HL Deb 07 December 1977 vol 387 cc1617-9

2.58 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, I beg leave 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 what has prevented the luncheon voucher concession of 15p for each working day from being raised since 1959 and what corresponding value does it now have compared with 1959.


My Lords, successive Governments since 1959 have not considered that an increase in the concession would be justified. The present Government have kept the matter under review but consider that to increase the value of the concession would be unfair to the millions of employees who have the benefit neither of luncheon vouchers nor of subsidised canteens. The corresponding value today for a 1959 15p luncheon voucher would be about 57p.


My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the 15p luncheon voucher has a purchasing power of one elderly cheese sandwich and of (and not with) one steaming cup of British Rail coffee? Does he feel that this gives sufficient sustenance to people to give that extra productivity that the present Government are urging? Could the noble and learned Lord say whether he is aware of the unfair discrimination between an employer who is able to offer canteen services and an employer who can offer only one 15p voucher?


My Lords, I would not handy words with the noble Earl about what you can buy for 15p. The purpose of the concession was never to provide the full cost of a meal; it was to give an equivalent to persons who were not receiving the opportunity of eating in a canteen. In fact, the value of the canteen subsidy is very difficult to get from any available figures, but it is thought that the 15p voucher concession which exists today is roughly equivalent, at about £40 a year of the tax repayment, to the actual average value of the canteen subsidy.


My Lords, may I ask my noble and learned friend whether luncheon vouchers are available to Members of this House, like subsidised meals are available to Members of another place?


My Lords, if I discover that they are, it will be a pleasant surprise for me, but I do not know.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has said that it was never the intention to cover the cost of a full meal. Is he aware that when luncheon vouchers were first available one could get a three-course meal for 2s. 6d. which was then the cost of a luncheon voucher? It certainly was the intention originally that you could get a full meal for it.


My Lords, I do not think it was ever expressed as being the intention. When the concession was introduced in 1948 it was 2s. 6d., and no doubt you could do fairly well for 2s. 6d.; but the intention was to give an equivalent to the canteen subsidy.


My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that young people are suffering very great hardship in this particular area now? Could he lean on the Treasury—if that is the phrase—to alter their decision and ask them for a luncheon voucher to the value of at least 60p? Many young people now cannot afford anything at lunchtime. It seems wrong that, not only through very inflated fares but other expenses, they have to forego any lunch at lunchtime.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer keeps this matter under review. No doubt what the noble Baroness has said will be taken into account in considering the possibility of varying the concession.


My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that some Members of this House commend the Government on proceeding slowly with a concession which is sometimes abused and certainly do not regard it as one of our priorities?


My Lords, I can certainly accept that.


My Lords, I hope that that is not the message that the noble and learned Lord will take back to his right honourable friend. There is very strong feeling that luncheon vouchers are not keeping up with the times. This is a very great pity.


My Lords, may I say—I hope finally—that it is always a question of priorities. When it comes to considering tax concessions which have been eroded, one has to look to see whether this is the best way to redistribute the sum of money involved. If the luncheon voucher figures were raised to something like 57p each, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to find over £30 million extra.