HL Deb 03 December 1970 vol 313 cc642-5

3.12 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 whether the reason lately announced for abolishing 10s. notes as legal tender, namely, that the notes are getting worn out, is not evidence of their popularity, and whether they will not cause 50p notes to be issued to circulate beside the 50p pieces.]


No, my Lords. Her Majesty's Government see no good reason on grounds of popularity for issuing a 50p note, but good reasons, on grounds of economy, for not doing so. I should perhaps explain to my noble friend that the reason why these notes are so worn is simply that those remaining are rather old. In the past, the average length of life of a 10s. note was only about 5 months, but in fact no new notes have been issued by the Bank of England for over a year. It is expected that the 50p pieces will have a life of about 50 years and the replacement of the note by the coin results in a saving of several million pounds to the taxpayer.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for his reply, may I ask him three supplementary questions: first, whether he has not heard that many charities who appeal through the B.B.C. lament the disappearance of the 10s. note because it can so easily be put into a registered envelope and posted? Secondly, whether some people do not find the 10s. note more easy to distinguish from florins than the silver pieces? Thirdly, whether, admitting the long-term economy inherent in the silver pieces, there would not be a short-term economy in these times of financial difficulty from printing notes instead of minting coins?


My Lords, as regards the charity point put to me by my noble friend, I would say that certainly the Treasury have no evidence of any decline in contributions to charity as a result of the withdrawal of the notes. On the question of recognition, I must confess that to begin with I found some difficulty in recognising this particular coin—in fact I gave it as a tip on one occasion when meaning to give a florin. But, like most of us, I am getting used to this rather odd object chosen by the noble Lord, Lord Fiske, and my noble friend Lord Erroll. As to my noble friend's third point, I have made it clear that to issue a note instead of a coin would mean giving up substantial economies and would also cause additional cost and difficulty to all those who handle cash in the private sector—banks, shops, transport undertakings and the rest.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that up to about one month ago one could still get brand new 10s. notes from the post office in the Central Lobby, and if what the noble Earl says is true they could only have come from a private printing press?


My Lords, does not the argument for economy apply just as much to the £1 note? So why do we not go over to coins for that as well as the 10s. note?


My Lords, I think it does apply to a certain measure, but I am told that the average life of the £1 note is eleven months, as opposed to five, so the economy is not so substantial.


My Lords, did the noble Earl say that these 50p pieces will last fifty years? If so, does he not think that they will by that time have gone the same way as the farthing?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and, nearer home, the Common Market countries and the EFTA countries, to say nothing of the U.S.S.R., China and Japan, can all afford to circulate their own equivalents of our 10s. note? Secondly, since when has popularity ceased to be a proper criterion in a democracy? And is it not about time that the Government considered further whether they really wish to leave this country out of step with the rest of the world?


My Lords, I must say that I was not entirely aware of all the information which is stored in the noble Lord's head, but I will gladly look at that point. It is my impression that the 50p coin, after a rather uncertain start, is now becoming an accepted and acceptable piece of currency.


My Lords, can the noble Earl say when there will be a sufficient supply of 50p pieces? One so often finds that one has to handle a lot of silver, and we could do with some more of these pieces.


My Lords, I was not aware that there was not a sufficient supply, but again I will gladly look into that particular point.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that many people very much prefer the solid 50p piece to the dirty 10s. note, and that in those countries where they have notes down to Is., and so on, you really want to go and wash your hands every time you have been in a shop?


My Lords, if we cannot afford the convenience of the 10s. note, may I ask the noble Earl whether it would not be possible, at any rate when re-coinage is contemplated, to make the 50p piece lighter, bigger and flatter?