Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £60,000, he granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Customs and Excise Deportment.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I do this, not only with the object of inducing the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to give some explanation to the Committee of the expenditure under some of these heads, but also in order to draw attention to the fact that the Government's finance schemes are involving a continuous increase in the number of officials who are employed by the Revenue Department. Questions have been put in the House from time to time whether or not the New Duties imposed under the Finance Act of last year and the Safeguarding Duties would involve any increase in staff, and, if my memory serves me rightly, the answer was given in the House that it would not involve any increase in the staff. Now, when the Supplementary Vote comes forward, we find provision made to meet the cost of work in connection with the New Duties imposed by the Finance Act, 1925, and that under that subhead alone no less than £16,000 is required for what is only a portion of the financial year. Under the next subhead provision is madeTo meet cost of work in connection with the new duties imposed by the Finance Act, 1925.It is a sum of not less than £24,000. It is quite clear that either this Supplementary Estimate is wrong or the answer was wrong, and I hope the Financial Secretary is prepared to explain how it is that answer was given at Question Time and 1964 we are now presented with a Supplementary Estimate for a total sum of £40,000 additional expenditure on the very point with which the question dealt.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
When were those questions put?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I cannot give the exact date, but my hon. Friend behind me tells me the statement was made in answer to a question by him, and there were other questions by hon. Gentlemen both above and below the Gangway just before the House rose for Christmas. The increase in the number of officials required in the Customs and Excise Department is becoming of increasing importance, for the total salary account of this Department now runs to very nearly £4,000,000 per annum. That is an enormous amount to take from the revenue which is collected, and it emphasises the argument, used again and again in this House, that whenever a tariff is imposed and indirect taxes are thus placed upon the subject, the cost of collection is out of all proportion to the charge which is imposed by direct taxation, say by an increase of the Income Tax, the Super-tax, or Death Duties. The collection of our revenue under any of those direct headings can be undertaken with little or no addition to the number of officials required in the Inland Revenue Department whereas the system of taxation which has been adopted by the Government leads inevitably to an increase in the numbers of staff. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain what additional numbers have been required, whether their work is imposed upon them owing to the Silk Duties in the main, and whether the Safeguarding Duties which were carried through Parliament just before the House rose at Christmas also involved the Department in an increase of staff.
The cost of these duties does not end with this Vote. There is little doubt that the impediment which has been placed in the way of trade has in itself imposed further heavy costs on those directly engaged in it. When we speak of the total cost of these extra duties being something like £40,000 for this short period, we have also to remember that there is a burden thrown upon those engaged in these trades, the traffic in which is impeded.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman is now going into the policy of import duties. Though he would be perfectly in order in discussing the administration involved in the Estimate, but now he is going beyond these particular items.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Of course, I shall not discuss the policy of import duties at but I want to point this out to the Committee, and ask for a reply from the Financial Secretary as to whether he regards this sum as the total charge falling on the subject, because there are also a large number of indirect charges which make these extra burdens all the more severe and against which the taxpayer has a right to express his protest.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I quite agree that there is no money taken on this Vote for those indirect charges, but the work of these officials and the restrictions they impose must of necessity be of the greatest disadvantage to those engaged in these various trades. There is an anticipated saving under other subheads of which no explanation is given. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will let us know what these anticipated savings are. But the main paint to which I would direct attention is that the method adopted by the Treasury for the raising of revenue had added heavily to the cost of this Department, and from month to month will undoubtedly add to the burden thrown on the Exchequer for the collection of these duties.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I confess I was a, little disconcerted by what the right hon. Gentleman said about a question being put shortly before the House rose which was answered by the statement that no increase of staff would be required. I can only suppose that he is referring to some question which I have not now got before me with reference to the duties which were being imposed at that time. If that be so, the answer holds good, for it has nothing to do with the duties referred to in the present Vote. On the 24th November the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hall (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the ExchequerWhether there has been an increase, and, if so, what increase, in the number of 1966 Customs and Excise officers, respectively, since 23rd July last; and if there has been an increase, what additional expense has been incurred?In reply to that, my right hon. Friend said:I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that, as he was informed in reply to a similar question on the 23rd July, it is not possible to apportion an increase of staff to Customs and Excise work, respectively, as many officers are employed on both. The net increase in the staff of the Customs and Excise Department since the 23rd July up to the 31st October has been 140. The total staff is approximately 11,500. The net annual cost of this increase is approximately £23,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1925; col. 1147, Vol. 188.]Consequently, I think I am right in saying no answer could have been given which led the House to suppose that the particular duties referred to in this Vote would not involve any additional cost. I think it will be fair to say that, in its main aspects at all events, this Vote is what we know in another connection as "a consequential amendment." The Finance Act passed in the course of last summer imposed a number of additional duties on such articles as silk, lace, embroidery, hops, motor-cars, musical instruments, clocks, watches, films, and so forth. Of course, as those duties were only imposed during the summer, no provision for the cost of collection was made, or could have been made, at the time when the original Estimate for this Department was framed. The two items which are, in that respect, "consequential amendments," which are to provide for the cost of collection, are the provision for the cost of work in connection with the duties at the head office, amounting to £16,000, and the first division under Subhead "B," which provides for the cost of the Department not at headquarters but in what is called the out-of-doors part of the administration, and this comes to £24,000.
I think the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken tried to intimate to the Committee that the cost of collection of these duties was likely to be so heavy as to make them very unsound finance. That is not my view. It is quite true that I cannot tell at the present time what will be the actual cost of collection for the whole financial year, but on the scale of this Supplementary Vote I do not think 1967 the cost of collection will be disproportionately heavy. The actual proceeds of the taxation up to the present time, although we have not nearly completed a full financial year, amount to a sum of over £3,000,000. Consequently, the total of those two items of £16,000 and £24,000 can hardly be called, I think, very onerous as the cost of collecting this amount of revenue.
Another sub-division to which I ought to call attention is the sum of £17,000, which is set down asFurther provision for bonus owing to the average cost of-living index figure proving higher than anticipated.That is an example of what I have already defended, if it need defence, on other Votes, namely, what I regard as wise under-estimating. It is very difficult at the beginning, or rather some weeks or months before the beginning of a financial year to say what will be the average cost-of-living index figure throughout the coming 12 months, and as the bonus is based upon that figure the salary portion of the cost of administration will depend upon the rise or fall of that figure. It is very important to get as near as we can to a forecast of what that figure will be The amount of skill shown by experts in these matters in getting so near as they do to a forecast of a very problematical and fluctuating figure of that sort fills me with admiration. When these Estimates were being framed, there was some difference of opinion as to whether the index figure should be taken at 80 or 75. To be on the safe side, to make sure of not requiring to come to the House for a Supplementary Estimate, we might have taken the figure of 80, and, if that had been done, then, instead of asking for a supplementary sum now, there would have been a considerable, a substantial sum of money to surrender at the end of the financial year. The figure which was taken was 75, and as a matter of fact the cost-of-living index figure worked out at 77 and a fraction, and the consequence is that at the end of the year we find ourselves to a certain extent short, and it is necessary to ask the House for this sum of £17,000.
There is one other matter to which the right hon. Gentleman called attention. I think at the moment he was on the point of straying from order, but he did 1968 intimate that there was a great impediment to trade through the duties. I suppose his point was that the administration of these duties necessarily imposed a certain amount of impediment upon trade. Of course, when these duties—
§ Mr. McNEILL
I have not the slightest intention of dealing with the matter in a way which would be out of order, I submit. If I am told that the Committee are not to be allowed to make any attack upon the extra staff which has been employed to administer these duties, no one will be better pleased than myself; but if there is to be any attack whatever upon the necessity for extra staff imposed by these duties, then I submit I am entitled to say that that extra staff has not, in point of fact, had the effect of impeding freedom of trade, and the ordinary operations of the merchants concerned.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not quite sure that I made my meaning clear. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) was proceeding to argue, not only that the New Customs Duties had imposed a charge for the staff, but that they impeded the proper circulation of trade, and it seemed to me that that was not relevant to this Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am pleased to hear that. I shall be glad to be relieved of that task; it certainly simplifies my reply. Parliament has already imposed this taxation. I have shown that it was impossible to forecast the cost of the taxation, but having imposed that taxation the House cannot logically object to the small sum which is now being voted.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have not looked up the actual answer, but my recollection is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the House to understand that there would be no increase in the staff. I remember that I had a series of questions on that point, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer certainly gave us to understand that the present staff would be able to carry on without any extra staff.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not think the hon. and gallant Member was in his place some few months ago when the answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was exactly to the opposite effect.
§ Mr. McNEILL
There is a, saving of £12,000 in the Superannuation Grants in the case of the Customs; on Officials Travelling Expenses there is a saving of £5,000; and a further saving of £5,000 under the heading of Miscellaneous small items, making the total £22,000.
§ Mr. HARRIS
We have just had a very interesting and clear statement from the Financial Secretary, but I am not quite clear about the contingent liabilities. I think I am right in saying that the full extent of this work has not yet risen to its peak load. At the present moment the principal business of the Board of Customs is collecting drawbacks. I am informed that every day the number of claims for drawbacks is increasing. The large stocks of silk in the country at the time the new tax was imposed have taken a good many months to exhaust, therefore the full force of the new tax is only now being felt. I know that nearly the whole of the Customs staff is working overtime. I am also informed that a large number of members of the staff of the Customs service have been engaged dealing with drawbacks. I want to know, in calculating the cost of this administration, how much has been allowed for the purpose of paying for the extra work caused by these drawbacks. Obviously, with so many articles, it would involve a great deal of work. I know that thousands of forms have been passed through every day and that large sums have had to be returned to exporters under the new duties. I am informed that so heavy has been this work during the last two or three months that the Customs officials found it impossible to examine all the cases, and have had to call in the assistance of another Department. I come in close contact with traders, and I am told that so heavy has been the call on the time of the Customs officials on account of their new responsibilities that they have had to neglect the carrying out of the details 1970 of their ordinary office work. The number of articles exported on which drawbacks are being claimed is increasing. Articles like silk ties, webs, braces, stockings, ladies' jackets and blouses, all contain a certain percentage of silk and the dealers are claiming drawbacks. That means the filling up of a large number of forms and the making of claims for rebates. It also means that the officials have to examine the goods.
If it is really true that there has not been a large increase in the staff, all I can say is that in the past the Customs officials have been very much overworked We know, however, that that is not the case. The work is increasing every day, and if these people are to be properly paid and not overworked, there is bound to be a large increase in the staff next spring which will have to be provided for in a Supplementary Estimate. The increased work is caused by the drawbacks and not by the collection of Customs. Heavy work has been placed on the officials by this extra labour, and I hope the Financial Secretary will make it clear how far this extra work has been caused by drawbacks.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
Before I give a vote upon this Estimate I want to raise a complaint against the Department. I take this course in order to give the Minister an opportunity of giving me an answer to a complaint which has been universal so far as the work of the Customs authority at the ports is concerned, in dealing with ordinary travellers. I have recently had the experience of travelling over three frontiers, and two of them were foreign frontiers. I agree that the work of the Customs officials in regard to the two foreign frontiers is being very efficiently and courteously done, with the minimum of discomfort to the travellers, but, unfortunately, on our own frontier we were herded together in a shed, and we waited for over half an hour, and we had a long list of articles pushed under our noses by the officials, and we were asked if we had any of those articles to declare.
That list took 20 minutes to read and then we were allowed to go through. After our experience at the two foreign frontiers, I think our experience at our own frontier was humiliating. Those of us who think the system might be improved have a chance on this Vote of 1971 asking for some improvement. So far as courtesy and efficiency are concerned, I have never met any Customs officials who are the equal of our own in this respect, but they are asked to perform an impossible task, and I suggest that either the system should be simplified or the Customs officials should be on the boat before it lands and make their examination on the boat, where it could be done far more efficiently and more conveniently.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That should be done on the Vote for the salary of the Minister on the main Vote and it does not arise here.
§ Mr. AMMON
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is in Order in discussing the administration of the Customs, because under Item B, £24,000 is required for:Provision to meet cost of work in connection with the new duties imposed by the Finance Act, 1925.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It may be said that the discomfort is caused by passengers having silk goods about them.
§ Mr. SHAW
These new duties are responsible for passengers having a long list of articles pushed under their noses with a demand to know whether you have anything of that nature in your luggage, and as this Vote is in order to pay these officials I ask your ruling, Mr. Chairman, as to whether I have not here an opportunity of calling attention to a point upon which economies could be made in the Service which would perhaps obviate the necessity for this Vote. By adopting economies and better management, and a more efficient system there would be no need for this Vote 4t, all. On the Hook-Harwich boats the officials might examine the luggage on board, and this would be quicker and much more convenient. If I could get an assurance from the Minister that he will consider this matter with a view to facilitating the passage of travellers I shall be perfectly satisfied.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
I wish to support what the right hon. Gentleman 1972 the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) has said. I agree that there is a very considerable difference in the way passengers are treated when they travel from the Continent to this country. A large number of the ladies who travel to this country from the Continent bring in a lot of silk goods, and therefore the examination by the Customs officers takes very much longer than it used to do in the past. I think, however, that a matter which could be considered by the Customs authorities is whether it would not be possible, when travelling between this country and the Continent, to have the luggage examined on the train or on the steamer, because the system adopted at the present time causes considerable delay. No doubt many hon. Members have experienced the great difficulty of getting their luggage passed through. I think it would be more convenient to all travellers if the right hon. Gentleman would do something in the direction suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I want to call attention to this amount of £16,000 to meet the cost of work in connection with the new duties. It seems to me either that thus sum is nothing like enough, or else it is too much. It is nothing like enough to deal with the enormous amount of work entailed by the new duties imposed by the Finance Act in regard to the different interpretation of these new duties which is being put upon them by the Board of Trade. Probably a few simple rules might obviate the necessity of spending so much money in this respect. During the past few months the following goods have been brought specifically to my notice as having to come through the Customs. They are all goods containing a very small amount of silk—they cannot be described as silk goods, but they have a quantity of silk in them which is so small that it almost passes the wit of man to decide what its value is. They are as follow:
These all represent considerable consignments of goods that are being sent into this country by traders. Traders in this country want these goods as quickly as possible, but some of them are having enormous difficulty in getting their goods through the Customs; they are held up in their own shops for want of stock which they have ordered; they can never get to know from the Customs whether their goods are coming or not, and endless delay is being caused. I suggest that, in considering this amount of £16,000, either the right hon. Gentleman needs a very much larger sum, in order enormously to increase the number of these officials who hale to decide whether a tiny silk bow on the head of a tiny silk doll is subject to duty or not, or else a very much smaller amount is needed, which could surely be brought about by the right hon. Gentleman or someone connected with his Department excluding altogether from the operation of the duties goods with an infinitesimal amount of silk in them. Really, the amount of the tax that the right hon. Gentleman's Department gets from these goods, when they have gone through all this mass of detail, is not in any way commensurate with the cost that is involved.
- Christmas cards with a silk and cotton cord intertwined. The cord is not wholly silk, but partly cotton and partly silk.
- Tiny dolls with a very small silk bow on the hair of each doll.
- Toys with a tiny silk tassel.
- Other toys with tiny silk buttons.
- Books with book-marks not consisting wholly of silk, but containing threads of silk.
- Lace with a silk thread.
Then there is a second point that I would like to suggest in connection with this Vote, and that is as to whether the procedure can be speeded up with regard to the importation of silk dresses, especially models, imported into this country. I may say that my interest in this matter is not personal, but purely from the trade point of view. Recently the Government, I think, sent the President of the Board of Trade to an exhibition in order to point out the necessity for buying British models, but, while sympathising entirely with that point of view, I must point out that certain traders have ordered models from Paris for certain definite dates, and have even gone to the trouble and, expense of sending over a buyer in order to bring back those models as personal luggage. There has been no question of attempting to evade these duties; they 1974 have offered every kind of deposit that the Customs liked in order to get them here by a definite date, only to be told that it is quite impossible, and the goods are being held up and an enormous amount of trouble is being caused. I want to suggest that, at a time when everyone is appealing for an increase of trade, and everyone is desiring an increase of trade, surely as much as possible should be done to make trade between this and other countries as simple as possible. The effect that this very costly machinery is having is to handicap traders considerably, and a great deal of irritation is being felt, particularly in the distributing trades. This could be obviated if a little more common sense were used in the Department concerned.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
As, Mr. Hope, you have allowed a slight development of the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) with regard to the examination of luggage at the frontiers of this country, I should like to add a word in support of what he said, and of what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Commander Burney). There has recently been a certain amount of correspondence in the Press on this matter. I do not know how far it really comes within the Department for which the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary is at this moment responsible in this House, or how far it is a matter for the railway companies, but this question of the examination of passengers' luggage on arrival in England from the Continent has become nothing short of a public scandal. For example, at Victoria Station, where I arrived the other day from the Continent, one has to undergo an examination of one's luggage in the open air, probably in bitterly cold weather—
§ Mr. O'NEILL
As I started by saying, this matter has been allowed to develop, and I thought I would say a word upon it. The point which, I suggest, is in order, is the point referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge, namely, that, owing to the duties imposed by the Finance Act of last year, there is 1975 a very much more rigid and strict examination of passengers' luggage, and, consequently, better accommodation is required for the purpose of carrying out this examination than was the case a few years ago. At Victoria Station, as I have said, the conditions are really a scandal. Whether it is a matter for the railway company, or for the Customs officials and the Treasury, I do not know, but surely there ought to be some means, by joint co-operation between them, of bringing about a, re-arrangement of the present conditions. I remember, in contrast to that, arriving last year at the Gare d'Orleans in Paris, from somewhere in the South of France. When one arrives at the Gare d'Orleansand probably it is the same at other stations—one's luggage is taken out of the train, put on a moving platform, and carried up until it, arrives in the Custom House, and one's registered luggage is actually there for examination practically as soon as one is oneself. I merely throw that out as a suggestion, as this point has been raised. It is a matter in which I know the public at large take a great interest, and I hope this ventilation of it in this House will draw further public attention to it, and will lead to some improvement of the present very bad conditions.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Mr. O'Neill), and the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Lieut. Commander Burney), are supporters of the present Government, and I am very surprised at this protest on their part. Do they not know that the policy of the Government, and especially of the Treasury, is to discourage people from going abroad and spending their money in foreign places? Why should it be made pleasant, when the slogan now is "Buy British Goods," for people to go to Monte Carlo and places of that kind? Let them go to Hastings or Blackpool.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member is building an enormous Puperstructure upon this provision for Customs officers.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I was only repeating a point raised by the hon. Members opposite, and I will come to an end of that. I apologise to 1976 the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary for my interruption just now. I was simply judging by the effect of the answers previously given to me, and I had not been able to find the question, having been called out of the House for a short time. I wish to draw attention to the actual figures that have been given so far. On the 23rd July last—and this bears out what the hon. Member for East Middles brough (Miss Wilkinson) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) said on this matter—I was told that the number of the staff in the Customs and Excise Department on the 1st July was 11,329, and that the only increase since, in view of the new duties, was 56.
§ Mr. McNEILL
The hon. and gallant Member will recollect that my right hon. Friend answered a question also on the 24th November.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Yes, I am coming to that. On a, total of over 11,000, there was only an increase of 56, and the general impression made upon me was that the increase was trifling, and that these new duties had not put any extra work on the Customs staff. If that impression was not intended to be conveyed, of course I express my regret, but, in view of the complicated nature of these duties, and of the Excise work as well, and the heavy work due to drawbacks, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) has just referred, this increase of 56, or 140, as it is now, is obviously inadequate. We have had some evidence of that from what has been said about the difficulties of passengers. The real trouble is that there are not enough Customs officers to go round; there would not be enough officers to spare to-day to put on board the steamers to examine the baggage there, or to carry out an examination on the trains between Dover and Victoria. I do not think any suggestion was meant to be conveyed that the Customs officials were discourteous; I think they do their best and are reasonable, but the fast of the matter is that too much is being nut upon them by these absurd duties. I 1977 have crossed a great many frontiers since the War ended, and, as a matter of fact, I have never had my baggage looked at anywhere except at our own Customs stations—they seem to pick out a Member of Parliament for special examination, and I do not blame them. They are not discourteous, but it is a great nuisance, and these men are obviously overworked. It takes a very long time to clear the passengers through, and it must be remembered that not every package is opened, but only one or two in about five or six; they could not possibly make a thorough examination. Obviously, this increase of 140 is only temporary.
Let me allude to another matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a reply to my later question, and then, as the Financial Secretary has said, the total staff was approximately 11,500, there having been an increase of 140, and the net annual cost of this increase was approximately £23,000. I observe that the amount has since become a great deal larger. It is now £16,000 for the headquarters' staff, and there is another £24,000, less bonus, for the Customs stations. The right hon. Gentleman also said it was impossible to differentiate between Customs and Excise work respectively. I cannot understand why that is not done. Surely, the same officers do not do the same work? Surely there are specialists at the ports, and so on, who are quite different from the Excise Officers. There may be a very good explanation, but on the 3rd December, 1925, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green asked this question:Whether there is any increase in the number of men employed in Customs work since March last, and whether any men have been lent for this work by other departments, and, if so, how many?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1925; col. 200, Vol. 188.]For the answer to the first part of the question, my hon. Friend was referred to the answers to my previous questions, and the answer to the second part was in the negative. Apparently there had been no lending at all from other Departments. Is that still the case?
§ Mr. McNEILL
To the best of my knowledge and belief that is so. I was not aware that there had been any lending, or any suggestion that there had.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I think it is quite obvious, from what we have heard in this discussion, and in view of the really heavy work that is now coming along, that there will have to be a considerable further increase later on, as some of us prophesied at the time, though it was denied by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech. I think I am right in saying that he said it was most improbable that there would be any increase at all. Of course, we shall divide against this Vote because we intend to strongly object to, and resist, these duties as an impediment on British trade and absurd and ridiculous in their incidence and in their procedure.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am grateful for the way in which the Committee has accepted this Estimate, because there has really been, as I anticipated, no serious criticism on the Vote which is presented. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) have suggested that they understood that there will have to be a still further increase of staff. I am not going to prophesy. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is right in saying that the Customs officials are very much overworked at present. I know they are working most admirably, and I think it is quite possible that they are overworking. It may be that, if we are on the eve of a revival of trade, as we all hope, the amount of drawbacks will increase. I hope it may, because that means that there will be increased export trade for this country. If so, it is quite possible that there will be a reinforcement of the Customs officials who are dealing with it.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is justified in saying that they are not as a matter of fact getting through their work. My information is quite the opposite, and' is that, at first, when these new duties were imposed, it was not unnatural that there should be a certain amount of uncertainty, both in the minds of the officials, who had to administer and the traders, who had to submit to the taxation. But all difficulties were extraordinarily rapidly got over, owing to the complete good feeling and co-operation 1979 which existed between traders on one side and the Customs Department on the other. They had meetings of the large trades concerned, of the woollen trade and other trades; they set up committees; they had joint meetings with the Customs officials who issued pamphlets explaining exactly how the machinery of the new taxes was to be carried through. They had very little friction, and before many weeks had passed practically all difficulties had disappeared. At the present time, it is, I think, quite a mistake to suppose that there is any holding up of goods at the Customs or that there is any serious delay to trade. I believe that if one could examine every serious allegation of the kind it would be found that it referred to a considerable time from the present, and that on investigation it would be found that at the present time things are going quite smoothly.
I have already been warned how difficult it would be to keep in order if I referred to the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), a challenge supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Mr. O'Neill). All I will say is this, that in the main the questions which the hon. Gentlemen brought up, questions of inconvenience caused to travellers by the examination of luggage and by the want of accommodation at Victoria Station and elsewhere, are really not matters for which the Customs Department are responsible. After all, they have to examine the packages which arrive at the terminus of the railway, and they are not responsible for what sort of building that terminus may be.
§ Lieut.-Commander BURNEY
Would the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the proper quarter as to whether it would be possible for passengers' luggage to be examined either on the boat or on the train between the Channel ports and London?
§ Mr. McNEILL
If I am in order in referring to that, I would say that that is a very hotly contested point. We have already examined it to a certain extent, and anybody who reads the correspondence in the "Times" will know how sharply opinions differ on that point. There are, indeed, travellers who say that the maximum of inconvenience would be 1980 caused if the luggage were examined on the steamer and on the train. It would require a whole corridor train, and that is not always possible. At all events, it must not be taken that we are carrying out, an inconvenient system of examination now in place of a known and acknowledged better system, because that is far from being the case. I believe that if we were to carry out the suggestion made as to the examination of luggage, we should have much more serious and widespread criticism than at the present moment.
There was a point of importance raised by the hon. Lady the Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson), who is not now in her place. She referred to the inconvenience and vexatiousness of taxation levied on articles which contain an infinitesimal quantity of silk. She gave a number of examples, where a quite infinitesimal amount of silk entered into the manufacture of the article. She said, and if her conception of the way in which the taxation was carried out be accurate she would be justified in saying, that that must cause a very great deal of very hard work and probably necessitate- a large addition to the Customs staff. She intimated, in view of the amount of work which that must cause, that this figure of £60,000 was too small instead of being too large. That might be quite true if, in point of fact, these articles were subjected to individual taxation and taxes assessed upon them. She took the example of some small toy or something of that sort, with a little silk bow attached to it. All those questions—and they were very large ones—did at first cause a considerable amount of difficulty to the Customs authorities. They consulted with the trades who import articles of that sort, and that is just one of the problems which by the exercise of good will and common sense has been completely smoothed away. What happened is this. They have arrived at certain categories of these goods. If we take dolls with a small silk bow attached to them or cigars which are tied up in bundles with a small silk ribbon, there is no attempt in those cases to assess the duty on the individual article. They are lumped together into big categories, and the flat rate is taken on the average amount of silk in a number of these articles. If you take 1,000 dolls it is easy to ascertain how much silk is in the little how of silk over 1,000 1981 dolls by a system of this sort. They have arrived at an agreed figure, and it does away with all the questions which the hon. lady brought before us.
§ Mr. HARRIS
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how under the original Finance Acts the Customs officers have the right to discriminate in that way? Are they not bound to carry out the law?
§ Mr. McNEILL
They do carry it out, but they carry it out with common sense. Obviously, if every individual knick-knack had to be assessed and an ad valorem duty had to be put on that individual article, it would cause a very great deal of unnecessary trouble, and no one would he any the better even if you could arrive at a more accurate result. The law of averages is a universal law, and applies to knick-knacks and dolls as it does to other things.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am grateful to the hon. Member for reminding me of that point. I am afraid I cannot say if at the present moment there is any definite arrangement for dealing with models used in the business of dressmakers, to which I think the hon. Lady referred. There has not, as far as I know, been any arrangement, and I am not persuaded that any arrangement could be made, or that there is any strong case for exceptional treatment. I understood the hon. Lady to say that there was a good deal of holding up in the Customs and difficulty in getting through. I have already dealt with that point, and I would have asked
§ her, if she were here, to say whether any complaints of that kind have been made recently. My information is that everything is going smoothly at the present time, and there is no such difficulty existing.
§ I would like to say that at the beginning of these duties there was a good deal of misconception, which must now have almost passed away, but may still survive—misconception as to when the duties of the Customs House begin. We found at the outset that in the great majority of cases where complaints were made as to delay, the delay was not on the part of the Customs officials at all, but on the part of the agents of the consignees; because it is the duty of the consignees to present the goods at the Customs House, with a statement of their dutiable contents, so far as dutiable goods are concerned. It is not the duty of the Customs House to deal with the matter until the goods are so presented. It has often been either the railway company or the wharfinger, or some other agent acting for the importer, who did not understand at first what his duties were in the matter, and when it was examined it was found that the cause of the delay was there, and did not lie in the Customs House at all. It is conceivable that some dressmakers who have been having difficulty with some models imported from Paris may not yet have learned what the machinery is in that respect, and that may account for the delay which the hon. Lady referred to. I will inquire into it, but, speaking broadly, one can say that trade is not now being at all delayed or hampered by the operations of the Act.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding é59,900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 130; Noes, 268.1985
|Division No. 29.]||AYES.||[5.15 p.m.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Cluse, W. S.||Edwards, John H. (Accrington)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Compton, Joseph||England, Colonel A.|
|Baker, Walter||Connolly, M.||Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Cove, W. G.||Gibbins, Joseph|
|Barnes, A.||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Gillett, George M.|
|Barr, J.||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N)||Greenall, T.|
|Batey, Joseph||Crawford, H. E.||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Dalton, Hugh||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)|
|Briant, Frank||Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Groves, T.|
|Bromfield, William||Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Grundy, T. W.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)|
|Buchanan, G.||Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Day, Colonel Harry||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)|
|Cape, Thomas||Duncan, C.||Harris, Percy A.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Dunnico, H.||Hastings, Sir Patrick|
|Clowes, S.||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Hayday, Arthur|
|Hayes, John Henry||Owen, Major G.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Palin, John Henry||Sutton, J. E.|
|Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Paling, W.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Hirst, G. H.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Ponsonby, Arthur||Thurtle, E.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Potts, John S.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Riley, Ben||Varley, Frank B.|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Rose, Frank H.||Viant, S. P.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Kelly, W. T.||Sakiatvala, Shapurji||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Warne, G. H.|
|Kenyon, Barnet||Scrymgeour, E.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Kirkwood, D.||Scurr, John||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Lawson, John James||Sexton, James||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Lee, F.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Whiteley, W.|
|Lunn, William||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Mackinder, W.||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|MacLaren, Andrew||Sitch, Charles H.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)||Windsor, Walter|
|MacNeill-Weir, L.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)||Wright, W.|
|March, S.||Snell, Harry||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Maxton, James||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Montague, Frederick||Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles||Sir Godfrey Collins and Sir|
|Maylor, T. E.||Stamford, T. W.||Robert Hutchison.|
|Oliver, George Harold||Stephen, Campbell|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)|
|Albery, Irving James||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Haslam, Henry C.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainshro)||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hills, Major John Walter|
|Berry, Sir George||Dawson Sir Philip||Hilton, Cecil|
|Bethell, A.||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Dixey, A. C.||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard|
|Blundell, F. N.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Holland, Sir Arthur|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Edmonson, Major A. J.||Holt, Capt. H. P.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Elliot, Captain Walter E.||Homan, C. W. J.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)|
|Brass, Captain W.||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Everard, W. Lindsay||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Hudson Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Fielden, E. B.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Huntintfield, Lord|
|Brown, Brig, Gen. H. C, (Berks, Newby)||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Hurst, Gerald B.|
|Burman, J. B.||Frece, Sir Walter de||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. F. S.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Campbell, E. T.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Gates, Percy||Joynsor-Hicks. Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Gault Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Gee, Captain R.||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Lane Fax, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Charter Brigadier-General J.||Goff, Sir Park||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Christie, J. A.||Grace, John||Leder, J. de V.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Grant, J. A.||Looker Herbert William|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Grattan Doyle, Sir N.||Lord, Walter Greaves-|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Lougher, L.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Gretton, Colonel John||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Grotrian, H. Brent||MacAndrew, Charles Glen|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Gunston, Captain D. W.||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hall, Vice-Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||MacIntyre, Ian|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Hanbury, C.||McLean, Major A.|
|Couper, J. B.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Harland, A.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Harrison, G. J. C.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Hartington, Marquess of||Macquisten, F. A.|
|MacRobert, Alexander M.||Rentoul, G. S.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Malone, Major P. B.||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Ropner, Major L.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Meyer, Sir Frank.||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.||Waddington, R.|
|Milne, J. S. Wardlaw.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Salmon, Major I.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Moles, Thomas||Sandeman, A. Stewart||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Moore, Sir Newton J.||Sandon, Lord||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Savery, S. S.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Murchison, C. K.||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mol. (Renfrew, W.)||Wells, S. R.|
|Nelson, Sir Frank||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.|
|Neville, R. J.||Shepperson, E. W.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Skelton, A. N.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Nuttall, Ellis||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Oakley, T.||Smithers, Waldron||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Philipson, Mabel||Steel, Major Samuel Strang||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Pielou, D. P.||Storry-Deans, R.||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Pilcher, G.||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Preston, William||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Wragg, Herbert|
|Price, Major C. W. M.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Radford, E. A.||Tasker, Major R. Inigo||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Raine, W.||Templeton, W. P.|
|Ramsden, E.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Rees, Sir Beddoe||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)||Major Cope and Captain|
|Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Margesson.|
|Remnant, Sir James||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. T. HENDERSON
I wish to raise a point in connection with the item for Widows' and Orphans' Old Age Pensions. I understand a number of Temporary Commissioners have been employed in assisting widows to make their claims, and in investigating the claims when they are made. I wish to ask if any temporary women officials are employed in this work? One would naturally think that where widows are concerned in making applications for pensions a woman official would be the best kind of person to undertake that work, and I wan to ask, before I agree to this Vote, whether there are any women officials employed?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I think that question would really be better put on the Supplementary Vote for the Ministry of Health. The hon. Member will be able to get a fuller answer then.