HL Deb 12 November 1969 vol 305 cc624-8

2.33 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 when they intend to replace the present 50-pence piece with a coin or note less readily confused with others already in circulation.]


My Lords, experience shows that coins of a completely new specification are seldom popular when they are first introduced. Her Majesty's Government consider that it would be premature to come to any conclusions about the acceptability of the 50p coin before the public have had sufficient time to get used to it. They have made no plans to replace the coin.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, though it was a disappointing one, may I ask whether he can say why, when the whole field of design was open, the designers designed, and the Government accepted, a design of a coin which was extraordinarily similar in size, in circumference, in thickness, in diameter, in colour and in weight to one already in circulation?


My Lords, the noble Earl makes an assertion, and he is entitled to his opinion; but a good deal of experimentation was carried out before a decision was made. Many organisations were asked and tests were carried out. If the coin were to be bigger, it would be too big, and if smaller it would be the same size as a 10p piece. If the noble Earl looks at this coin, he will find that it is not unsatisfactory.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this really is not a case of the public not wishing to accept something new? Is he further aware that investigations beforehand were not made among people who had to deal with the handling of change? And may I ask him whether he would recommend that, if we have to have a new coin, we should have a hole bored through the middle of it, which would make it different from any other coin in circulation?


My Lords, with respect, my noble friend is wrong in saying that no inquiries were made among people who had to handle coins. As a matter of fact, this was the first category of users to which the Decimal Currency Board went. It is interesting to know that those organisations who train their staffs in the use of coins have had absolutely no difficulty with the 50p piece. As to the idea of having a hole in the middle that, of course, would have given rise to design problems and I do not think we should have had such a handsome coin.


My Lords, is the noble Lord in a position to say to what extent false 50p pieces are in circulation and what steps are being taken to minimise this additional hazard?


My Lords, the usual steps are being taken against forgery, but it is a negligible problem in this case. The possibility of forging with a softer metal is remote, as the coin in a softer metal is easily detectable. It is not possible to press out the hard coin of cupro-nickel unless the forger went in for a "mini mint".


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware of the grounds on which the Isle of Man came to the exact opposite conclusion and decided to produce an extremely handsome note for 50p?


My Lords, I do not answer for the Isle of Man and I have no idea how they came to their conclusion. As to the production of a note, I would tell the noble Lord that even had there been no decimal coinage. on economic grounds alone the Government had decided that it was preferable to have a coin with an estimated life of 50 years rather than a note with an average life of under five months.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that if both Houses of Parliament had been allowed a free vote, the pound/half-cent system would have been defeated and this problem would not have arisen?


My Lords, I am not sure that the problem would not have arisen, but I seem to recollect that the noble Lord was greatly concerned with the other question.


My Lords, is it true that the new coin is to be known as the "clanger"?


My Lords, does not my noble friend think that a lot of unnecessary fuss is being made about this question? Does he not also think that confusion could be avoided if people would put their new 50p pieces in one trouser pocket and the rest of their silver in another pocket? Moreover, as many women nowadays wear trousers, there would be no sex differentiation.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his usual common sense. I gather that there was an equal amount of fuss when we changed from a metal coin to a 10s. note. I believe that when we have had a little time to get used to the new coin, it will be a case of "familiarity breeds content."


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the only difference between the 50p piece and the 10p piece is the fact that the 50p piece has seven sides to it It also has seven corners to it. Further, is the noble Lord aware that these coins collectively serve to rub holes in your trouser pockets That being the case, would the noble Lord agree that the pound in your pocket would devalue at a much greater rate than even the Government have been able to achieve?


My Lords, leaving aside the expression of opinion on the latter part of the noble Earl's supplementary question the fact is that the 50p piece is larger than the 10p piece.


My Lords does the noble Lord recollect whether there was any confusion between the half-sovereign and the farthing in mint condition?


My memory does not go back to the farthing but I am certain that there is something in what the noble Lord says.


My Lords does not the noble Lord take some comfort from the fact that this coin is at least as popular as perpetual Summer Time?


My Lords I derive some comfort from the fact that in a year or two the noble Lord will be saying what the Government say to-day.


My Lords did the noble Lord say that the new coin would last up to 50 years? Could he give any reason why, contrary to custom, no date of issue is put on these coins?


My Lords I suppose that that is a design question. I did not say that "I thought" the coin would last 50 years; that is the estimated life based on experience.


My Lords is it not rather extraordinary not to make the new coin the size of the half-crown, which is being withdrawn, instead of the size of the florin, which is being retained?


My Lords, the noble Lord's question shows that he has not looked at the new coin. If noble Lords will take one out of their pockets, look at it and compare it with the 10p piece, they will see that the fact of the matter is that it is larger than the 10p piece, though not so large as the half-crown, which in the view of those who studied it is too large.