HC Deb 20 June 1950 vol 476 cc1070-5

(1) Where the Board of Trade are satisfied that any goods imported or proposed to be imported after the coming into force of this section are intended and are reasonably required for the purpose of subjecting the goods, or any material or component in the goods, to examination or tests with a view to promoting or improving the manufacture in the United Kingdom of articles similar to those goods or to that material or component, as the case may be, the Board may if in view of all the circumstances of the case they deem it expedient so to do recommend the Treasury to direct that the next following subsection shall apply to the goods, and if on that recommendation the Treasury so direct the said subsection shall apply accordingly:

Provided that in giving any such direction the Treasury may themselves impose conditions for restricting the use or disposal of the goods and may authorise the Commissioners to impose conditions for the protection of the revenue and, where conditions are imposed by or under the direction given with respect to any goods, the said subsection shall apply to any of the goods only if and so long as those conditions are complied with and (where the Commissioners so require) security is given that they will be complied with.

(2) So long as this subsection applies to any goods, payment shall not be required of any of the following duties customs which may be chargeable in respect of the importation of the goods, that is to say—

  1. (a) the duties chargeable under Part I of the Import Duties Act, 1932;
  2. (b) the duties chargeable on silk or artificial silk or articles made wholly or in part of silk or artificial silk;
  3. (c) the duties chargeable under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, 1921.

Provided that where it is proposed to use or dispose of the goods in any manner for which the consent of the Treasury is required by the direction given with respect to the goods, the Treasury may consent to the goods being so used or disposed of subject to payment of the duty which would have been payable but for the direction or such part of that duty as the Treasury think appropriate in the circumstances.

(3) Subject to such conditions as the Commissioners may impose for the protection of the revenue, any of the said duties paid on the importation of any goods shall be repaid, if the Commissioners are satisfied that by virtue of a direction subsequently given under this section subsection (2) thereof applies to the goods.

(4) Where by virtue of a direction given under this section goods are imported without payment of duty or duty paid on their importation is repaid, and any conditions imposed by or under the direction are not complied with, then (without prejudice to any liability for duty) the goods shall be forfeited.

(5) The Board of Trade shall not make a recommendation under this section about any goods except on a written application made by the importer before delivery of the goods to him.—[Mr. Bottomley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Secretary for Overseas Trade (Mr. Bottomley)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause is designed to permit British manufacturers to import duty-free goods made in a foreign land for the purpose of studying new ideas which are incorporated in such products. We are told that research is somewhat discouraged by the imposition of a tariff, and this Clause seeks to relieve from Customs Duty specimen articles. The object is to see if, by the use of component parts or principles of design, articles manufactured in this country can be improved. It is also to see if an imported article can be then manufactured in this country. It is not intended to cover articles imported with a view to further importation, nor is it intended to cover goods used as a means, rather than an object, of research.

Hon. Members will see that the Clause is rather widely drawn; however, I am sure the Committee will agree that its administration ought to be strict, in order to ensure that, when we bring in goods where there is a new principle involved, it will enable us to improve production. Also we want to be sure there will be no loss of protection to the United Kingdom industry.

Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)

We on this side of the Committee are grateful that the Government have adopted the policy which we advocated in the Finance Bill of last year and certainly, in accepting our point of view, they have taken an enlightened outlook on the subject. It is hardly necessary for me to develop the arguments which have apparently convinced the Government, as they convinced us in the past, and I can only say that we welcome the Clause.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

Subsection (5) says: The Board of Trade shall not make a recommendation under this section about any goods except on a written application made by the importer before delivery of the goods to him. Exactly why is that time specified? Why could it not be any time within, say, six months? It will be recalled that on Clause 10 I asked a similar question as to why an extension of time should not be allowed in case of difficulty, and no answer was given to me. There is no new principle involved; it is merely a question of time to make it a bit easier for anybody wishing to take advantage not only of this Clause but also of the same advantage under Clause 10.

Mr. Bottomley

This is to some extent linked with what the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) had to say. The amendment put down last year was so wide that we would have found all kinds of goods coming in free of that tariff duty and this would have hindered our own industry. Because of that we take this rather more closely controlled means of ensuring that we safeguard the position. Also we want to be assured that we can identify the goods that are to be free from this Customs Duty, and if we followed the suggestion of the hon. Member I am told that would not be possible.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

We on this side of the Committee welcome the appearance of this Clause since we pressed for one along these lines during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill last year. It is particularly appreciated by the non-Parliamentary members of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee who feel that it will be of considerable assistance to them and to their research association.

Will there be any real difficulty in agreeing the nature of the goods and whether they qualify for exemption? The procedure certainly looks cumbersome according to subsection (1), which says that the Board of Trade may, in view of the circumstances, deem it expedient only to recommend the Treasury to direct that a subsection shall apply and if, on that recommendation, the Treasury so direct, the said subsection shall apply. I suggest that this subsection has in it all the seeds of delay, and I should like an assurance that reasonably prompt decisions will be given, yes or no.

Then there is the question of the ultimate disposal of the goods after they have been subjected to tests and research in this country. According to the second paragraph of subsection (1) the Commissioners may require security to be given by the recipients. This may perhaps involve the recipients in a bond of some kind, and it is important to know that the Commissioners will be reasonably intelligent with regard to the ultimate disposal of the goods once they have had the investigations on them completed.

They may have only a scrap value, or a very small value. I hope that there will be no niggling by the Commissioners to try to regain some fractional part of the duty on the residual value, if any, of the goods.

There is a further point which I cannot follow. Subsection (4) deals with goods being forfeited. We know that this is an old custom and a jealously held right of the Customs and Excise to be able to forfeit goods if duty has not been paid on them or if there has been any form of evasion whatsoever. I imagine that the subsection was written in more or less as a matter of form. Is it really appropriate in this case? Will it really be practicable to forfeit the goods which have been improperly used once they have been used?

Let me give two practical examples. First, the case of, say, some experimental ball bearings which are brought to this country and incorporated in a test engine. Will it really be practicable for the Customs officers to enter the premises and dismantle the engine in order to take away the experimental ball bearings because the duty has not been paid on them? Many of the substances of the goods will become inextricably mixed up with other articles and substances in the course of tests. Paint may be imported duty free and spread over a number of surfaces. How is the paint to be forfeited if duty has not been properly paid on it? I suggest that this subsection will lead to so much ridicule that it would be far better not to incorporate it at all.

Sir S. Cripps

If the hon. Member does not like it he should vote against it.

Mr. Erroll

I do suggest that that is a rather absurd answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I welcome the Clause as a whole and was only drawing attention to a small absurdity in subsection (4). However, in view of what the Chancellor has said to me, I shall be very glad to-table an Amendment, which I hope will be accepted, on Report stage calling for the deletion of the subsection, and I sincerely hope that the Chancellor will accept it. In the meantime, I reiterate that I welcome the Clause for what it does.

Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)

Is it possible to tell us shortly what will be the normal procedure and criterion for satisfying the need of the Board of Trade? Will it rest in the main on testimony which will be weighed in the Anglo-Saxon method—the larger the firm is, the fewer compurgators does it have to produce; or how is it intended to be done? Is it intended that there shall be cross-examination of the applicants by the Board of Trade, and can we be told about the words "reasonably required"? Very often, perhaps, normally when the word "reasonable" or "reasonably" is put in these drafts, it lays the consequent action open to judicial decision; but I take it that it does not do that here. I take it that it does not mean that somebody has a right to go to a court and say that the thing was "reasonably required" and that the Board of Trade was "unreasonable" in accepting that view. I imagine that that is not the intention or effect of these words, and I should like to be assured or corrected on this point.

Mr. Bottomley

There really is no difference between the two sides of the Committee on this matter. What we are endeavouring to do is to make sure that we get a high standard of production of a given article which at present either is or is not manufactured in this country. I can assure the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) that in the Board of Trade our past experience with industry has been one of complete understanding, working towards securing what is best for the interests of the country. That spirit has been commended very often by hon. Members who sit with me upon the Consultative Committee for Industry, and we shall see that jointly we achieve that purpose in order to secure what is obviously the desired object of both sides of the Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.