HC Deb 02 August 1962 vol 664 cc763-5
2. Mr. Longden

asked the Secretary to the Treasury how cigarettes and tobacco seized by the Customs are disposed of; if he is satisfied that these methods obtain for the Revenue the maximum value of the seized goods; and what was the total sum raised by the disposal of such seized goods during a year ended on the latest convenient date.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Anthony Barber)

Cigars are disposed by annual sales by tender. Cigarettes and pipe tobaccos are handed over without charge to Services Comforts Committees for personnel serving overseas, to Criminal Asylums for issue to inmates and, occasionally, at the request of the Medical Research Council, to medical workers engaged on cancer research. Unsound cigars, cigarettes and pipe tobaccos are destroyed.

I am satisfied that the methods of sale adopted obtain the maximum value of the seized goods. The last annual sale of seized cigars, held in November, 1961, realised a total sum of £1,345 19s. 4d.

Mr. Longden

Can the Financial Secretary say why cigarettes should be the exception to the general rule? How many were confiscated during that year and how many of those confiscated were disposed of in the way he has told us?

Mr. Barber

I am afraid that I can-not, without notice, give the figures for which my hon. Friend asks, but, of course, there is a special reason for the difference in treatment of cigarettes and tobacco. By the time the Customs can legally sell such goods there must, naturally, be a waiting period. Cigarettes and tobacco are unlikely to maintain their freshness, while cigars remain fresh for a longer time and the Commissioners invite tenders for them.

3. Mr. Longden

asked the Secretary to the Treasury what was the value of the watches and jewellery seized by the Customs during a year to the latest convenient date; how they were disposed of; if by public auction, what means of advertising such auctions are used; and what was the total sum they realised.

Mr. Barber

Seized watches and jewellery are sold for the benefit of the Exchequer by competitive tender. Sales are advertised in trade journals and by circular letters sent to all known prospective bidders. Watches sold in the financial year ending 31st March, 1962, fetched £86,634 exclusive of Purchase Tax, which is separately payable. Large seizures of jewellery are infrequent, and the last special jewellery sale was in July, 1960, realising £7,546, exclusive of tax. I cannot give any better figure for the total value of these seizures than the prices actually realised.

Mr. Longden

Is everyone invited to tender, and can my hon. Friend say that there is no closed shop in this matter?

Mr. Barber

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that every step is taken to ensure that all those who would be likely to tender know about these sales, which are advertised in a trade journal called the Watchmaker, Jeweller & Silversmith. Everyone who inquires about the sales as a result of these advertisements, everyone who has tendered in the past and everyone inquiring upon hearing about the sales, is circulated with an invitation to tender.

Mr. Watkins

Can the Financial Secretary say why the number of watches confiscated in the last few years has increased compared with, say, five years ago?

Mr. Barber

I regret that, without notice, I cannot give the actual figures. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question, perhaps when we next meet, I will be happy to provide him with the facts.