asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many representations he has now had from members of the public and from trade organisations expressing a preference for a decimal currency based on a £1 unit and expressing a preference for a 10s. unit.
Since the issue of the White Paper on 12th December last I have received 355 representations on decimalisation from members of the public and trade organisations. Of these 44 were in favour of a £, and 153 of a 10s. major unit.
Would my right hon. Friend agree that these figures and the Gallup Poll published last week invalidate his statement on 31st January that the general public, on the whole, prefer the £? In view of this, would he agree that, if his argument is strong enough—I should like to support it if it is—it would be better to leave it to the free judgment of all the Members of the House of Commons?
This is a matter in which it is the clear duty of the Government to give a lead to the House on the best system. I am looking forward to the debate on the issue. When it comes, it will then be for the House to make up its mind, but the Government must advise their supporters to support—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—one cannot flop around on an issue like this with a free vote. It is the Government's duty to give a lead to their supporters, and this lead has been given.
Would the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that, in all parties and on both sides of the House, this is a matter of very great concern indeed, and that, as far as I at least am concerned, it has nothing whatever to do with party politics—[Interruption.]—nor for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I accept that. But, because this is so, would he please not make up his mind in advance of the debate which we are to have in this House, and would he take the opinion of the House into consideration before final decisions are made?
As far as I know, there is no means of dragooning anybody into a Lobby, but it is the Government's job —[Interruption.]—if there is, we are singularly unsuccessful at it. It is the Government's job to say what the policy should be and it is for the Government's supporters to support the Government, the choice having been made.
Has my right hon. Friend received any representations over the last week as a result of certain incidents in this Chamber last Thursday? Is he aware that many hon. Members on this side, for various reasons, are very anxious that he should make a cast-iron case for the choice which he has made?
I have been waiting since 1st March last for the opportunity of doing that, and I am looking forward to the debate very much indeed.
Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in a matter like this, which will affect this country perhaps for 1,000 years or so, it is vastly more important to make the right decision than to make an early decision? As this is not in any political party's programme, would he not treat this on a different basis from the ordinary discussions in the House and genuinely consult the House of Commons on this matter?
It is very late for the Opposition to raise this question. I announced the proposal to decimalise on the £ over a year ago. There was not even a cry from anybody—
Except for the hon. Gentleman—I will give him that. But he is not, in name, yet a member of the Conservative Party.
I published a White Paper in December. Again, apart from the hon. Gentleman and a few others, there was very little protest. The protest started on the day that the Bill was introduced. This is not a hurried decision, but a decision which has been talked about now since 1963. It is the duty of the Government to give a clear lead to their followers and the House on this matter and not to shilly-shally around and say, "We do not mind whether it is one or the other." We do. I am confident that the case for the £ is very strong.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the figures which he has given this afternoon show that four times as many people are against the Government's decision as are in favour of it? Will he publish a list showing the important organisations—such as the Consumer Council, the C.B.I., the Trades Union Congress and the Institute of Chartered Accountants—who are opposed to the Government's proposal, so that members of the public can make up their minds on the basis of the expert advice which has been given?
We are going to debate all this, but it is a dangerous assumption that it is the people who are in favour of the Government's decision who write to the Government. On the whole, I find that it is those who are opposed to such a decision who write and not those who are in favour of it.
What the hon. Gentleman is challenging is the normal basis on which business in this House is done on both sides. There is nobody on that side of the House who would stand up and offer a free vote, if he were in my place here, on an issue of such importance. I would say to my hon. Friend that I have not the slightest doubt that, when he hears the argument, he will come in willingly, freely, hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm with me.
It is a matter of opinion and I should like to remind you, Mr. Speaker, that we are going to debate this issue. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that the decision is, in my view, the correct one. Administrative decisions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—I am about to answer. Administrative decisions have, of course, been taken —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and a number of companies, based on the decision announced by the Government over 12 months ago, have already entered into particular commitments on this matter. That seems to me to be a matter of elementary prudence and common sense on their part.