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Luncheon Vouchers: Value

Volume 417: debated on Thursday 26 February 1981

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3.24 p.m.

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 whether they will consider updating the pecunious value of luncheon vouchers.

My Lords, I assume that my noble friend has in mind the income tax concession relating to luncheon vouchers. I have noted his suggestion, but successive Governments have taken the view, with which I concur, that there are strong arguments against extending selective reliefs of this kind.

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend for that reply? In the hope that he might have warmed to this Question since last year, may I ask him this. If his department thought it right in 1959 to update the luncheon voucher value, could my noble friend say why it is not considered relevant now? Secondly, would it not be more appropriate to rename the luncheon voucher the "tea cup" voucher, as it no longer purchases even one sandwich?

My Lords, I realise, as my noble friend says, that the value of the luncheon voucher exempted from tax has not changed for many years. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent an employer giving luncheon vouchers to a higher value than 15p; indeed, last year no fewer than 53 per cent. of all vouchers issued were for more than that sum. If a voucher is issued for more than 15p, the first 15p still remains exempted from tax.

My Lords, would not this Question have been more accurately worded if it had referred to the impecunious value of luncheon vouchers?

My Lords, I note the point that the noble Lord makes. I had some difficulty with the word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary is is Middle English. It is now rare, if not obsolete. My noble friend is to be congratulated on rescuing it from oblivion.

My Lords, will my noble friend put the luncheon voucher into oblivion, because presumably the cost of working out tax reliefs, et cetera, outweighs any possible benefit that there is?

My Lords, while I note my noble friend's suggestion, the exemption of the 15p does not itself involve any great administrative burden. Indeed, the problem comes where one has to bring benefits of this kind into the tax net.