HL Deb 12 February 1959 vol 214 cc183-5

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now repeal the foreign travel allowance restrictions (with due safeguard against the improper movement of large capital sums), in order (a) that a large and unproductive amount of clerical work in passport, emigration and customs offices and in banks and similar organisations may be reduced; (b) that British subjects may travel abroad more freely and to the advantage of international understanding; and may be relieved of the anxiety that illness or accident abroad can involve them in grave but unnecessary financial difficulties; and (c) that foreign peoples may be discouraged from erroneously regarding the British as a penurious and niggardly nation.]


My Lords, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would like to relax the currency restrictions on travel abroad as soon as possible, but he has also to consider other claims on our resources. The present restrictions involve a small amount of extra work by customs officers and in banks and travel agencies only, but this extra work would not be significantly affected by an increase in the basic allowance so Ion as safeguards have to be maintained against the unauthorised export of capital. Special arrangements are quickly and easily made to meet the needs of people who fall ill or have accidents abroad.

The Government attach great importance to freeing private travel abroad from restrictions as a means of improving international understanding, and to this end only eighteen months ago the basic travel allowance was made available for visitors to the dollar area. Informed opinion abroad on these matters seems to be not that the British are a penurious and niggardly nation, but that we have adopted a liberal and yet prudent approach to our responsibilities.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl (but not very effusively) for his Answer, and disagreeing, very respectfully, with his last sentence, may I ask whether he would agree that the present restriction is really ineffectual, bearing in mind that most British tourists do not normally wish to spend more than £100, while it is, I think, common knowledge that those who do wish to exceed that amount resort to many kinds of subterfuge and evasion which bring the law into disrepute.


My Lords, I would not say that that is as general as the noble Lord suggests. The object of having these restrictions, is, of course, that we have to have some form of control on the export of capital, and it does not mean very much more work when the authorities who have to deal with the matter consider also applications for extra foreign currency.


My Lords, do not Her Majesty's Government allow a British subject to spend as much money as he likes in buying French textiles, and why on earth should they stop him spending as much as he likes in travelling in France? Are Her Majesty's Government aware that in this matter of foreign travel they are displaying a contempt for personal freedom quite inconsistent with their professed philosophy?


My Lords, I have great sympathy with the views of my noble friend, but we have to go carefully in these matters. Experience has proved that if we go too fast in easing currency restrictions that may lead to all kinds of difficulties in foreign exchange.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question with regard to the last few words of my noble Leader, in which he mentioned the possibility of the law being brought into disrepute in this matter? Is the noble Earl aware of two of the evasions which are most easily carried out'? One is by a passenger routing himself from Scandinavia, where the restrictions do not apply. The second, much more common, of which I am sure the noble Earl is not aware, is to arrive at London Airport, or any other port with one's pockets full of Irish £1 notes, worth 20s, abroad, and when asked how much English money one has to state, perhaps, £6 or £7. I know of a man who recently has been taking a great deal of sterling out of this country—and he never told a lie at the airport. On the Irish £1 note are written the words "Payable on demand in London". It does not say exactly where. That is a very easy and not uncommon means of evasion.


My Lords, I must try to remember all these stratagems.