HL Deb 22 November 1984 vol 457 cc683-6

3.20 p.m.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

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 which consumer organisations they consulted before deciding not to continue the issue of £1 notes after 31st December next.

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

My Lords, over 80 organisations were consulted before the coin was introduced, including representatives of the elderly, handicapped and blind. Consumer attitudes were also tested. It was implicit in these consulations that the coin would eventually replace the note.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, is the Minister aware that that is no Answer to my Question? But I shall leave that for the moment because there are two other points which I wish to raise. Does the Minister recall that last week his noble friend Lord Gray of Contin (who is himself a Minister of State at the Scottish Office) told us in what high repute the Government hold consumers and about which opinion I felt a certain amount of scepticism? But does he recall that during those remarks his noble friend mentioned the great importance which the Government attach to the views of consumers? If we are to believe that, does the Minister not agree that consumers should have been consulted on everyday matters like these, because surely shoppers know better than Whitehall what effects this will have on them?

Moving on from that point, will the noble Lord the Minister ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether he can help on this matter? I wonder whether the noble Lord recalls that on 6th November last the noble Viscount very proudly spoke to us about being a Scotsman, saying that he was still a Scotsman? Is the noble Lord aware that the Bank of Scotland has stated quite simply that it intends to continue the issue of £ 1 notes on what I should have thought was the very good ground that people like them. Can the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, and the Leader of the House get together on this matter and change the decision for us?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I must confess that I am not totally aware of my noble friend's comment when he spoke earlier, but in due course I shall make myself aware of them. However, I must tell the noble Baroness that the Consumers' Association the National Consumer Council, together with the National Consumer Protection Council, were consulted before the £1 coins were issued. They were invited to make comments, and in fact at that time they showed little interest. I have to tell the noble Baroness that none of the organisations was specifically asked to comment on the coin once it had actually been issued. As regards Scotland, of course it is up to the directors and shareholders of the banks to decide whether or not they want to keep the note. Speaking as a Scotsman, I suppose that I ought to declare an interest and say that I am glad that they have said the same as the noble Baroness has said. However, the fact also remains that the costs of the original note compared with the costs of a coin means that there will be savings to the taxpayer by adopting the coin instead of the note in this country.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister confirm or otherwise correct my impression that the consideration leading to this decision which has been taken must have been by people enviably youthful and possessed of very keen clarity of vision? Will he kindly give sympathetic consideration to the views of that not inconsiderable number of our citizens who are not possessed of these desirable characteristics and who have difficulty in distinguishing between these coins and, for example, the 20p and 5p coins? Following that sympathetic consideration—which I am sure he is about to say that he will give—will he recommend to Her Majesty's Government the desirability of continuing the issue of the popular and acceptable £1 notes?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in recognition of the special problems to which my noble friend refers, the organisations for the elderly, the handicapped and the blind were consulted as part of the consultation process before the coin was issued. Tests were carried out by Nottingham University for the Royal Mint using blind and disabled people who, through their organisations, volunteered to help with these tests. That is a fact, and that shows that the decisions which were taken reflect their view.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, the noble Lord has said that there was consultation at the time when the £1 coin was introduced. Was there consultation with organisations such as the disabled and the elderly about the idea of totally withdrawing the £1 note? The noble Lord implied that there was not. Can he please clarify the matter for the House?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I said that it was implicit in the earlier consultations that the coin would eventually replace the note. I think that the noble Lord is right; I do not think that there were specific consultations after the decision had been taken to introduce the coin. The fact is that three years or so was the time-scale envisaged and that is why the decision has now been taken.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the withdrawal of the £1 note discriminates against men because heavy coins do great damage to pocket linings? Does he not think that this is likely to lead to an extension of male handbags, and in this case will male handbags be permitted in the Chamber?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I suggest that if my noble friend has a problem, he changes his £1 coins into perhaps a £5 note or even a larger denomination note.

Lord Kilmany

My Lords, arising out of the original reply, may I ask whether my noble friend has read in The Times of yesterday's date a letter from a person who lives in Hong Kong stating that a two dollar note in Hong Kong has a circulation life at least 10 times as long as a £1 note appears to have here? If the question is asked, "How can this be?" the answer is that better quality paper is used in the printing process. Can Her Majesty's Government not consider following that example?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, at the end of the day it boils down to a question of cost and the fact that the way in which £1 notes are being used has changed considerably since the 1970s. I do not think that my noble friend's suggestion would help.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, does the Minister think that continually to repeat "wrong" information makes it right? The Minister has not answered the Question that I asked him. From what he has said, am I correct in assuming that no consumer organisations were consulted immediately prior to the decision to withdraw the £1 note? The fact that they were consulted when the coin was issued is nothing whatever to do with the matter. Can the Minister please look at his Answer again and see what else he can say?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I said that I do not believe there was consultation before the decision was taken to phase out the £1 note. The important point is that the consultations took place beforehand. However, I think that there is a balance to be made in all this and that is that the coin is not as totally unpopular as perhaps this particular exchange of views indicates. There are those who find that the coin is a better means of exchange than the note. In fact, the circulation of the coin for this year has risen steadily as people are getting used to it.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, as there is an Ünstarred Question on this very subject on the Order Paper for next Tuesday, I think that we have probably taken up enough time on it now.