Clause 3. — (Additional powers exercisable by proclamation.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Coinage Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th October 1946.

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Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North 12:00 am, 18th October 1946

I do not think that we can part with Clause 3 without some explanation of its form and some protest at the method of delegated legislation which it proposes to adopt. The Clause says that the powers exercisable by Proclamation under Section 11 of the Coinage Act, 1870, shall include powers to do three things set out in the Clause, the most important of which will be found in Paragraph (c) which are powers: to make as respects coins of a metal or mixture of metal other than cupro-nickel. the like provision as is made by Section 1 of this Act.

The Clause also gives powers by Proclamation to vary the provisions of the Schedule to the Act as to the composition of coins of cupro-nickel, and, thirdly, to diminish the estimate or variations allowed by the Act in the case of any coin. The effect of this is to enable the future composition of our coinage, so far as it is a metal coinage, to be varied at any time by means of a Royal Proclamation. If hon. Members refer to Section 11 of the Coinage Act, 1870, they will see a number of things therein set out which may be done by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, by Proclamation, and at the end of the Section they will find the words: Every such proclamation shall come into operation on the day therein in that behalf mentioned, and shall have effect as if it were enacted in this Act. That is to say, that anything done by Royal Proclamation has the full powers of an Act of Parliament from the date attached to the Proclamation. This, of all forms of delegated legislation is the most objectionable, and if the hon. Gentleman and his advisers would refer to the report of the Donoughmore Committee, which reported in 1938—a very heavyweight committee which sat upon this question of ministerial powers—he will find some rather harsh things said about legislation in this form, because what we are in fact saying, when we say that these powers set out under Clause 3 may be exercised by Royal Proclamation, is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may, at any time, change the composition of our coinage to any metal he pleases or any combinations of metal, and, as from the day on which the Proclamation is made, those changes shall have the full force of statute law.

While we may probably assume that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is unlikely to make our metal coinage even nastier and cheaper than it is now going to become, through the introduction of cupro-nickel alloy, heaven knows what may happen to our coinage if the hon. Member for South Nottingham (Mr. N. Smith) were to follow the Chancellor. It would be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make our currency of any metal he pleased and in any shape or size. Whatever he did by Royal Proclamation could not be debated in this House, unless the Government of the day decided to give time for that purpose. The matter could not be raised by Petition or Prayer, and it could only be raised if a majority of the House decided that a Debate must take place. Therefore, I think that this form of legislation is unfortunate. It would have been better in this matter of the composition of our currency to have adopted a form of words which would have made it necessary for Regulations to be made and laid on the Table of the House in order to give hon. Members an opportunity for discussion.

I do not propose to invite my hon. Friends to vote against the Clause, because I do not think that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is likely to make our coinage nastier and cheaper than it is going to become under Clause 1 of the Bill. Any change which he makes will, I think, be towards procuring for us a better coinage, and we have urged today that he should adopt a pure nickel coinage for that purpose. Spokesmen for the Government have indicated that, at some future time, they may adopt pure nickel coinage, and Clause 3 gives them power to do so without further legislation. Therefore, although I think that the form of this Clause is objectionable and should not pass this House without criticism, I shall not divide the House.