Skip to main content

Clause 11—(Duty Free Importations For Industrial Research)

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

6.45 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 9, line 14, to leave out subsection (4).

This subsection deals with the right of the Customs and Excise to confiscate any goods imported under this Clause which have not been properly used for industrial research and have thus escaped duty which, had they been properly imported, they would have attracted. I know it is a well-established tenet of Customs' procedure that the Customs should retain the right of forfeiture of goods upon which duty has not been paid or upon which there has been an improper transaction, but I submit that in this case there is very little likelihood of such a matter arising, and it seems rather ridiculous to retain this right of forfeiture for certain contingencies which are never likely to arise.

Secondly, I question whether it will be practicable for the Customs to confiscate the goods, which were imported for research purposes, when they discover that the goods have been improperly used. In any event, articles which are likely to be imported under this Clause will be in small quantities. The only possible type of loophole is where, perhaps, a length of new fabric is imported, ostensibly for research purposes, and some of it finds its way into the importer's house for private purposes. Surely it will not be worth-while for the Customs solemnly to trace the ultimate destination of the improperly imported article and then demand its forfeiture. It is not as though forfeiture were the sole penalty under the Clause. The Customs will have the usual right to attempt to secure other penalties. In this case, the use of forfeiture seems to be carrying a principle, which is possibly understandable and justifiable in other cases, much too far in connection with the imports permitted under the Clause.

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) is moving this Amendment in order to attempt to simplify the procedure, but I am afraid we do not agree that it would be wise to take away this right of forfeiture. The Clause makes a considerable concession in permitting duty-free imports for certain defined purposes and it is subject to certain safeguards and conditions. It is, as I say, a substantial concession to permit duty-free imports of certain goods which are normally subject to import duties, and it has always been the procedure, and has been found to be necessary, to impose conditions and safeguards in those cases and also to have some sanction which, in the last resort, can be used if those conditions are not fulfilled.

The hon. Member has in mind cases which he quoted in an earlier debate where it may be physically impracticable for the Customs to seize the goods. I think his fears are exaggerated and perhaps misconceived because, although the Clause gives the Customs the right and power to seize goods in the relevant conditions, it does not compel them to do so. They retain the discretion to refrain from seizing the goods in cases where it is impracticable to do so, or where it would be foolish or undesirable to do so.

As the hon. Member will observe, the Clause says that the goods "shall be forfeited." That does not necessarily mean that they shall be seized. What the words mean is that the Customs have the right to seize the goods in question if they wish to do so, but that they retain discretion not to do so if it seems inappropriate to do so. We feel, therefore, that this is a standard provision which has always been included in cases of this kind, and which is necessary, and that there is no serious danger of abuse or of impracticability in procedure.

There is one point in connection with this about which I should be grateful to have an explanation. The Financial Secretary can speak again only by leave of the House. However, I think it is a point that can be referred to the Solicitor-General. The Financial Secretary has explained in the most painstaking fashion the discretion which the Customs hold in this matter. The point I want to ask the learned Law Officer is this. Who decides? Are the Customs here judges in their own case, or is there, in fact, appeal to the courts? I think it is important. I am sure my hon. Friend who raised this matter will agree it is important. Before the House decides that this subsection is to remain in the Clause, despite what the Financial Secretary said about there being no compulsion for the powers to be exercised, and all the rest of it, hon. Members on both sides would like to know whether, in fact, such powers are exercised or whether there is an appeal to the courts available.

The Clause provides that goods shall be forfeited, but there is an appeal to the courts against that, that is to say, where the courts can investigate whether circumstances have arisen which give rise to the forfeiture. I think that that answers the question.

Amendment negatived.