I am delighted that we have reached this group as I feared that our consideration on Report would be concluded prematurely. I therefore have only a very short speech, but luckily this is rather a straightforward and uncomplicated matter. If I had known that I would have far more time than I assumed—a rare privilege in this place—I would have prepared a far lengthier speech, quoting extensively from the masterpiece “A History of Wales” by the late, great John Davies, or John Bwlchllan as he was known to his friends, and from “When was Wales?” by the great historian who was a member of the Labour party and of Plaid Cymru, Gwyn Alf Williams, who retired to Drefach Felindre in my constituency.
I am delighted that my amendments 4 and 5 are being supported by the Labour Front-Bench team. When I was eating my cornflakes in the hotel this morning, it was a nice surprise to receive an email from David Williamson, the Western Mail correspondent, citing a press notice by the shadow Secretary of State for Wales saying that she supported my proposal. Perhaps this is the start of a beautiful new relationship, although I fear that I might be doing my best to scupper those sorts of endeavours after the election. I aim to press amendment 4 to a Division, with your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I have spoken on this issue before in the Chamber, but I will reiterate a few points that I made on Second Reading. The amendment deals with the historical anomaly that prohibits Wales from producing its own distinctive banknotes. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland are allowed to do so, and so to celebrate their respective national figures and landmarks.
The hon. Gentleman talks about our historical position, so does he support my view that my predecessor but one in what was then the constituency of Pontypool, Leo Abse, made probably the greatest contribution in the 20th century as a Back Bencher to changing people’s lives, and therefore would be a fine candidate to go on such banknotes?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. When I realised that I would be able to make this speech, I feared that there would be a lot of interventions along those lines. I will be citing some notable names during my speech, but that is not a matter for politicians to determine.
I will in a minute—we have to hear from Blaenau Gwent. It would be appropriate if there was a conversation among the people of Wales about who they would like on their banknotes.
As part of the list of great men and women whom the Welsh people could consider having on our banknotes in the future, may I suggest Aneurin Bevan, a son of Tredegar and founder of the national health service?
That is certainly one of the names that I would like to see put forward.
The hon. Gentleman will note that two men—great men—have been recommended, but I would like to see more women represented on banknotes, whether they are Welsh or Bank of England notes. Does he agree that, whether or not one is a big spender, a resident of my own constituency, Dame Shirley Bassey, would be an excellent person to be on a Welsh banknote?
I am grateful for that intervention, too. I saw that name mentioned very honourably in this morning’s Labour press notice.
Like other parts of the UK, Wales was once awash with small banks covering relatively small geographical areas, and those banks were allowed to issue their own banknotes. The Bank Charter Act 1844 brought an end to Welsh banknotes and provincial banknotes in England, but that measure did not apply to Ireland or Scotland. Four banks in Northern Ireland and three in Scotland have the authority to issue their own banknotes, provided that they are backed by Bank of England notes. The amendments would allow Lloyds Banking Group, which holds the rights to the Bank of Wales brand and is in part publicly owned by Welsh taxpayers, to issue Welsh banknotes, just as is permitted for the three clearing banks in Scotland and four in Northern Ireland.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a worthwhile commercial advantage would be gained by issuing banknotes? That value would then accrue to Lloyds bank, and possibly to taxpayers in Wales and the rest of the UK, which would be a good move.
I am grateful to my parliamentary leader for his intervention. He is completely right, and that is why four banks in Northern Ireland and three in Scotland have continued the practice. There is a commercial interest for Lloyds, but also a public interest due to our part ownership of the bank.
Permission to issue Welsh banknotes would be a welcome boost to brand Wales, recognising our country as an equal and economic entity. Notes in Northern Ireland celebrate individuals such as J.B. Dunlop, Harry Ferguson and James Martin, as well as architectural splendour such as that of Belfast city hall. Notes in Scotland pay tribute to that country’s fantastic bridges and recognise the contribution of people such as Sir Walter Scott and Robbie Burns. Notes currently used in Wales recognise people such as Elizabeth Fry, Adam Smith and Matthew Boulton, and previous notes have portrayed Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday, Sir Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, George Stephenson and the first Duke of Wellington. They are all great people, but none, to my knowledge, has anything to do with my country.
Is it not fair and sensible for us in Wales to use notes that recognise our historic landmarks, such as the incredible Castell Carreg Cennen in my constituency, Pont Menai, Yr Wyddfa—Snowdon, the largest mountain in our country—and our historic greats such as Owain Glyndwr, who was nominated the seventh most important person of the last millennium by The Times, of all papers? There is also David Lloyd George, the originator of the welfare state, Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the NHS, and Gwynfor Evans, the first Plaid Member of Parliament and the father of modern Wales.
A case could also be made for what is arguably the most famous Welsh painting of all: “Salem”, painted by Sydney Curnow Vosper in 1908. His painting of Siân Owen aged 71 at Capel Salem, a Baptist chapel at Pentre Gwynfryn in the north of Wales, is a national icon, much as Constable’s “The Hay Wain” is in England. The Royal Mint already produces Welsh-specific coins, so my proposals raise no major issue of principle—indeed, the Minister referred to the Royal Mint earlier in the debate.
A national poll by ITV Cymru/Wales found that more than 80%—indeed, it was 82.6% when I looked at the website today—of the Welsh public supported these calls. If we are unsuccessful in the Division, I hope that the UK Government will support Plaid Cymru in putting right this historical anomaly and bring forward their own proposals.
I have a Welsh pound coin with me, but it reeks of nationalist propaganda because around the edge it states “Pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad”, which means “True am I to my country”. I certainly agree with that, but it is issued by the Royal Mint.
My hon. Friend makes my point entirely. There is no issue of principle at stake; this is about finding the mechanism for delivery.
This issue has received considerable media coverage in Wales. Considering that we are only two weeks from the Welsh general election, I suggest to Treasury Ministers that the election prospects of their candidates in Wales may be damaged if they choose to ignore the strong views of the people of Wales on this matter.
I support amendments 4 and 5, which were tabled by Jonathan Edwards. In Committee, the Minister highlighted the presence of the Royal Mint in Cardiff and its role in the production of our coins. In reflecting on that, it is worth noting that the pound coin reflects each nation, with the royal arms, the three lions and the oak tree for England; the thistle and the lion rampant for Scotland; the flax plant and the Celtic cross for Northern Ireland; and, of course, both the dragon and the leek for Wales. Since 2010, we have had pound coins celebrating the capital cities in the floral emblems of each nation of the United Kingdom. It therefore seems anomalous that Scotland, with its own Parliament, has its own banknotes and that Northern Ireland, with its own Assembly, has its own unique banknotes, yet that Wales, with its own flourishing Assembly, has no national identifier for circulating currency.
If the amendments pass tonight and Wales is allowed to produce its own banknotes, I very much hope that some north Walians will be featured on them. Does my hon. Friend agree that such notes also represent a fine opportunity to showcase the great figures of Welsh literature and music?
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic suggestion, and I shall return in a few seconds to some Welsh figures from music, if not literature. It is important that all aspects of Welsh culture are represented when, as I hope, the Welsh people are able to choose who should feature on their banknotes and coins. A celebration of iconic Welsh scenes and places would also be appropriate. For example, there could be representations of the steel industry of Port Talbot, or the mining communities of the valleys—even perhaps the Tower colliery which, as those who know about the history of mining in Wales are aware, was run as a co-operative when miners used their redundancy payments to turn it into a successful venture. Such imagery would be well supported across the nation. Shirley Bassey and Nye Bevan, the father and founder of our NHS, have been suggested. It would be great to see Nye Bevan on a Welsh banknote. It might be a bit over the top to feature his famous quotes likening Tories to certain members of the animal kingdom, but that would be a matter for the Welsh people to decide.
My own personal suggestion, for what it is worth, is that given that it is now 30 years since the formation of that great Welsh rock band, the Manic Street Preachers, I would love to see them celebrated on a new banknote, although they might have ideological objections to doing so. It is also the 20th anniversary of “Everything Must Go”— I am talking not about the Chancellor’s policy on RBS shares, but the album of that name by the Manic Street Preachers. As the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr made it clear, however, it would be for the people of Wales, not those from Yorkshire or anywhere else, to decide who or what should appear on Welsh banknotes. In that spirit, I hope that the Conservative Government do not commit the cardinal error of snubbing the Welsh people’s desire for their own banknotes.
I had not thought of that point.
The lack of any Welsh-themed banknotes is an error that the amendments are designed to put right. I would appreciate the Government agreeing to the proposal and investigating the possible costs and timeframes for such a change. Labour Members wholeheartedly and enthusiastically support these amendments.
Anyone would think that a Welsh general election was going on this afternoon, would they not? I am glad that we have had time to debate this issue this afternoon. I can remember the shock in Worcestershire when Elgar, whose birthplace is in my West Worcestershire constituency, was taken off the £20 note. It was certainly a very live political issue.
I know that we all have an emotional attachment to our banknotes, and I therefore sympathise with the desire of Jonathan Edwards to make the case that he has made so ably this afternoon, along with other Members, for banknotes to have some Welsh characteristics. We shall not be able to agree to the amendment today, for reasons that I shall explain, but I hope that what I shall say about our new banknotes will give some cheer to our Welsh colleagues.
First, let me give the House a history lesson. The UK is a rare example in the world of a country that allows certain commercial banks to issue banknotes. As the hon. Gentleman said, since the 1840s, when the House passed the Bank Charter Act 1844, no new bank has been allowed to issue commercial banknotes in the United Kingdom. Let me put that in context. The 1840s happened a long time ago: it was the time of both Elizabeth Fry, whom we celebrate on the Bank of England £5 note, and Charles Darwin, whom we find on the £10 note. Since then, many of the banks that were originally authorised to issue banknotes have lost or surrendered their rights. The last private note issuer in Wales was the North and South Wales Bank, which lost its note-issuing rights in 1908 when it was taken over by the Midland Bank, now rebranded as HSBC. Today, only seven commercial note issuers remain: three banks in Scotland, and four in Northern Ireland. The Government are committed to preserving the long-standing tradition of commercial issuance in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as is clear from the amendments made in clause 36.
Does the Minister agree with my earlier point that there is a commercial advantage to be gained from issuing one’s own notes? Why can that advantage not be extended to bank operations in Wales?
That is the very point that I was about to make. The amendment seeks to confer the right to issue commercial banknotes in Wales—a clear commercial advantage—on just one bank, Lloyds Banking Group. That appears to be based on a link to a right to issuance that was broken more than 100 years ago. Today, the Government—the taxpayer—owns just under 10% of Lloyds Banking Group. Part of Lloyds Banking Group already has a commercial banknotes issuance operation, which may be why the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr chose to focus on a single bank in his amendment. That is due to the acquisition of the Bank of Scotland operation, which is authorised to issue banknotes in Scotland. However, extending the privilege and the commercial advantage of issuing banknotes in Wales to just one bank would raise competition and commercial issues for others.
I liked the wide range of suggestions about who should be represented on Welsh banknotes, and, as I said earlier, the coins in our pockets are minted in Wales. I appreciate that the motive behind the amendment—the symbolic issue about which the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly—is to create a symbol, rather than to deal with a pressing economic or practical need for different banknotes.
The Bank of England has already announced that future banknotes, starting with the polymer £5 note which will be issued in September 2016, will include symbols representing all four home nations. For Wales, the imagery will be taken from the Royal Coat of Arms and the Royal Badge of Wales. The Bank recently announced that the design for the £5 note would be revealed on
I am very glad that we have had a chance to discuss the merits of the amendment. The hon. Gentleman will understand why I cannot support it. However, I welcome the opportunity to convey the message that an important symbol of Wales will appear on our new banknotes.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 239, Noes 301.