HL Deb 13 July 1983 vol 443 cc791-3
Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ask the Royal Mint to change the new £1 coin so as to make it more easily identifiable.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, the pound is the only circulation coin produced in a yellow metal, it is twice as thick as any other coin, it has a distinctive lettered edge and its reverse is different from other reverse designs. It is felt these differences are sufficient for the general public to differentiate between the £1 coins and others once then become familiar with them. There was very extensive consultation about the proposed specification of the new coin before it was issued. Those approached included organisations representing the blind and the handicapped, who confirmed that the new coin, because of its relative thickness, was sufficiently identifiable.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that Answer I must admit that I am rather mystified by it. Would he not agree that if one has poor sight, or if one is elderly or is a foreign tourist—and tourists are so helpful to our balance of payments—it is extremely difficult to differentiate between the £1 coin, the 20p coin and even, perhaps, the 5p coin? Is he aware that in my estate shop I am now finding that the public are extremely reluctant to accept the £l coin as change? I also understand that that is the case in the retail trade generally. My noble friend mentioned that the coin is a different colour. I have not noticed that. I should like to ask my noble friend whether it could be electroplated in a gold colour or perhaps, like the Maria Theresa dollar, which the Mint used to produce, have a hole in it—in which case it would have to be somewhat larger!

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, my noble friend will be glad to know, as I think I said earlier, that the Royal Mint consulted over 100 different organisations, including representatives of the retail trade, to which he referred, banks, the vending machine industry, user groups, and representatives of the blind and handicapped. Furthermore, certainly all Members of another place (I am not sure about your Lordships) were sent a copy of the Royal Mint's discussion document before a formal recommendation on specification was made to Ministers. So far as the identification of the £1 coin from a 20p piece or a 5p piece is concerned, my noble friend will be aware that a 20p piece has a multi-faceted edge, and a 5p piece is just under half the thickness, as measured by me this morning, of a £1 coin—which I did manage to exchange with the person who came to brief me!

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, if my noble friend thinks that thickness is something that appeals to the Government, can he tell us why the thin and extremely dirty existing pound notes, which are obviously preferred to the new coins because there are hundreds of thousands of them, should not be removed?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that is a matter of opinion. Only 20 minutes ago I was talking to someone who said that many of the elderly were only too pleased to find that the rather dirty pounds notes which are in circulation were being replaced by coins.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, is there as yet any evidence of conterfeiting of these new £1 coins? Will the noble Lord bear in mind that the director of a Government factory which has all the necessary equipment, told me recently that he could make these coins at a cost of 1p each, which suggests that a considerable profit would be possible? What advice are the Government giving to retailers to help them identify counterfeit coins?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to go into any details about how the Mint or anybody else distinguishes a counterfeit coin from a real one. However, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that part of the coin is designed in such a way as to defeat the type of thing to which he refers.

Lord Allerton

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend: what has been the cost of introducing this coin into the currency?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, a pound for each pound exchangeable.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the joys of carrying coins is the chink that they make in the pocket, and that the new £1 coin, when chinked, does not chink? Although I am aware of the fact that the coin is thicker and smaller than most coins and that the noise it will make will therefore be of a lower range than that of any other coin, it sounds precisely like plastic clinking against plastic.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I have not had time to experiment with the coin that I was given before lunch, but I can tell my noble friend that if the £1 coin had a hole in the middle, which my noble friend Lord Massereene suggests, it would probably make even less of a clink.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, can my noble friend say that it is Government Policy that eventually the £1 coin will take the place of the £1 note? I ask this specifically because I can foresee a time when charities will suffer considerably. People now put £1 £2 or, if they are generous, £3 in an envelope, but they cannot put coins in an envelope. Can my noble friend tell me how long the £1 note will be part of the currency?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend an answer. No decision has yet been reached as to when the pound note will be taken out of circulation. However, her points will certainly be borne in mind.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me where this strange "Noddy" money was created, and who thought of it? It is completely losing the charisma of our old British money.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, it was considered at a time when, as the noble Lord is aware, unfortunately —and I know that it is very sad —the pound became a much lower value unit than it had been hitherto. Furthermore, many other countries, including Germany, France and Sweden, have coins of similar value. It was during that time, and during the time we have been able to look at other coins, that we have seen that there has been a need to introduce a coin to replace the note.

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