, there would be no preliminary debate, there would be no free vote. It is rather like something out of Kipling, because the Prime Minister had to withdraw his troops from the Himalayas where he had put them and he now had to make a new front line, the £ unit. There is some sense in switching from the unattainable to the untenable. It is progress of a sort, but not particularly rapid.

Why do we not just keep the 6d.? Has that become an article of faith, too? What a battle cry for the troops, "Banish the sixpence!" Surely even at this late stage, there must be room for common sense. Let us call it 2.5p, if we have to. But why involve ourselves without reason in completely unnecessary expense and inconvenience? Why do we not just leave it alone? As the duchess said in "Alice in Wonderland": If everybody minded their own business, the world would go round a good deal faster than it does.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. David Ginsburg (Dewsbury)

Like the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Peter Hordern), I was an unrepentant "ten bobber", and I severely criticised the former Chancellor of the Exchequer for not agreeing to a free vote in the House. Equally, I am in a position to criticise the Opposition for wishing this evening to press the matter to a vote.

From the public point of view there is no question that this House took the wrong decision in 1967 and adopted the wrong system. But, having taken the decision to adopt the £-decimal system, it is my regrettable view that we have to see the system through.

After all, when one looks at the Opposition Motion, what are they suggesting? Are they saying that at this stage of the game we should have a 10s. system?

Mr. Iain Macleod indicated dissent.

Mr. Ginsburg

Apparently not. Is it even suggested that the whole operation should be postponed for a year or two? I have not heard a suggestion of that kind from the benches opposite.

In practice, we have to make the best of a difficult job, we have to make the changeover as smooth as possible, to see that difficulties are kept to a minimum and that the problems of the public are eased. In that sense, even though he made rather heavy weather of it, I welcome the statement of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I thought too that the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) should have been a little more forthcoming.

In any case, whatever the future of the 6d. piece may be, I think that it is the consensus of feeling in the House that there is room for a coin of some kind which fulfils the rôle of the 6d. for the slot machine. On the Continent, counters may be purchased for telephone calls and for use in slot machines at underground stations. It may be that the future of the 6d. eventually could be along those lines. The day may come when the 6d. is demonetised and that something similar in shape and weight continues to serve slot machines. In that way, the cost of living problem described by my hon. Friend the member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) will be attended to.

I want to touch upon certain other aspects of decimalisation which cause me concern. But, first, I should declare an indirect interest here in that I am a director of a market research company which undertakes surveys of office machinery.

I was a little worried about the Press release issued shortly before Christmas by Lord Fiske, Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board. In it, he expressed his concern about the progress of small firms in preparing for decimalisation. He adduced evidence that the large firms were co-operating with the board and making their plans in very good time, but that something like a third of the smaller firms were not and that the gap was growing. Some of his words are melodramatic. For example, he said: With just over 15 months to go to D-Day, the increasingly wide gap between the state of preparedness of the biggest and smallest firms gives cause for some concern.…The writing is now clearly on the wall for the small business man. With everything pointing to a massive swing to decimal working, all firms will be faced with a steadily increasing amount of decimal documentation. I submit that that is the wrong tone for the chairman of the Decimal Currency Board to adopt. That may be the situation. It may be regrettable that smaller firms are converting more slowly than the board would wish, in which case the board and the Government should ask themselves whether there is not more which could be done to speed up matters.

That brings me to a positive suggestion which I would make for transmission to the Decimal Currency Board. It concerns its publicity campaign. The Minister has said and the board has confirmed that a massive campaign of education is planned at the end of the year. Certain aspects of the board's campaign should be brought forward and started within the next few weeks. If it is brought forward, certain preparatory steps can be taken by the smaller firms which at present are not preparing for decimalisation. Publicity directed towards these smaller firms should be through the more popular media. Particular stress should be laid on the problem of adding machines.

The board has issued a report about the cash register situation. It says that plans for decimal cash registers are satisfactory, though even there it is worried about the position of smaller firms. However, it is significant that the board has not issued a report about the installation of decimalised adding machines, and I hope that the Government will institute further urgent inquiries in this direction.

I know that the statistical documentation is not as detailed as it should be, but I gather from the Decimal Currency Board that it estimates that there are in existence about 750,000 adding machines. The best estimates that I have been able to obtain indicate that in 1968 the output of adding machines was running at about 75,000 per annum, and that rose in 1969 to 150,000 per annum. However, I suggest that there will be certain serious problems if there are more orders for new decimalised adding machines than expected, and there will be an even more serious problem if the Decimal Currency Board has over-estimated the number of conversions. As I understand it, the board has based its plans on an estimate that people will convert their machines. However, it may be that people will take the view that the exercise is not worth a candle and that it is better to buy new machines. If orders are not placed by smaller firms very soon and they prefer to wait six months, nine months or even a year, there may be a shortage of decimalised adding machines. The machines will not be there to match the orders.

One message then which could come out of this debate, apart from the issue of the sixpence is the issue of urgency. The Decimal Currency Board should be instructed to circulate some of their propaganda and publicity on decimalisation at an earlier date. The sooner that it goes out, the more rapidly will action be taken and the smoother the changeover will be.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) say that he was an "unrepentant ten bobber" and that there was no question but that we had adopted the wrong system. I could not help reflecting what a tragedy it has been for the reputation of this House and for the good sense of the country as a whole that hon. Members like him did not have the courage of their convictions when this matter was put to the test. Although the Government could not allow a free vote, if there had been a few more rebels on this issue as there have been on some others, we would not now be having this debate. On a free vote, I am convinced that the 10s. system would have won the day. It is attractive to the vast majority of hon. Members—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) does not agree, because I have listened to him in other debates, but I am sure that he would be honest enough to admit that, if his colleagues had had a free vote and had joined with those other forces, on a completely nonpolitical basis, who were in favour of the 10s. system and who were supported by reputable organisations outside like the Consumer Council, the T.U.C. and many others, there is no doubt which way the decision would have gone.

Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)


Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Gentleman does not agree with me, but I could name a good many hon. Members opposite who would have gone into the other Lobby if it had not been for the imposition of the Whips.

If that had happened, instead of this debate, we could have been discussing the implementation of decimal currency on an all-party basis and with support from all hon. Members, with 10s. as the major unit and the retention of the 6d piece as an intrinsic part of the system. I need hardly remind hon. Members that, in a 10s. system, the 6d. would have represented 5p and could have been an integral part of the system, just as the 1 s. turns into 5p in the £-decimal system. But that is water under the bridge, and there is not much point in recapitulating all the arguments in the House when the Government held to their decision, against the advice of all the authorities that I have mentioned and the advice of the majority of the people.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Chislehurst would argue with me here. If he does, may I tell him that with Lord Halsbury I took part in the television programme "24-Hours" at the beginning of 1967. As a result, many people wrote either to myself or to the producer of the programme. Out of those who wrote, 66 were in favour of the 10s. unit, five were in favour of the system that the Government have adopted, five were in favour of the £-mil system, 11 were in favour of some other system, four wanted no change, and one was indifferent.

I am not pretending that that is an entirely random sample, but it fairly represents the views of the majority of people in this country. From that it can be seen that once the issues were explained, overwhelmingly they supported the adoption of the 10s. system.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst keeps shaking his head. However, this has been confirmed by independent surveys conducted at the time by consultants like Hoskyns. However, as I said, it is useless to recapitulate the arguments and I do not propose to go over them.

The question to which the House has to address itself today is how we will mitigate the enormous damage that may be caused by the Government's policy if they pursue the decision to withdraw the sixpence as soon as possible after D-Day. I believe that within the framework of the £, penny and half-penny system which has been adopted, the scope for variation is extremely limited. We have most of the necessary coins already in production in the shape of the 5, 2 and 10 new penny pieces.

The manufacturers of accounting and vending machines have taken account of the proposed changes in their plans. So almost the only question of any importance which remains to be discussed is whether the 6d. should be retained and, to a lesser degree, the point raised by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) about whether we should have another coin in the system, which has been referred to as a double florin. The hon. Gentleman was not correct in his recollection of what Lord Halsbury said on that issue. Lord Halsbury proposed several alternatives, one of which was that a double florin would be part of a third-tier coinage connected in its weight with the new 10s. coin. As the Government finally decided to have the 10s. coin, it is a matter for consideration whether, in the same tier, we should have a 4s. piece related to it in weight. This would be of great convenience for the public and an addition to the system which would be to the advantage of retailers and those who manufacture automatic vending and coin-operated machines of all kinds who, as it stands, will have nothing between the florin and the 10s. piece which they can use.

Suggestions have been made that there are various objections to the retention of the 6d.—for example, that the 2p and the 2½p piece are too near together. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said that we got on very nicely with the florin and the half-crown for over a century. Therefore, I look on this as a minor objection to the retention of the 6d. I am sure this will not bother the public to any degree.

The right hon. Gentleman touched briefly on the tikki argument. He pointed out that the 3d. piece in South Africa lasted for six years before being finally withdrawn. But should it not be emphasised that the tikki was never used in South Africa in as wide a series of transactions as is the 6d. in this country? I do not think that the tikki was ever used in coin-operated machines, such as telephones, gas meters, machines for selling chocolate bars, and so on. I am convinced that if we compare the percentage of sixpences with the total amount of coinage in circulation in this country, it will be found to be much higher than the percentage of tikkis to the total coinage at the time that South Africa converted to decimal currency. This comparison, which has sometimes been made by the Government, is entirely spurious. We should look at the intrinsic place of the 6d. in our system rather than draw totally unrealistic comparisons with what may have happened in another country.

The third objection touched on by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West—and here I must agree with him—was that technically it is unsound to import a fraction into the system. We are faced with this dilemma because of the Government's insistence on adopting the E as a major unit. If we are to make a choice between having a component in the system which is technically and theoretically unsound and using a coin which in practice has proved to be of such wide value, I prefer the latter. I think that if we put this to the average member of the public, he would tend to discount these theoretical arguments of the currency experts—those in the banks, and so on—and say that, from the point of view of convenience, he would like to retain the 6d.

A further point which has not been mentioned, but to which I allude in passing, is the implication for the Royal Mint of doing away with the 6d. If it goes out of circulation fairly soon after D-day, which may be a period of up to 18 months—we do not know how long the transitional period will be, but on the Government's original plans the 6d. is to disappear from circulation along with the 3d. piece and the 1d. as soon as the transititon period is over, which is expected to last for 18 months at most—the demand for the decimal coinage will leap up to take that into account. If the 6d. could be retained, not only during the transitional period but also for an indefinite period afterwards, the burdensome demands on the Royal Mint would decrease during both the change-over period and thereafter.

The last time I looked at the figures, there were about 1,800 million sixpences in circulation. If the 6d. disappears at a given moment, immediately prior to that date the Royal Mint will be working overtime to provide coins equivalent to it of some other denomination.

Concerning the Royal Mint, I should like to mention one point that has disturbed me about the transfer of production to South Wales, which I cannot dispute as being within the policy accepted by both sides of creating work in development areas. I have received a disturbing memorandum from the chairman of the Joint Trade Union Committee at the Royal Mint. Among other things, the chairman says that the transfer is not being conducted efficiently, that no regard is being paid to the interests of the workers now at Tower Hill, and asking what will happen to them when the change-over is complete in 1973.

Being rather anxious about it, as a result of aproaches made to me by some of my constituents, I put two Questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Answers to which made me feel even more anxious about the future of the people working at the Royal Mint. I was told that many of the staff there have been promoted into temporary positions and that when the transfer goes through it is likely that they will revert to their substantive ranks, thus suffering a considerable drop in pay. It also appears that production has suffered through the split of manufacture of coins between Tower Hill and South Wales. I am reliably informed by the trade union side at the Tower Hill Mint that the blanks that are being used in South Wales are nearly all being imported from Germany. If so, with the vast investment which we have made in the new Royal Mint in South Wales, how is it that we cannot produce these blanks ourselves, either at Tower Hill or at one of the other establishments used by the Government in the past?

I suppose that the impact of this debate on the public is largely concentrated on the cost of living. I share the feelings of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) about the likely effects of abolishing the 6d. It is no use the Government saying, as they have said in the past, that it is easy enough for manufacturers to alter the amount of goods on offer at the same time that they use another coin. This may work satisfactorily in STD call boxes, and I have no complaint about the decision of the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications to convert these boxes to take the 2p piece while giving a slightly smaller amount of time for that coin.

But with many other common articles which are sold for 6d., the difficulties are not quite so easily overcome. Chocolates are an example. If a manufacturer decided to offer a bar worth only 4.8d., obviously the packing and the overheads would be just as great as when selling it for 6d., so the intrinsic cost of the operation goes up and the value to the consumer must go down. If, on the other hand, he decided to increase the size of the bar and sell it for 5p, he would cut out of his market a great many consumers who can only afford 6d. at a time. I am thinking particularly of the children, who are probably the greatest proportion of the market for chocolates bought from slot machines.

Another example is the daily newspapers, many of which cost 6d. What are they to do? It would be highly inconvenient—it was inconvenient when many evening newspapers were 5d.—to choose an amount involving the payment of two coins, so it will be natural for the newspaper publishers to increase their price to 5p—some of the Sundays are approaching this already—and it will cost people a great deal more to get their news.

I do not want to give many more examples, since they will probably occur to hon. Gentlemen anyway, but the one about which I have the greatest anxiety as a London Member is what will happen to fares on London Transport. There has been the most alarming talk about a minimum fare of 1s. I am certain that I speak for all my constituents when I say that this would be strongly resented and virulently opposed if any such suggestion were implemented by London Transport. The Minister said that no final decision had been made and that no doubt London Transport would listen to what hon. Members said today.

I should like to issue a warning to London Transport that, if they do such a thing, they will find that they lose a large section of the community who have hitherto been their loyal customers and who will, by hook or by crook, find some other method of travelling to work. Many of these consumers, I am sorry to say, will be tempted to use their motor cars, thus adding to the serious congestion from which we all suffer already in Central London. So it would be a very retrograde step if London Transport decided to go ahead with this proposal. I hope very much that they will reconsider.

As for the Minister's undertaking about the 6d., he is obviously in a great difficulty in trying to reconcile what he had to say with the firm stand taken by his colleagues in the past. I was not certain what the value of his concession was. We all knew that, in any case, the 6d. was to be retained until the end of the transition period.

On the last occasion that the 6d. was debated in the House, on the 1969 Bill, I told the Government that they could easily accept the Amendment moved, I think, by the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) to the effect that the 6d. should be retained for the time being but that, some time after the transitional period, they should use the powers in the 1920 Coinage Act to withdraw it by Royal Proclamation. There would have been no difficulty in thereby giving the users of the 6d. the breathing space which we are now demanding.

Unfortunately, they refused to accept that suggestion at the time, largely, I think, for reasons of face. They now have another opportunity to say something absolutely definite. I hope that before the end of the debate the Financial Secretary will say something more definite on behalf of the Government, because many people have large investments locked up in machines using the 6d. piece. I am thinking particularly of the automatic vending machine industry, for which this coin is of great importance. The Minister resisted the claims of that industry for compensation, which I think were fully justified, but it would be grossly unfair not to give them a firm basis on which to plan for the future, and he should announce at the end of this debate that the 6d. will be retained—I suggest for at least five years.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) will not be surprised when I say that I disagree with almost everything he said. The only thing with which I agreed was his concluding call for a more definite statement, although the definite statement I want is the opposite of the one that he wants. In the main, I support the Government, but I have one criticism of their handling of decimalisation.

It must be obvious that, in the introduction of a decimal system, a critical position will be occupied by the banks and that a great burden will fall on their staffs. I have been a little astonished to find that there has been no consultation between the Government and the National Union of Bank Employees. I should declare an interest in that I am a member of that union. If the Government were introducing a major change involving the mines or the railways, they would not dream of proceeding without having the closest consultation with the unions concerned. I am very sorry that the Government and the Decimal Currency Board have not seen fit to consult the union on a matter in which the activities of bank staffs are of such crucial importance, and I hope that it is not too late for those discussions to be held.

I turn from that criticism to the agreeable and easy task of defending the Government's decimalisation policy. I suppose that it is common ground that whatever system of decimalisation is introduced is bound to cause some confusion at the time of its introduction. I suppose that it is common ground, also. that it will be the Government's duty to do what they can to minimise such confusion. But that is where I part company from the Opposition, who apparently believe that it follows from those two principles that the system of decimal currency to be adopted should be the one which affords the easiest transition.

I do not think this to be so at all. I think that the system of decimal cur- rency to be adopted should be the one which will give the best results in the long run. After all, we are planning a currency which is to last for 100 or 200 years. If the system which is best in the long run is also the easiest to introduce, well and good. If not, then all reasonable steps should be taken to minimise any difficulty arising, but not to the extent of adopting a system which is less than the best. What fools our children and grandchildren will think us to be if, in 50 years' time, they find themselves saddled with a system of decimal currency less satisfactory than the best that could have been found, and a system adopted simply on the basis of the slot machines which were in existence in February, 1971.

The Opposition cannot escape the charge that they have failed to think clearly on this subject. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell), who led for the Conservatives in the Committee considering the first Decimal Currency Bill, said that we were planning for 200 years. The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who led for the Conservatives in the Committee which considered the second Decimal Currency Bill, said that after 20 years the balance of advantage lay with the £ system which the Government had adopted.

If we are planning for 200 years, and if the Opposition say that the Government's system is better for 180 out of the 200 years, where is the case which they still hanker after for adopting the 10s. system which will so soon become less than satisfactory?

Mr. Higgins

The hon. Gentleman has taken my words out of context.

Mr. Macdonald

If I have done so, I apologise, but I have heard, as opposed to reading, every word spoken on decimalisation in this Parliament. I think that I am possibly the only Member on this side of the House who can claim that, and possibly the hon. Member for Worthing is the only one who can claim it on the other side.

I do not think that I have taken the hon. Gentleman's words out of context, but I shall give the reference in case he wants to chase it up. It is at col. 37 of the Committee Report dated 18th April, 1967. I do not think that I am taking the hon. Gentleman out of con- text. If he looks it up, he will see that he said that the system proposed by the Government would be the best after 20 years. Therefore, if we are planning for 200 years, and if our system is the best for 180 out of those 200 years, it is a little petulant to go on harking back to a 10s. system.

I beg the critics to lift their eyes from their myopic study of the immediate effect, and to look ahead. After all, it is rare that the House has an opportunity to plan for such a long period ahead. In 100 or 200 years, who knows which of our institutions will be in existence, but we can be tolerably certain that the currency which we choose now will be. We ought, therefore, to take some trouble to make sure that we choose the system which will be best in the long run.

This question of the best system in the long run is the key to the question of decimalisation, and it is a concept which the Opposition have failed to grasp. On looking at the Motion, I cannot see that the Opposition have sufficiently grasped this long-term concept. I have listened to the debates on decimalisation, but to refresh my memory I have, during the two or three days when I knew that this Motion was to be discussed, looked up the arguments in favour of the 10s. system. There is none. The arguments deployed in favour of the 10s. system are arguments about the transitional period.

The long-term arguments, it seemed to me at the time, and still does, are weighty and solid in favour of the £ system which the Government have so wisely and rightly adopted. The Government did not adopt the £ system solely for international reasons. Although the Halsbury Report laid great stress on the international reasons, the Government did not adopt this system for those reasons, and it is unfortunate that the Opposition Front Bench keep on and on as though the Government did. I wish that the Opposition would not indulge in this tedious repetition, especially when it is clear that the Government adopted the £ system because the 10s. system is precisely and quantifiably twice as bad as the £ system.

Under the £ system, the lowest unit can be demonetised when it is no longer necessary. Under the 10s. system, the lowest unit cannot be demonetised when necessary. We have to wait until the one above becomes superfluous, because we cannot get rid of the little coin. It would still be required for giving change, even though it was too small to buy anything. the £ system also has the advantage of a large top unit, and this is a weighty and solid argument which I think brushes aside all others.

The long-term arguments are in favour of the £ system, and even the short-term arguments are not all in favour of the 10s. system. It is worth noting that the £ system will be the cheapest in regard to converting accounting machines and cash registers, and when the ten-bobbers advanced the argument of associability there was a defect to which curiously little attention was given. In the associability argument the ten-bobbers said how easy it would be for the housewife to consider 63 cents, because she would immediately identify that with 6s. 3d.

That was the example constantly given. None of the ten-bobbers quoted the example of 68 cents, because under their system 68 cents would be equal, not to 6s. 8d., but to 6s. 10d. Therefore, for every transaction involving an odd number of pennies there would be a slight bias against the housewife. She would be buying something at a price slightly more than she thought would be the case, and there are no counter balancing instances. It therefore seemed that the associability argument was extremely adverse to the interests of the housewife.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Dr. Sheila Jones said in an appendix to the Halsbury Report that some elderly or less intelligent people might take months to learn the £-cent-½system, while some might never really master it? Dr. Jones found that it was quite possible for the same people to master the 10s. system. This is the whole point of the associability of the 10s. system, that it is much easier to master, as the experts found.

Mr. Macdonald

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it shows that I have failed to make my point clear.

My point about the associability argument in respect of the 10s. system is that many people would think that they had accepted it, but there would be this little built-in bias which they would not spot. It seemed that the long-term arguments were in favour of the £ system, and that even the short-term arguments were not all in favour of the 10s. system. The Opposition have, therefore, fallen back on the argument about saving the tanner.

As there has been so much propaganda during the last few weeks about the case in favour of the tanner, I should like to take a couple of minutes to deploy the case against it, because this case has not really been heard. First, if we were starting from scratch nobody would conceive of a system of currency in which we would have a 2d. and 2½d. piece so close together. That would be an absurdity, and the Halsbury Report, in setting out the considerations which should govern the introduction of a new currency, was clear that the ideal system should not include both a 2d. piece and a 2½d. piece. Manifestly, if we could start from scratch, that would be a nonsense. That is a rather obvious argument, but it is a sound one.

Second, those who want to retain the tanner in the decimal system are forgetting the object of the whole exercise, which is to get away from fractions and to introduce a decimal system. It is true that under the system proposed by the Government there will be a fraction. This is a blemish, but it is one which will disappear in time.

Mr. Atkinson

How long?

Mr. Macdonald

I shall come to that.

To introduce a 2½p piece is to double the blemish, and when the time comes to demonetise the halfpenny, in answer to my hon. Friend's intervention, I believe it is difficult to foresee how long that is likely to be, but I do not dissent from his estimate.

If the time comes to demonetise the halfpenny, there is a risk that we may find we are unable to do so because we shall still need to keep the halfpenny in order to give change for the 2½p; because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield (Mr. Macleod) visualises keeping the 2½p for a considerable time. If this system were to be adopted, therefore, we run the risk in the fullness of time of being saddled with a halfpenny, too small to buy anything, but which we cannot get rid of because we need it to give change.

When we were discussing the pound-florin-mil proposal which also required a lowest coin too small to buy anything but which was necessary to give change, the right hon. Gentleman described it as a peculiarly unrewarding system. This afternoon he comes forward for something also peculiarly unrewarding.

It seems to me that to retain a 2½P piece, in the pound-penny-halfpenny system we are proposing, combines the worst features of the ten-bob system and the one pound system. In one proposal it enshrines everything we ought not to do.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, but part of his argument is based on the assumption that within 10 years we are to have a system whereby the minimum coin will be 2.4d., at today's value approximately 2½d. In other words, by 1980 we shall have a system using a minimum coin of 2½d. at today's value.

Mr. Macdonald

My hon. Friend should not be at all distracted by the numerical value of the coin, but impressed by its purchasing power. With all possible respect, it is really misleading to talk about values rather than purchasing power. I invite him to consider the conditions prevailing before the First World War, when the purchasing power of the farthing was comparable and none of the difficulties he visualises were apparently in existence even though the general standard of living was much lower than it is now.

Finally, if the tanner is retained for a considerable though unspecified period, there will be a great deal of uncertainty. Slot- and vending-machine manufacturers will not know, when constructing machines, whether to put in a slot for this coin. I will bet that in practice they will not and I am sure the Government are right in maintaining that the tanner will speedily disappear out of existence. A year ago there was a letter in the Financial Times from the chairman of the Decimal Currency Committee of the Retail Distribution Association. He said: Most sectors of retailing are now well advanced with planning for decimalisation and these plans do not include use of the sixpenny coin. That was one year ago, so how much more powerful is the argument today?

The final argument I want to advance against the tanner is the fact which my hon. Friend touched on in his speech, that in a decimal system it will not come into circulation. On Tuesday of this week I was arguing with a friend about this and she disagreed with me. We went into a shop and I bought something for 17s. 1d. I handed over a £1 note and predicted the coins that I would get in change: two pence, a threepenny bit, a sixpence and a florin, in that order, and that was exactly what happened—in that order; because shop assistants are trained to give change in a manner that builds up from a lower to a higher unit. This practice will continue in a decimal currency system. Therefore, when change is given the one coin that will never be given is a 2½p piece, because this will bring the shop assistant back down from a higher to a lower unit, which is not the easiest way of giving change.

With all these arguments against the tanner, it seems obvious that it will not come into existence and the argument crumbles away. I really regret the ill-advised, ill-informed campaign that has been mounted to retain it. Fortunately, this campaign has had little effect. There are 60,000 people on the electoral roll of my constituency and from among all these people in the last week or two, with all this campaigning going on to save the sixpence, I have had one letter on this subject, from Mr. J. M. Tierney, of Sidcup. He says: I do hope the move to retain the old sixpenny piece fails. Good for you, Mr. Tierney. You are quite right. Decimal Day is only one year ahead. I would have thought our time would be better spent in preparing the public for the change-over and not embarking on these alarms.

The Motion before the House really sets the issue quite clearly. Are we to choose a system of decimal currency that shall be lasting even though it is less popular and less easy to introduce, or are we to choose a system that is popular to introduce, but less than satisfactory in the long run? I am quite sure the Government have chosen rightly. I applaud them for their courage, and I shall be glad to support them. I do not in the least mind this reference to the Decimal Currency Board on the tanner. The board is very sensible and will come back with the inevitable recommendation that there is no place for this coin in a decimal currency system, and that it should disappear as soon as possible. I have no doubt about that, and, therefore, I shall gladly support the Government tonight.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

By the very argument which the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) has advanced, the Government stands condemned, namely, the test: will the system we are about to introduce last? If there is one thing that is utterly predictable it is that labour costs in banking and, I would have thought, in counting cash will continue to increase over the years into the foreseeable future.

I believe that it is also generally agreed as a lugubrious prophecy that the value of money will continue to fall. This means that the 10s. piece will be used more and more rather than less and less. Therefore, to have a 10s. piece which bears no relationship to the weight of the other cupro-nickel coinage is to increase the amount of work put into checking cash every single day with every single commercial activity.

At the moment, all a cashier has to do with silver to check whether envelopes have in them the amount of silver that is claimed is to put them on scales and look at a reading. Now the Government propose to have a system where the coin which will be used more and more—because, do not forget, there will be nothing between the 5p and the 10s. piece—will have to be abstracted from what used to be called silver—that has an historic ring to it, does it not?—because if mixed in with other coinage of more than 2p denomination, it cannot be weighed to check the quantum.

If ever there was a system redolent of wasted labour right from the beginning, before it is even brought into existence, it must be this; and for someone coming from the National Union of Bank Employees to recommend that as a system for the next 200 years really causes me to wonder how much thought he has given to it.

The Minister of State said that the tanner may be allowed to remain legal tender during the interim period, but what does this mean?—because a coin can be "murdered" secretly. While the half-crown was still legal tender it was impossible to get it from banks if one asked for it because the banks had been asked by the Decimal Currency Board not to let customers have half-crowns, even though that coin was legal tender. If similar pressure is put on banks not to let people have tanners, then, of course, it will go out of circulation.

It is no good arguing about whether people get small denomination coins from banks or shops. They will not be able to get them. Then a Minister will come to that Box and will say that the tanner has gone out of circulation and that it is no use keeping it when, in fact, it will have been murdered by the Decimal Currency Board or the Government.

I want a specific assurance from the Government that if there is to be a test of this kind, allowing the tanner to remain in circulation, no official or unofficial pressure will be brought to bear to "murder" it to try to prove the case which its continued existence is designed to test. Unless this is done, the public will not be able to form a judgment. Since at least one other back-bench Member wishes to speak, I will resume my seat.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

I am surprised on two counts to be speaking in this debate: first, because I did not think that there would be time, and, secondly, because I had been assured by this morning's Press that an intervention from me would not be necessary.

The more I have listened to the debate the more confused I have become, not only because much of it has been concerned with arguments for and against the 10s. system—I now regard that as a dead duck—but because I am not certain about what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said will happen to the tanner.

I will make only three points. The first is the question of the availability of the 6d. piece. At present, there are 1,800 million sixpences in circulation. About 100 million have dropped out of circulation in a very short time. This is understandable, because the tanner is a widely used coin and its durability is less than some other coins. Further, we have not minted any tanners since the first half of 1969. Are more sixpences to be minted to enable a proper trial and review to take place during the conversion period?

Secondly, I believe that the Government have under-estimated the magnitude of the problem. It is estimated that 11,000 million tanners are placed in slots of one kind or another every year. In other words, every man, woman and child uses 200 sixpenny pieces each year, or each week each person puts four tanners in a slot. Even now machines, parking meters and many others, are being made to take tanners. A great national campaign is on to introduce sixpence-in-the-slot buses.

Apart from the fact that the conversion of slot meters will be enormously expensive—I do not accept my hon. Friend's estimate of £300 million; he is being far too optimistic if he thinks that the job can be done for that—we must consider the possible rise in the cost of living. In other words, if there is to be enormous expenditure on altering slot meters, then, once they are altered, there will be a general price rise. I cannot imagine a small businessman who is selling an article for, say, 10d., cutting his profit margin by rounding that sum downwards.

Thirdly—I regard this as the strongest argument for retaining the tanner—this coin is a landmark. Housewives, old-age pensioners and people generally use this coin to a great extent. As people move into the new world of decimal currency they will require a landmark of this kind.

May I have an assurance that this landmark will remain? The only way that I can be given this assurance is to be told not only that the sixpence will remain during the conversion period, but that a new 2½p coin will be minted. That can be our only hope of maintaining this landmark.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

I would not dissent significantly from anything said by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts). I share with him an extraordinary feeling of fantasy which seemed to enshroud the Chamber while the Minister of State was speaking.

It was remarkable to hear a Minister speak in that way. I do not think that hon. Members could have heard such a speech often before. Indeed, it was such a wishy-washy speech that one's belief was stretched in accepting that it was being made by a Minister of the Crown.

One of the strangest remarks he made was his call for us to adopt a non-partisan approach to this issue. Certainly, that is the approach which my hon. Friends and I have sought all along to adopt. This has been our view since 1967, when the first decimal currency Measure was introduced.

It is because the Government have insisted on adopting a partisan approach on what is clearly a non-party matter, but a matter of common sense, that we now find ourselves in trouble over the whole question of decimalisation. We may admire the Minister's nerve, but we cannot but doubt his credibility when he makes a request of that kind.

We cannot forget that on the initial question of the type of decimal currency that we should adopt, and also on the question whether or not we should retain the sixpenny piece, the Government got their way with the aid of a three-line Whip and thereby achieved results which, on both issues, did not reflect the true view of the House of Commons. I am sure that had an honest view of Parliament been sought, hon. Members would have come down in favour not only of the 10s. system, but of retaining the sixpenny piece beyond the transitional period.

Be that as it may, a decision on the type of decimalisation we are to have has been taken and even we unrepentant ten-bobbers can do nothing to alter that. It is deplorable that the Government should have forced the issue through in this way, and the same applies to the whole question of the sixpenny piece.

On the tanner issue, we expected and anticipated that the Government would take the sensible course, even at this late stage. Thus, we feel that the proposal of the Minister is the worst of all possible worlds. To suggest that we should, at this time, have an inquiry to decide whether or not to keep the tanner, is unbelievable. Where have the Government been for the last four years?

This matter does not need an inquiry. The arguments are clear and the case for retaining the sixpenny piece is beyond doubt. To establish an inquiry at this stage will only increase uncertainty and lead to further confusion. It is nothing short of irresponsible for the Government to have made this suggestion, particularly at this late stage.

To suggest that an inquiry of this sort should be conducted by the Decimal Currency Board is strange indeed. After all, some telling remarks were made in Committee on the Decimal Currency Bill. For example, I said in February, 1969: It was unfortunate that the Secretary of the Decimal Currency Board should have adopted an attitude which came down clearly on one side of this controversial subject without expressing any contrary arguments—taking an essentially political view on the matter. Later, I said: The Secretary of the Board is also on record as saying that it is not an open question. If he is reported correctly, then he is saying that there is apparently— 'no chance at all that there will be any new thinking' on the sixpence."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, Standinq Commitete A, 27th February, 1969; c. 62–9.] I pointed out that he had no authority to say that and that he should not have expressed that view.

Now we are told by the Minister of State that an impartial inquiry into this whole matter will be carried out by the Decimal Currency Board. This is quite preposterous and we should reject it utterly and completely. The arguments are known quite clearly as far as the retention of the 6d. is concerned. Therefore, I think that we should perhaps consider the matter in some detail.

Clearly, the decision which the Government have taken is one which shows a great determination. At earlier stages they were defeated in Committee and lost the main Clause of the Measure; they reversed that defeat on Report. In another place they were defeated again on the issue, but again reversed the defeat on Report. This is where the Government have taken a wrong but determined line.

Now, at this late day, the Government suddenly apparently think that there is something to be said in favour of looking at the matter and setting up an inquiry. This is an extraordinary situation. We are puzzled by the reports in the Press today. There was one, for example, in the Daily Mail, under the simple, straightforward and rather hopeful headline, "Sixpence is saved". The only thing that we are certain about in the article is a paragraph which reads: Several Cabinet Ministers also realised this week that in their original planning they did not give enough thought to the sixpence's future. Further, it is true that this is the only part of the article that we can comment on with any certainty today, because the whole question is considerably shrouded in mystery. None the less, it is right that we should at any rate outline what the main arguments are for retaining the 6d. beyond the transitional period. I also want to make it clear that it is a possible arrangement even under the £ system with all its imperfections.

Even beyond the transitional period there is a case for retaining a third coin in our existing currency which looks the same and appears the same to old-age pensioners and others as the present coin. Therefore, if we have the 2s. the 1s. and the 6d. in their new forms of the 10p, the 5p and 2½p., then this will provide three markers and will make it easier to convert at the lower end of the scale.

The main arguments are all arguments based on cost. The first is on the cost of the coins; the second on the cost of the machines; and the third—and it is important—on the cost of living. On the cost of the coins, I think that it will be helpful if the Financial Secretary would make quite clear what the cost of creating the new 2p coin has been and what it would cost to continue the complete changeover from the present system if the 6d. were abolished.

We need more up to date facts. The crucial point has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House this afternoon. If we are to continue the 6d. beyond the transitional period it is necessary to make sure that the experiment is conducted on a fair basis. For the reason which I have mentioned already, there are grave doubts whether the Decimal Currency Board is in a position to do this. In particular, the experiment can be conducted on a fair basis only if the supply of sixpences is sufficient to meet the demand; and I find the way in which the Government seems to have mixed up the supply and demand aspects of this question quite extraordinary.

The Government are saying that if people cannot obtain the sixpences there will not be any demand and, therefore, they can abolish the sixpences. We must have an assurance from the Minister that if the experiment is to go forward, as it ought to do, on a definite basis, and not by means of an inquiry, sufficient coins will be provided to make sure that the experiment is conducted fairly and that the consumer can have a choice in the matter.

I do not doubt that if that is so the continued popularity and usefulness of the 6d. will be clear. I cannot help feeling, as far as the Newsletter of the Decimal Currency Board of July, 1969, is concerned, that the clear bias of the board in this respect comes out clearly. The board is worried because during the period before the transitional period there is certainly a very considerable demand for sixpences as if, somehow, this was wicked and people should not have sixpences and should not go around using sixpences if they prefer them to shillings. The Newsletter says: The 2,000 million sixpences now in circulation present no problem. The banks will provide special bags for them and will gladly replace customers' surplus sixpences with shillings/5p. Anyone capable of writing a sentence like that needs his sense of humour or something else examined. Are we seriously to suppose that banks will replace the sixpences with "shillings/ 5p."? That is unlikely, but as far as that is concerned we are in a position where it must be the case that adequate supplies of sixpences are provided and where we do have a genuine experiment in which we can see whether the 6d. naturally phases out or not.

The second point concerns the cost of machines. We all know that the cost of converting machines is very substantial. The Government have refused to make any arrangements, on the recommendation of the Decimal Currency Board, with regard to compensation. Again, we now find ourselves in a position of complete uncertainty.

Reference was made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) and other hon. Members to the way in which the Decimal Currency Board has suggested that the small man is lagging behind the others in converting his machines. In the circumstances, this is perhaps just as well. If the small man had to change his machines back and forth, depending on whether we had the 6d. or not, as often as I have rewritten my speech during the last 24 hours, he would have gone bankrupt long since. It would be wrong for the small man to make a conversion if he thought there was any chance of avoiding the cost of converting his machine for decimalisation.

Finally, there is the very important question of the cost of living. We must consider whether people round up or round down in the context of the general economic climate. For example, we have had increases in the cost of living of 5.9 per cent. in 1968 and 4.7 per cent. in 1969, and in view of this, and against a background where there is still a threat of a prices and incomes policy, it would be a very unusual retailer or other trader who decided, in the circumstances of that rate of inflation and the possibility of a prices and incomes policy that he would round down rather than up.

As was pointed out, if the retailer or trader rounded down this would have a much bigger effect on his profit margin than on price because his profit is only a small percentage of total price. Many retailers are not in a position to round down in the way that the Government have suggested. Here the Government are in the position of King Canute, because we had a statement by the Minister of State, on Tuesday, that it was Government policy that people should not round up and if it was Government policy people would not do so. The Government must take account of the point I have been making about the general trend of costs and prices and the effect of the prices and incomes policy. Of course, we are in a situation where the tide of rising prices is already coming in and where the Government are raising the level of the water considerably by a number of their own actions.

The Minister of State made an extraordinary remark about the Post Office's attitude. He suggested that private industry should make a clear declaration about what it would do and follow the example set by the Post Office. He said that the Post Office is rounding down the charge, but reducing the length of a call. As I suggested in an intervention, if private firms followed that example prices would not go up but in the rounding down people would not get better value for money. As far as the other half of the ½p table is concerned, people will round up, and against this background it is extraordinary to suppose that not only will people round up but will give a little extra as well. These two prongs of the argument taken together show that the effect will be inflationary.

If the Government are to insist on abolishing the 6d. at the end of a transitional period, it is well known that the effect, for example, on parking meters will be to raise the cost of parking, which will involve the local authorities in a great deal of additional expense as well. We have received, as many other hon. Members must have done, considerable representations in this question from the various motoring interests concerned. Here again, the effect is likely to be inflationary.

Many hon. Members have expressed great concern about bus and Underground fares. The Minister of State said that they would go up anyway and that this would have nothing to do with decimalisation. It is rather like saying, "Decimalisation will not devalue the £ in your pocket." But at least the buses and the Underground have the option of keeping down fares if the 6d. is not abolished, whereas, if it is abolished, they will not have such an option. It is not conceivable that they will manage to reduce fares to the 2p level and they will have to increase their prices after the 6d. is abolished. They will not necessarily have the option of doing anything else. Here again it is a question of keeping open the options.

So we are convinced that the over-all effect of the abolition of the 6d. will be to encourage price increases and, on balance, that the effect on the cost of living will be upwards—and there are, after all, all the other upward trends in the cost of living which are very apparent in the economy at present. We therefore believe it right to move this Motion of censure on the Government, first, for the way in which they steamrollered through the wrong system of decimalisation against the wish of the House of Commons, and, secondly, for the extraordinary way in which they took the decision to abolish the 6d., taking a determined stand in the wrong direction in the first place.

Great uncertainty has now been created by the Minister of State's statement. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, if the Government were prepared to give way on the question of the 6d. and make a clear statement to that effect, we would not propose to divide the House, even though we think that the system to be adopted is wrong and that the Government are responsible for it. But after the hon. Gentleman's speech we believe that we have no option but to vote against the Government tonight.

The decision announced by the Minister is the worst of all possible worlds. It creates far more uncertainty at a time when we need certainty. The Government say that they want a study. They have had four years in which to make that study and take a decision. If the Government are unfit to take a firm line and give a clear decision on this matter, then they are unfit to govern on anything, and the 6d. should most certainly stay and the Government should most certainly go.

6.43 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Dick Taverne)

Before coming to the underlying issue of the debate, perhaps I can answer some specific questions. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) asked about the minting of sixpences. The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) asked for an assurance that, if there was a decision to continue the 6d., sufficient coins would be provided.

Minting of sixpences ceased last summer, but there should be enough in circulation now—about 2,000 million—to last until D-day. There is no question about that. But minting can be resumed at any time if necessary. Secondly, the 2½p coin—an identical specification which could exist side by side with the present 6d.—it is the same in shape, weight and metal, but is of a decimal design—could be minted in due course. So there is no technical problem about the continuation of the 6d.

I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) about the new ½p and its position in relation to bank accounts. This has nothing to do with whether there is to be a 2½p coin. We know that most banks will not use the new ½p in accounting. It will not be writen on cheques, just as the old ½d. was not written on them, and it will follow that firms will not use it in their accounts.

There is the Whole New Penny Table in the Decimal Currency Act, 1969, which converts £ s. d. amounts to the £ np, showing the whole new penny amounts in various circumstances. This rounds up and clown alternately and again should ensure that, overall, there is no question of increases being necessitated by conversion according to the Whole New Penny Table.

The Decimal Currency Board has emphasised, and will continue to stress, that the new ½p is not a temporary feature and that it is worth more than the old £ s. d. penny. There is little risk of this being ignored. The new ½P. will appear in shoppers' conversion tables and almost 1,000 million new½P.coins have been minted.

My hon. Friend feared that there would be an increase of about 1 per cent. in the cost of living because of decimalisation. I suggest that he is wrong. Exactly the same kind or argument was advanced in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

They had a different system.

Mr. Taverne

The hon. Gentleman says that they had a different system, but that is a false point in relation to ordinary transactions.

Their basic lowest value unit is the same as that under our system. It was competition between different stores which saw to it that those stores which rounded-up lost goodwill while those which played fair with their customers and saw that the conversion table was properly applied got the benefit of trade. Despite all the fears expressed in Australia and New Zealand it was found during the period following decimalisation that there was no greater increase in the cost of living than there would have been without decimalisation. I suggest, therefore, that there is no reason to fear that decimalisation need lead to price increases.

Vending machines have also been mentioned. Apart from the argument about the 6d., the first thing to remember is that the amount of retail sales through vending machines at present is 0.1 per cent of the total of retail sales. To think that, because of the difficulties of adapting vending machines, there will be much increase in the cost of living is misconceived.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) asked that the publicity campaign by the Decimal Currency Board should he brought forward. It is important that the campaign should be correctly timed. If it is brought forward too early it may be forgotten by the time decimalisation takes place. That would be a mistake. It is absolutely right that the publicity campaign should immediately precede decimalisation day and have the maximum impact on the public who will be affected.

The board is in touch with industry and users of adding machines. An article giving advice to users is receiving wide coverage in the trade Press. The board is satisfied that there should be no difficulty on this score. Not all adding machines will be converted by D-Day, but there can be temporary adaptation.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) that there is very close consultation on a day-to-day basis between the Decimal Currency Board and the British Bankers Association Decimalisation Working Party. It is, of course, for the banks to consider their staffs, not for the Government nor the board.

A further question was asked by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), while I was, unfortunately, absent, about possible pressure being put on the banks if the use of the sixpence continues. He asked whether there was any question of pressure being put on them not to give sixpences in change. I assure him that no pressure of any kind will be put on the banks.

The fundamental issues of this debate have, of course, concerned the basic system and the sixpence. The Motion does not refer to the sixpence, but to the system of decimalisation of the currency". It was asked what hon. Members would be voting for on this Motion, since the Opposition intend to press it. We are not asked to vote for retention of the sixpence. It is not a vote for or against the sixpence; we are asked to vote on "the system of decimalization". which appears in the terms of the Motion and which hon. Members opposite have now completely forgotten.

This was a decision taken three years ago and extensively debated. The hon. Member for Worthing frankly said that there is nothing that can be done about the system. In effect, he said that if the Motion were passed it would have no practical effect. The right hon. Member for Enfield, West in an aside, although he did not devote his speech to this, said that the question of the system was the background issue of the debate. One of the most interesting things is the complete equivocation by the Conservative Opposition, and, indeed, by the former Conservative Government. When the Halsbury Committee reported in 1963 and the Government of that time still had some time to run—"run" I might well call it—not a mention was made by Conservatives of the issues which apparently are so clear to them today.

When it came to the system it was rightly said that opinion was divided. There were champions of the £-mil system, a different system, and of course the 10s. system. Hon. Members opposite voted for the £ system. The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) made a first-class speech on the subject. No doubt when it comes to voting he will be consistent with the views he expressed in 1967. The main point about the system, and this is what the debate is about according to the terms of the Motion, is that a decision has been taken which was accepted reluctantly by the Opposition. Hon. Members opposite did not oppose it on Third Reading in 1967 and did not oppose the Second and Third Readings of the Decimal Currency Bill in 1969. Although they argued on the details, they accepted the main decision. Since then, they have seen an electoral advantage in changing their minds.

The main issue in the speeches, but not in the Motion, has been the retention of the sixpence. My hon. Friend the Minister of State gave a full explanation of the reasons why it does not seem likely that the sixpence would continue as an important part of the decimal system. Of course, the Government desire the greatest possible degree of public acceptability of the change-over—

Mrs. Anne Kerr


Mr. Taverne

Of course, the Government recognise that there is a strong wave of support for the sixpence, but the Government have to combine and reconcile—[Interruption.] This is a vital matter which my hon. Friends realise—acceptability—

Mrs. Anne Kerr rose

Hon. Members

Give way!

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. and learned Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Lady must sit down.

Mr. Taverne

The Government recognise—

Mrs. Anne Kerr rose

Hon. Members

Give way!

Mr. Speaker

Order. Time is going. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not giving way.

Mr. Taverne

They must reconcile acceptability—

Mrs. Anne Kerr rose

Hon. Members

Give way!

Mr. Taverne

—with a system which will work effectively and sensibly—

Mrs. Anne Kerr rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must obey.

Mrs. Anne Kerr

On a point of order. If an hon. Member who appears to be very concerned about a particular question rises three times, and attempts to put a point to a Minister on a very crucial matter, does not this amount to a point of order? Would it not be—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am dealing with the hon. Lady's point of order. It is a charming point of order, but not one of the Orders of the House.

Mr. Taverne

We have to combine acceptability with a system which will work sensibly. The Government cannot announce offhand that decisions taken will be reversed. They first need the considered view of the Decimal Currency Board, which includes former colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman. We have to consider representations, if any, from those who feel that the sixpence cannot be worked in the new system, because Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer and the Retail Distributors' Association can see no value in the retention of the sixpence in the new system. The board will have to tell us whether it thinks the sixpence should be demonetised after the changeover, but the decision will be a Government decision, not the decision of the board.

The charge comes down to one of vacillation. I am urged to believe that the Conservatives have always been unanimous on this issue, but I will quote the right hon. Gentleman himself. In his speech in 1967, when he was discussing decimalisation of the £ and considering different systems, he rejected the Bank of England case on the very grounds—[Interruption.] I remind the right hon. Gentleman of this because it will be uncomfortable to him—that it was technically unsound to suggest that

one could retain the half-crown and the sixpence with the £, cent and half-cent system. He went on to say: Manifestly, this cannot be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 1756.]

The right hon. Gentleman did not say that possibly this could not be done, or that probably it could not be done, but that manifestly it could not be done. That was the view of the Opposition in 1968, because when the £-mil system was rejected they did not then stand up for the sixpence and go for the new 2½ pence piece. Not even "Mr. Sixpence" himself, hon. Member for Worthing, did that.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That this House regrets the system of decimalisation of the currency to which Her Majesty's Government has committed this country:—

The House divided: Ayes 240, Noes 284.

Division No. 68.] AYES [7.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Chichester-Clark, R. Goodhart, Philip
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Clark, Henry Goodhew, Victor
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Clegg, Walter Cower, Raymond
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Grant, Anthony
Astor, John Corfield, F. V. Grant-Ferris, Sir Robert
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Costain, A. P. Grieve, Percy
Awdrey, Daniel Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Crouch, David Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Baker, W. H. K. 'Banff) Crowder, F. P. Gurden, Harold
Balniel, Lord Cunningham, Sir Knox Hall, John (Wycombe)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Currie, G. B. H. Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Dalkeith, Earl of Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Dance, James Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Bessell, Peter d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Harris, Reader (Heston)
Biffen, John Dean, Paul Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Biggs-Davison, John Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Digby, Simon Wingfield Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere
Black, Sir Cyril Dodds-Parker, Douglas Harvie Anderson, Miss
Blaker, Peter Doughty, Charles Hastings, Stephen
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Drayson, G. B. Hawkins, Paul
Body, Richard du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Hay, John
Bossom, Sir Clive Eden, Sir John Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward
Braine, Bernard Emery, Peter Heseltine, Michael
Brewis, John Errington, Sir Eric Higgins, Terence L.
Brinton, Sir Tatton Eyre, Reginald Hill, J. E. B.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Farr, John Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Fisher, Nigel Holland, Philip
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Hooson, Emlyn
Bryan, Paul Fortescue, Tim Hordern, Peter
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Foster, Sir John Homby, Richard
Bullus, Sir Eric Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Hunt, John
Burden, F. A. Fry, Peter Hutchison, Michael Clark
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Iremonger, T. L.
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Gibson-Watt, David Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Chataway, Christopher Glover, Sir Douglas Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Sharpies, Richard
Jopling, Michael Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Silvester, Frederick
Kaberry, Sir Donald Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Sinclair, Sir George
Kerby, Capt. Henry Murton, Oscar Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Kershaw, Anthony Nabarro, Sir Gerald Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Kimball, Marcus Neave, Airey Speed, Keith
Kirk, Peter Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Stainton, Keith
Kitson, Timothy Nott, John Stodart, Anthony
Knight, Mrs. Jill Onslow, Cranley Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Summers, Sir Spencer
Lane, David Osborn, John (Hallam) Tapsell, Peter
Langford-Holt, Sir John Page, Graham (Crosby) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Lawler, Wallace Page, John (Harrow, W.) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Peel, John Tilney, John
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield) Percival, Ian Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Peyton, John van Straubenzee, W. R.
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Pike, Miss Mervyn Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Longden, Gilbert Pink, R. Bonner Vickers, Dame Joan
Lubbock, Eric Pounder, Rafton Waddington, David
McAdden, Sir Stephen Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Walker, Peter (Worcester)
MacArthur, Ian Price, David (Eastleigh) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Prior, J. M. L. Wall, Patrick
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain Pym, Francis Walters, Dennis
McMaster, Stanley Quennell, Miss J. M. Ward, Christopher (Swindon)
Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Ward, Dame Irene
McNair-Wilson, Michael Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Weatherill, Bernard
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Rees-Davies, W. R. Wells, John (Maidstone)
Maddan, Martin Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Maginnis, John E. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wiggin, A. W.
Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Marten, Neil Ridsdale, Julian Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Maude, Angus Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Robson Brown, Sir William Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Mawby, Ray Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Woodnutt, Mark
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Worsley, Marcus
Mills, Peter (Torrington) Royle, Anthony Wylie, N. R.
Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Russell, Sir Ronald Younger, Hn. George
Miscampbell, Norman St. John-Stevas, Norman
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Sandys, Rt. Hn. D. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Montgomery, Fergus Scott, Nicholas Mr. R. W. Elliott and
More, Jasper Scott-Hopkins, James Mr. Hector Munro.
Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Abse, Leo Cant, R. B. Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)
Alldritt, Walter Carmichael, Neil Faulds, Andrew
Allen, Scholefield Carter-Jones, Lewis Fernyhough, E.
Anderson, Donald Coe, Denis Finch, Harold
Archer, Peter (R'wley Regis & Tipt'n) Coleman, Donald Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Armstrong, Ernest Conlan, Bernard Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.)
Ashley, Jack Corbet, Mrs. Freda Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Crawshaw, Richard Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Cronin, John Foley, Maurice
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)
Barnes, Michael Dalyell, Tam Ford, Ben
Barnett, Joel Darling, Rt. Hn. George Forrester, John
Baxter, William Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Fraser, John (Norwood)
Beaney, Alan Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Freeson, Reginald
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Gardner, Tony
Bidwell, Sydney Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Garrett, W. E.
Binns, John de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Ginsburg, David
Bishop, E. S. Delargy, H. J. Golding, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Dempsey, James Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Booth, Albert Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Boston, Terence Dickens, James Gregory, Arnold
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Dobson, Ray Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
Bradley, Tom Doig, Peter Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Driberg, Tom Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.
Brooks, Edwin Dunn, James A. Hamilton, James (Both well)
Broughton, Sir Alfred Dunnett, Jack Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hannan, William
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Harper, Joseph
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Eadie, Alex Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Buchan, Norman Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Haseldine, Norman
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Edwards, William (Merioneth) Hattersley, Roy
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Ellis, John Hazell, Bert
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) English, Michael Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Heffer, Eric S.
Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret McNamara, J. Kevin Robertson, John (Paisley)
Hilton, W. S. MacPherson, Malcolm Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Hobden, Dennis Marion, Peter (Preston, S.) Roebuck, Roy
Hooley, Frank Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Homer, John Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Rose, Paul
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mapp, Charles Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Marks, Kenneth Rowlands, E.
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Marquand, David Ryan, John
Howie, W. Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Sheldon, Robert
Hoy, Rt. Hn. James Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Huckfield, Leslie Mayhew, Christopher Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Mendelson, John Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Hunter, Adam Mikardo, Ian Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Hynd, John Millan, Bruce Silverman, Julius
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur Miller, Dr. M. S. Skeffington, Arthur
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Slater, Joseph
Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Molloy, William Small, William
Janner, Sir Barnett Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Snow, Julian
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Spriggs, Leslie
Jeger, George (Goole) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cra3,S.) Morris, John (Aberavon) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Boy (Stechford) Moyle, Roland Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Strauss, Rt. Hn. John
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Murray, Albert Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Jonos, Dan (Burnley) Neal, Harold Taverne, Dick
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W. Ham, S.) Newens, Stan Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Norwood, Christopher Thornton, Ernest
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Oakes, Gordon Tinn, James
Kenyon, Clifford Ogden, Eric Tomney, Frank
Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) O'Halloran, Michael Tuck, Raphael
Kerr, Russell (Feltham) O'Malley, Brian Urwin, T. W.
Latham, Arthur Oram, Bert Varley, Eric G.
Lawson, George Orbach, Maurice Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Leadbitter, Ted Orme, Stanley Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Ledger, Ron Oswald, Thomas Watkins, David (Consett)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Weitzman, David
Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Padley, Walter Wellbeloved, James
Lee, John (Reading) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Lestor, Miss Joan Paget, R. T. Whitaker, Ben
Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold (Cheetham) Palmer, Arthur White, Mrs. Eirene
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Whitlock, William
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Parker, John (Dagenham) Wilkins, W. A.
Lipton, Marcus Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Lomas, Kenneth Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Loughlin, Charles Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Luard, Evan Pentland, Norman Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Willis, Rt. Hn. George
McBride, Neil Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
McCann, John Prioe, Christopher (Perry Barr) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
MacColl, James Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Winnick, David
MacDermot, Niall Price, William (Rugby) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Macdonald, A. H. Probert, Arthur Woof, Robert
McElhone, Frank Rankin, John Wyatt, Woodrow
McGuire, Michael Rees, Merlyn
McKay, Mrs. Margaret Richard, Ivor TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mackie, John Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Mr. J. D. Concannon
Mackintosh, John P. Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy and Mr. William Hamling.
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
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