HL Deb 04 June 1918 vol 30 cc39-71

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Coinage (Decimal System) Bill I do not propose to weary you by going into much detail as regards the ultimate form in which the Bill should pass, because I hope to make out a sufficiently urgent and good case for its being thoroughly dealt with by a strong Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, when every one—those who are for or against a decimal system, or those who prefer the decimal system in a different form from that embodied in this Bill—will have an opportunity of expressing their views. The question of decimal coinage has been more or less discussed and its need urged in a general way in this country for many years past; but I believe I am right in saying that no Bill on the subject has ever been presented to either House of Parliament to which anything like the same approval has been accorded that I assert has been accorded to this Bill by the banking and business community, as well as by the general public of the whole country.

The object of the Bill to which I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading is to amend the Coinage Acts of 1870 and 1891, and to sanction a system of decimal coinage. After much discussion and careful consideration it has been drafted and agreed to by three great organisations. The first I would mention is the Association of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom, a most representative body comprising 100 Chambers of Commerce—including the Chambers of Commerce of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, and other great centres—with a membership of over 40,000 leading firms and persons engaged in the trade and commerce of the country. Secondly, there is the institute of Bankers, representing the great banking and financial interests, presided over by a distinguished banker. And, lastly, the Decimal Association, a body representing the general public who are anxious to see this reform carried into effect. I may mention that in addition to these three great organisations the follow-important bodies are in favour of the Bill being read a second time and referred to a Joint Committee—namely, the Federation of British Industry (a body representing hundreds of millions of capital invested in the industries of this country), the British Medical Association, the British Science Guild, the Institution of Patent Agents, the Council of the Society of Architects. the British Engineers Association, the Institution of British Architects, the Education Committee of the London County Council, and many other scientific and trade organisations throughout the country.

Through the medium of a carefully-prepared document an endeavour has been made to furnish your Lordships with much useful general information in regard to decimal coinage, which I need not repeat. You have been informed that nearly every country in the world outside the British Empire employs some form of decimal coinage, and that many parts of our Empire already employ it, including Canada, Newfoundland, Ceylon, and many of our Dependencies. The Dominion Royal Commission reported that the Dominions and Colonies only await the lead of the Mother Country. I urge the immediate Second Reading of this Bill and its reference to a strong Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, upon which financial, business, and labour interests can all be represented. This is one of those very urgent "trade and commerce after the war" questions that ought not to be left unconsidered. It is a subject of the highest and most vital business character, especially in regard to our foreign trade.

The practical and pressing question is, Are we, or are we not, to have a decimal coinage in the immediate future; and, if so, in what form? Those who drafted and support this Bill say that now is the time for the matter to be thoroughly dealt with, and that this important question should not be allowed to drift until after the war when the time of Parliament will be overcrowded. It is not intended that the Bill should be put into operation immediately. In any event a long period must elapse between the passing of a Coinage Bill and its coaling into operation. My special point is that the period of preparation should be running during the war and not postponed until after the war. We want neither haste nor unnecessary delay.

I must occupy your Lordships' time for a few moments with regard to the Report of the Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy after the War, over which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh presided. In that Report the Committee dealt with decimal coinage, and in regard to the basis they spoke strongly in support of the pound sterling basis. They said— We are strongly in agreement with the opinion expressed in the Report of the Committee of the Institute of Bankers that no decimal system of coinage which is not based on the pound sterling can possibly be accepted by the bankers of this country, and that the present pound sterling, unchanged in weight and fineness, must, remain the unit of value. As that Committee state, the pound sterling is universally re[...]ognised in the settlement of international transactions throughout the world, and any, abandonment, even in name only, of its use as our standard unit would be fraught with risks which it would be unwise to incur. With this portion of the Report of the noble Lord's Committee we are all in agreement. Nothing must be done to weaken the position of the City of London as the financial centre of the world. It is for this reason that the Bill is introduced, on behalf of the banking and commercial community, in its present form.

After this cheerful paragraph in the Report I am sorry to say there is one that is not quite so cheerful; nevertheless, I think it is my duty to read it. In the concluding part of the Report the Committee say— While we feel that a decimal coinage has some advantages over our present system, we are satisfied that the introduction of such a change would be inexpedient at a time when the social, industrial, and financial organisation of the country will be faced with numerous and exceptional difficulties. I regret that this should be their view, but it is one which I certainly cannot accept on behalf of those who are interested in this Bill. My reply to it is that this view is not held by the bankers, manufacturers, and commercial men of the country on whose behalf I have introduced this Bill. They say that now is the most opportune moment in which to make this change. There never was a more, favourable time at which to deal with this important question than the present, when the prices of all commodities and services are going up. The new coins would provide better means of meeting fluctuations than the present coins. Further, the Bankers Institute say that this change is desirable in the interests of our export trade. This view is held even mole strongly by the Chambers of Commerce of the country, who are in a position to know what is needed. Not only the Chambers of Commerce as a body, but also the individual Chambers of the great cities in the country are in favour of this Bill and of its reference to a Joint Committee. Moreover, every British Chamber of Commerce established in a foreign country is in favour of it. Further, millions of Our men abroad are now making themselves familiar with decimal coinage, and when they return will make very practical teachers of the system that they have learnt to appreciate.

I said that I would not trouble your Lordships with intricate details. I will not, therefore, deal with the present value of money beyond saying that the penny coin has failed to meet fluctuations in currency values and changes in prices of small articles and services. I may here state that no alteration is proposed in the value of the pound sterling or in any coin down to and including the sixpence; they would all remain with their exact value as at present. The copper coins only would be altered. I must add, my Lords, that the Bill which I present in its present form was never before Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Committee, and I have no doubt that my noble friend will admit that the inquiry by his Committee on decimal coinage was not exhaustive nor its decision unanimous. We have idle supplementary Reports of members of this Committee—great business men like my right hon. friend Sir Archibald Williamson and Mr. Pease—to the contrary. Again, I think I am right in saying that very few witnesses were examined.

I notice, my Lords, that my noble friend Lord Leverhulme, one of the greatest and most able business men in the country, has an Amendment on the Paper which, if carried, would defeat this Bill, and thus prevent the question of decimal coinage being considered by a strong Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. I hope that this is not what my noble friend desires, because I believe I am right in saving that he is in favour of a decimal system and holds strong views on the subject. Unfortunately, however, he is not in favour of the one pound basis, but has another method which he will no doubt ably explain to your Lordships. I wish him to have the opportunity of explaining his views to a strong Committee, which doubtless he would do most thoroughly and courage- ously. On his Amendment, I would specially urge that when the great banking, commercial, and professional organisations like those I have named are unanimous in their support of the one pound basis, I am making a modest and fair suggestion when I ask that the details and technicalities of the Bill should be dealt with thoroughly by a strong Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, upon which representatives of banking, commerce and, labour would sit, and before which evidence of all views could be impartially given and reconsidered, and that that Committee should report before your Lordships are asked to give your final approval of the Bill in its present or in any other form. Before that is done I desire that my noble friend or any others who wish to do so may have an opportunity of convincing the Committee that their view is the right one. I should like to say that in asking your Lordships to read the Bill a second time I am not inviting the Government or others to commit themselves in any way to the details of the Bill. The bankers and commercial men of this country regard the question as of the utmost importance for the future prosperity of our foreign trade; and, as practical business men, they desire this Joint Committee (upon which representatives of bankers, merchants, manufacturers, and labour would sit) to deal thoroughly with the question and report to this House before your Lordships are asked to proceed further with the measure.

Before I sit down may I take the liberty of reading a letter which I received before coming to the House from one of our greatest bankers, because it is a splendid example of the feeling generally held by the commercial world. He says, in regard to the difficulties to be overcome at home in changing our monetary system— It is obviously better for us to adopt this [the decimal] system than for our foreign customers to adopt ours, which would be an absolute impossibility. Therefore in order to obtain that increase of trade which is so essential to our national prosperity we ourselves ought, if possible, to remove the difficulties, and I think that if your Bill be passed it will go a long way to facilitate an increase of trade between this country and Italy and other countries using the decimal system. Of course, as provided in your Bill, the pound sterling will not be touched, but will remain as heretofore the world-wide standard of value. For these reasons I heartily agree with the main lines of your Bill, and I think the appointment of a strong Joint Committee of Lords and Commons to work out matters of detail Ls a proper course to take. Having read this letter, I will now say that it is from my friend Sir Edward Holden, the Chairman of the London City and Midland Bank. We also know that Sir Richard Vassar Smith, the Chairman of the Institute of Bankers, is also a strong supporter of the policy to which I ask your Lordships' assent this afternoon. After all I have said I hope that your Lordships will not refuse the modest request that I make, that this Bill should be read a second time and referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. I do not know what will follow in the course of debate, but I cannot conceive that your Lordships would desire to go into minute detail. Therefore I will say no more than that I hope, after what I have said, that I shall have the support of the Government and the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Southwark.)

LORD LEVERHULME had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move "That the Bill be read a second time this day three months." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise with great diffidence and extreme reluctance to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, all the more because in your Lordships' House you have some of the strongest and most astute intellects in finance that the country has produced, and it may appear to your Lordships that when I venture to oppose this Bill it is a case of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

This Bill is purely and simply a Bill of the Institute of Bankers. Many of us have been connected with Chambers of Commerce. They do an extremely valuable and important work for the commerce of the country, and I think any of us who have been connected with them will have been impressed with the fact that the members, on subjects outside the daily routine, are necessarily and perhaps wisely guided by those whom they consider to have stronger views and experience on such matters. The Chambers of Commerce, I think, have been largely influenced by the fact that the Institute of Bankers have adopted and proposed this Bill. With regard to the list of Chambers of Commerce read out by my noble friend, I am informed that the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Glasgow are of opinion that they are not committed to the proposals of this Bill. I do not know whether the Bill was referred to the bankers of the United Kingdom or the bankers of England alone. Have the bankers of Scotland been invited to take part, and have they recommended support of this Bill? Further—a matter of far-reaching effect—have the bankers of the Overseas Dominions been invited to take part in the deliberations of the Institute of Bankers, and have they expressed an opinion?

I do not oppose the principle of decimal coinage. Trade and commerce in this country are seriously hampered by our present basis of coinage. But I do oppose the methods provided in this Bill, whereby it is proposed to make the sovereign our unit and divide that sovereign into a thousand parts or mils. As my noble friend stated, Great Britain is to-day practically the only great nation that has net adopted the decimal system of coinage. The promoters of this Bill—the Institute of Bankers—state that it is absolutely essential to British international finance to maintain the British sovereign as our unit. But the bankers have never told us what are the risks that would be incurred by the adoption of a decimal coinage founded on the halfpenny, and whit would be our strength in adopting the sovereign divided into a thousand mils. I would point out that we have only had a coinage that contained a sovereign as the highest unit sine the year 1817; before that time our guinea was, and bad been for over a century and a quarter, our highest coin. But the British penny has been in daily use in the United Kingdom for over twelve centuries; and it seems strange to me that in your Lordships' House proposals should be made to dethrone the British penny, which has filled an honourable and useful place in our financial arrangements for over twelve centuries, and instal the parvenu sovereign, which we have not known for more than a year over a century.

For over six centuries our British penny was the only coin we had. It was of silver, and was cut in two to make halfpennies, and quartered to make farthings. It is curious, notwithstanding the assertion of the Institute of Bankers of the importance of retaining the sovereign, that, while all the leading nations have adopted a decimal system, not one nation has based its system on the British sovereign. Most of the leading nations have based their decimal system on the British penny, divided into parts to suit their requirements. The American dollar, for instance, is based on our halfpenny; the Latin franc is based on tenpence. We are told that the Germanic races some fifty years ago, when they decided to decimalise their coinage, made the value of their 10-pfennig piece—you will notice that the word "pfennig" is similar to penny—somewhat higher than that of the 10-centime piece purely in order to prevent their coins from flowing easily and readily into surrounding countries. But the German 10-pfennig piece is obviously founded on our penny, and the Germanic races, if they had so desired, could equally have achieved their object by adopting our sovereign as their basis, divided into a thousand parts. They have been, and are, and are expected to be when this war is over, our biggest and most formidable competitors in trade and commerce. They are astute competitors in trade and finance, and were so a long time before they made a change to decimal coinage. If the British sovereign was the key to our financial supremacy, as stated by the Institute of Bankers, do not your Lordships think that they would have founded a decimal system on the British sovereign, divided into a thousand mils, as is now proposed by the Institute of Bankers?

No nation has adopted our sovereign to enable them the better to meet our competition, but they have adopted our penny and our business organisation, our system of book-keeping, and our trade methods. The basis of our international finance and our strong position rests on our reputation for honesty and integrity; our word is our bond, for either Government or merchant; agreements are not "scraps of papers." Our financial position rests on confidence in London as a free market for gold; and our international shipping facilities and trade, our insurance, our finance and credit, all form the basis upon which our international position in finance rests. The fact is that the strength of Britain's position in international finance has rested not on the sovereign any more than it had previously rested upon the guinea, but upon our character for financial honesty. It would have been just as reasonable to say that our strength through that remarkable period, the eighteenth century, during the whole of which we had the guinea as our highest coin, depended upon the guinea. But our forefathers did not hesitate from any fear of results to our financial strength to abandon the guinea and adopt the sovereign. And on the foundation of honest finance which we had laid during the eighteenth century and preceding centuries we suffered no shock, but our progress continued unabated during the nineteenth century.

It might be argued from the fact that we abandoned our guinea at the beginning of the nineteenth century that our comparative financial strength, which at the end of the nineteenth century could not in any way be said to be equal to our comparative financial strength at the end of the eighteenth century, had been the result of the abandonment of the guinea. We might have argued that the United States, Germany, and other races, had received a stimulus by the abandonment of our British guinea. We know that this would have been too absurd to be considered for one moment as a contributory cause, however slight. I would ask, Has the British sovereign prevented the diversion of trade directly to the Mediterranean ports from the East, and the weakening of our financial position in the Mediterranean that has necessarily followed the opening of the Suez Canal; and will the British sovereign prevent the weakening of our financial position in the South American hemisphere that is following on the opening of the Panama Canal? After the war America will be more nearly equal with ourselves in shipping, and will boldly and with confidence compete with us in the carrying trade of the world. Will the sovereign protect us? We shall have to depend on our trade ability as of old. Our financial supremacy of the past has been founded upon London as a favourable centre for placing foreign loans. Will the sovereign save us from the consequent popularising of the dollar, and the weakening of the sovereign, that will inevitably follow the fact that New York has been able to lend $10.000,000,000, and is capable of lending still more, which will certainly bring her into the front rank of international finance? Will the British sovereign prevent the progress of the American dollar in international finance which will follow the fact that Europe since the war has borrowed over $10,000,000,000 from the United States, and is still continuing to borrow? No, my Lords, the sole point to be considered in changing to a decimal system of coinage must be to see that we adopt a coinage of the most convenient form. The sovereign divided into 1,000 mils was correctly described in another place in the year 1881 as "carrying the greatest inconvenience to the greatest number of people." And convenience in money is essential. If we cling to our present coinage too long we shall find ourselves the weaker, and we shall find the American gold dollar and not the British sovereign the dominant factor in international finance.

Decimal coinage proposals were first discussed in the other House in about the year 1816. In the House of Commons in 1855 Mr. Lowe said—and I want to call your Lordships' attention specially to the few quotations I am now going to give you— Let the rich propose any division of the sovereign they please, but do not let them impose difficulties on the poor. This Bill makes the present sovereign and mil proposal equally puzzling to all classes. Lord Overstone, in 1859, said— Decimal coinage founded on the penny ejects the pound sterling, whilst a decimal coinage founded on the pound sterling involves the abandonment of the penny. I claim that it is not true that the adoption of the penny entails the abandonment of the pound sterling. The abandonment of either need not be forced on us. If we adopt 100 halfpennies as the basis of our decimal coinage, we do not abandon the sovereign, which would remain of the same value it is to-day—480 halfpennies; but even if we did, then surely the burden of any change must be thrown on the rich and educated and not upon the poorer and less educated classes. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain stated in the other House in 1881—and I call your Lordships' special attention to this— If the preservation of the penny was not to be thought of because it was inconvenient to the bankers and to the wealthy, equally the mil system must be rejected because it was inconvenient to the people. Mr. Gladstone also emphatically stated then that he was opposed to an alteration of the penny, because it would operate to the prejudice of the poorer classes and would disturb nine-tenths of the transactions of daily life.

Now, decimal coinage would help reconstruction after the war. Commerce is hampered until our present coinage is modernised in all comparative values of other nations. I call your Lordships' attention to the fact that the Liverpool Cotton Brokers' Association have decimal- ised the penny without, waiting for any authority from Parliament. They have divided the penny into 100 parts instead of the former division into vulgar fractions. But our present coinage system is a wilful and costly waste of accountancy expenses. The decimal system founded upon the British halfpenny—I commend this to your Lordships' consideration—would be a most important step towards drawing the English-speaking races together. Decimal coinage must precede a metric system of weights and measures. There is no necessity for these to be dealt with together. The division of the coinage into parts of 100 makes it none the less convenient for counting either money or articles in dozens as formerly. In fact the United States, which a century and a quarter or more ago adopted the decimal system of coinage, still declines to adopt the metric system of weights and measures; and in most decimal coinage countries where a metric system is in use you find articles such as wine, eggs, yards of material, and so on, counted by dozens instead of by tens.

The world in the future will be influenced more and more each year, we hope, by English-speaking people than by any other races, and the closer we English-speaking people come together the stronger we shall he. We do not want to make an embalmed mummy of the sovereign; we want to unite English-speaking people. But apart from all ether considerations our sovereign on its merits is too large and too high a unit. Amongst other nations we find the lowest unit is that of the Turkish people, approximately 2½d.; and the highest unit is the dollar, approximately 4s. We must remember that money as coin circulates mainly amongst the masses of the people; this makes it essential that the unit should he in accord with the convenience, and the habits, and the wants, and the usages which have gone on through the centuries amongst the masses of the people of the country. The English sovereign has never been in daily use by the British people. The British penny and halfpenny for over twelve centuries have been in daily use, and are so to-day. The quotations, and prices, and thoughts, of the whole British race for over twelve centuries in all transactions of purchase and sale have been carried cut in pennies and halfpennies. Let us remember that if we wish to make a change in our coinage system it can only he by building up a decimal system on a more scientific and a more convenient application to existing habits, customs, and thoughts that improvement in our coinage can be effected. If we run counter to the habits and thoughts of the masses in regard to our coinage we are doomed to failure. The convenience of the masses of the people must come first. I think then we must create our British decimal coinage, founded upon the sovereign divided into a thousand but founded upon our British halfpenny which we have had for over twelve centuries. Over forty years ago Jevons wrote of the American dolla[...]I consider the dollar so good a unit that it would be mere national prejudice to oppose it. The difference in value between the British halfpenny and the American cent is approximately one and three-eighths per cent. The pre-war relative gold value of 450 British halfpennies was [...]86.6 American cents. This difference is not so great as to prevent comparison of values in halfpennies with cents, and yet is sufficient to keep the silver and bronze coinage from flowing [...]ut of or into either country. The Latin ra[...]es found that exact parity was a disadvantage. Germany, to avoid the flow of silver out or in, adopted a distinct coinage. If we adopt the mil and ask our foreign customers in all future comparative quotations of price to divide our sovereign into one thousand parts, I venture to say, my Lords, that we shall be asking them to adopt a new and unknown unit and be taxing our own business relations and good will with them in so doing.

Within the British Empire to-day, including Egypt, we have seven distinct currencies. With a British dollar we shall require only one currency. It has been objected that to adopt the British dollar we should acknowledge the supremacy of the American dollar. America has accepted our Greenwich time as her basis. Her ships navigate the seas on the basis of British meridians. America has adopted our divisions of the globe without fear of prejudice to her standing as a nation. Why? Because she found our division of the globe could not be improved upon. If she had been able to find a better method she would have adopte[...] it. Did America or any other nation ever hesitate to adopt any of our methods or institutions that they found best? Then why should we hesitate to adopt the dollar decimal system—a system which has stood the test of 130 years use—that is founded on our British halfpenny, which has stood the test of 1,200 years usage.

We have never induced any nation to adopt our British sovereign as a basis. Americans have induced some of the most important parts of the British Empire—Canada, Newfoundland, &e.—to adopt their American dollar. Why? Are Canada and our other Colonies who have adopted the dollar lacking in loyalty? Their loyalty has never stood a greater test than it is standing to-day, but they cannot afford, nor can we afford, to cling to an obsolete coinage. The American dollar has stood all tests of convenience, adaptability, and adjustment of prices for over 130 years, and this fact, my Lords, ought to weigh with us. After the war we must face the position. In the final Report of the Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy After the War, Sir John Bradbury recommended, in a Memorandum attached thereto, a British dollar of 100 halfpennies, and he gave many reasons which you will find in that Report for his recommendation.

There are two sides to the decimal coinage question. There is not only the accountancy side to be considered, but also comparison of values and the retention of standards of value which we have had in our offices throughout the United Kingdom for so long. If we adopt the sovereign divided into 1.000 mils every one of those calculations will be valueless, and some firms have thousands of I hose calculations in their offices. Further, in instituting this coinage every existing coin except the sovereign and half-sovereign would have to be withdrawn. At a certain date every bank, every post office, and every institution, would have to have supplies of the new coins. But I cannot fancy for one moment that such a system as that is possible. On the other hand, if we adopt the halfpenny and make a British dollar, every coin can remain in circulation till it is worn out. The Mint Report on coinage shows that our 2s. and 1s. coins represent at home 47 per cent. of our silver coins, and for Imperial overseas use they represent 77 per cent. of our silver coin. Surely the half-dollar and quarter-dollar would meet this demand most effectively. Committees have declared that it is equally important to maintain the credit of our penny at home as to maintain that of the sovereign abroad. Rates of wages are based upon our present coinage of a halfpenny and a penny. Piecework rates also, and quotation prices, have been based on the penny for centuries. These will all have to be revised, and the amount of time that would be wasted between employer and employee in the revision of these rates, in order to bring them into accord with the new system will be very serious. The handicap to our industries will be enormous.

Sir John Bradbury points out that we all receive our incomes mainly in shillings and spend mainly in pence. Walter Bagehot, a high authority, declared that if either unit had to be altered the least disturbance would be caused by altering the pound sterling. In conclusion I would like to point this out to your Lordships, that by voting for this Bill founded on a division of the sovereign into 1,000 mils and sending it to a Joint Committee of both Houses for the consideration of its principles, you would in fact declare that to cause the maximum of inconvenience and confusion to the people who draw their income in shillings and spend it in pence was of less concern to your Lordships than the causing of the minimum of inconvenience and disturbance to bankers and capitalists who draw their income in sovereigns and invest it in millions sterling. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day three months").—(Lord Leverhulme.)


My Lords, I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I intervene in the debate and let your Lordships know generally the view of the Treasury with regard to this Bill. What-ever the individual views of your Lordships may be as to the expediency of decimalising the coinage at the present moment—whether in the event of your approving of such legislation you prefer the pound standard, or the penny standard which has been most lovingly dwelt upon by the noble Lord who has just spoken in that eloquent speech to which I am sure your Lordships listened with great pleasure—I think few of you will deny that the topic is an interesting one. Your Lordships have heard the arguments that have been addressed to you by my noble friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill in favour of the expediency of legislation at the present time. My noble friend might have informed your Lordships with truth that many of the keenest intellects of the last century were advocates of some such change as that which he is now proposing. I remember, and I dare say a number of your Lordships will remember, the very interesting speech in this House which was made a few years ago by the late Lord Kelvin, in which, if my memory serves me, he argued that if the metric system of weights and measures were introduced into this country, combined with a decimal coinage, the course of elementary instruction in all schools would in his opinion—and his opinion must surely have been a valuable one—be shortened by no loss than two years. I think your Lordships would probably be inclined to agree that a feeling in favour of decimalising the currency has been growing up during the last few years. I hardly see how that fact can be denied in view of the weight and the number of the authorities which my noble friend. Lord Southwark quoted as being at the back of his Bill.

There are one or two points in my noble friend's Bill to which I will venture to call your Lordships' attention. The first point is with regard to the substitution of the new currency for the old if the Bill were passed. In former controversies on this topic I think it was generally admitted that two standards have held the field against others—namely, the pound standard and the penny standard, both of which have been mentioned. The former is advocated by my noble friend Lord Southwark, and the latter by Lord Leverhulme. My noble friend has pointed out with truth that by retaining the pound standard, as his Bill proposes, no substitutes would be essential for the present coins of six-pence and upwards because the existing coins are the precise equivalents of the proposed new ones, but that facilities would have to be provided for the exchange of old coins of the lower denomination during a specific period. I am not prepared to deny, if decimal coinage is adopted at all, that for many reasons the pound standard would perhaps be preferable.

The second point to which I would invite your Lordships' attention for a moment is that of the adjustment of prices to the new currency. In all discussions on this subject prior to the war the most serious difficulty has been felt on this point. It has been feared that the adjustment would work disadvantageously to the poorer classes. My noble friend Lord Southwark has said that at no time could the change take place with less disturbance than in the immediate future, owing to the fact of the war having obliterated all our previous notions with regard to the value of commodities great and small; and, as I understand my noble friend's argument, the minimum of injury would result to the consumer qua producer from selecting such a period as that which is just before us in which to displace one set of small coins by a different set. That I understand is my noble friend's argument, but it is not one which His Majesty's Government are altogether prepared to accept. It is quite true that the period immediately before us must obviously be a disturbed one as regards values and prices, but it seems questionable, to say the least, that by the introduction of a fresh and additional element of disturbance, such as would result from the alterations proposed by my noble friend's Bill, the community would be benefited, or that anything would be thereby done to lessen the oscillation of prices which appears inevitable. I think my noble friend may be entitled, speaking generally, to say that the man who works with his head is in favour of some such change as is proposed by his Bill, and that the change in full operation would be convenient to bankers, merchants, large business firms, and so on—the supporters of his Bill, in fact. It appears to me that there is no need to exaggerate its advantage even to them, for it would not remove the necessity for translating our currency into foreign currencies at the varying rates of exchange which must prevail after the war. As I understand, it is impossible for the wit of man to provide any plan under which international uniformity shall be attained in practice.

I have said that I think my noble friend, speaking generally, may fairly claim that the man who works with his head is in favour of some such legislation as is embodied in his Bill; but when we look at the problem from the point of view of the man who works wit h his hands, I think my noble friend can hardly claim to be in exactly as favourable a position. No evidence is brought forward by my noble friend to show us that the matter has been in any way considered by representatives of labour, or by retail traders who would be seriously affected by the change, but I do not know that I need take up more of your Lordships' time with regard to that part of the subject, for it has been dealt with at great length and very clearly by the noble Lord who preceded me. I would only like to add one sentence to what Lord Leverhulme has said on that part of the subject, and it is that in the opinion, of the Treasury, for what it is worth, it is doubtful whether shillings and pence are not superior to decimal coinage for the purposes of retail trade and the payment of wages.

There remain some considerations of a different part of the subject which I feel bound to put before your Lordships on behalf of His Majesty's Government. The alteration of the existing penny, as proposed under the Bill, is a crucial question. Logically my noble friend should have replaced the penny by a five-mil piece, of which there would only be ten to a shilling. Recognising that that would be too violent a change the Bill has introduced a four-mil piece, worth a fraction less than the present penny, and there would be twelve and a half of these coins to the shilling, which in the opinion of the Treasury is a most inconvenient arrangement. The recalculation of numberless retail prices which would be involved, were the Bill to become law, has been dealt with by Lord Leverhulme, and I need say nothing more on that point. The argument has been advanced that the introduction of the mil would give greater elasticity to prices than exists at present. That is a matter of opinion, and I believe elasticity may equally well be obtained with the farthing at present in use. It is rather a curious fact that recent experience has shown that in certain districts the farthing is practically unknown; in others it is familiar, and in other districts it has lately found its way into circulation.

Let me say a word with regard to Clause 6 of the Bill. In order to bring the Bill into operation it would, of course, be necessary to offer safeguards to the holders of present penny and halfpenny coins against loss by giving facilities for their exchange for the new 4-mil and 2-mil pieces, and it would be necessary to accumulate considerable reserves for that object—an operation which is quite impossible during the course of the present war. The resources of the Mint are already over-taxed. Copper, as your Lordships need not be informed, is required for a very different purpose at the present than that of coins. The same objection applies to nickel. I do not think I need labour this point, as it is indisputable that physical difficulties make any change impossible now and probably for some time after the war. My noble friend Lord Southwark seems to me to be brought up against difficulties similar to those which defeated, at least for the present, the adherents of proportional representation. Organised bodies of public opinion, whose views naturally carry great weight with your Lordships, have pronounced in more or less distinct tones their approval both of proportional representation and of decimal coinage, but practical difficulties seem to bar the way at present, both of the one and the other.

His Majesty's Government, I am instructed to say, are unable to give support to my noble friend's Bill, and he must exercise his judgment as to whether he thinks it advisable in those circumstances to proceed with the Second Reading Motion to a Division. On the other hand, the Government are prepared, if any general feeling is expressed that such a course would be agreeable to the House, to appoint a Joint Committee of both Houses to inquire into the whole question. Whether such a Committee would report in a direction favourable to my noble friend's views is, of course, a matter of opinion, but the conclusions arrived at by the Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy after the War, presided over by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, are perhaps not calculated to give much encouragement to my noble friend, although I am bound to confess that he was perfectly accurate in saying that the Bill to which he asks your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day was not brought before Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Committee. But the whole matter was gone into, and the question of the propriety of introducing a decimal coinage system, with many other matters of first importance was, I understand, fully and clearly before Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Committee. Indeed, attached to their Report is a most lucid and interesting Memorandum on the particular subject of decimal coinage by Sir John Bradbury, which has been already referred to in this debate. With those documents in your Lordships' hands I think no noble Lord can say he has not had an opportunity of studying both the past history and the present position of the movement.

I have endeavoured to explain the attitude which is taken by his Majesty's Government in regard to the Bill now before the House, and their reasons, and I can only point out that the course your Lordships pursue with regard to giving a Second Reading or not to the Bill is one which is left to your Lordships entirely.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has spoken for the Government has indicated tolerably clearly what is the Government's attitude towards this Bill: the Treasury cannot assent to it, and the House is not to look for support from the representatives of the Government. On the other hand, the noble Lord has offered to take such steps as are within the power of the Government to bring about the appointment of a Joint Committee of this House and the other House for the consideration of the whole subject. Whether such a Joint Committee is the best body that could be obtained for the purpose I am not quite sure, but the resources of the two Houses are sufficient to make it possible to get a very good body, and the important point is that the whole matter should he sifted out, in a way in which we have not had it sifted up to the present. We have the Report of Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Committee as far as it goes, but that is a very guarded document. What we really want to know is how the country stands with regard to this far-reaching and very great proposal.

With my noble friend Lord Southwark I am in full agreement that something on a large scale has to be done. The present system of coinage is inadequate and out of fashion. The same thing is true of the present metric system. We require something equivalent to a metric system, and we require something equivalent to a decimal coinage. They are two separate though cognate subjects. The present problem with the coinage is how to get a unit which could be adopted as an equivalent to the standardised metric units of other countries, and which at the same time will serve our national purposes. There is a great deal to be said against the disestablishment of the penny, as has been pointed out by Lord Leverhulme. On the other hand, there are possibly a good many things to be said about the sovereign. The sovereign suits us as regards the point of view with other countries; the penny suits us as regards our own domestic habits.

I confess, speaking for myself, that I am not alarmed at the prospect of causing some inconvenience to the public by the change. The public takes to new timings and assimilates them much more rapidly than we have been in the habit of supposing. I could not quarrel with anybody who said that it was better to go through a certain amount of trouble over the disestablishment of the penny rather than adopt a system which permanently would not work out as a good one. But it is obvious that the whole of this very complicated matter, which depends to a large extent on expert knowledge, ought to be sifted out in an expert fashion. We ought to have something, I will not say quite like the Report of a Royal Commission, but a reasoned and very full document affording us materials on which to base a conclusion upon this question.

I do not suppose that my noble friend for a moment contemplated that his Bill would get any further than to a joint Committee of some kind—a Joint Committee which might or might not result in the Bill proceeding. Unless he gets the support of the Government he really cannot hope to get time for it in the other House. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Leverhulme would probably be satisfied if there was an Inquiry of a sufficiently complete form into what he considers to be the shortcomings of the Bill at present before the House. Therefore, speaking for myself, I am quite content with the course proposed by the noble Lord who his spoken on behalf of the Treasury, provided that the Inquiry is a thorough and comprehensive one, and that it is undertaken without undue delay. In this matter time presses more than we quite realise. We have a system which may be a great hindrance to us in dealing with things after the war. The country desires, I think, in this as in other matters to make progress, and to make progress that is at once as thorough and as rapid as is possible. I hope, therefore, that the Government will undertake, if such a Joint Committee is set up, to see that the Inquiry is both full and speedy.


My Lords, I will not detain you more than a few minutes, but I would like to address myself for a moment to the proposal of the Government. As far as I can see, no one who has so far spoken on this Bill is opposed to decimal coinage on principle. I think that we may now accept it as beyond argument that the advantage of decimal currency is unquestioned. The only question, therefore, is one of expediency—as to whether the Second Reading of this Bill should he taken now and an Inquiry held afterwards by a Joint Committee, or whether a Joint Committee should inquire first and the Second Reading of this or another Bill be thereafter taken. I do not think, if I may make the suggestion to so experienced a hand as my friend Lord Southwark, that it is of very great importance which course is adopted, because it is not possible that this Bill could be put into force, as has been explained on behalf of the Government, for some considerable time after the war. But I think it is extremely desirable that we should be ready to put a Bill of this sort, into operation.

The noble Lord who spoke upon the rejection of the Bill delivered a speech which in my opinion was in favour of the Bill but against the details of how it was to be carried out. May I suggest that his speech dealt with two aspects of the subject which were not exactly antagonistic to one another. I myself am very strongly in favour of the pound standard, but I am also in favour of the dollar unit. I think that you ought to have the pound as a five-dollar piece. I do so because in one of our Colonies, in the Dominion of Canada, and also in Newfoundland, the dollar already exists, and because in future the commerce between this country and the United States will be greatly increased. The dollar as our unit would therefore be more advisable in our transaction than the pound. But I do not think, even if you have the dollar as your unit, that it prevents for one moment the necessity of a change. It is regrettable that the necessity must remain of changing the value of the penny. As Lord Southwark has explained, you would have to change the copper coins. I think, in spite of what Lord Leverhulme said, that that would be a great advantage to the labouring class, because although the penny would be changed the coin that you would have to substitute according to this Bill, the four-mil piece, would practically have the same purchasing power as the penny. The loss will fall on the vendors of articles of small value, a thing which perhaps some of us would not regret. It may fall on the newspaper proprietors, and that is one reason why in past years newspaper proprietors were always opposed to any change to decimal coinage. But I think that you will find it work out to the advantage of the working man in so far as the purchasing power of the four-mil piece would equal that of the penny, and that that would be a gain.

A great deal is often said of the disturbance caused in the country by an alteration to the decimal currency. The last experience, as far as I can remember, of a change was in Ceylon. In 1872, when we changed the currency in Ceylon into rupees and cents, prophecies were made that it would create a great disturbance among the population of Ceylon. I am informed, however, that within a fortnight every one had accustomed themselves to the change, and that everything went smoothly. If the inhabitants of Ceylon can adapt themselves within a fortnight to a change of currency to rupees and cents from the complicated double currency that they had before of pounds, shillings, and pence and a Dutch currency, then I think we may assume that English people would find it would not take them very much longer to accustom themselves to this change.


My Lords, I do not rise to prolong this debate, but rather to suggest that it may come to an early conclusion. It seems to me that the speech of the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill was really a very strong plea in favour of the course which has been proposed to the House by the mover of the Bill. The Bill is really one of affirming the principle of a decimal system, and one of the strongest advocates of a decimal system who has spoken in the House to-night is the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill. He is as strongly in favour of a decimal system as any of your Lordships, and his speech has shown conclusively that this is a matter which ought to be dealt with by a Committee, and if possible, by a Joint Committee of both Houses. If we were to go on with the debate on the lines introduced by the mover of the rejection of the Bill we should be here till midnight, and we should not get very much further forward. It is clearly a matter to be dealt with in detail, a matter for a Committee such as has been suggested.

The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill chiefly did it upon the ground of the disappearance of the penny. Well, the disappearance of the penny undoubtedly is a matter which will call forth tears from every eye. Shakespeare will have to be rewritten; even the Bible will have to be rewritten. What will become of the penny which was to be given as tribute to Cæsar if the penny exists no longer? It is quite clear that the disappearance of the penny is in all respects a matter to be regretted. But we have had the Report of the Committee over which Lord Balfour of Burleigh presided—it has been quoted two or three times. It did not make any definite recommendation with regard to a decimal system, but it said that if there was to be a toss-up between the penny and the pound it ought to come down "pound." That was said, I think, in express terms by the Committee, and it seems to me that, as there is this contest between the penny and the pound, it is clearly a matter which ought to be settled by a Committee. The first step towards that Committee must be the Second Reading of this Bill, and I hope that your Lordships will give it that Second Reading now.


My Lords, I have very great hesitation in prolonging this debate, but after the repeated allusions to the Committee over which I had the honour to preside it would be hardly courteous if I did not say a word on the discussion which has just taken place. It seems to me that if one thing more than another is proved by the discussion it is that we want much more inquiry before we can lay the foundation of a new system. The large Committee over which I presided had many other subjects to discuss, but I can assure the House that it gave a great deal of attention to this matter, although we had not the advantage of having this particular proposal before us. That Committee, although to some extent divided on the merits of any possible change, was practically unanimous that, at the time of social and industrial and financial difficulty through which we are passing at the present time, it would be extremely inexpedient to add to that financial confusion by introducing this change.

The noble Lord who spoke for the Bill spoke on behalf of bankers, all those who are interested in large account keeping, in banking calculations, and to some extent he spoke of the advantage of shortening primary education. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill spoke from the other point of view entirely, the effect of decimalising the pound on all the calculations which the rank and file of the population have to make. I have tried to study this question on its merits. There are, I think, enormous advantages in keep- ing the pound as your unit; but I am afraid I have come to the conclusion that your decimal system of shillings and pence is a better one than the decimal system with the pound as a unit, on account of the enormous changes which would have to be made in the calculations which the main body of the people would have to make. Beyond all question, if you decimalise the pound you will simplify calculations for those who keep large accounts, but you will enormously complicate them for those who deal in the retail trade, in payment of wages, and in shillings and pence generally. I go so far with the noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill that it is at least as important to preserve the credit of the penny at home as it is to maintain that of the sovereign abroad.

It is by no means true to say that this change will be easily introduced. It would in my humble opinion be difficult at any time, and it would be not less difficult during the period of great fluctuations in the real value of money. I believe it would accentuate the confusion by introducing a new and disturbing factor at a difficult time, and I am not at all able to accept the argument, which I believe is put forward on behalf of the Institute of Bankers, that the decrease in the purchasing power of the penny has accustomed the public to such readjustments. Things which are inevitable are accepted and made the best of, but I do not think it at all follows that the people would be willing at a time like this to accept a further depreciation arbitrarily imposed upon them by the Government.

This Bill for the first time goes some way in the co-ordination of a great many different proposals. Reading between the lines, and knowing something of the secret history of the matter, I think I can understand how it came to be introduced at the present time. In the course of the autumn of last year, when my Committee was considering this matter, several witnesses were put forward in favour of the decimalisation of the pound, and it was quite a matter of common discussion in my Committee that there were so many different schemes that they would mutually kill one another, and that it was no use attempting to introduce any scheme until the proposals were co-ordinated by those who wanted to make a change, so that we might have some scheme to consider. If I understand it aright, and I think I do, this particular scheme is the result of that attempt.

Consider what this change involves. You are keeping the pound, and decimalising it. To do that, as you will see in the Schedule of the Bill, it is actually proposed to have six new coins below the value of 2½d. Just think what a confusion that would bring in. No one of these coins would be equal in value either to the penny or the halfpenny. Your Lordships will see in the middle of the Schedule there is a ten-m[...] piece, and, if I understand it rightly, ten mils are 2.4 of a penny—that is, less than 2½d. Therefore the scheme actually proposes to give us six new coins below 2½d. in value. Consider what this change would involve. It would involve the readjustment of all the innumerable retail transactions which are based on the penny. For that there is no exact equivalent in the new coinage, and the dilemna presents itself to those who are in favour of the change that either the purchaser would get less for his penny or the scale of prices would have to be changed. That would apply to postal reform, to national insurance, to railway, tramway, and omnibus fares, to time and piece work wages in many important trades; and the Bill, as I understand it, proposes to lay upon the unfortunate Board of Trade the responsibility for regulating all these things. In Clause 4 of the Bill it is put on the Board of Trade to do that work.

About thirty years ago I was engaged for the Board of Trade in consolidating all the railway charges of the country. We consolidated 800 Acts of Parliament, and we therefore introduced the decimalisation of the penny. Your railway rates are now charged by decimals of a penny. But to do that we had to sit for six months. There were, on our first appearance, 132 people, every one of whom was entitled to cross-examine each witness, and we had to sit and listen to some 75,000 questions put and answered. That was only as regards the railways. But the unfortunate Board of Trade would have to do this in regard to postal arrangements, and all the other matter of tramway fares and the rest of it. I do not think that this is a possible way of bringing in this change.

I would like to make one other remark on why I say a duodecimal system is better than a decimal one. If you decimalise so high a unit as a pound, when you deal with any sum under 10s.—like 8s. 2d.—you have three figures to deal with instead of two. To give one illustration, 8s. 2d. would become 408. Now, if you think of what that would mean in calculating all the things of daily life you will see what a confusion would be introduced into the working of the humbler classes.

Since our Committee reported I have had put into my hands a most interesting pamphlet by Mr. Russell Gubbins which reviews all these matters. It has been printed and published, somewhat on my advice, and I hope it will be on sale in a short time. In one of the pages he gives an imaginary invoice beginning with "one steel saucepan" which you can get estimated for 4s. 6d.; but if it were to be in mils it would be 225. And so on. Although there are some dozen or so items given, the whole of them would have three figures, and the large majority would have 2 noughts with a decimal figure after them before the calculation could be made.

I have one other objection to this Bill—namely, that the decimalisation of the pound would not help us as an Empire to get one coinage. I feel very strongly that there is a case for much further inquiry into all the aspects of this matter before we pass such a Bill as this; and I am rather afraid that if you give a Second Reading of this Bill, even on the presumption that it is to be sent to a Select Committee, you will give a sort of prima facie strength to a proposal which I think I have shown in the few words I have said is not likely ever to be accepted.

I wish that the noble Lord who represents the Treasury had made a little more distinct his offer to have further inquiry by an impartial body. I think that there is much further inquiry wanted before we can settle down to a policy. I want to keep the pound, with all its credit, at any rate at the present time while we are engaged in this contest. But if you decimalise so large a unit as a pound you will get into very great difficulties. No other country has attempted to decimalise so large a unit. You have the franc in France, the mark in Germany, and other units in other countries. I hope that if an impartial inquiry is instituted there will be a way found, without in any way depreciating the inherent theory of the value of the pound or doing anything which would cast discredit upon it. We might do something to get a better unit than the pound for decimalisation. If your Lordships passed this Bill to decimalise the pound, and carried it into effect, it would bring us no nearer to one coinage even within the British Empire. You would have different units in Canada, Newfoundland, British Honduras, and British Guiana, which uses the United States dollar; besides which there is the Indian rupee and the Straits dollar, to say nothing of the Egyptian piastre.

There will be great difficulties with any change, but if you are going to make a change at all try and do it on some wider principle than is introduced in this Bill, something which will give us, I will not say a foundation for a world coinage because that is too ambitious a scheme, but at any rare one which would have some hopes of bringing within its bounds either the whole of the British Empire, or, perhaps, the whole of the English-speaking races. It is better to niche it on a basis which will really be a foundation of bigger things than the lucre attempt which is foreshadowed in this Bill. This is no new question; it has been going on for one hundred years, and I do not think it will matter if it goes on for a few years more compared with the advantage of getting a really useful change, if you bring in a change at all. Therefore on the whole I think it would be inexpedient for the House, if I may respectfully say so, to give an imprimatur to this scheme by passing the Second Reading of this Bill.


My Lords, I am personally very much indebted to the noble Lord for having sounded a note of caution. I think it was Lord Swaythling who assumed that nearly everybody was prepared to agree to this Bill or to some analogous measure. I myself feel that the reactions which follow from the alterations of currency are far reaching of necessity, and are often unexpected in their character, and that we are apt to ascribe to our coinage system trading and other disadvantages which are in point of fact attributable to quite different causes.

My noble friend behind me, Lord Leverhulme, referred repeatedly during his remarks to the difficulties of our foreign trade. He said that if we changed our system we should facilitate our foreign trade. That may be so in some cases; but our great trades, the trades which have achieved fundamental success in this country, are trades which somehow have triumphed over our currency shortcomings. Shipbuild- ing and the textile trade show no signs of being interfered with, or of their interests being prejudiced or impaired, by our pound sterling. Where prejudice has existed in our foreign commerce it is largely owing to our own fault, to our reluctance to convert our quotations into the currency of the country with which we desire to trade, often owing to the indolence or ill-informed nature of our commercial travellers. German competition before the war was very serious, but they had to convert their coinage into British quotations. It did not hinder them, however; and the difficulty the Germans had in trading with us was no greater titan the difficulty which we deplore in trading with other countries which do not deal in our own currency. In fact, in some ways the difficulties which the Germans had to overcome in that respect may be said to have been greater than our own.

I submit to your Lordships, therefore, that great caution is necessary in looking for commercial remedies in currency. I well remember, when. I first went, into Parliament, twenty-five years ago, the tremendous, in some cases the almost overpowering, pressure brought to bear upon Lancashire Members of Parliament and candidates to support bimetallism. All our troubles in the textile trade in Lan[...]a shire were ascribed to our not adopting bimetallism. It was a test question in those days. Bimetallism, happily, is now dead. Sound money triumphed over that fraud and that fallacy; and I have the greatest respect—I was going to say the greatest affection also—for the pound sterling, which seems to me to be the central and basic element upon which our currency system must be based.

I am glad that Lord Southwark in his proposal does not intend to dethrone the pound sterling. Lord Leverhulme, I observe, had a lurking regard for the guinea, because he contrasted it with the sovereign which he thought might become an embalmed mummy, and thought that the American gold dollar would become the dominant factor. I am not quite so sure. The pound sterling is not going to be dethroned or depreciated without making a tremendous struggle for its existence. It has stood through these critical currency and credit years very high and maintained its immensely powerful status and tradition, and I, for one, do not look forward with very great apprehension to any competition which may be brought against the pound sterling by any other denomination in the world, for I do not see any particular or special virtue in decimalism in itself. There is no inherent sanctity in decimalism. It has great convenience, but there is no reason why we should change unless the causes are overwhelming. Our system of duo-decimalism, to which Lord Balfour has referred, is at least a system of respectable antiquity. It dates back to Chaldean times. It has 2,500 Years behind it. It comes from the country to which we owe our system of measuring time.

On the question of Parliamentary procedure I would submit this view to your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Hylton has told the House that the Government are quite prepared to assent to further inquiry into this question. Personally I should be rather reluctant to agree to a second Reading of this Bill with a view of making it the reference to the Committee of Inquiry to be set up. I do not think it is quite necessary at this juncture for your Lordships to agree to the principle of a depreciated penny, because that is the principle underlying the Schedule of the Bill. It is also difficult for the Government to agree to the principle underlying Clause 4, by which the Board of Trade is directed to readjust all the values of postage, insurance, and a hundred and one other things of which the penny is the statutory basis. Above all, there is no desire on the part of the Government that this Bill should be considered by a Committee to the exclusion of other Bills. I should therefore recommend Lord Southwark, if he thinks well of the proposal, that this Bill should be withdrawn or postponed—put down for Second Reading at a later date—it is immaterial which—in order that the Committee of Inquiry may be completely free and not have as its reference the clauses of this Bill.

There is one other observation which I would submit to your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Hylton stated that the Government were prepared to agree to a Select Committee of both Houses. I hope your Lordships will allow a certain freedom of interpretation of those words, for this reason. A Select Committee of both Houses being, of course, solely Parliamentary, it may well be that certain persons eminently fitted to serve on that Committee who are members of one House or the other will be unable to do so because of other important engagements. On the other hand, if it is a purely Parliamentary Committee, distinguished persons will be unable to serve unless they happen to be members of one House or the other. I am rather inclined, therefore, to think that freedom of inquiry would be increased if the Bill were not referred to the Committee as a Bill that has received Second Reading, but merely as one of many schemes, and also that it may prove more convenient that the Inquiry be called a Departmental Inquiry, o[...] whatever your Lordships please, so that larger liberty in selecting members may be secured to the Government. I hope the House will allow that latitude to the Government, because in these time it is far from easy to find a well-qualified panel of men to examine what is not only a complicated but a very large and far-reaching subject, if the personnel is to be limited to members of both Houses of Parliament.


My Lords, after the observations of the noble Earl, I think this might be a suitable time for me to say that considering the source from which this Bill has emanated I cannot accept the suggestion which has just been made. I think I must ask the House to go to a Second Reading, if it comes to a Division, unless I can get the unanimous support of the House to the principle of decimal coinage. As regards the reference to a Committee, I cannot conceive any better agenda that we can offer to a strong Select Committee of both Houses than the agenda provided in this Bill if your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. You have there the basis of the sovereign, which is the coin approved by the bankers, merchants, and commercial community generally. You have there something to start with, whereas if you create a Committee independent of any Bill being referred to it, I think it involves delay, which is a very serious thing at this time in the opinion of the commercial world and in view of our foreign trade after the war. I think it will be most unfortunate to leave the matter in a vague and indefinite way. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading and then refer it to a strong Joint Committee of Lords and Commons; and, as I have said, that Committee cannot have a better agenda to start upon than the agenda which has been prepared for them by the bankers and merchants and commercial community of this country.


May I ask whether the noble Earl will give the House an opportunity of doing what he proposed by himself moving that the debate be adjourned.


I should be rather reluctant to do that, because I do riot want to introduce any element of dispute. I confess I had hoped that Lord Southwark would himself postpone the Second Reading.


My Lords, I am prepared to move the adjournment of the debate, and for the following reasons. I am most reluctant to vote against Lord South wark and against the idea of decimalising our coinage, if such a scheme be practicable, but there is a great deal in the scheme of this Bill which I do not like, and I do not think the House ought to be committed to the scheme of this Bill simply for the purpose of getting inquiry by a Committee. That being the case, I very mach prefer the proposal put forward by the Government; and, if I may say so with great respect, I entirely agree with what the noble Earl (Lord Crawford) has said, that if a Committee is appointed for the purpose it need not be—I think it ought not to be—necessarily confined to members of the two Houses of Parliament. I once had the honour to preside over a Committee dealing with a currency question—the Committee on whose Report was founded the currency now in use in West Africa—and I must say that my experience on that Committee showed that it is most desirable to have men with the highest technical expert information serving on Committees of that kind. It is quite possible that at the present time, as the noble Earl has said, it would not be easy to obtain the services of those men in this House and in another place who are best fitted to serve on such a Committee. These, my Lords, are the reasons why I think it would be well to adjourn this debate rather than take a Division, and I beg to move that the debate be adjourned.

Moved, that the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Emmott.)


My Lords, I should like to impress upon the House the undesirability of adjourning this debate. The Second Reading of the Bill has been moved, and of course the adjournment would be practically the shelving of the Bill. I do not think such an action would correspond with the frame of mind which animates its backers and the commercial community. Therefore I hope we shall not adjourn the debate; and if my noble friend Lord Desborough, who is President of the London Chamber of Commerce—who was to have "told" with me on the Second Reading—agrees with me, I shall certainly oppose the Motion for the adjournment, because it practically means shelving a question which is of the greatest possible importance to the commercial community.


My Lords, I rise only for the purpose of clearing up a point which seems to me to be somewhat in doubt at this moment. I gathered from what the Lord Privy Seal told your Lordships a moment ago that in his view, if the debate on Lord Southwark's Bill be now adjourned, His Majesty's Government will male it their business to institute an Inquiry into the whole of this question, and that that Inquiry will have before it, amongst other things, the scheme embodied in Lord Southwark's proposal. If that is the position, I shall certainly vote with my noble friend beside the (Lord Emmott).


My Lords, I think it would be a pity after the debate that has taken place that we should vote for the adjournment. I think the principle has been recognised by the House, and the principle ought to be supported. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I have had some experience in various parts of the country with regard to this question, and I feel quite sure that all the commercial classes are thoroughly in favour of the principles of this Bill. As to the method, I will say nothing; of course, the method will be taken into consideration by a Joint Committee of the two Houses. I quite agree with the mover of this Bill that to vote for the adjournment is practically to shelve the Bill. Personally I am not very much in favour, as a general principle, of supporting legislation at the present time. I think it would be better indeed if we confined our efforts to questions connected entirely with the war. We have had too many Bills brought forward, but this is a Bill which cannot very well be delayed without injury in the future. It is intended to deal with trade after the war, and in my judgment it is rather an exceptional case. I am against legislation which is not directly connected with the war or with the period immediately after the war, but I hope that your Lordships will vote for a Second Reading of this Bill, for in doing so you have an opportunity of sending it to a Committee where the whole question can be sifted and evidence can be called, and I feel sure then you will get at the bottom of the question. As far as my judgment goes, I feel satisfied that whether you pass this Bill now or not it will not be long before it will become the law of the country. We have competition to deal with in the future, and I know from my own experience the disadvantage that we suffer under owing to the absence of a decimal system. I am certain as time goes on you will find that if you are to give your traders the same advantage as is enjoyed by other traders in different parts of the world you will have to adopt the decimal system

On Question, debate adjourned sine die.