HC Deb 18 May 1960 vol 623 cc1307-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Redhead

Before the Committee is asked to part with this Clause, we might seek, if only for the sake of clarity, an explanation of its purpose. From reading its terminology, I presume that it means no more than an amendment of administrative procedure.

Thus far in the course of the Bill we have had no explanation of its purpose. Neither its object nor its reason is clear from a reading of the terms of the Clause, particularly as it is accompanied by an equally long and somewhat complicated Schedule, with which we shall deal later. The whole thing is rather difficult for a layman to follow.

Therefore, before the Committee parts with the Clause, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary might be good enough to explain its purpose and make clear why it is introduced at this stage. In particular, someone might explain whether any difficulties have been encountered with the form of procedure. I think that this is true, but I should like confirmation that it does not in any way affect the rate of duty on spirits. I should like some assurance that the new procedure represents as adequate a safeguard for the Revenue, as the old procedure did.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

May I raise a point for clarity from another angle? In subsections 2, 3, 4 and 5 there are repeated references to "this Act" and "the Act of 1952". In Clause 3 (4) there is a reference to "the Act of 1952" and in subsection (5) the words are the provisions of the Act of 1952 specified in the First Schedule to this Act". There is a certain amount of confusion in those references, because the Act being referred to in some cases is the Customs and Excise Act, 1952. If we turn to the Seventh Schedule, the subsections which I have quoted become clearer than they are in the context of the Bill itself. As we refer at the very opening of Part I to the Finance Act, 1958, and later to the Entertainments Duty Act, 1958, there is no reason why we should not refer to the Customs and Excise Act, 1952 when we are talking about it in Clause 3.

I agree that this is a matter of verbal clarity. I do not say that the references cannot be followed if the Schedule is consulted when one is reading the Bill, but there is no reason why the clarity should not be obvious, rather than that hon. Members reading the Bill should have to search for it. I hope that the Government Front Bench will take that point to heart and that we shall see a change on Report stage.

Mr. Barber

I will certainly take to heart the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin). The reason for using the phrase " the Act of 1952", which is defined in Clause 73, is because that Act, namely, the Customs and Excise Act, 1952, was a consolidation Measure and is in general use, as opposed to the yearly Finance Acts, which are of more specific application. I will certainly consider the hon. Member's point.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead)

asked for an assurance that the Clause does not affect the rate of duty. I give him that assurance readily. He asked also for a brief explanation of its purpose. The purpose of the Clause is twofold. Its first purpose is to abolish spirits certificates and to substitute a lighter form of control involving the use of spirits consignment notes. The second purpose of the Clause is to extend for all the purposes of Customs and Excise the existing definition of "Scotch whisky".

As regards the change from spirits certificates to spirits consignment notes, at present these certificates have to accompany the transport of spirits in two circumstances—first, if they are sent out from the stock of a rectifier or a com-pounder and, secondly, if they are sent out from the stock even of a dealer or a retailer in wholesale quantities.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West asked whether I could tell him that the Revenue would be secure under this new more lax form of control. Again, I am happy to be able to give him that assurance. He obviously realises, having put the question, that the smuggling of spirits still presents a problem, as, indeed, do the difficulties which sometimes arise when non-duty paid spirits are stolen from warehouses.

Some form of control is obviously essential. I believe that this new form of control will commend itself to the wine trade. It will help the trade considerably because, apart from anything else, the certificate will no longer have to accompany the spirits on their journey, but can in future be sent by post. It will also be of advantage to the Revenue.

I think I need do no more than draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the definition of "Scotch whisky", which has hitherto had only a limited application, is now to be used for all the purposes of Customs and Excise. This is a matter of some importance. It will be of value to the Scotch Whisky Association in its dealings with foreign Governments. It will permit a better control of labelling of whisky in warehouses and will restrict the use of the term "Scotch whisky" in all Revenue documents. This provision, I think, is merely a commonsense extension of an existing definition and something which will be most important and useful to one of our most important export trades.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

First Schedule agreed to.