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Clause 10—(Amendment As To Relief From Import Duties Of Certain Machinery)

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1950

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I beg to move, in page 8, line 4, to leave out "delivery of the consignment to," and to insert:

"receipt of the consignment by."
This is not a matter of high political principle, nor is it a matter that involves the Government in any great expense or even in any great amount of redrafting, but I submit it is a slight alteration that would be of great help to those business people who have to import certain machinery into this country. The question of delivery appears to be very difficult to define as the Clause now stands. If a certain consignment be shipped f.o.b. New York, does delivery take place on the receipt of documents by the importer, or at what stage does it take place? I believe that some reasonable doubt would arise in almost every case.

My feeling is that these oases would have to be referred to His Majesty's Customs or to the appropriate authority for a decision as to when this rather mysterious point of delivery actually took place. My hon. Friends and I feel that if for the word "delivery" the word "receipt" was substituted there would then be an actual physical occurrence at a definite point. We would have the physical receipt of this machinery in the importer's warehouse, or at the Customs wharf, or perhaps even at the dockside. That is a definite physical point of time, whereas the question of delivery is a vague term which would often have to be interpreted.

The sole purpose of this Amendment is to try to clear up this small point and make it easier for the importer to have some definite point of receipt, instead of some rather vague method of delivery which would necessitate him going to the Customs or some other authority and getting a ruling in each case. This Amendment would cost the Government nothing and it would not involve a great deal of redrafting. After the little political upheaval that we have had on the previous Amendment, this may even be considered a matter of no great importance, but I can assure the Government that the acceptance of this Amendment will be of great assistance to many business people who bring machinery into this country, and thus of assistance to the Government in acquiring a little credit for very little trouble.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I should emphasise that this Amendment means the changing of a few words only, but such a change would make the Clause very much clearer. To the layman the actual physical receipt of the machinery is definite, as my hon. Friend has pointed out; it is much more definite than the nebulous term "delivery to" which might be spread over many weeks and might involve reference to His Majesty's Customs. To us this seems a reasonable request. It would certainly tidy up this Clause and would make it more definite. We say that the Amendment is reasonable, and on those grounds alone we hope it will be accepted.

A reasonable plea has been made and I shall be equally reasonable in reply, but I am afraid it will be a disappointing reply in the view of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson). However, I think he will agree when I explain that what he is trying to do would not be in the best interests of industry. We have made progress from the previous position. Now as a result of the new Clause application can be made for duty-free import when goods have come to the Customs; I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is an advance.

To take the matter further would lead us into administrative difficulties. There are two difficulties. First, the date of the receipt by the importer would not be ascertainable from the official records and this might result in all kinds of disputes and difficulties. Then if the Customs were unable to satisfy themselves by examining the goods that they were cleared from the official charge, I am sure it will be agreed that difficulties could arise there.

I do not think the actual physical receipt could be in doubt. After all, the physical receipt is off-loading from the ship or delivery in the customer's works or the importer's works. It is for that very reason that we think the word "receipt" would make the position clearer than the word "delivery."

That certainly would not be so because we could not be sure whether the goods which had been received at the factory were the goods claimed as suitable for release from import duty. We should have no official record, and disputes and difficulties might arise. Not only might the Amendment lead to administrative difficulty, but it is doubtful whether the importers themselves would welcome it, for the reasons which I have advanced. I do not think importers generally would like the Amendment; it would not enable business to progress smoothly and I should have thought that there was general agreement on both sides that we do not want to create unnecessary difficulties for importers.

I apologise for interrupting again, but the Minister has completely missed the point I made. I made considerable researches into the question with importers of machinery before I put this Amendment on the Order Paper and I found that the importers with whom I talked would welcome it.

I have the contrary information and I have had an opportunity of meeting a good many representatives. In that sense I offer my observations to match those of the hon. Gentleman. We are always prepared and anxious to assist in bona fide cases and there is provision for an extension of time if an importer is able to show that there are reasonable difficulties. In those circumstances, I ask the hon. Member not to press the Amendment.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not adopt that line indefinitely, because the Amendment seems to me to be a reasonable one. The main argument which the Parliamentary Secretary adduced against the Amendment was that it would not be easy to ascertain the date of the receipt of the goods. If it is difficult to ascertain the date of receipt, is it not far more difficult to ascertain the date of delivery. which is the word used in the Clause?

The Minister probably knows that in law the word "delivery," in connection with the assignment of goods, sometimes has a different meaning from that of the ordinary, everyday, common language of our country. Sometimes it means not the delivery of the actual goods themselves but of the documents of title and things of that sort. All sorts of complications arise if we use this technical expression "delivery." I should have thought the Amendment was one which the Government would accept with open arms because it makes quite clear what the Clause intends.

If I understood him correctly, the Parliamentary Secretary said that his information was that importers themselves were not particularly keen on this change being made. I do not know whether he has made a large number of investigations to see whether importers, as a whole, do not like the use of the word "receipt," but the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) is experience on which I should be prepared to rest on a matter of this kind. This is a small point, but it makes the Clause far clearer than it is at the moment and I hope the Government will reconsider their attitude towards it.

I do not profess to understand the interpretation of these words, but what I do understand is that the secretary of the Machine Tool Trades Association came to see me yesterday on a different matter and, when we had completed our conversation on that matter, he drew my attention to this Amendment. As that association represents all the large importers as well as all the manufacturers. I think they are in a position to judge the situation, and they were very largely responsible for drafting this Amendment, The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that importers generally did not want the Amendment very much, but those who represent a very large proportion of importers actually drafted it.

Amendment negatived.