HL Deb 02 March 1982 vol 427 cc1172-4

2.53 p.m.

Lord Bethell

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that the travellers' tax-free import allowance within European Community countries has remained unchanged for two years at £120, and whether they will now seek to increase the allowance.

The Minister of State, Treasury (Lord Cockfield)

My Lords, the travellers' allowances are governed by Community legislation and can be increased only with the agreement of all member states. The intra-Community tax-free allowance in question has been under review by the Community for some time but so far without result. The Government have been and remain ready to agree to an increase in this allowance.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his assurance that the Government seek to increase the allowance. Would he, though, indicate to us whether he seeks an increase not only in line with inflation but also in real terms? Would he accept the principle that travellers, holidaymakers, should at the end of the day be allowed to bring in a reasonable amount of goods for their own use? After all, we are meant to have a Common Market.

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that everything possible should be done to facilitate free movement among the member states of the Community. This is, however, a matter upon which the agreement of all member states is required, and so far it has not been possible to secure that agreement. The first step is to secure the increase of the present allowance, which is 180 European currency units, to the figure of 210 ECUs. Further increases are a matter which could be considered in the light of the circumstances then existing.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, while supporting the general case which has been put forward by Question by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, may I ask the noble Lord, while he is pursuing his investigations into that aspect of the matter, to give consideration to bringing within the ambit of the Trade Descriptions Act the use of the words "duty free" by certain shops at various airports throughout the country?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, that is an important but quite a different question. The goods, in fact, are duty free. The point on which there is some difference of opinion is the extent of the mark-up applied by the traders in question to the ex-duty price.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, knowing the speed at which the EEC works, can the Minister give any forecast of the date when these negotiations are likely to be concluded?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, I fear that I cannot give my noble friend the assurance for which he asks. We would hope, however, that agreement on the increase from 180 to 210 units would be secured in the not too distant future.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, does the noble Lord look with equanimity and candour at the possibilities of bringing in cars a couple of thousand pounds cheaper than we can buy them in this market? If so, what effect will this have on the British car industry?

Lord Cockfield

My Lords, in your Lordships' House I have to look upon everything with equanimity. Nevertheless, I do not think that even the noble Lord's ingenuity would succeed in acquiring a motor-car for the sum of £120 which is the subject matter of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is it possible for my noble friend to identify at this juncture the major stumbling block, or stumbling blocks, in reaching agreement?

Lord Cockfield

Yes, my Lords. The problem is that on the Continent of Europe movement between one country and another is much easier than movement between this country and the Continent. As a result, there tends to be a great deal of cross-border shopping, and it is the potential growth of such shopping which worries a number of the member states of the Community.