HC Deb 20 April 1994 vol 241 cc891-3
Sir John Cope

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 23, line 44, leave out '61 degrees' and insert '81 degrees'.

In Committee, we had a discussion about the application of the lower rate of air passenger duty, which applies, if I may express it in shorthand, to the European Community. The House will be aware that the hope is that the European Community will have more members at the end of year. The amendment alters the lines of latitude in the Bill and hence, automatically, when the expected new members join the Community, flights to those countries will at that point, though not before, become entitled to the lower rate applicable to the Community.

The capitals of the three countries concerned, Norway, Sweden and Finland—Austria is not affected by the amendment as it is already within the lines of latitude and longitude laid down—are all within the existing area. However, some northerly latitudes of areas in those countries do not fall within the lines but will be automatically included as a result of the amendment.

Mr. Andrew Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman describe to the House the area which will be delineated by the new line of 81 deg north?

Sir John Cope

To all intents and purposes, the new line goes right up to the Arctic. If the hon. Gentleman looks at a map, he will see that it goes very far north and therefore takes in all the northerly parts of the three countries that I mentioned.

We had some discussion as result of an intervention in Committee by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the Faeroe Islands. It would also come into the definition because it falls within the new lines of latitude, as it would have done if we had accepted the right hon. Gentleman's amendment in Committee.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The amendment is welcome, and its significance should not be lost. In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) tabled an amendment, which in retrospect seems modest, to increase the latitude from 61 deg to 63 deg. Instead of an increase of 2 deg, we have had a tenfold improvement. It is a concession that I do not think that the Government have ever given the Liberal Democrats before. I hope that it is a harbinger of good for the future.

Looking at a limited map, the new line takes us into the realms of Franz Josef Land. It would be interesting if the Paymaster General would tell us how many flights there are from the United Kingdom to Franz Josef Land, to which the new concession will apply.

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)

Would it not be more sensible to confine these areas in terms of the status of the countries concerned rather than the rather difficult geographical approach that the Government have adopted? One of the four applicants to the European Union may well decide not to join. If that happens, we shall be left with this curious geographical description instead of referring to countries according to whether they are members of the European Union, or perhaps the European economic area. The provision would be clearer and far more sensible if it were defined in those terms.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I shall make a brief intervention in the form of a question. Does the definition include the whole of Norwegian territory up to and beyond the Arctic circle? We very much hope that Norway and the other countries that my right hon. Friend mentioned will come into the European Union. Does the definition include such exotic places as Spitzbergen and Svalbard?

Mr. Andrew Smith

I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon). It would be more sensible if the Government had defined these areas in terms of the status of the states rather than by lines of longitude and latitude. Apart from anything else, such a definition would have given us great scope for successive amendments in Committee had the circumstances been such that we felt that we needed to engage in prolonged discussion. Serious points were made, however, about the status of parts of the European Community. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) said, it is pertinent to ask whether the whole of Spitzbergen falls within the defined area.

The Paymaster General claims that all becomes clear when we study an atlas. I made several forays to the Library to find an atlas that was not distorted—it must be remembered that the area in question is at the top of most projections—to find exactly where the line fell. The definition appears to include Spitzbergen. It would be helpful to have the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation that that is so.

I cannot help feeling that it would have been more sensible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield said, to define in terms of the status of the relevant states, not least because in due course, as the European Union expands, it will be necessary for the Government at some stage further to amend the provision. When that happens, they may wish that they had adopted a more sensible course at this stage. As has been said, however, the extension is in itself welcome.

Sir John Cope

The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) said that we should have defined by status. In fact, the primary distinction is by status. Latitude and longitude is a subsidiary or secondary delineation. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recalls our discussions in Committee. It was explained at that stage that some of the French overseas territories, without the definition that we have adopted, would be included in the status decision. They are a long way away from the area we are discussing and in anyone's book long-haul flights are needed to reach them. We thought it right, therefore, that they should not fall within the reduced rate.

I think I am right in saying that all the places mentioned during the debate fall between the latitude and longitude described in the amendment.

Mr. Hoon

The right hon. Gentleman referred to French overseas territories. As I understand French constitutional law, France regards such territories as integral parts of what they define as France. In effect, are not the Government seeking to determine for the French what will be within the European Union and what will be without it? If the same argument were advanced by a French Government in respect of what the United Kingdom was defined as constitutionally, would not the Paymaster General and his colleagues object to such an approach?

Sir John Cope

To a degree, we had this discussion in Committee. My answer has not changed. I cannot speculate about what a French Government's attitude would be in such a highly hypothetical situation. There are not any such departments, if that is the right word. We have been told that constitutionally we are entirely in order in bringing in the definition. The definition seems to be wise from the point of view of this particular duty.

Amendment agreed to.

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