HC Deb 19 June 1981 vol 6 cc1291-312
Mr. Mayhew

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 8, line 8, after first 'or', insert 'of'.

Part II of the Bill deals with counterfeiting and clause 14 deals specifically with the making, either with full intent or without lawful authority or excuse, of counterfeits of currency notes or protected coins. Apart from the mental element, the elements of the offence should be identical. In other words, the offence should be in terms of making a counterfeit of a currency note or of a protected coin. Unfortunately, although subsection (1) is worded in that way, the second "of" has inadvertently been omitted in subsection (2), thus making it an offence to make a counterfeit of a currency note or to make a protected coin. That is not the intention. The amendment is therefore designed to make it clear that the offence is committed if a person makes, without lawful authority or excuse, a counterfeit of a protected coin. The defect can be remedied by the simple insertion of the word "of" before the words "a protected coin" and that is what the amendment seeks to do. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Miscampbell

This may seem merely a minor amendment, but it is clearly necessary. I readily accept it and recommend that it be accepted by the House so that this ambiguity can be cleared up.

Amendment agreed to.

11.7 am

Mr. Miscampbell

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is based on the recommendations of the Law Commission, as indeed is so much of the legislation that we have dealt with over the years under this and previous Governments. The Bill therefore had to wait its turn to come before the House. It has waited since 1973, so it has taken some time to reach this stage. In essence, the Bill deals with the recommendations of the Law Commission, although it does not follow them with total fidelity in detail. Nevertheless, the changes are not great.

The existing law, which the Bill seeks to codify and to remedy, is founded mainly upon the Forgery Act 1913, which, as I have said, was itself a consolidation measure, consolidating Acts going back into the last century. There was also the Coinage Offences Act 1936. In addition, there are common law offences dealing with forgery.

The complication and multiplicity of separate offences can well be understood when we consider how those offences were set out under the various Acts governing them. There were more than 30 different offences. For forgery alone, there were 13 categories of document setting out forgery with the intention to defraud, with different penalties for each. The complications were immense. In addition, there were 18 separate forgery offence in which the offences was not only to defraud, but to deceive, again with a different penalty for each.

The Acts also created offences of forging other documents, in many cases unspecified. If those documents were produced with the intention to defraud or deceive, they fell foul of the law if they were within the public domain, but in the private domain only if with intent to defraud. When the Law Commissioners looked at that aspect of the law during the late 1960s and early 1970s, it became apparent that a radical simplification was necessary.

If hon. Members have any knowledge of business Or office procedure, they will not need much persuading that offences set out in Acts passed in the last century and consolidated in the 1914 Act were not adequate to deal with matters that arise as a result of the new methods of business recording or with the obvious problems created by the introduction of computers and other methods of storing information that are prevalent in our business community. The Act tries to catch as comprehensively as possible all the aspects of the methods of forgery or the forgery of instruments, many of which were not thought of before the First World War.

Equally, counterfeiting requires new consideration. In 1936, when the House last considered the matter in a comprehensive Bill, gold and certainly silver coins were in circulation and had an intrinsic value apart from their face value which made certain offences if not prevalent at least profitable.

The 1936 Act clearly differentiated between such coins and others because it was possible at that time to use the coins, by filing or clipping, to get precious metal from them. That allowed people to make a profit out of tampering with the coins without reproducing them. Given the metal used in today's debased coins, there is no profit to be made from filing or clipping.

I am sure that the House will agree not only with the Law Commissioners' view that we need to codify and set out intelligently and sensibly the laws relating to forgery and counterfeiting, but that we should also simplify the law. I believe that we have done so. One need look no further than clause 1, which removes references to defrauding and deceit and uses the word "prejudice". That is certainly a simplification.

The Bill does what is needed in that respect and does so in a comprehensive way which allows it to provide similar treatment for both forgery and counterfeiting. It removes, among other oddities, the provision that to reproduce a bank note is forgery, while reproducing a coin is counterfeiting. In the Bill all money is dealt with in one part, and forgery in another.

We had a useful debate in Committee, which led to the amendments on Report. A number of amendments were passed in Committee as a result of letters and other matters that passed between hon. Members and the Home Office. We are particularly grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) for his contributions in Committee. As we have seen from the amendments moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, they resulted in clarification of the Bill and useful and helpful improvements to certain clauses. We are grateful for the attention that the right hon. and learned Gentleman paid to the Bill in Committee. He cannot be here today, but his amendments were designed, in part, to do exactly what the amendments on Report are intended to achieve.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler), who assiduously applied himself to certain aspects of the Bill before the Committee stage. He wrote long and careful letters to the Departments concerned and, as a result, amendments were passed in Committee. As I said at the time, they were not necessarily the amendments that he sought, but I hope that the guarantees, promises and undertakings given at that time assuaged his fears. My hon. Friend's assiduity and persistence drew the attention of the Home Office to possible lacuna in the law which we were able to deal with in Committee. I am grateful to him.

I should also like to say a word of gratitude to the Home Office. This is a Private Member's Bill, but the Government have had a great hand in it and I and others are grateful for the help and guidance of the Home Office.

We must also recognise the tremendous ground work done by the Law Commissioners. The Bill is not absolutely in line with their proposals, but it differs only in small details from the suggestions that they laid before us eight years ago. We are grateful for the fact that, not just in relation to this Bill, but on a series of measures from the commissioners over the past decade or more, the system of Law Commissioners is working well. It is nice to notice something that is working well in this country.

This is another Bill, based on the Law Commissioners' research, consideration and industry, which the House can accept as a great improvement on what has gone before. As with other codification and simplification laws from the commissioners, when one considers the time scale for which we are legislating, one can see that it will be surprising if the House is troubled by these matters again, certainly in this century and perhaps well into the next.

Changes in our business procedures may throw up matters that are at present unknown to us and that need to be caught by the law. I very much hope that the Bill is so wide and compendious in the way in which it defines the offence as to enable it to catch not only all the known, but even perhaps some of the unknown ways of forging and counterfeiting that may become known.

We should be grateful to the Law Commission for the work that it did eight years ago, which has led us today to consider a Bill that I can highly commend to the House.

11.20 am
Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

I feel most fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to join in welcoming the Third Reading of the Bill. I readily acknowledge and express my gratitude for the help and guidance of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell).

We are considering legislation that replaces a number of enactments and puts on the statute book aspects of the common law. I am concerned in particular with part II as it relates to counterfeiting legal tender coinage and how it should be protected.

It is 45 years since the passage of the Act that is about to be repealed, the Coinage Offences Act 1936. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North said, it is likely that the Bill will be on the statute book for many decades, perhaps well into the next century. If we have to wait another 45 years for further consideration of the coinage and its protection. I shall then be at least 86 years of age. I am not sure that I shall be here to lend my support to the protection of the coinage then. Therefore, I regard it as of paramount importance that today the House should linger a while upon those aspects of the Bill that deal with the coinage. The decisions that we make, the legislation that we pass, will be with us for a long time.

In referring to the 1936 Act my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North talked about the coins that were then in circulation within the United Kingdom—and indeed in much of the world, as the British coinage of 1936 circulated in what was then the British Empire, in the colonies, protectorates and dominions—and the need to protect money made of precious metals. The denominations from the crown to 3d. were then made of silver of 0.925 parts fineness or 0.500 parts fineness. The gold coins, the sovereign and half-sovereign, then minted by the British Royal Mint and the Royal branch mints of Pretoria in South Africa and Melbourne and Perth in Australia were of 0.917 parts fineness. Therefore, those coins had great value. To clip or file them and take away parts of the metal would be a serious matter, as the coins were of value in themselves and were not merely tokens.

The 1936 Act was part of a long succession of coinage Acts going back to the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, when the coinage of England was made by hand. It was known as hammered coinage, since it was struck by a die being hammered on to another die in order to produce an impression. Such coins were thin and easily clipped, and down through the years there was a need to protect the citizenry against wrong-doers who clipped the coins in order to secure some of the precious metal.

The 1936 Act recognised the characteristics of the British coinage and its history. Today we consider a Bill which, unhappily, is largely concerned with protecting coins in circulation that are entirely of a token character. They are made almost entirely of non-precious metals. The denominations of 50p, lop and 5p are made of cupronickel, and the coins of 2p, 1p and ½p are made of bronze.

However, coins of intrinsic value are still produced in this country. The crown pieces to be made for the celebration of the wedding of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana will be, in the proof edition, of 0.925 parts silver fineness. The nominal value of the crown piece for the purpose of circulation is 25p, but the proof coin will contain silver that probably makes it worth at least £5, and possibly more, on the bullion market. Therefore, the House must remember that precious metal coins are still made and are still available as legal tender and for circulation within the United Kingdom.

Likewise, the Royal Mint is, happily, continuing the long tradition of striking gold coins of nine-seventeenths parts fineness in the form of the sovereign and the half-sovereign. Last year the mint began once again producing gold £5 pieces and gold £2 pieces. In theory, at least, the citizens of the United Kingdom could spend one of those gold coins for its technical value. Of course, they would be most unwise to do so, since the value of those pieces, because of their gold content, greatly exceeds the nominal value.

Therefore, it is essential to remember that British precious metal coins are still being produced. Indeed, it is possible that in the years ahead other denominations of coin in a precious metal will also be struck as circulating coins by the Royal Mint, on the instructions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the convenience of the public.

I deal now with the denominations that should be protected by the Treasury under clauses 19 and 27. In Committee I described the British coin that I thought should be legal tender or the coin that should be protected because of its recent circulation as currency coin. I suggested that the gold £5 piece—which was first issued in 1820—should be protected, together with the companion £2 piece, which was also first issued in 1820. I pointed out that such pieces might have been proof or pattern coins. I am happy to tell the House that only this week I had the advantage and pleasure of handling a gold £2 piece dated 1820. It is a handsome coin.

The fact that I could examine such a coin—held in the hands of a well-known numismatic firm in London—illustrates that such coins are still available. They may still be purchased, perhaps as antiques. It is important to protect the £5 and £2 denominations, because we still strike gold £5 and £2 pieces in exactly the same form, size and shape and with the same metal content. Therefore, it is essential bat this historic legacy should continue to enjoy the full protection of the law.

In Committee I mentioned the other gold denominations and said that the present size sovereign and half sovereigns were first minted by the Royal Mint in 1817, in a building erected on Tower Hill in 1810. Since the early nineteenth century the British sovereign has been a standard form of currency, not only in Britain, but throughout the major commercial countries of the world. Indeed, the Royal Mint began to coin the sovereign again in substantial numbers in 1957 as a result of a substantial demand for the coin for trading purposes from overseas, and, in particular, from the Middle East.

Other countries and mints forged coins, although they preserved the gold content. The coins have a substantial premium above the value of the gold content. It is therefore essential that the sovereign and the half sovereign should continue to be protected by this legislation and by order of the Treasury from the commencement of the minting of such coins in 1817. In the correspondence between my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and myself there is a reference to protecting gold coins issued since 1837 in the United Kingdom. I do not understand why the sovereigns of George III, George IV and of William IV should be excluded from protection.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

I know that my hon. Friend has considerable knowledge of such matters. Is he saying that people can counterfeit coins of the realm that are made of valuable metals and still make a profit from doing so? If so, is there much evidence that that is done?

Mr. Wheeler

My hon. Friend is right. It is profitable to counterfeit gold coins lawfully minted by the Royal Mint and by the Royal branch mints in the countries of the Commonwealth and to preserve the full gold content and value. To the world, the sovereign has the advantage of being recognised as a trusted commercial coin. The user of such coins overseas respects the fact that the Royal Mint would not seek to reduce the quality of the coins. Therefore, they are circulated with confidence.

In addition, a numismatic premium often attaches to many of those gold coins. As has been suggested, some of the coins are rare and valuable because few were issued on a particular date or because a particular branch mint—such as the Royal branch mint in Ottawa, which struck gold sovereigns at the turn of the century—produced few gold sovereigns in certain years. In the auction houses of London such coins would command a substantial premium above the gold content and the nominal value of the sovereign as a £1 coin.

The Royal Mint used to publish a comprehensive annual report that contained much information about prosecutions for the counterfeiting of coins of the United Kingdom. Unhappily, since 1979 that report has been suspended and the information on counterfeiting is not as generally available as it was. Those hon. Members who have invested some of their time in the Library in order to study such reports will be aware that every year there are several prosecutions for counterfeiting gold coins and other denominations of United Kingdom coin. It is of the utmost importance that the House should have the assurance that every consideration will be given to protecting such coins.

I come now to the silver denominations and the coins that should also enjoy the protection of legislation. When the Royal Mint was erected in 1810 on Tower Hill, machinery was installed to make coins of a more precise character. The sizes and weights that were adopted for the coins with which the United Kingdom is familiar came into circulation. The first of the crown pieces was minted in 1818. On the reverse there was the famous portrayal of St. George and the dragon, which has become one of the most famous coinage designs, and of which the people of this country are justly proud. That coin was made of 0.925 silver. It is a coin that has given rise to many commemorative crown pieces that have been issued since the reign of George V, when the first of the commemorative crown pieces was struck for the jubilee of the late Sovereign in 1935.

Then came the commemorative crown for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. Unfortunately, we had to wait until 1951 for the next commemorative crown, of 5s value, which was struck for the Festival of Britain. Unhappily, that coin broke the tradition of the past and was made entirely of cupro-nickel. There was no silver denomination. Then came the commemorative crown piece for the coronation in 1953. That was also issued in cupro-nickel, although there are two versions of the denomination—one in proof form, which was issued in the proof sets for the coronation, and a large and substantial issue in cupro-nickel for ordinary currency purposes.

It is worth remembering that the currency crown piece of 1953 is still a circulating coin. It is worth 25p under our new decimal coinage arrangements. It would still be possible to visit the Cafeteria with a pocket of those coins and release them into circulation.

There followed the 1960 crown piece, struck for the New York exhibition. That, too, was in cupro-nickel. After that there followed a number of commemorative crown pieces in fairly quick succession, because the Treasury discovered that there was money to be made from producing commemorative coins in proof form—especially when struck in silver. Today a tradition has emerged of striking the crown piece denomination of 25p value in a precious metal—silver of at least 0.925 parts, though occasionally of 0.500 fineness—with a currency circulating piece in cupro-nickel. I trust that the crown piece in its present size and form, as issued from 1818, will continue to be protected by the legislation.

The florin was first minted for currency purposes in 1849. There was much debate in the House during the middle and early years of the nineteenth century, which I know many hon. Members have read in the Library. By reading those debates one becomes familiar with the arguments that were under consideration about whether the United Kingdom should have a decimal coinage. The florin of 1849 was a compromise agreed by the Chancellor of the day as a beginning for decimal coinage.

The reverse inscription on the first florin in 1849 said: One florin—One-tenth of a pound The florin today is, unhappily, called a 10p piece. It is perhaps unfortunate that in our language and in the description of coins on the reverse we do not preserve some of the old names and titles.

The shilling, or 5p, as it is now known, was first issued in 1817. It is essential that that denomination should also be protected, as from 1817. The 50p piece was first struck in 1969 and is now a familiar denomination in our coinage, as are the new bronze coins of 2p, 1p and ½p—all issued and dated from 1971.

We should consider also those denominations of coin that are no longer in circulation and have, to use that ugly word been demonetised. I put a question last year to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the 6d. piece, which lingered on in our decimal coinage as a 2½p piece until June 1980, when it was demonetised. The first 6d. in its familiar size and shape, and with a content of 0.925 silver, was issued in 1817.

If the House and the Treasury are to protect the denominations of £5, £2, the sovereign and the half-sovereign from the 1820s, and the silver and cupro-nickel coins of the denomination of crown from 1818 and the 2s. or 10p from 1849, we should also protect for the sake of consistency the 6d. pieces issued from 1817 until the middle years of the present reign.

Mr. Garel-Jones

As I am not an expert in coinage, I wonder why my hon. Friend has not included the old silver 3d. piece, which I can remember was circulating in my youth.

Mr. Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me about the 3d. piece. He is correct to draw my attention to that denomination. The 3d. piece was not a popular coin during the early nineteenth century. It did not emerge in the coinage in its small size, with which many of us are familiar, until the reign of William IV. It was then struck primarily for circulation among the Crown colonies of the British West Indies. It was also used to pay the garrison troops in Malta, and was used in some other small colonies such as St. Helena. Ceylon had it for a time, as, I believe, did Mauritius and the Seychelles islands. So the coin, although a legal tender coin of the United Kingdom, was not generally available as a circulating coin in the truest sense until the reign of Queen Victoria.

During the middle years of Queen Victoria's reign the 3d. piece obtained a greater popularity within the United Kingdom and began to be struck in large numbers. It continued as a silver coin until the reign of King George VI, when it was decided that the 3d. piece of George VI's reign should be struck in brass. It then emerged as a 12-sided coin of a rather ugly size and colour, since the brass tarnished after the coin had passed into circulation. It was a most disagreeable example of British coinage. So the silver 3d. with which my hon. Friend is, I know, particularly concerned, is perhaps of lesser importance than, say, the 6d. piece, which was in general circulation until last year.

I must also tell the House, from my knowledge of numismatics, that the 3d. piece does not generally command much of a premium when it appears on offer in the great sale rooms of London. I should be content, if I may say so, to offer a modest concession to the Treasury and not seek to include the protection of that coin within the meaning of this legislation, but it is altogether a different question when one considers the half-crown.

The half-crown did not find itself a place within the new decimal scheme for the United Kingdom, although on a recent visit to Jamaica I discovered that the authorities there had found it possible to preserve the use of the half-crown within their decimal coinage system. I think that there is a powerful argument for giving protection to the half-crown under the rules that the Treasury will, I hope, issue in the fairly near future. I suggest that that should be done because the half-crown was first minted in the Royal Mint on Tower Hill in 1817 as part of the great recoinage in the reign of King George III, and also because it continued to be available as a circulating coin until decimal day in 1971, when it, too, was withdrawn from circulation.

Like the other silver denominations, the half-crown had a precious metal content—and hence a special value—until 1946, when, in common with the silver denominations generally, the Treasury converted the denominations of 6d. to crown to cupro-nickel.

I urge, therefore, that in considering this aspect of the Bill and the orders to be issued the half-crown should be included within the protection of the legislation. I do so for a number of reasons. Many of the half-crowns still available in the hands of the public are of a special value because of the silver content, and many of the half-crowns issued before 1920 have a particularly high numismatic premium in the sale rooms. Some of the Victorian half-crowns and nose of William IV and George III are very valuable, perhaps attracting £100 or so a time in the auction houses of London.

The House should remember that we have established within London a particularly fine and successful trade among the numismatic firms and great auction houses. The House has a duty to continue to succour and preserve that trade, since it attracts into the United Kingdom a great deal of overseas currency. People from all over the world attend the auction houses of London to buy numismatic items. They do so in the full knowledge that the auction houses are able to guarantee that the coins on offer are genuine, that they have not been forged, that they are not replicas, and that they are therefore the coins that were in general circulation, or proof or pattern pieces produced by the British Royal Mint.

It would be singularly unfortunate if, under this legislation, the Treasury failed to give the protection to the coins to which I have devoted a small part of the time of the House this morning to describing.

I come next to the power that the legislation gives to the Treasury to authorise the production of replica pieces. It is somewhat against my conscience that this wide power should be allowed by the House. After all, it is likely that the power will not be reviewed for 40 or 50 years, and it behoves the House to think very carefully about the character of that power before the Bill finally goes to the other place.

The Treasury has a dual interest in the coinage. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Master of the Royal Mint. The Royal Mint is now a trading fund. It is set up not only to mint the coins of the United Kingdom, but to be a profit-making undertaking, to attract custom, and it may be very tempting in the years ahead for the Royal Mint or the officials of the Treasury to see the opportunity to authorise the production of replicas in order to make money for the Treasury.

I do not object to the Treasury obtaining funds from any legitimate source, but might this not conflict with the other duty laid upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to preserve the character and integrity of the British coinage and also the character of the coinage that has but recently been in circulation?

I therefore seek again the assurance that was so generously given to me in Committee, that the Treasury—I think that it is the Treasury rather than the Royal Mint—will use very sparingly the power that the House is proposing to allow it. In particular, I should like the Treasury to consider carefully the character of some of the medallions that are being produced by private firms in the United Kingdom, and overseas.

I have in my hand an illustration of what is called a beautiful sovereign or half-sovereign-sized pendant. It shows on the reverse a rather poorly designed St. George and the dragon, with the date 1981 beneath it. Is it not a scandal that some people are able to produce what seem to be circulating sovereigns and half-sovereigns, even down to the use of the historic design that has appeared on our gold coins over a great many years? I fear that temptation may arise. Someone might easily say in the years ahead, perhaps when I am not here to offer some modest protection to the coinage——

Mr. Miscampbell

Forty-five years from now.

Mr. Wheeler

I hear my hon. and learned Friend say "Forty-five years from now". I thought that he was evaluating my future as a politician.

Mr. Miscampbell

That is three years.

Mr. Wheeler

That is worse still. Is it not a matter of concern to the House to ensure that under this wide power the production of replicas, will be permitted only in exceptional circumstances assuming that we are to preserve the character of our coinage, and assuming also that we are to sustain and encourage the magnificent trade that takes place in the auction houses and numismatic companies of London?

I have taken, I hope, a not too disproportionate time of the House to talk about the coinage and its future. I have done so because I am conscious, as I know that my hon. and learned Friends are, of the fact that the legislation that we are contemplating will be on the statute book for many years and that we are granting wide powers to the Treasury—powers to decide what is legal tender and what is to be protected coin. We do not lightly grant those powers without seeking the firmest assurances that they will be wisely used and that the coins that have been minted in this country since the beginning of the nineteenth century will enjoy the protection and prestige which this House, I know, believes to be proper.

12.2 pm

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) for what he has modestly described as a modest protection of the coinage. Coin collectors and people interested in numismatics throughout the country can rest assured that so long as they have a champion like my hon. Friend in the House the coinage is certain to be well-protected.

I should like to associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) in thanking the Law Commissioners for the enormous amount of work that they have done on the Bill and also the enormous amount of work that they continue to do. I am sure that in many instances it is a thankless task. One has only to glance at the schedule to the Bill and to see that Acts of Parliament such as the Servants' Characters Act 1792 have been examined and the need for repeal discovered to appreciate the enormous depth of the work that the Law Commissioners have carried out on our behalf. It is also right to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend, together with my noble Friend Viscount Colville of Culross, in another place, for having steered this important piece of legislation through the House.

One point is worth making about the Bill. Many members of the public might think that they would be better served if Parliament spent more time devoting itself to worthy, perhaps boring, but extremely important legislation, such as that now before the House, and less time to legislation that is politically controversial. Lord Elwyn-Jones, speaking in the other place, mentioned the backlog of legislation of this type that needs to be examined. He said: 'Get slotted' used to be the great demand of Ministers going to the Legislation Committee by the supporters of particular measures." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 26 January 1981; Vol. 416, c. 610.] I am sure that members of the public will have great cause to be grateful for the fact that this piece of legislation got slotted. I have no doubt that when they look at a great deal of the work done here they will use a more popular phrase of the vernacular, which is homonymous with the phrase used by Lord Elwyn-Jones. The public may also be led to feel—this is consistent with remarks that I shall make about the content of the Bill—that much of the party political controversy in this country since the war and many of the problems that the public have had to bear have been induced by the main problem facing the Government—the problem of inflation.

Inflation is a kind of clipping of the coinage. The interesting thing about the Bill is the fact that it deals with the coinage and the Act that used to deal with offences such as clipping of the coinage. Many members of the public may feel that over the years much of the work of hon. Members has debased the coinage and the currency.

It is important to examine what this piece of legislation does. The existing law on forgery is contained in the Forgery Act 1913—which was itself a consolidation of previous measures—and the Coinage Offences Act 1936. The problem is that not all types of forgery are covered. There is still an element of forgery covered by the common law. What is in the Act is in any event complicated. As my hon. and learned Friend said, there are about 30 separate offences in respect of 13 categories of document which it is an offence to forge with intent to defraud, each of them carrying different maximum penalties. In addition, the Act creates offences of forging other unspecified documents with intent to defraud or deceive if the documents are what is called "public documents", but only with intent to defraud if it is a private document. There is no doubt that a real need exists for simplification in this area.

There have been many significant developments since the First World War. Many documents and instruments from which protection was needed before the First World War no longer exist. Many documents that were quite unknown in those days have come into existence. An excellent example is the plastic credit card.

The Bill deals not only with forgery but with counterfeiting. It goes back to the 1936 Act, when coins of silver and gold were in common circulation. At that time, for example, the offence of clipping coinage, or sawing the coinage, as it was sometimes called, was a fairly common offence, and one that needed to be dealt with. Also, curiously, offences relating to coins were considered a matter of counterfeiting, whereas the making of false bank notes was considered forgery. In this Bill there will no longer be two different codes to deal with those offences.

I gather that there was much learned discussion among lawyers on the question whether a separate offence for forgery was needed. It is right that the Bill has retained this offence and defined it in clause 1 as the making of a false instrument with the intention of inducing someone to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice". That offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Once one has accepted the offence of forgery, one has to examine the definition of an instrument in the Bill. That is contained in clause 8. It says: Subject to subsection (2) below, in this Part of this Act 'instrument' means—

  1. (a) any document, whether of a formal or informal character;
  2. (b) any stamp issued or sold by the Post Office;
  3. (c) any Inland Revenue stamp; and
  4. (d) any disc, tape, sound track or other device on or in which information is recorded or stored by mechanical, electronic or other means."
That raises in my mind the matter that has been discussed in another place—the forgery of paintings, prints and daguerreotypes. There has been some recent publicity about a process that has now been devised whereby it is possible to produce daguerreotypes similar to those produced in the 1850s and 1860s. I gather that they are almost perfect, and difficult to detect. Forgery of paintings and prints has, of course, been common practice for some time, and I am concerned that it is not covered in the Bill.

The definition of a false instrument in the Bill remains the classic one. It is false if it tells a lie about itself, but not merely because it contains a lie or lies. That was illustrated by Lord Colville in another place, when he gave an example. A letter from an applicant for a job that falsely states a qualification is not a forgery, but a letter that falsely purports to have been written by a previous employer is a forgery, because it contains a lie about him. A painting that purports to be by Picasso and that carries Picasso's signature surely tells a lie about itself, and is therefore a forgery by any definition. I am slightly surprised that the Bill, which I know has been carefully examined by many distinguished lawyers, does not appear to cover that aspect. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will reassure me about that.

Another important improvement is in the use of the word "prejudice", which is now used to combine the previous words "intention to defraud or deceive". Clause 2 deals with the important aspect of copying a false instrument. Hon. Members of the House, where there is so much use of photocopiers, will understand the importance of that updating of the law.

Clause 5 constitutes an important departure from the recommendations of the Law Commissioners. It creates an offence out of the mere possession of forged instruments and/or implements and materials for making them. It is a matter that warrants examination, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will be able to reassure the House in that regard.

Some people may be disturbed when they hear that the mere possession of a forged instrument—perhaps the unwitting possession of such an instrument—could constitute an offence. Clause 5, which deals with the matter, is a lengthy clause, and I shall not read it in full, but I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will deal with it. Its intention might cause concern if it were felt that it was too widely drawn. In another place an example was given of a child going to school with a forged letter from his mother saying that he was ill. I hardly think that the law would wish to extend its arm that far, but I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will give us the benefit of his legal expertise in the matter.

The criteria that were used in considering these matters were: first, the ease with which the instruments may be passed from hand to hand; secondly, the ease with which they may be accepted as genuine because of the circumstances in which they are commonly used. An additional criterion concerns the items upon which special reliance is placed and whose nature is such that possession of a forgery is unlikely to be innocent. On the face of it, that sounds reasonable.

The sort of instruments involved are money orders, postal orders, Inland Revenue stamps, share certificates, passports, cheques, travellers' cheques, cheque cards and credit cards. I think that most hon. Members and the public would readily accept than in most instances the possession of forged travellers' cheques, cheque cards, and so on, would—prima facie, at any rate—demand some kind of an explanation. Nevertheless, I am slightly concerned about people who could unwittingly have such instruments in their possession.

Finally, on the matter of forgery, clause 9 gives a list of circumstances in which an instrument is said in law to be false. I shall take up a small part of the House's time in reading part of that provision, because reassurance is needed in this regard. The clause provides that: An instrument is false for the purposes of this Part of this Act—

  1. (a) if it purports to have been made in the form in which it is made by a person who did not in fact make it in that form; or
  2. (b) if it purports to have been made in the form in which it is made on the authority of a person who did not in fact authorise its making in that form; or
  3. (c) if it purports to have been made in the terms in which it is made by a person who did not in fact make it in those terms; or
  4. (d) if it purports to have been made in the terms in which it is made on the authority of a person who did not in fact authorise its making in those terms; or
  5. (e) if it purports to have been altered in any respect by a person who did not in fact alter it in that respect; or
  6. (f) if it purports to have been altered in any respect on the authority of a person who did not in fact authorise the alteration in that respect; or
  7. (g) if it purports to have been made or altered on a date on which, or at a place at which, or otherwise in circumstances in which, it was not in fact made or altered; or
  8. (h) if it purports to have been made or altered by an existing person but he did not in fact exist."
The public are concerned that if, perfectly innocently, they happen to have such an instrument in their possession they may be liable to sanctions under the Act.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

The public may have such an instrument in their possession through having been victimised. They may have paid heavily for it, thinking that it was genuine. Because they have it in their possession they are in double jeopardy—they have lost their money and now find that they have unwittingly committed a crime.

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. That is precisely my point. They may be the unwitting victims of a forgery. It is an important point, on which I am sure reassurance can be given. It is important that that reassurance should be given on the Floor of the House.

The clause retains two matters—first, the definition in the 1913 Act and, secondly, the common law. That makes it possible, in clause 13, to abolish the common law offence of forgery, so that the whole subject is consolidated in one Bill.

Part II deals with the offence of counterfeiting, which is simply defined in clause 14. I hope that the House will think it appropriate if I quote it. It states: (1) It is an offence for a person to make a counterfeit of a currency note or of a protected coin, intending that he or another shall pass or tender it as genuine. (2) It is an offence for a person to make a counterfeit of a currency note or a protected coin without lawful authority or excuse. The Law Commission initially recommended that it should be an offence to make a counterfeit note or coin with the intention that it be used as genuine. One of the important departures from its recommendations is that the word "intention"—the need to prove intention—is removed. The offence is established without proof of anything more than the conscious act of the maker. Therefore, the thought element is removed.

The measure should be welcomed by the House because although counterfeiting and forgery are not offences as common as burglary and muggings, they are not uncommon. Each year many thousands are the victims of forgery or counterfeiting. Therefore, in principle, the public will welcome the additional protection and scope that is given for convictions under the Act, provided by the removal of the thought element. We then move to a position in which no more is required than proof of the conscious act of the maker. On the other hand, the public wish to hear from my hon. and learned Friend the Minister that the law is not going too far, and that those who might unconsciously have such an instrument in their possession will not be included.

I wish to refer to a minor point that was raised in Committee. First, there is the matter of commemorative mugs and plaques, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) referred in Committee. Many people collect commemorative mugs and plaques. They give great pleasure. Will my hon. and learned Friend say how the authorisation is to be obtained and issued for the manufacture of those items? What protection will the public have not only against abuse by those who are authorised to manufacture such items, but against the provisions in the Act that mean that the mere possession of equipment or machinery that could be used to manufacture the forgery could be against the law?

I reiterate that it is always with some trepidation that those who are not lawyers intervene in matters usually dealt with by learned Members. The public would be better served if the House spent more time on important nuts and bolts legislation and less time on the more controversial party political matters, on which we now spend so much of our time. I am sure that the public will be better served when this important piece of legislation reaches the statute book.

12.28 pm
Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Unlike my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) and my hon. Friends the Members for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) and Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), I make my contribution rather late in the day. However, I hope that the House will accept that I have a particular point of view to express.

I welcome the fact that we are updating legislation in an especially important area. Some would say that we are doing so at long last. I endorse the commendation from several of my hon. Friends of the work of the Law Commissioners. The House is greatly indebted to them for the painstaking way in which they try to assess whether certain statutes, some of which have been on the statute book for many years, continue to be the most appropriate way of discharging the law.

I often feel that if I were a commissioner I would be immensely frustrated. The commissioners make recommendations—they did so in 1973 on this subject—and many seem to be forgotten while more contentious pieces of legislation take pride of place in Parliament's timetable. I commend the commissioners most warmly for their work in general and I thank them for what they have done in this especially important area. I hope that they will feel that at long last their efforts have been rewarded.

I shall be accused of uttering a cliché when I say that life has changed radically since 1936 when one of the Acts that we are now updating was introduced. The same comment applies to 1913, when the second Act that we are updating was introduced. Indeed, life has changed almost beyond recognition since 1913. The way in which one engages in running a business and the approach to one's personal living in 1981 are as far removed from the conditions that prevailed in 1936, and certainly in 1913, as one can imagine. In these circumstances it is not a moment too soon that we are bringing this amending legislation before Parliament.

I wish I could say that the attraction to counterfeiting and forgery, which has always been felt by the criminal class, has changed as dramatically as the life of society between 1913 and 1981. I fear that that is not so. Criminals have always been attracted to the idea of engaging in counterfeiting and forgery. Apart from the element of getting rich quick, which is implicit in both activities, there is to the sophisticated and one might say genteel criminal a certain attraction in that his work has to contain a certain degree of art that is not present in many other criminal crimes such as burglary and housebreaking.

I fear that the continuing attraction of counterfeiting and forgery to criminals will continue. That is not surprising. Although the work presented to a criminal in engaging in either practice poses considerable difficulties and substantial risk, there is always the real possibility that if he gets away with it and if his forged bank notes get into circulation just once many of his problems will be over. To that extent it will continue to be an attractive area of activity.

As life has changed in the respects that I have mentioned since 1913 so, too, have the "instruments"—that is the word that is used in several parts of the Bill—through which we purchase goods or obtain credit. I shall concentrate the burden of my remarks on clause 5, especially on subsection (5), which sets out the many different types of instrument that apply. It is a reflection of how society has changed and how the methods of spending money and obtaining credit have changed. For example, clause 5(5)(a) and (b) refer to money orders and postal orders. We should continue to make reference to those instruments, but the House will not have failed to note that the use of money orders and postal orders in 1981 has substantially reduced. While it is correct to include those instruments, one begins to wonder whether it is wise to outline so specifically the particular instruments to which we wish the legislation to refer.

I shall make that point more particularly by calling the attention of the House to clause 5(5)(h), (j) and (k), particularly (j) and (k), within which reference is made to travellers' cheques, cheque cards and credit cards. Travellers' cheques are now used by many thousands of people every day, so widespread has become our propensity to travel abroad on vacation or on business. No doubt it is right that they should have a specific place in updating legislation.

Cheque cards and credit cards are perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of how our lives have changed in the lengthy period since 1913 and 1936. I understand that one of the most attractive and lucrative areas for criminals nowadays is the stealing of a cheque book. Cheque books are perhaps not quite as easy to counterfeit and to forge as some hon. Members may think.

Because our names are printed on our cheques nowadays, a thief can go from bank to bank with the cheque book and a forged credit card on which it is necessary to do no more than write a signature according to the name which appears on the cheque book. That entitles the person who stole the cheque book and who has a forged credit card with nothing more than a signature upon it to go from branch to branch of a bank in any one day and to obtain automatically and without question credit up to £50, and in some cases up to £100, several times over.

That underlines a modern crime which had never been thought of in 1913 or even 1936. I wonder if it is only now that we are introducing reference to cheque cards and credit cards in statute. I presume that any offence such as those to which I have referred would have had to be brought under the common law and would still have to be brought under the common law until the new Act is on the statute book.

One begins to wonder how wise it is to mention specifically those various instruments. Since 1913 and 1936 life has changed, as I have tried to prove. In those days, no one had heard of cheque cards and credit cards. One wonders whether it would not have been better to make a broader and more general reference to the instruments with which the Bill is to be concerned rather than bringing them forward as specifically as we are now doing.

I shall linger for a moment longer on the question of cheque cards and credit cards. The forgery of those instruments is different from the forgery of money orders, postal orders and, certainly, bank notes. Whereas some art has to go into the forging of bank notes in particular—some would say that it is an art form of a high order—there is no such requirement when a credit card is forged.

In fact, unless I am misinformed, the prospective criminal need only obtain some of the plastic on which credit cards are dye-stamped, dye stamp it and put on any signature. If that is so, forging a credit card is different from forging even a cheque or traveller's cheque. Am I missing something, or is there the beginning of an argument that in bringing credit cards into this all-embracing subsection we are dealing with a different type of crime?

I said at the beginning that I wished the legislation well. I want to see it on the statute book, but will the Minister keep a watchful eye on developments, particularly in the growing area of stealing cheque books and counterfeiting credit cards?

I end as I began, by drawing the attention of the House to the fact that life has been revolutionised since 1913. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington suggested, it may be another 45 years before a similar measure is considered. Like him, I shall not be here then. We should therefore consider whether in being quite so specific in the list of instruments we are doing a service or whether it would have been preferable to leave the section open to take account of future developments, bearing in mind the fact that we have seen dramatic changes since the last Act.

12.42 pm
Mr. Mayhew

I am pleased to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) on Third Reading. As he explained, the Bill is based on the Law Commission's recommendations, and its aim in producing the report on forgery and counterfeit currency was to modernise and simplify existing law. The Government believe that the Bill achieves both those aims and that it is, therefore, welcome.

I take the opportunity not only to thank my hon. and learned Friend for piloting the measure through the House and to thank my noble Friend Viscount Colville of Culross, to whom tribute has been paid in the House of Lords, but also warmly to endorse what has been a particularly happy feature of the debate—the applause given to the Law Commission for its thorough and painstaking work in reviewing this important part of the law. It is true that a regrettable number of years has passed since the report was published. Parliament finds it easier in some instances than in others to give legislative effect to its proposals.

It is not often understood outside the House what the pressures are on legislative time. The considerable lapse of time must often seem to the Law Commission poor reward for its labours. However, I believe that the invention of the Law Commission about 10 years ago was an enormously valuable addition to the means at our disposal for updating our law. It is a great tribute to Lord Gardiner that the measure that he introduced took effect and that so much good work has been and is still being done by the Law Commission. I am sure that it will be grateful for the remarks about it in the debate.

The Law Commission report drew attention to the multiplicity of separate offences of forgery, differing according to the nature of the document forged, the intent required to commit the offence and the maximum sentence available. It is part of the Law Commission's remit to consider the codification and simplification of the criminal law. It is small wonder, therefore, that it found the law relating to forgery in need of such simplification.

In moving the Third Reading of the Bill, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North drew our attention to the large number of separate offences of forgery created under the 1913 Act alone. There are 13 different categories of documents which it is an offence to forge with intent to defraud, with different maximum penalties, and 18 categories of documents which it is an offence to forge with intent to defraud or deceive, again with different maximum penalties. In addition, the Act creates offences of forging other, unspecified documents with intent to defraud or deceive if the document is "public", and with intent to defraud if it is "private''. Thus the offences in the Act are differentiated by the nature of the document forged, the intent required to commit the offence and the maximum penalty available.

One might, I suppose, be forgiven for assuming that, even if the Act is somewhat complex, it is at least comprehensive and therefore adequately covers the field. Unfortunately, however, as many hon. Members have pointed out, this is not the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) reminded us, this is because life has changed so radically even in the past few years.

Indeed, it has been found necessary over the years to create many separate offences of forgery in other statutes dealing with a wide range of disparate subjects. Again, these offences differ according to the type of document concerned and the mental element required and provide a wide range of maximum penalties. In other words, there was a fairly rich field for the Law Commission to operate upon.

The Law Commission also considered that the law relating to counterfeiting needed to be modernised. Again, that is not surprising when one considers how the intrinsic value of coins has changed over the years. We heard a magisterial speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler). I dare say that no Member of the House knows more than he about coinage and the study of coinage. His speech was most illuminating about the value of certain coins which are still legal tender, although not in current use to any wide extent. There certainly seems little reason now to distinguish between coins on the basis of the metal used to produce them in considering whether the criminal law on counterfeiting should apply to them and how it should apply. I therefore share the Law Commission's view that this area of the law needs to be modernised.

The purpose of the Bill is therefore to modernise and simplify the law relating to forgery and counterfeiting. I believe that the Bill achieves that object and that the House agrees with it. To the extent that the Home Office has been able to assist in the preparation of the Bill, we are glad to have been able to do so. I am grateful for the kind remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North about the part played by Home Office officials. Those remarks will certainly be appreciated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington asked for an assurance that every consideration will be given to protecting the special coins to which he referred. He reminded the House that the majority of coins, including gold coins, issued in the United Kingdom since 1837 are still legal tender and that tokens or imitations which are sufficiently like other protected coins as to be mistaken for them will be caught by the provisions relating to counterfeiting.

My hon. Friend was concerned about coins minted before 1837 and asked that consideration be given to their protection. He knows that the Treasury—technically my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—has power by order to add to the numbers and categories of coins protected by the Bill. He can be assured that everything that has been said on that aspect of the Bill will receive careful consideration from my right hon. and learned Friend and his officials.

Mr. Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for seeking to help me, but I particularly urge him to take note of my concern to provide protection under the Treasury order for gold and silver coins from 1817 and gold coins from 1820.

I am concerned that in recent years reference to the first year of the reign of Queen Victoria has been used as the starting point for protection. Coins issued in 1817 and 1820 are identical in size, shape and metal content to those issued after 1837 and it is illogical to preclude them from the protection of the order.

Mr. Mayhew

I agree that it is difficult to see a logical reason why a half-crown minted in 1837 should receive protection, while a half-crown minted in 1817 should not. My hon. Friend's comments will be considered carefully.

My hon. Friend reminded us that the Treasury can authorise the production of replicla pieces and asked that it should consider carefully the medallions that are available. I repeat the assurance given in Committee that the use of the power to authorise the production of replica pieces and the like will be used sparingly. My hon. Friend has done a service in drawing attention to the dangers that could flow from a less than careful examination of each application for authority to produce such material.

My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the predominant place held by London in the markets of the world. He referred to London's position in relation to auction sales and specialist dealers in coinage and rightly advanced that as another reason for great care being taken in the exercise of the powers conferred by the Bill and as support for the protection that the Bill is designed to confer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) thanked the Law Commissioners and drew attention to the position of paintings under the Bill. The Law Commission considered that the forgery of paintings should not be covered by its draft Bill. The Government share that view and consider that the provisions of the existing law are sufficient to deal with any abuse. By "existing law" I mean not the law relating to forgery, but, for example, section 15 of the Theft Act 1968. This makes it an offence for any person by deception dishonestly to obtain property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it". "Property" is defined in section 4 of the Act as including money and all other property, real or personal, including things in action and other intangible property". "Deception" means, as defined in clause 15, any deception (whether deliberate or reckless) by words or conduct as to fact or as to law". So a person who produces a painting that he falsely represents as the work of, for example, Constable or Picasso and that he sells to another on that basis would be guilty of an offence under section 15, having dishonestly obtained money from another by deception. It is the equivalent of what used to be known as obtaining by false pretences.

In our view, therefore, the provisions of the Theft Act are adequate to deal with that type of abuse, and there is no need to make special provision for paintings in a Bill dealing with the forgery of instruments. The same considerations apply to photographs. The joint characteristics of paintings and of photographs is that they do not seek to communicate any message such as one would normally expect to find in a document.

My hon. Friend also asked about the provisions dealing with the possession of instruments that are unlawful under the Bill. He asked whether, for example, the unwitting possession of a forged instrument could constitute an offence. He gave the illustration of a child going to school with a letter forged by his mother. That matter is dealt with in clause 5. The key words, to be found in subsections (1) and (2), are which he knows or believes to be, false, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine and without lawful authority or excuse, an instrument to which this section applies which is, and which he knows or believes to be, false. There is written into that clause the requirement as to knowledge that protects the innocent person who happens to have in his possession a forged instrument to which that part of the Bill applies. Clearly, it would be wrong that the mere physical possession or custody of a document with no guilty knowledge or intent should constitute a crime.

My hon. Friend asked how the power to permit the making of replicas would be conferred. As was made clear in Committee, those manufacturers that already have authority can expect to retain it, but the Treasury will wish to look with great care at the security arrangements of new applicants over dies and other equipment. It is very important that no loophole that reasonable care and foresight can close should be allowed to exist. I do not doubt that that is the basis upon which the Treasury would exercise that power.

The same question about guilty knowledge or guilty intent was asked by my hon. Friend with regard to the possession of a currency note or protected coin that has been counterfeited, a matter covered by clause 16. A protection of the same nature is also to be found in this part of the Bill. Although I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important point, I am sure that he will agree that a sensible measure of protection is conferred on those members of the public who find themselves innocently in possession of a forged document or a counterfeited coin or currency note.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar drew attention to the great particularity with which proscribed instruments are set out in the first part of the Bill. I take my hon. Friend's point. It is sometimes dangerous to detail the objects, documents and so on concerned. The more particular one is, the stronger the argument is that if something has been left out it must have been left out intentionally. However, my hon. Friend argued that the world was moving so fast that if we had to include in the Bill things such as cheque and credit cards—which were unheard of even a few years ago—we should mistakenly be limiting the Bill's application.

Clause 5 relates to possession and to the having of such things in custody. The provisions that refer to the making of such items with fraudulent intent are not limited in that way. If the necessary criminal intent that is described in clause 1 is present, an instrument other than one of those set out in subsection (5) will be caught by the criminal offence set out in clause 1.

Although my hon. Friend has helpfully drawn our attention to that point, I should point out that it applies only to the offence of possession and of having in custody. The whole range from money orders to credit cards establishes a wide spectrum, which is likely to serve our purposes for many years. My hon. Friend asked us to watch developments after enactment of the Bill. We shall certainly do that. If there appeared to be a significant omission, we would carefully consider whether that gap could be filled by a simple amendment.

We have had an extremely interesting and valuable debate. I hope that I have dealt with all the questions. If, by oversight, I have left a question unanswered, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman concerned. As many of those who took part in the debate said, the Bill adopts a sensible and realistic approach to the law relating to forgery and to counterfeiting. The amendments that have been made both today and in Committee have served to clarify certain aspects and to improve a Bill that was already pretty good. I hope that I may say that without appearing to be patronising. It is interesting that the Bill should retain so close a resemblance to the provisions recommended by the Law Commission. That is a great tribute to the diligence that it brings to its task.

The debates here and in another place have been useful in discussing other aspects and exploring more fully the purpose and effects of this measure. Our discussions have shown that the Bill represents a valuable and useful measure of law reform. I am happy to express the Government's support.

1.5 pm

Mr. Miscampbell

I welcome the explanations and assurances given by my hon. and learned Friend. I also welcome the assurances given to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) who, in a long, interesting and detailed speech, drew attention to the necessity of protecting many coins which may need to be protected in the future. I gave a clear assurance in Committee that the matter would be considered carefully and a statutory instrument made which would take due regard of what my hon. Friend said. His words will be noted and reflected in the statutory instrument.

I welcome the assurance given by my hon. and learned Friend about replicas. That important point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). I was asked about that in Committee and gave assurances then, which I believe can be relied upon, that only in the most strict conditions will permission be given to make replicas. Permission will not be given to make replicas that may imperil the currency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) made an interesting intervention. He raised the problem which exercises the courts and the criminal law about cheque cards and credit cards and the opportunities for fraud that they represent. That is recognised by the courts because of the cases that all too frequently come before them. Clause 5 seeks to make the possession of such false instruments an offence. However, the Bill does not seek to make it a criminal offence to possess any false instrument but only certain documents whereby damage may be done.

It is not forgery of the credit card alone that is damaging, although that is possible, but the forgery of the strip on which the signature is written. The forgery of the credit card does not lead to the greatest damage, although it is a serious mischief. If a thief goes to the trouble of forging a cheque card, it can be used only with the one personalised cheque book. That may contain only a few cheques.

The danger arises when a thief can steal both the cheque book and the signed credit card, because, for reasons for which I shall not give an explanation, it is unfortunately all too easy, using household chemicals, to remove the signature from the credit card so that it is almost undetectable. The banks are on to it of course and I hope that within the next few months credit cards will be produced from which it is not possible, by dipping them in certain solutions, to remove signatures.

At present if both the cheque book and the credit card are taken together, for about 24 hours, until the theft is reported, a criminal can use a doctored cheque card to cash cheques at £50 a time. He may have to do some forgery on the cheque book to move back the dates on which cheques were cashed. It is possible to go to many shops in London, buy £50 worth of goods, return with them change them and get the money back. There are many ways in which the cheque book can be used and is used, and it is there that the mischief lies. It is right to raise that point.

I have digressed during the last two or three minutes. The Bill can be thoroughly recommended, and I hope that it will be accepted by the House today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.