Banknote Diversity

– in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 12:57 pm, 2nd April 2019

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Bank of England to meet standards for the representation of ethnic minority persons on banknotes;
and for connected purposes.

I present this Bill because I believe that the Governor of the Bank of England now has a unique opportunity to address an archaic stereotype—one that completely undermines the credible efforts towards diversity and inclusion that are indeed taking place the old lady of Threadneedle Street.

I must first pay tribute to the inspirational Zehra Zaidi and Dr Patrick Vernon OBE for their excellent “Banknotes of Colour” campaign, and I am glad to say that they are sitting in the Gallery today. Their campaign aims to secure the first ever ethnic minority person on a British banknote, and their efforts have already won very broad support both inside and outside the House. The Bill seeks to persuade the Governor of the Bank of England to designate a black, Asian or minority ethnic person to feature on the new £50 note, a decision that he is due to announce this summer. There have been 24 banknotes featuring a notable person on the reverse since the first was issued in July 1970. Of these, all but three have been historic white men, the notable exceptions being three women: Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry and Jane Austen.

As you will know, Mr Speaker, the 2011 UK census showed that 14% of the UK population were from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. Like everywhere else around the globe, the UK population will become ever more diverse in the coming decades. We talk so much of cohesion and integration and of active engaged citizens, but for this to be achieved people and communities need to see that their stake in Britain—in its past, present and future—is universally recognised. To include a person of diversity on our banknotes would show a fundamental shift from a national stereotype to a modern, socially inclusive attitude in one of our oldest and most traditional institutions.

Such positive action would underline the pride we have in this country’s great multi-culture and help to defeat the despicable influence of the hatred and division that seeks to destroy our libertarian way of life. The Bank of England has a duty to support and promote integration and diversity. Indeed, its own guidance states that its banknote characters should reflect the diversity of UK society. It is therefore surprising and disappointing that the Bank has so far failed to recognise the ethnic diversity of our population on our national currency. The Bill would change that.

Over the last century, our diverse communities in the UK have undoubtedly made a seismic contribution to the making of modern Britain—in business, in public services, in the NHS and even in politics. There are so many examples: Mary Seacole, the Jamaican-British nurse who supported British troops during the Crimean war and whose contribution has been recognised as equal to that of Florence Nightingale; Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim of Indian origin, who was the first female radio operator to infiltrate enemy occupied France in world war two; Sophia Duleep Singh, the prominent Indian suffragette and member of the Women’s Social and Political Union; and not forgetting Sir Charles Kao, the British-Chinese scientist who won the Nobel prize for physics and pioneered the use of fibre optics in telecommunications. There are, of course, many other examples, but all these individuals represent the very best of Britain.

The choice of the face of the new £50 note is a wonderful opportunity for the Bank of England. It would send a message from one of the greatest institutions in the land that the contribution of diverse communities to the building of Britain really does matter and is truly valued. In doing so, it would also ensure that the UK’s currency is reflective of the diverse, inclusive and tolerant modern Britain that I know and love.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mrs Helen Grant, Mrs Maria Miller, Janet Daby, Dame Caroline Spelman, Caroline Lucas, Eddie Hughes, Kate Green, Clive Lewis, Jeremy Lefroy, Preet Kaur Gill, Helen Whately and Rachel Maclean present the Bill.

Mrs Helen Grant accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 372).