HL Deb 25 March 1988 vol 495 cc379-81

11.7 a.m.

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether Easter eggs will be subject to VAT.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, if Easter eggs are of the chocolate variety they are subject to value added tax at the standard rate of 15 per cent.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that downright and direct Answer. Has he any information as to whether the public have been discouraged from buying Easter eggs as a result of this tax? Can he suggest to the producers of foodstuffs any way in which they might continue to produce Easter fare without incurring VAT?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I believe that the demand for Easter eggs and confectionery generally was unaffected by the imposition of value added tax in 1974. As regards what manufacturers can do in order to produce a VAT-free Easter egg I suppose that if they were to produce a cake in the shape of an Easter egg that would count as essential foodstuffs and therefore would not be subject to value added tax.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that as the Easter egg is a symbol of new life it is entirely appropriate that VAT should be charged as a sign of the importance of taxation in the life of our country?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I should not wish to quibble with the right reverend Prelate on such issues. I am not sure that it was ever envisaged in the Bible that Easter eggs would be of the chocolate variety. Indeed, I am not sure that Easter eggs were ever envisaged in the Bible at all.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, perhaps I may make it clear that Easter eggs are a pagan survival and have nothing to do with the Church.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I am sure that my noble and learned friend is quite correct.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, did I understand the Minister correctly? Did he say that it was the chocolate that attracted the value added tax? If that is so, perhaps I may point out that the bulk of the stuff that goes into Easter eggs is synthetic chocolate. That information can be obtained from the food people who are looking into the matter. If that is the case, then it is a false VAT.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, there is a very complex formula for what constitutes confectionery and what constitutes food. As a result of difficulties in defining what is subject to VAT and is therefore confectionery, and what is not and is therefore food, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget laid an order before the House of Commons on 15th March amending the present taxing provisions in order to remove uncertainties in the law which have arisen as a result of the development of new types of confectionery products.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, will painted Easter eggs be subjected to VAT due to pressure from those ingenious minds in Brussels?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I understand that if the Easter egg that the noble and learned Lord has in mind has been produced by a chicken, and if it is edible, having been painted, it would not be subject to VAT.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I imagine that the answer to the question addressed to me is that of course it is produced by a chicken. What other source does the noble Lord suggest?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I have already mentioned chocolate eggs. Perhaps one of Carl Fabergé's earlier works might also qualify.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, is not an Easter egg produced by a golden goose?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I do not wish to stray into the broader aspects of the economy in relation to this Question.