HC Deb 18 May 1960 vol 623 cc1419-21

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

Mr. Redhead

When in his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer forecast the production of this Clause, he said that he was Inspired by reforming zeal, and moving on from one bold action to another …".— [Official Report, 4th April, 1960; Vol. 621, c. 52.] Those opening words led us to expect great things. Our minds were quickly disillusioned by what followed. Having seen the Clause, I have seldom seen reform obscured in so much verbiage.

It may well be that the technical phraseology of the Clause is absolutely unavoidable, but I should like the Economic Secretary to convey to the Chancellor the considered view of many hon. Members that when we necessarily have to deal with the mechanics of taxation and tax collection in rather obscure wording like this, we would be greatly helped if some sort of explanatory document framed in simple terms could be issued. That might be an advantage to the Chancellor and to our discussions. Otherwise, with such a Clause as this, there always comes to the suspicious-minded the thought that the wording might hide something very sinister.

In delving into its purpose, I have not been able to detect anything sinister in the Clause—indeed, it seems to be very largely a question of tidying up some of the administrative difficulties that have been experienced. Apparently the scope of the duty is being somewhat altered, and perhaps we may be told to what extent the scope is being changed by the new definition of mechanical lighter. Presumably, it is not expected to make any appreciable difference to the revenue from this source.

Judging from the Financial Statement, only a negligible increase under the heading of matches and mechanical lighters will result in the coming year, but if the Economic Secretary will assure us that this is, in substance, no more than an amendment to the administrative procedure to render things easier for the Customs and the traders, we shall be happy to accept the Clause.

Mr. Barber

The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) is quite right—the definition of mechanical lighters does extend the scope in one regard. The definition of mechanical lighters is extended to include all portable lighters—and I shall return to that in a moment. The Clause also gives statutory authority to the existing practice of charging duty at the point at which lighters leave the manufacturers' premises. This is a practice that is far more convenient to all concerned.

The reason why it is necessary to extend the definition is the appearance of a new type of lighter which does not produce either a spark or a flame. This is called, I am told, a torch lighter. It has a dual-purpose battery which either lights an electric bulb, and so becomes a torch, or causes a small element to glow, and thus becomes a lighter. It is outside the existing definition. I am told that it is not, at present, imported in any large quantities, but it is obviously desirable to close the loophole, not only for the protection of the Revenue but from the point of view of our mechanical lighter manufacturers who have to pay duty.

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the operative date of the new definition is 4th August next. That is to enable those who are holding stocks of the new type of lighter to dispose of them without duty in the meantime, and also to enable those who propose, or were proposing, to import or manufacture them to modify their plans if they wish.

I return now to the change in the duty point, which I have mentioned only briefly. Under the existing law, the duty on lighters manufactured in this country is payable on their being manufactured, but to both the Revenue and the manufacturers this has proved to be extremely inconvenient and administratively expensive. The difficulties are obvious: what happens, for instance, in the case of experimental lighters? Again, the rate of duty may change between manufacture and so on.

The complications of stock accounting, control and the like have been so great that, under Treasury authority, the duty point has for some time been taken as the time of delivery from the factory and not as the time of manufacture. This Clause proposes statutory authority for this arrangement, which will be of benefit to all concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.