HL Deb 05 November 1992 vol 539 cc1536-40

3.6 p.m.

Lord Erroll of Hale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that on future issues of £5, £10 and £20 banknotes the value in figures is shown much more prominently on each side of the note and in the same relative position for all denominations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the design of banknotes in England and Wales is a matter for the Bank of England. I am informed that the Bank currently have no plans to replace the existing "E" series of notes, which began in 1990 with the issue of the new £5 note and will be completed in 1994 with the issue of a new £50 note. On all denominations in the new series, the value in figures is shown in the same relative positions on both front and back of the note.

Lord Erroll of Hale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Nevertheless, does he not agree that clarity in the matter is more important than artistry?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I accept the need for clarity. But it is also important to remember the need for security against the forger, and therefore it is important to remember the need for a large number of security measures in any given banknote. Those include the watermark, the windowed thread, the pastel colours and the crisp rather than shiny or waxy paper. However, there are disadvantages in having an over-large number. It is important to ensure that those who must accept the notes—the bank tellers and shopkeepers—examine them carefully. The disadvantage of over-large numerals is that they encourage a tendency to look purely at the numerals and at nothing else. We would rather that they looked at the numeral and the rest of the note and therefore guarded against fraud.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that notes of different sizes would avoid the confusion that can easily take place today?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am sorry, I did not quite gather the point of my noble friend's question. There are different features on all different notes. For example, there are different historical portraits on each note. There is a portrait of Stephenson on the £5 note, a portrait of Dickens on the £10 note and of Faraday on the £20 note. There are different bold symbols that the Bank included as a result of consultations with those representing the partially sighted. For example, the circle on the £5 note, the diamond on the £10 note and the square on the £20 note. Similarly, there are different colours for all three notes.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that for those who do not have good sight, the number 5 is extremely small? Bearing in mind that the new £10 note is almost as small as the old £5 note, is that not likely to lead to confusion? Can the Minister perhaps think about the matter again?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the Bank consulted with the RNIB concerning the blind and therefore retained the different sizes for each note. There is a difference of five millimetres between each note, and that allows the blind to distinguish between the three. That decision was made after consultation with the RNIB, and the RNIB was happy with that.

Again, after consultation with those representing the partially sighted, the Bank of England introduced at their suggestion the different bold symbols to allow the partially sighted to tell them apart. On top of that, there are the different pictures on the back. I accept that on both the £5 note and the £20 note—I have two samples in front of me; I regret I do not have a £10 note, but those were the only notes I had in my wallet and the Bank were not prepared to entrust me with samples—the figures are somewhat faint. As a result of representations made on the third note issued, which was the £10 note, the 10 is much clearer. That will certainly be maintained on the fourth note, which is the £50 note.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, was not the noble Lord very near to saying—in his answer about two before the last one—that it was the desire of the Bank of England that it should not be too easy to identify the figures on the note in order that people would look more carefully to see whether the note was authentic or a forgery? Is it not totally out of proportion that the possibility of forgery should take precedence over whether the notes in normal transactions are useful and easily identifiable?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the important thing is to maintain a balance between the different requirements. Obviously, we want to make the notes easily distinguishable. That is why I have stressed the large number of distinguishing features on different notes. The numerals are also there; namely, 5, 10, 20 and 50. If one makes the figures too large all people will look at are those particular numbers. They will not look at the other distinguishing features. The fight against fraud is very important. I am sure that the noble Lord, as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, would accept that.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. However, it seems that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is central. Of course I accept that the Bank of England and others have tried to look at the matter properly. Almost all Peers—I cannot believe that I am the only one—have difficulty with the present currency. When I am paying a cab, particularly in the half light, I often do not actually know whether I have given the bloke a tenner or a £20 note. Therefore, I believe that the points that noble Lords are raising are rather important. I accept entirely the point about fraud. The fact is that I do not believe that at the moment we have a currency which is particularly good from the functional standpoint. Will the noble Lord at least press the Bank of England on the matter?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am sure that taxi drivers throughout London will be enormously grateful at being overtipped by the noble Lord. There is a serious point. What I am trying to make clear is that we have to get exactly the right balance. I believe that the Bank of England has got the right balance between encouraging people to look at the whole of the note rather than looking purely at the figures. There were complaints about the clarity of the £5 and £20 notes which were the first two notes to be issued. For that reason the Bank has enhanced the clarity of the third note to be issued, which is the £10 note, and it will do the same on the £50 note. As I keep stressing, there are a great many other distinguishing features that can be looked at. The Bank consulted those representing the partially sighted who were happy with the idea that there should be the bold-coloured symbols of the circle, the diamond and the square on those three notes.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does my noble friend not accept that most people do not have the time to give minute examination to every note when passing them during the day or the evening?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not expecting my noble friend to spend 10 minutes examining each note. But, as I said, there are a large number of distinguishing features. All it takes is to give a brief glance over the note. As a result of a large amount of what I am told is perception research, if one's eyes are immediately drawn purely to the figure one only looks at the figure and not at the rest of the note.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is an example which the Bank of England could follow? In Scotland notes are examined with great care. The notes printed by the Scottish banks are perfectly easy to read and to differentiate.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe that we are discussing at the moment the notes issued by the Bank of England which can be used in Scotland. I note what the noble Lord says about the notes issued by the different banks in Scotland.

Lord O'Brien of Lothbury

My Lords, as the only Member of your Lordships' House whose signature once, long ago, appeared on our Bank of England notes, perhaps I may say that at that time I had a great deal to do with the production of banknotes. I found it a very difficult exercise to give satisfaction to everybody. I am sure, however, that the Bank of England will pay due attention to all the remarks made by your Lordships and will do its best to pay heed to them.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord says. Even I can remember the noble Lord's signature on banknotes. I am sure that the Bank of England will take due note of what the noble Lord has to say.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, my noble friend has spoken about the increase in clarity of the numeral 10 on the £10 note. When can we expect an increase in clarity in the 5 on the £5 note and the 20 on the £20 note? Moreover, can my noble friend enlighten us as to what symbol will appear on the £50 note in 1994?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot enlighten my noble friend on what bold symbol will appear on the £50 note. As I said, the Bank has used so far the circle, the diamond and the square. I therefore leave it to my noble friend's imagination to try to guess what symbols there are left. As I said, the Bank did highlight the numeral on the £10 note as a result of representations. It has no plans to change the £5 and the £20 notes.

Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the new banknotes cause great distress to cashiers, taxi drivers and to most women shoppers? Has the noble Lord ever stood in a queue at a supermarket, with a long queue behind him, and tried to examine the notes carefully? He would he howled down if he tried to do that. Can he not be more flexible about this matter and at any rate promise that any new issue will be far more distinct in colour and in symbols?

Lord Henley

My Lords, not everyone, as I have said, is dissatisfied with the new notes. We have discovered that the taxi drivers who carry the noble Lord, Lord Peston, around are eminently satisfied with the overtipping that they receive as a result or what he perceives to be the result. I note what the noble Baroness has to say. It is a matter for the Bank of England. I am sure that it will take note of what the noble Baroness said.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that since the £50 note was first issued in March 1981, the retail prices index has increased by 94 per cent? Therefore, does he think it is time to issue a £100 note?

Lord Henley

My Lords, that is another question, but there are no plans to issue a £100 note.

Lord Erroll of Hale

My Lords, I have in my hand examples of currency notes from Italy, Germany and the United States of America. All of them have the figures shown with much greater clarity than appear on the paper notes which we are discussing. 1 shall be very glad to let my noble friend borrow them on a sale or return basis.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I shall be quite happy to borrow my noble friend's notes. It may be that other countries are not quite as wise as the Bank of England in terms of the issue of notes.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that we are a great deal better than the United States in this respect because there all the notes are of the same colour and size?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I stressed earlier, there are very important reasons for having different sizes. That is to cater for the needs of the blind who obviously differentiate by means of the different sizes of notes.