HC Deb 10 December 1998 vol 322 cc476-7
13. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What estimate he has made of the amount of counterfeit currency in circulation. [61758]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

There are no such estimates, but the number of counterfeit coins and notes is believed to be a very small proportion of the total number of notes and coins in circulation.

Mr. Prentice

It is disappointing that there are no estimates. When the new euro notes and coins start circulating in continental Europe in January 2002, there is a danger that counterfeiters could have a field day. Is it not the case that notes and coins could be circulating in the United Kingdom even though they are not legal tender? For example, Marks and Spencer and other retail outlets could be accepting notes and coins. What are the Government doing to familiarise people in the United Kingdom with the euro—what it looks and feels like—so that they can distinguish between counterfeit notes and coins and the genuine thing?

Ms Hewitt

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Royal Mint and the Bank of England keep the security and the design features of United Kingdom notes and coins under continuous review to keep them secure against counterfeiting. The European central bank, which is responsible for the notes and coins issued within the euro, is similarly taking measures and drawing upon the expertise of central banks to ensure that the wave of counterfeiting that my hon. Friend fears does not materialise.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

1 have in my possession a euro note from a Belgian bank. It looks remarkably similar to a gift token issued by Marks and Spencer. What satisfaction can the Minister give my constituents who hope to bring their euros back in perhaps the year 2003 after holidaying in Spain, for example, and spend them in their nearest Marks and Spencer store? What checks will there be to ensure that there is no confusion between the two different notes?

Ms Hewitt

As I have said, the European central bank and the central banks of the euro zone are taking steps to ensure that euro notes and coins are proof against counterfeiting. I am sure that Marks and Spencer, if it is not aware of the resemblance to which the hon. Lady has drawn the attention of the House, will be taking its own steps to ensure that no such confusion arises.