HL Deb 15 March 1967 vol 281 cc282-3

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the names of the companies referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons on March 7, which have already entered into particular commitments in respect of the Government's decision on decimalisation of the currency; and what are these commitments.]


My Lords, I Welcome this opportunity to make it clear that the nature and extent of any commitments into which particular companies may have entered as a result of the Government's announcement on March 1 last year, that this country would change over to a decimal currency system based on the £ in 1971, is, and has always been, a matter for their own commercial judgment and responsibility. The Government's position was made abundantly clear in the White Paper, Decimal Currency in the United Kingdom, published on December 12, 1966; that is to say, that their decision for the £-new penny ½ system was a firm one, subject to the final approval of Parliament.

The reference by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place to commitments entered into by companies was a reference to what is public knowledge. While this information is within the Government's knowledge, it is not a matter which is within the Government's responsibility. Certain business machine companies have already announced their intentions in the Press and in correspondence or discussions with officials. They are not, however, obliged to inform the Government of their plans or commitments, and the Government certainly have no powers to give instructions to any business machine companies or organisations as to what they should or should not do in preparing for decimalisation. In these circumstanes, I very much regret that I am unable to give the information the noble Lord seeks.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. May I ask him whether the Government really maintain that a decision which will affect people in this country for generations should turn on so small a matter as whether one or other company has seen fit to invest money in research and development? Is it not the fact that if the Chancellor persists in using this as a reason for maintaining his position it makes his case much worse?


My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, is less than fair to my right honourable friend. I am quite sure that he does not mean to be, even though he is a very prominent member of (shall I call it?) the 10s. system. Certainly a major decision of this character should not rest, and would not rest, on what might have been the commercial judgment or prudence of any company in making preparations. There is no point in going into great detail. We have had the Report of the Halsbury Committee, which was produced after, I think, some 18 months' consideration of the subject, and your Lordships' House discussed that Report the other day. The Government have carefully considered all the information that was available to the Committee, and since then, and still hold the view that the system proposed in their White Paper is the right one for this country.


My Lords, will the Government make quite clear to industry that industry ought not to make any further arrangements on the basis of what the Government have decided about decimalisation but should wait instead to find what Parliament decides about decimalisation?


My Lords, I can readily assure the noble Lord on that point, because it is not within the province of any Government to tell industry what it should do in this matter. Again I would repeat that this is a matter for Parliament, and this Government have always recognised that.