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Volume 734: debated on Tuesday 24 January 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the costs to local government and business of preparing for the new coinage, in the light of reports that the new size cannot be used in existing parking meters and vending machines.

My Lords, the Treasury published a full impact assessment on this measure last February, which is available on the Treasury website. The impact assessment was compiled after consultation with representative industry groups and estimates the overall net benefit of the conversion of 5p and 10p coins to nickel-plated steel to be about £40 million. The Royal Mint has been working with the industry for more than two years in anticipation of this change.

My Lords, I think the gap in the Minister’s Answer is that, although the Government will save money, there will be a cost to the industry in changing vending machines, payphones, parking meters, et cetera, because the new coins are marginally thicker. The cost to the vending industry will be about £25 million. The fear now is that if the £1 coin was changed, it would cost the vending industry more than £100 million to adapt. I seek assurances from the Minister that if any change is considered, there will be full consultation with industry, a two-year period in which the industry can make the changes needed and consideration of compensatory payments, given the very high cost involved to the industry.

My Lords, first, on the implementation of the introduction of the new 5p and 10p pieces, the Government took the view, after consulting the industry, that there should be a delay of one year from the date of January 2011, when the previous Government had originally intended to introduce the coins. The noble Baroness refers to the Automatic Vending Association. When we announced the delay in the introduction, the association’s CEO said:

“This … is fantastic news for the vending and coin machine industries because it allows them more time to update coin mechanisms, providing a saving of £16.8 million to the vending industry—a real help in the current economic climate”.

So the introduction of the new coins has been done in full consultation.

When it comes to the £1 coin, the issue is rather different. It is one not of cost saving but of potential risk and a drop in confidence as a result of counterfeiting. The counterfeiting of £1 coins is estimated to account for almost 3 per cent of the stock, but the Royal Mint conducts regular public awareness surveys to ensure that public confidence in the pound is high, and the Government have no change to the £1 coin in mind.

My Lords, the consultation with business and industry and the saving are welcome, but after the new coins have been in circulation for a period, will it be obvious to the consumer which coins they have in their pocket when they arrive at a parking meter?

Noble Lords may not be aware that they may have in their pocket two different sorts of 1p and 2p coins, because they were changed from cupronickel to copper-plated steel in 1992. When looking in my pocket this morning, first, I could not distinguish them and, secondly, I had not been aware of the distinction. This is well trodden territory as successive Governments have updated the coinage, and there should be no particular difficulty.

My Lords, the House will have derived some reassurance from the Minister's answers thus far, but given that in the not too distant future there are likely to be changes to the higher denomination coins, would it not be politic now to have a full-blown consultation on, or perhaps even a commission into, the coinage to look at the future, to give people the opportunity to make their views known and to prepare?

My Lords, prepare for what? I have already said that there are no plans to change the £1 coin and I am happy to say that there are no plans to change any of the other denominations of coins. It is all rather hypothetical.

My Lords, I shall ask a Grocott-type question, if I may. Has the Treasury done any calculations or estimates of the cost of changing the coinage in the event of Scottish independence? Is this not another example of the folly of the independence line?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the change to copper-plated steel is very difficult when I am doing electrical experiments with my three and a half year-old grandchild?

My Lords, I am not sure what we can do about that, but I can assure the noble Lord that, based on the experience with the 1p and 2p coins, there will be many cupronickel 5p and 10p coins still in existence for many years to come.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on issuing a new set of coins to popularise the Olympic Games and the fact that a number of coins represent particular sports. Can I regret the fact that the new 50p coin, which defines the football off-side law, is incorrect?

My Lords, I think that we are straying a bit from the Question. I must say that my knowledge of the twists and turns of the off-side law has never been completely up to date.