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Coinage (Measurement) Bill

Volume 522: debated on Friday 4 February 2011

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to present the Coinage (Measurement) Bill to the House. Hon. Members may not be aware that coins have a special resonance for my constituency of Milton Keynes North. Despite being a very modern city, Milton Keynes is an area of rich historical findings that span a timeline of approximately 4,000 years. Indeed, it was near Milton Keynes that possibly the oldest known gold coin in Britain, a gold stater from the second century BC, was discovered. Numerous discoveries of iron age, bronze age and Roman coins have been made in Milton Keynes and the surrounding area. It is exactly that sort of historical legacy that the Bill is intended to address.

My two-clause Bill would make a minor technical amendment to the Coinage Act 1971, which governs the striking of coins by the Royal Mint and contains various standards in respect of weight, fineness, composition and dimensions that coins struck by the Royal Mint must comply with. It also makes provision for permitted variations from those standards. Section 1(6) requires that the variation from the standard weight of any coin

“be measured as the average of a sample of not more than one kilogram of that coin.”

That is perfectly fit for the purpose for which it was originally conceived. The current weights of UK circulating coins range from the 5p coin at 3.25 grams to the £2 coin at 12 grams, so a sample of a kilogram would contain 307 5p coins or 83 £2 coins, an ample number to fulfil the requirement to measure average weight. Having seen the Royal Mint’s impressive production line in action on Monday, with presses that typically strike about 750 coins a minute with less than 0.08 mm variance in diameter and less than 0.238 grams variance in weight, I know that a sample of kilogram is therefore a perfectly reasonable measure of the tolerated variation from the standard weight. It was not until 1992, 21 years after the Coinage Act was introduced, that the first 1 kg coin was minted.

Members may well be interested to know what the environmental impact of minting coins is. All the Royal Mint’s operations are conducted under an environmental management system certified to ISO 14001, the internationally recognised standard for the environmental management of businesses. It prescribes controls for activities that have an effect on the environment, including the use of natural resources, the handling and treatment of waste, and energy consumption. Furthermore, in June last year the Royal Mint became the first mint in the world, and the largest UK manufacturer, to achieve SA 8000 accreditation, the international standard for socially responsible businesses.

Circulating coins is just one part of the Royal Mint’s business, and as with all good businesses, it is constantly seeking to evolve, expand and explore new technologies and commercial opportunities. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury in her place. As the Minister responsible for the Royal Mint and coinage policy, no doubt she will be able to elaborate on recent developments in the Royal Mint’s commemorative coin activities. From its 2009-10 annual report, I see that the commemorative coin division had a turnover of £89 million in that year, with an operating profit of some £5 million. That was due in part to the commencement of the London 2012 Olympic coin programme, with the 2009 £5 countdown silver proof and silver proof piedfort coins selling out.

The full range of 2012 Olympics products is available on the Royal Mail website, but some of the features of the coin programme are the countdown collection, the London 2012 sports collection, the “Celebration of Britain” collection and the “Gold Series: Faster, Higher, Stronger” set. On its current trajectory, and on the assumption that the Bill successfully completes its passage through this House and the other place and the planned kilogram coins are issued, the programme for London 2012 is on course to be the biggest Olympic coin programme to date.

My hon. Friend mentions the motto of the Olympics, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, which I think in Latin is “Citius, Altius, Fortius”. Given that we are likely to have the heaviest coin ever circulated in the United Kingdom, would it be sensible to add “Gravius”—heavier—to the motto on the coins?

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent suggestion, and I think it probably would. Perhaps we should put that suggestion to the International Olympic Committee. I am sure that he would like the Economic Secretary to do that on his behalf, but we will see what she has to say about it.

That brings me to the purpose of the Bill. As part of the Olympic programme, the Royal Mint is keen to strike those kilogram coins that my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) mentions. As I said earlier, the current wording of the Coinage Act would effectively prohibit that. It is not possible to measure the variation from the standard weight in the case of the proposed Olympic coins because the weight of each coin is likely to be equal to or greater than the 1 kg aggregate limit for a sample under section 1.

Clause 1 therefore amends the Coinage Act so that the variation from the standard weight can be specified by royal proclamation, for which section 3 provides. That would grant the flexibility to adjust the size of the sample for the purposes of the section 1(6) weight variation test. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that that removes a technical legislative obstacle to the proposed Olympic coins, allows the Royal Mint to continue to develop new and innovative designs and provides exciting opportunities to push coinage boundaries.

Striking kilogram coins has recently become part of the Olympic games tradition. Most host nations in recent years—for example, Australia, Canada and China— issued such coins, and they proved extremely popular with collectors internationally. The Bill would allow the Royal Mint to continue that tradition in commemoration of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

The large size means that the kilogram coins will be an exciting, artistic and eye-catching part of the Olympic games. The intention is for them to be significant works of numismatic art. The Royal Mint will approach high-profile British artists to prepare the designs—that is already under way.

After royal and ministerial approval, a commitment to strike kilogram coins was given to the International Olympic Committee during the United Kingdom’s bid to host the 2012 games. If the Bill is not passed, the kilogram coin element of the Olympic coin programme will unfortunately have to be scrapped. The Royal Mint, in consultation with the London Organising Committee, would need to consider an alternative product to fill the gap in the programme. However, none of the alternatives would have anything like the appeal of the 1 kg coin. There is a global expectation that the Royal Mint and the London 2012 Olympic coin programme will follow in the footsteps of London’s predecessors.

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that none of the coins will be given free to members of the International Olympic Committee, who seem to go in for lots of freebies?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I would like to think that that would be the case. It is my understanding that the coins will be put up for sale—and sale only.

The Royal Mint wants to ensure that the two commemorative kilogram coins will crown the range of coins. Judging from the reception of similar coins around the world, and after consulting representatives of the coin trade and collectors, the Royal Mint is confident that the UK kilogram coins will be well received—but hopefully not by the IOC.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill. Does he agree that the coins, as well as being of interest to collectors around the world, could usefully serve as prizes for different communities, which will try to emulate the Olympic games by hosting, for example, inter-village competitions? A kilogram coin would be a fitting award to the community that triumphed in those sporting contests.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Indeed, the coins will be for sale, and there is an opportunity for doing what he suggests.

The hon. Gentleman is making a serious case. Has he had any discussions with vending machine manufacturers about whether they would want to use the coin?

There will be coins in the range that vending machine manufacturers may want to use, but I am not sure whether they will want 1 kg coins. That could prove something of a challenge and perhaps rather expensive.

On the design of this coin—or should I say “paperweight”—is my hon. Friend aware of whether the College of Arms will be consulted over the design on the reverse? He might be aware that the college and its former head, Sir Peter Gwynn-Jones, were concerned about the design of the smaller coinage in 2008.

The Royal Mint has an advisory committee made up of a number of distinguished gentlemen and ladies in this field. I am not sure whether the College of Arms was consulted, but I am more than happy to find out and come back to my hon. Friend. We would like to think that the quality of these coins would be something of which the nation can be proud, and hopefully the committee will ensure that that is the case.

The Royal Mint proposes to make its kilogram coin from 22-carat gold and fine silver—so there would be two separate coins. They would be the largest ever UK coins, with a diameter of 10 cm and a face value of £1,000 for gold and £500 for silver. Based on demand from previous Olympic games, we anticipate minting 60 of the gold coins at an estimated cost of about £40,000, and 14,000 silver coins at an estimated cost of £1,250. However, the exact price of the coins will depend on the cost of gold and silver at the time.

Will the coins be solid gold or mixed with baser metals? My hon. Friend might know the story that the first inflationist in our country was King Stephen, who debased the coinage in the 1140s—a rather inglorious path trodden by several Governments down the centuries, notably the Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan Governments. Will we have gold in our coins, or will they be debased?

Having seen the production line for myself, I am confident that they will indeed be 100% gold and 100% silver. I would hate to think that what my hon. Friend describes would happen again, and after my visit I am quite confident that that will not be the case.

It may interest hon. Members to hear that there is a common misconception about the meaning of legal tender. The face value of the coins will be very different from the cost of buying them. The parties involved in a transaction are free to agree the means of payment, whether bank notes, credit card or other payment arrangements. However, in the absence of any such agreement, the creditor is entitled to require payment in legal tender. Conversely, the debtor is entitled to use it. Bank of England bank notes are legal tender in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, Scottish and Northern Irish bank notes are not legal tender anywhere in the United Kingdom. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) nodding. I am sure that he has suffered from this. Coin is also legal tender throughout the UK, although in most cases only up to certain specific limits.

The Olympic programme would generate royalties for London 2012 and the Exchequer, because the Royal Mint corporate entity is 100% owned by Her Majesty’s Treasury. Of course, the royalty payable would depend on sales and the final price of the coins, which will be determined by the price of gold, as I have said. However, as I mentioned, it is expected that demand will be similar to, if not greater than, that associated with previous Olympics. It is also important to note that the project is self-funding. The coins form just part of a wide range of products the Royal Mint is issuing to commemorate the 2012 Olympics. As Lord Coe, the London 2012 chairman, said in 2009:

“we’re thrilled to be working with the Royal Mint to commemorate three years to go. As the excitement builds over the next three years, it is fantastic to know that the Royal Mint will be alongside us, helping the whole country to join in with our celebrations.”

It is important to remember that the sporting, cultural and historical significance of London 2012 is not limited to the area within the M25 boundary. The athletes aspiring to compete under the Great Britain banner come from all over the United Kingdom. I would particularly like to recognise those from my own constituency and its environs: Greg Rutherford, Nathan Robertson, Bobby White, Joey Duck and Mervyn Luckwell are just a few of the Buckinghamshire athletes hoping to take part in the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012. Furthermore, in recent weeks, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South and I have been to a number of local events organised by Roger Fennemore and his wife, Sally, helping to raise funds for our local athletes and their training for the Olympic programme. I pay tribute to them. I am pleased that Milton Keynes has also been selected as the site of one of the 2012 Olympic training villages, owing to its strategic location and strong infrastructure, offering training for five Olympic and four Paralympic sports. Her Majesty the Queen planted the first tree on the Olympic park—next to the waterways, adjacent to the stadium—a mature willow tree grown in Milton Keynes, the first of more than 300 that will be planted on the stadium site.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the significance of the Olympic games to towns, villages and cities throughout the United Kingdom. As well as supporting the elite athletes who will be competing in the games, an important part of the Olympic legacy will be inspiring young people to take part in sport and to develop their talents. This Bill, in addition to the measures that he has mentioned, will be instrumental in inspiring that new generation.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The whole programme is excellent, particularly the 50p coins, of which I think there are 29 versions, celebrating each individual sport. One of those coins was designed by a “Blue Peter” viewer, so we have indeed managed to engage the whole country in the programme. That is important if we are to continue to inspire young people to take part in the Olympic programme.

Let us not forget the Paralympic mascot, Mandeville, named after the Buckinghamshire village where the precursor to the Paralympics was born. I would also like to mention Dr William Penny Brookes, the founder of the Wenlock Olympic games, which have been held almost every year since 1850 in the historic town of Much Wenlock, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne). As the House knows, the Wenlock games were the inspiration—here, in England—of the modern Olympic games, which started in 1896 in Athens, after Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchmen, had witnessed them. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games has recognised Much Wenlock’s place in British Olympic history by naming the London 2012 mascot Wenlock. That is an excellent tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituency town.

The striking of kilogram coins will not be limited to commemorating the Olympics. Future events of cultural significance and historical anniversaries, as well as sporting occasions, could all be celebrated in that way. The Coinage (Measurement) Bill therefore presents an exciting opportunity, with far-reaching implications. I am looking forward to a lively debate, but would urge hon. Members to let the Bill pass unopposed to the Committee stage.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) on introducing this Bill. It is perhaps not the most exciting Bill for someone who has succeeded in the highly competitive private Member’s Bill ballot, but I appreciate that legislation is needed if we are to keep our promise to the International Olympic Committee and if the Royal Mint is to fulfil its agreement to mint an Olympic coin weighing 1 kg. If he will excuse the pun, the hon. Gentleman has done a sterling job of making the issue seem more exciting than perhaps it is, enthusing those Members who are present about the prospect of purchasing a 1 kg coin. I must confess that I am not entirely convinced that the coin needs to be quite so substantial and weighty. Perhaps he or the Minister could comment on online speculation that the coin will become known as the Boris, on the grounds that it will be overweight and not an awful lot of use. However, it is welcome that the design will be put out to British artists, to see whether we can come up with the best design. I hope that the design meets with rather more public approval than the 2012 Olympics logo did when it was first launched, but we shall see.

In a week in which I, along with many other MPs, have received hundreds of e-mails from constituents determined to save our forests from the Government’s sell-off—I have received more than 200, while my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), has received more than 900 and one of my colleagues in the north-east has received more than 1,200—I would like to think that the complete absence of any e-mails from concerned constituents lobbying me about the Coinage (Measurement) Bill is not a sign of apathy or lack of interest, but a sign of the overwhelming consensus and the warm glow of approval that radiates across the nation when people consider the contents of the Bill and the prospect of being able to purchase a supersized coin, even if it will be beyond the means of most, if not all, of my constituents.

I can confirm that we are happy to support the Bill. I do not want to underplay its importance—I have made it quite clear how supportive I am—but the next Bill on the Order Paper deals with illegally logged timber. Bills dealing with that issue have been brought before the House on a number of occasions without proceeding through to their final stages. In the last Parliament, a similar Bill was introduced by my former hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, Andrew Dismore, one of the veterans of private Members’ Bills Fridays. In the interest of ensuring that the next Bill gets an airing today, I will draw my remarks to a close and look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Having made a rather facetious intervention on the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), I thought I should make a brief but serious contribution to the debate as well. I am in favour of his Bill, although, like the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), I am slightly intrigued by the thought process that he must have gone through to arrive at this as his choice of private Member’s Bill out of all the subjects that he could have run with.

I want the Olympics to be the event of a generation, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does as well. The coins that he has described will be unique and widely sought after by collectors, and I am sure that they will contribute to making the 2012 Olympics an event to be proud of and one that we will all remember for the rest of our lives. I hope that all hon. Members will allow his Bill a swift passage, so that we can see those coins minted and available in small numbers, if not in a vending machine near you.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) on bringing forward the Bill. It might not have generated many e-mails—in fact, I have not received any at all on the subject—but that does not detract from its merit. I rise to support it and I wish it well at the start of its long parliamentary journey.

The eyes of the world will be on the United Kingdom next year as we host the 2012 Olympics. Great as the games will be, however, they will be over in two or three weeks; after all the hype and the years of planning, I am sure that they will pass all too quickly. It is therefore right that we should concentrate as much on the legacy that the games will leave behind as on the games themselves, and a crucial part of the Olympic legacy will be the sale of commemorative coins. If there is one item that people are likely to save and treasure, it is a commemorative coin. I can see such items being left in people’s wills as legacies to future generations, perhaps for centuries to come.

We know that the 2009 “Countdown to London 2012” coin collections sold out due to the huge demand for them. On 1 April last year, more than two years before the start of the games, the Royal Mint confirmed that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic commemorative coins would be the best-selling coins in the history of the Royal Mint. That is testament to the great work that the Royal Mint has done in the build-up to the Olympics. In addition to ensuring that the country is left with a great sporting legacy following the Olympics, it is important to ensure that the games and the legacy provide value for money. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North said, the Royal Mint contributes considerably to the Treasury coffers, and this commemorative coin will add to that revenue.

Among the existing coins available on the Royal Mint website, there is already a “Countdown to London 2012” £5 silver proof coin, available at £65.99—a snip. Also awaiting stock are a gold three-coin set—in a four-coin case, for some reason I do not understand—at £4,499, and a gold proof £5 coin at £1,599. Perhaps Members will be more interested in the 50p coins available at £2.99, which are provided for all 29 individual sports: shooting, taekwondo, table tennis, judo, volleyball, table tennis, handball and so on. Alternatively, if people want to splash out they can get a bumper pack for all 29 sports, plus a free album, for £85.

When the coins were issued, the Royal Mint’s director of commemorative coins, Dave Knight, said that they will

“become treasured mementos of the biggest sporting event to happen on UK shores for over half a century and we hope will encourage a new generation of collectors.”

I am sure that they will. His view was backed up by an Olympic gold medallist, Rebecca Adlington OBE, who, when launching the “Countdown to 2012” commemorative coins, said that the Olympic games is just around the coiner—[Laughter.] A Freudian slip there. She said:

“The Olympic games is just around the corner and this coin is a great way for the British public to show its support for the sports men and women who are already preparing for this ultimate sporting challenge.”

The issuing of gold coins representing the ethos and history of the Olympic movement has been a key part of the build-up to the Olympic games for centuries. To celebrate the 30th Olympiad, the Royal Mint has already begun issuing its gold coin collection, with the distinction of being the only coins to feature the Olympic rings as part of their design. The complete collection will eventually contain nine coins, comprising three separate three-coin sets inspired by the famous Olympic motto, to which we have already heard reference, “Citius, Altius, Fortius”—faster, higher, stronger. The Faster series, inspired by the classical heritage of the Olympic games, presented in a luxurious hardwood walnut case, is already on sale and available. Each of the three coins features a different Roman god, representing and inspired by the classical heritage of the Olympic games. The 1 oz coin features Neptune, god of the sea, who will look after the sport of sailing. The ¼ oz coin features Diana, goddess of hunting, who will look after the sport of cyclists. The other coin represents Mercury, the god of speed, who will look after the athletes.

I end on one small point of concern about the Bill: the reference to a “kilogram”. Although I support the Bill and its intentions, I would much prefer it to refer to 32.1507466 troy ounces, because gold is normally dealt with in troy ounces.

I do not accept that point. I see no reason why coins could not be minted in troy ounces, as gold bars are. There is no difficulty in selling gold bars.

With that one small point, I commend the Bill to the House and wish it well through the parliamentary process.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster). I think it fair to say that he has definitely had his money’s worth, for the Bill has plainly captured the imagination of the House.

In many respects, this is an historic day. Bills relating to coinage do not come along very often, but here we have a private Member’s Bill that will change the way in which we can create coinage for our country. It is not complicated, it is not really controversial—except perhaps in the respect cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) at the end of his speech—and hopefully it will not lead to division, but will receive universal support from all parties.

British coinage has a rich and colourful past, stretching back beyond the memories of even our most seasoned parliamentarians. The Royal Mint alone is nearly 1,100 years old. Having journeyed from its first home in the Tower of London to Tower Hill, it now resides in Llantrisant in Wales. Equally interesting are the many intricate laws that govern our currency, defining appearance, weight, size and scale. Each of those laws is important in its own right, and each is steeped in tradition dating back many centuries.

King Offa, the King of Mercia who was considered to be the greatest Anglo-Saxon ruler of the 8th century, was responsible for the establishment of a new currency based on the silver penny, which, while undergoing many design changes, was the standard coin of England for many centuries. In 1060 AD, a coin shaped like a clover was minted in England. The user could break off any of the four leaves and use them as separate pieces of currency. Perhaps more worryingly, until 1790 every woman convicted of counterfeiting gold or silver coin of the realm was sentenced to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution and there

“to be burned with fire till she was dead”.

For reasons that have been made clear, protection of the coinage is paramount in the value of a nation’s currency. Over the next few days, the Royal Mint will be conducting the Trial of the Pyx, with which Members may not be familiar. It dates back to 1282, and is used to verify that the gold, silver and cupro nickel coins made through the ages meet the required specifications, to guarantee that the Master of the Mint has not been stealing any of the state’s precious metals, and—perhaps most relevant to our modern times—to ensure that Britain’s coins satisfy the standards set by the Coinage Act 1971. Following all those centuries of tradition, the 1971 Act brought together and rationalised some of the ancient laws that I mentioned earlier. It was instrumental in the creation of the modern coinage system, because decimalisation began at that time, and it is the legislation on which we are seeking to build today.

While reinforcing the historic pageantry of the Trial of the Pyx, the 1971 Act also did away with some of the more unusual provisions that had developed over the decades. I am sure that Members are relieved to learn that, thanks to the Act, there is no longer a provision which allows, by means of proclamation and without any control by Parliament, the introduction of foreign coins to the currency of the United Kingdom. Although the Act allowed the Chancellor to remain Master of the Mint, he was no longer to be known as its Warden or Worker, those roles and titles having fallen into disuse. Before they did so, however, they were positions of significance which were held by some formidable historical figures.

For instance, Sir Isaac Newton served as both Master and Warden of the Mint. Apparently he treated his position as Warden with the utmost seriousness, going to great personal lengths to tackle the counterfeiting of coins following the Great Recoinage of 1696. He reportedly disguised himself to pursue the counterfeiters before personally interrogating them. I am sure that the present Master of the Mint would not hesitate to go to such lengths, and it is probably just as well that the Serious Organised Crime Agency shoulders that burden in modern times.

Newton also brought about the move from silver to the gold standard for pound coins—further evidence of the long, historical evolution of this country’s coinage. As I have said, 1971 was the year of another great innovation, as that was the year in which the UK adopted a decimal currency, although Parliament first considered and rejected the idea nearly 150 years earlier. With the Olympics just around the corner, let us hope that we can make faster progress on the proposal in the Bill, which would allow the Royal Mint to play a part in the success of London 2012. The linkage of an historic institution with the chance for London and the UK to host an historic sporting event makes a huge amount of sense, as the Royal Mint’s mission statement makes clear:

“The Royal Mint will be a national treasure, at the heart of every momentous personal occasion and coin collection”.

By supporting the Bill, we support the Royal Mint in achieving that mission, helping to place it even closer to the heart of what will surely be a momentous national occasion while it continues to be a valuable asset to the British economy.

Speaking without any sense of irony, even in this challenging economic environment the Royal Mint has continued to make money for this country. For the fourth year running it has produced a substantial profit, and it continues to deliver on its five-year strategy. Its first responsibility is to make and distribute United Kingdom coins, blanks and official medals, but it also makes coins and medals for an average of 60 countries every year. In fact it makes coins for countries as diverse as Macau, Malawi, the Maldives, the Falkland Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Jersey, Bahrain, Botswana and other countries all over the world. Last year, it was able to expand its international coin business against a backdrop of tough business conditions. Critically, it provided the Treasury as shareholder with a dividend of about £4 million.

I am proud to say that the Royal Mint is the first mint in the world to be awarded accreditation to the international social accountability standard SA8000, which is designed to ensure safe working conditions and fair management practices. Last year, after becoming Economic Secretary, I was keen to go to Llantrisant to meet the people who work at the Royal Mint and take a look at their production line, so I have seen in person how the Mint meets those high standards. It was fantastic to meet the management team and staff, and to have the chance to see the benefits of investment in the business. Like any normal person, I found it amazing to see so many freshly minted coins in huge boxes waiting to be packed and bagged up so that they could go into circulation. The machines that produced them were incredible—a bit like the reverse of a slot machine when people win—spitting them out at a fast pace. It was an incredible place to go, and I look forward to my next visit.

The Minister mentioned new coins and their reverse. Out of deference to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, should we not consider putting the Welsh dragon on the back of our coins? We have just about every other symbol, and may well have some more as a result of the Olympic games, yet the Welsh dragon is missing from the reverse side of our coins. Will the Minister take up that issue?

I am sure that the Royal Mint advisory committee will have listened to my hon. Friend’s comments with interest. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Royal Mint changes the themes of its coins from time to time, which is one of the interesting things about UK coinage. Doubtless, it will want to take on board his suggestion.

Today our focus is not only on the Mint’s industrial and commercial achievements, but on its services to the promotion and celebration of British sport. From the 50p sports series, to the Celebration of Britain coins, to the Faster, Higher, Stronger gold sovereigns, the Royal Mint has a wide-ranging Olympic coin programme that caters for children, sports fans and professional coin collectors alike. We are concerned today with allowing the production of coins that will be of great interest to professional collectors and others.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North said, very large coins have become a part of many countries’ commemorative coin offerings. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) expressed concern about a slot machine big enough to take a 1 kg coin. He would probably have even greater concerns for the Canadian Royal Mint, which produced a 100 kg fine gold coin with a face value of 1 million Canadian dollars. Different countries take different approaches. The French Monnaie de Paris produced a glamorous diamond-studded gold coin. Those coins are, of course, exclusive products for a limited number of customers. That does not mean that the proposal before us is not worth while.

Although the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North is promoting is intended to help the Mint to create kilo coins for the 2012 Olympics, it will also allow coins of that size to be struck for other significant events in future. It is important to do all we can to create a level playing field on which the Royal Mint can compete, appealing to collectors worldwide, even at the top end of the market. However, the Olympic coin programme has been designed to ensure the widest possible levels of participation.

Coins of many denominations will be produced, providing an accessible opportunity for those just starting their collections to own a commemorative Olympic coin for as little as £2.99. That is one of the reasons why it was fantastic that “Blue Peter” was able to be part of the design process. I shall come to that in a moment. The non-numismatists will not miss out; we all, I hope, look forward to seeing Olympic coins in our pockets as they enter general circulation between now and 2012, and we will have them as a reminder of a fantastic event long after our games have finished.

I am happy to report that the Royal Mint has opened up the design process to a wider group than ever before. Design competitions have been organised by “Blue Peter”. Designs have been submitted by countless secondary school children, art and design colleges, and members of the public. Although not all the results of the contests have been decided, I remind the House of one further competition winner—the Royal Mint. Following a competitive tender procedure, the Royal Mint has, as we heard, secured the honour of producing our Olympic and Paralympic medals. That further cements the important relationship between the London 2012 Olympics and our world-class export mint.

I urge hon. Members across the House to take a look through the brochure that the Royal Mint has produced, showing the 50p coin collection that will be issued. There are some wonderful designs. My personal favourite is No. 12, the athletics 50p, which is the one designed by “Blue Peter” viewers. It is brilliant. It will make everybody who sees it and uses it over the coming years smile every time they fish it out of their wallet or purse.

We all want the 2012 games to be a resounding success. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North, have strong constituency ties to the Olympics. Those include potential Olympians such as Jessica Harper, who has been identified as a future champion by British Swimming’s disability swimming section. Locally, Southfields underground station will be a key Olympic gateway for people to get to the All England club, where the Olympic tennis events are to be held. We are delighted in my constituency that last year it became the 60th station to be step-free. We will have the experience of one of the Olympic events just down the road from us. We are used to having Wimbledon every year, but June and July 2012 will be even busier than we are used to. I am delighted that during the rest of the year Southfields station will be accessible to all of my constituents in a way that it just was not before, and there have been further improvements to make it safer and easier to use.

The Olympics are fantastic for our country and we must make the most of the opportunities that they bring. The Bill is part of enabling us to do that—enabling the Royal Mint to be part of the process.

We have heard a lot this afternoon about the Olympics and their being the driving reason for a 1 kg coin to be struck, but next year we will also enjoy the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. Does my hon. Friend think that when we mint an Olympic coin, it would be appropriate to mint a similar coin in honour of Her Majesty’s jubilee?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. I am sure that future events of national cultural or historical significance, such as the one that he describes, could be commemorated in this way. However, the final decision would be taken by Her Majesty the Queen and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the advice, as I have said, of the Royal Mint advisory committee on the design of coins, medals, seals and decorations.

The background to this issue is twofold. First, the Royal Mint has more than 50 years of experience in the international commemorative coin market, and secondly, historical data from previous Olympic games show that the kilogram coins are big sellers. In fact, 14,000 were sold at Sydney 2000 and 20,000 were sold at Beijing 2008, and we have high hopes that we will see that figure rise when the Royal Mint issues its coins for London 2012.

The Royal Mint regularly attends international seminars with other mints, numismatists, collectors and trade partners, from which it is clear that there is a sizeable international market for kilogram coins. As I said, they first featured in the international commemorative coin market in 1992. They tend to be attractive to numismatists across the world, not just due to their size and the high-profile artists who design them, but because ultimately they become works of art as well as an investment opportunity. During the past 10 years, more than 40,000 Olympic kilogram coins have been issued around the world and their ongoing popularity makes them an important addition to any international Mint’s commemorative coin range.

Not only does the Bill give us the benefit of being able to continue what seems to be becoming a tradition by having an Olympic kilogram coin for London 2012, it will mean that we strengthen the Royal Mint’s ability to compete further in the commemorative coin market. We all need to do our bit to make the 2012 Olympics a games that we can be proud of. The Royal Mint wants to do its bit, and that is why the Bill is necessary. It is good for the games, good for the Exchequer and good for the country too.

I repeat my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North for promoting the Bill, which the Government wholeheartedly support, and I look forward to further discussions on it.

I start by thanking hon. Members on both sides of the House for their support for the Bill, and in particular my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), from the Opposition Benches, who also supported the Bill, although her comments about the Mayor were a touch cruel, not least since I have seen him out jogging recently and that weight problem is coming down rapidly.

I am afraid that I make no apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) for promoting the Bill. Milton Keynes is a fantastic sporting city. We were set to be a host city for the 2010 World cup, had we got it. We have a fantastic football team, a basketball team, an ice hockey team and the country’s largest indoor snow dome. We are also home to the National Badminton Centre. Having worked very closely with many of my young people, I know that they are absolutely captivated by this Olympic programme and I make no apologies for doing my bit to ensure that there will be a strong Olympic legacy.

I have great sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), but as the coin is set for international markets it is appropriate that it should be struck as a 1 kg coin. This is an uncontroversial and short Bill. I thank hon. Members for their support and commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).