HL Deb 19 December 1961 vol 236 cc679-82

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will now make the statement I promised with reference to the Question raised earlier by my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is making a statement in another place in reply to Questions on decimalisation. The following is the statement:

"As I have already informed the House, the Government have been considering this question in the light of the public interest shown in it, particularly following the Joint Report of the Committee of the British Associa- tion and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce.

"The Government's view is that real advantage would follow from adopting a decimal currency. At the same time it is clear that, in view of the widespread use of accounting and other monetary machinery, the transitional cost would be substantial. It should, however, be possible to limit this cost, both by the choice of the size of the new units to be adopted and by careful timing of the changeover. Before reaching a final decision, therefore, the Government consider that there should be a full-scale investigation into the best form of decimal currency, the steps by which the change could be brought about, and the cost of the changeover to the economy as a whole.

"The Government have accordingly decided to set up a Committee of Inquiry whose terms of reference will be:

  1. (a) to advise on the most convenient and practical form which a decimal currency might take, including the major and minor units to be adopted;
  2. (b) to advise on the timing and phasing of the changeover best calculated to minimise the cost; and
  3. (c) to estimate the probable amount and incidence of the cost to the economy of proposals based on (a) and (b).

"I am glad to say that Lord Halsbury has accepted my invitation to he Chairman of the Committee. I shall announce the names of the other members early in the New Year.

"The Government are very conscious of the importance of reaching firm decisions in this matter as soon as possible. They will accordingly discuss with the Chairman ways and means by which the Committee may be enabled to make rapid progress with their work.

"The other Commonwealth Governments have been informed of our proposals."

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank my noble friend and Her Majesty's Government for what I regard as an eminently satisfactory statement, amounting almost to acceptance of the proposal in principle? May I urge them to realise that every month that can be saved in this inquiry as to ways and means will make the change less expensive and will avoid the inevitable upset in business which delay might otherwise cause? May I ask my noble friend whether there is a hope that the legislation required to implement any recommendation of this Committee will be brought to Parliament next year?


My Lords, I am sure my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer appreciates each point put forward by my noble friend. I should not like to anticipate how long it will take the Committee to come to conclusions on this matter and to advise the Government. I should imagine, however, that the period might be anything from twelve to eighteen months. How long it will take after that to consider the matter and prepare the necessary legislation depends upon the nature of the Committee's Report.


My Lords, this is rather important. I am much obliged for the statement made by the Government, but I am not quite clear whether the Government have yet gone quite so far as the noble Lord who put down the Question seems to think. Am I to take it that this is not yet a statement of acceptance by the Government, as seemed to he assumed by the noble Lord who put down the Question, but that you are going to have an inquiry and then you will have further consideration of the Report, which will cover not only actual accountancy but, in some cases, changes in the methods of teaching, the production of textbooks, and a great many other things which have to be considered, such as timing and costs? May I be quite clear as to whether you have accepted this in principle or not?


My Lords, the noble Viscount is quite right. The Government see many advantages in changing over to a decimal currency, but they have also to consider the disadvantages. They have to consider what this Committee may report. While I think I can go so far as to say that there seem to be many advantages in changing over, I do not think the Government can hold themselves committed to changing over at this stage.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the terms of reference indicate that the Committee of Inquiry are proceeding apparently with a view to implementing this suggestion? Can he tell us whether the Committee of Inquiry will also take evidence from those who happen to be opposed to such a change, of whom I am not one?


My Lords, I should think without doubt that the Committee will consider evidence both for and against, in order to enable them to make their recommendations. As I said, the Government see many advantages in such a changeover. Therefore they have appointed a Committee to advise them on how such a change can be made and the best way in which to make it. But that does not commit the Government to any final view on the matter.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Committee will be able to receive evidence on and to consider the possibility of a duo-decimal system, with its infinitely more flexible and practical application and suitability to us?


My Lords, before the noble Lord answers that, may I ask him whether anyone other than the noble Lord who asked the question knows what a duo-decimal system is?


Yes, I do.


My Lords, I do not think I need say anything more.