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The Custom House—Question

Volume 203: debated on Monday 8 August 1870

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said, he wished to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Whether Her Majesty's Commissioners of Customs cannot make some arrangement for the safe custody of goods landed at the Custom House in London from steamers in the river till such time as the persons to whom the goods are consigned can attend themselves, or by their agents, bearing a written order to open the packages, the present practice being for the Custom House Officers to allow any self-constituted agent to seize a package, break open even locks, and carry off the goods when passed without any authority whatever, and to conduct the examination in a yard or shed, which is not even the property of Her Majesty, whereby several robberies have recently been committed, and much loss of property has occurred; and, whether the Custom House Officers are not amenable to the law as accessories to these robberies?

said, in reply, that he was sorry he had not had an opportunity of discussing this question personally with the noble Lord, for he might have shown him that he was under considerable misapprehension as to the rights, powers, and duties of Custom House officers. It was not correct to say that the practice was that the Custom House officers should allow any self-constituted agent to seize a package, break open the locks, and carry off the goods. The state of the case was this—The functions of the Custom House officers ceased when they had ascertained whether there were any goods on which duty had to be paid. The right to seize these goods depended on the bill of lading forwarded by the consignee from a foreign port.