HL Deb 09 October 1990 vol 522 cc146-8

3 p.m.

Lord Erroll of Hale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are proposing to reduce the growing surplus of 50 pence coins.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the Royal Mint supplies banks with the quantity and denomination of coins that they request on the basis that they cannot be returned to the Mint except in exceptional circumstances such as in the immediate aftermath of the introduction of a new coin. The Government are under no obligation to accept back surplus coin and at present the Mint has neither the space nor the melting capacity to handle additional returned coins. My honourable friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has, however, agreed to ask the Mint to take back up to 50 million 50 pence coins if and when it has the spare capacity to store them.

Lord Erroll of Hale

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that informative Answer, would it not be much more satisfactory if Britain were to follow the practice of all EC countries, which authorise the return of hard-core unwanted coins back to the central banks of those countries?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I hate to be different from our colleagues in the EC but the present arrangements are, as I indicated, that the Royal Mint will supply banks with the quantity and denomination of coins which the banks request on the basis that the coins cannot be returned except in exceptional circumstances. We feel that it must be for the banks to judge the right levels to draw for their customers' needs.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, does the noble Lord remember that the 50 pence coin was originally an afterthought—a makeshift—after Parliament had authorised the new coinage when we decimalised it? Having been a makeshift from the start, the sooner we get rid of it the better. Does the noble Lord agree that the introduction of the baby 5 pence coin is a step in the right direction to be followed, I hope, by a coin of twice its weight representing 10 pence?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should not like to comment on the popularity or unpopularity of the 50 pence coin. As the noble Earl said, it was introduced some 21 years ago and I do not believe that I was responsible for that.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that the Bank of England placed the order with the Royal Mint for a certain quantity of those coins. Is the noble Lord aware whether the Bank of England carried out market research from its various branches and other agencies as to what was the likely demand? In the circumstances, does the noble Lord consider the operation to have been cost effective?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not believe that I mentioned the Bank of England at all. I referred to banks generally.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, following what the noble Earl said, could we not take back all these 50 pence coins and get rid of the horrible new 5 pence coin, which I do not believe anyone likes?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not wish to be drawn on the question of the 5 pence coin, which I personally like. That is another Question.

Lord O'Brien of Lothbury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that more than 60 years ago I had some lowly responsibility in relation to part of our coinage; namely, that part which was made of gold? That was a worthy symbol of a great nation. Is he aware also that I share the widespread opinion that the present motley collection of coins is a disgrace to a civilised nation? Furthermore, may I repeat a request which I made in this House some years ago that the Government should look at the Swiss coinage, which is a model of what a coinage should be, and that they should imitate it if at all possible?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take note of the noble Lord's comments about the coinage. Neither this Government nor I are responsible for the 50 pence coin. That was introduced some 21 years ago under a different Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Forward to