§ 32 Mr. PETHERICK
asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1) if he is aware that the customs authorities, in writing to importers of foreign goods informing them that they have imposed a fine upon them for incorrect entry, although no fraud has been alleged, have claimed as their reason for the fine that it is to mark the irregularity; and if he will issue instructions to discontinue this expression, as it causes offence to respectable firms;
(2) if he is aware that the customs authorities have recently been imposing 1289 fines on importers of foreign goods for incorrect entry in cases in which no fraud is alleged and in which the fault has been entirely due to a bona fide mistake on the part of the foreign exporter; and if he will put a stop to this practice;
(3) if he is aware that the customs authorities impose a fine on importers of foreign goods who receive documents in which clerical mistakes are made, even if the mistake is revealed by means of a post entry by the importers to the customs authorities; what action will be taken to stop fines being imposed in such eases; and whether he will give instructions for the amount of such fines to be refunded?
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Duff Cooper)
Under Customs law, goods incorrectly entered are liable to seizure and the importer to a penalty and this liability is not affected by the fact that the incorrectness may be due to error or carelessness rather than fraudulent intent. The Commissioners of Customs and Excise have power, however, to waive such forfeiture and to mitigate any such penalty incurred, and I understand that it is, and has been for very many years, their practice to impose small fines under those provisions in certain cases of incorrect entry even though no intention to defraud is suspected. The expression to which my hon. Friend refers is designed to avoid any imputation of fraudulent intent, and I cannot see why it should cause offence as it is a correct description of what has taken place. Risk to the Revenue is involved in cases of error as well as in cases of fraud, and the practice of the Commissioners is dictated by the importance of reducing that risk to the minimum. I see no reason to interfere with it, but if my hon. Friend considers that it has been improperly applied in any case and will give me full particulars I will have further inquiry made.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Owing perhaps to the incorrect understanding of the word "irregularity," will my hon. Friend consider doing away with this particular expression in such cases?
§ Mr. COOPER
I am not prepared to enter into an argument with my hon. Friend as to the meaning of words, particularly the word "irregularity." I think that the term confined to a customs entry does not imply any moral obloquy.