Marina Warner, the writer and critic, resigned from a Royal Mint committee advising the Chancellor after accusing him and government officials of placing the committee's work 'in an impasse because their objections seemed not merely specifically directed at the birds, but at the idea of innovation itself in the iconography of the coinage.'
Mr Lamont has opted for a traditional heraldic design, taking the highly unusual step of reaching a decision without waiting for a recommendation from the committee. Anthony Nelson, the Economic Secretary, told the committee on Wednesday that the Chancellor respected their views but 'just doesn't like the birds'.
Prince Philip is said to have expressed surprise at the recent attendances of Mr Nelson, the first minister to sit on the committee. He is reported to have said that the committee had managed well enough in the past 'without a man from the Treasury'.
The row follows a split in the world of numismatics between those who like traditional heraldry and those who prefer a more updated approach to design.
The debate came to a head with the shortlisting of two sets of designs for the reverse side of pounds 1 coins that will be in circulation from next year. The committee was asked to choose between one featuring heraldic symbols for each of the four home countries, and another showing birds associated with each country and regarded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as good examples of species that had survived after years facing extinction.
The bird designs featured the avocet for the English coin, the osprey for Scotland, the red kite for Wales, and the roseate tern for Northern Ireland. They also show regional crowns, and rare wild flowers associated with the countries.
The designs came before the committee last November, but members were told that they would not be able to discuss them. A minute of the meeting said 'there appeared to be a general feeling in favour of heraldry on the part of the government departments which had been consulted.'
Miss Warner, who had argued strongly for the birds, then pressed the committee to stick with the existing heraldic designs on the pounds 1 coin.
Last night, a Treasury spokesman said: 'The committee is only advisory, and the final decision is taken by the Chancellor.'
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