HL Deb 01 May 1995 vol 563 cc1201-2

2.47 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consideration is being given to balancing the preponderance of coins in British currency by the introduction of a £2 or £3 note.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, the issue of banknotes is the responsibility of the Bank of England. The Bank has no plans to introduce a £2 or £3 bank note. However, the Royal Mint has recently carried out a public consultation exercise about the possibility of introducing a circulating £2 coin. The results are being evaluated but no decision has been taken.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware—I am sure that he is— of the strong popularity of the Scottish £1 note and the support in the United States for retaining the US dollar bill? Is not the Royal Mint a little out of touch in ignoring that support? How widely will the Royal Mint consult when considering this type of question?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, in its consultation document the Royal Mint consulted major users and handlers of coins, such as the vending industry, banks and the retail industry, as well as special interest groups such as blind people and the elderly.

Dealing with my noble friend's first point about Scottish banknotes, one Scottish bank still issues £1 notes; but I had better not name it in case that is seen to be advertising the bank against its competitors. Yesterday I took a straw poll in Scotland. I am not entirely sure whether people are not gradually coming to see the advantage of the coin over what can be, increasingly, a grubby £1 note.

Lord O'Brien of Lothbury

My Lords, may I invite the Minister to urge on the Government the need to replace entirely our deplorable coinage? They could not do better than imitate the Swiss coinage. It is the most perfect coinage in the world, all graded, and all round as good coins should be. The largest coin, no bigger than our 50 pence piece, is worth between £2 and £3.

If the Minister is prepared to consider such changes, I can provide him with a complete set of the Swiss coinage. I shall be glad to donate it free of charge for that purpose.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am not so sure that I should accept that offer of the Swiss coinage! However, I have little doubt that the Royal Mint will listen with interest to that point. With its specific shape, the 50 pence coin is one of the items on which the Royal Mint is consulting. However, the shape of coins is important for special groups such as the blind, who need to be able to identify the coin they are handling by the feel of it.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, if the coinage is to be looked at, and if we are to add a £2 coin, should we not eliminate some coins which cause trouble? My particular bête noire is the 5p. coin. It is so small that it becomes lost in the recesses of my pockets. For that to occur may be useful to HMG, but it is not very productive for me.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, one does not wish the coins to be too large or too heavy. Certainly the 5p. coin obeys both those conditions.

Interestingly enough—perhaps I may jolt some of your Lordships' memories—when we moved to decimal coinage, there were eight coin denominations ranging from the halfpenny to half-a-crown. We currently have only seven coins, so we have lost one in the process of decimalisation.