HC Deb 16 June 1966 vol 729 cc1825-30
Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)

I beg to move Amendment No. 149, in page 63, line 43, to leave out or enforcement".

The Amendment refers to paragraph 18 of Schedule 2. The Committee will have realised that, on the face of it, that paragraph gives the Commissioners power to make regulations, not merely for the administration of the tax, but also for is enforcement. The words "or enforcement" certainly appear in other Statutes, and I see no reason why the same does not apply in this case. It means that the House of Commons is giving to the Commissioners a completely unlimited right to provide for the enforcement of provisions which are largely unknown. As I see it, they are clearly given a right to make provision for criminal proceedings and for penalties.

To put the matter shortly, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I feel that this is giving away an essential power which the House of Commons should retain to itself, and giving it away carte blanche with no kind of control whatever. This is so fundamentally a matter in which the public look to the House of Commons to regulate what is done that, on the face of it, we must move to delete these words.

I wonder, Sir Eric, whether, for the sake of brevity, it would be in order for me to refer to the next Amendment, No. 150, in line 45, at end insert: but such Regulations affecting enforcement shall only operate if no resolution for their annulment has been passed within forty days of their being laid before each House of Parliament".

The Chairman

Yes, I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss Amendment No. 150 at the same time.

Mr. Roots

Amendment No. 150 provides that if the Commissioners are to be given a power of this kind, at least the regulations in question should be subject to review by the House of Commons and, if need be, a Motion for their annulment should be put before the House.

For my part, I do not feel that this power should be given. Sub-paragraph (2) specifically mentions certain categories which can be dealt with in the regulations, and I see no reason why any penal provisions cannot be included either in the Bill or in a subsequent Bill. If the Committee feels that such strict control is not entirely necessary, the least we can do is to maintain the control which Amendment No. 150 would give.

I will not labour the point, because its importance will not be lost to hon. Members. I hope that the Government will realise the potential seriousness of what is before us in the Bill and be prepared to make provision accordingly.

Mr. MacDermot

I hope that I will be able to reassure the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots). Once again, his reaction on reading the Schedule was similar to mine, because we, looking at the matter as lawyers, naturally think of the word "enforcement" as embracing and being directed primarily at that which lawyers think of from the point of view of enforcement, namely, proceedings that have been taken and penalties that are being imposed.

I have inquired into the matter and have been assured that it is accepted and that there are precedents for it; that in this context "enforcement" in this Customs legislation also has the meaning of enforcing that part of the administrative machinery which is designed to enforce the collection of the duty, and that nothing more is meant.

In support of this I invite the hon. and learned Gentleman to look at paragraph (19) of the Schedule, which specifically provides that the relevant paragraphs of Schedule I of the Betting Duties Act, 1963, shall have effect subject to the necessary amendments for the purposes of enforcement in the terms in which he was using the term, namely, offences, penalties, and so on. Those are all covered by paragraph (19). There would, therefore, be no question of the Customs seeking to use the regulation-making power in Clause 18(1) to try to alter, amend, or add to the powers which it is granted by paragrah (19).

I will explain the sort of thing for which the powers would be wanted. Earlier, I referred to the fact that we are proposing—and will discuss this with the bookmakers—that as a machinery for the collection of the duty for on-course betting, there should be daily sheets and that the bookmakers should acquire those sheets on payment of a sum, which would be advance payment of the duty from the race track authorities. That is a matter of administration, but it is also a matter of the enforcement of the duty because it is a procedure by which payment of the duty is enforced and collected.

The precedent for the use of "enforcement" in this sense is to be found in Section 18(1) of the Customs and Excise Act, 1952. I hope, therefore, that that is sufficient to reassure the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are not seeking to take any arbitrary powers.

On the second Amendment, paragraph (26) of the Schedule provides that Any regulations of the Commissioners under this Schedule shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to … the negative Resolution procedure. Thus, there is no question of the Committee being invited to surrender Parliament's control in this sphere. It will retain it. The only affect of the second Amendment, if accepted, would be that the regulations could not take effect until the 40-day period had expired.

I ask the Committee not to impose this restriction for a practical reason, which is that we and, I believe, the whole trade in general, would like to see these new duties introduced at the end of the flat-racing season. The date that is proposed for that introduction is the 24th October. This will leave a very small margin of time between the passing of the Bill and the introduction of the duty.

We do not propose to waste time on this matter. Immediately after the Committee stage is completed we propose to start discussions with all the interested parties—the bookmakers' associations, the racetrack authorities, and so forth—and to give them details of the procedure which we propose to embody in the regulations. There will be full discussions with them, and the regulations will, if necessary, be modified accordingly.

With that assurance, I hope that the Committee will agree to our being able to introduce these regulations in a way which would enable the duty to take effect on what would be this convenient date in October. As I say, full power will, of course, remain with the House to supervise the regulations by the annulment procedure under paragraph 26. I hope that with those assurances the hon. and learned Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the Amendments.

Sir L. Heald

I am sure that we are very grateful to the honourable and learned Gentleman for giving that assurance of his intentions, but there are a number of us who will still be concerned with his suggestion that the word "enforcement" is to be regarded as limited and controlled by paragraph 19 of Schedule 2. It certainly does not say so, and I feel that we require a little more assurance.

I ought to say just a word about this, because I was quoted in one of the daily newspapers as having expressed an opinion about what could be done under this provision, and it was perhaps put a little high. What I said was that under these regulations it would be possible for the Commissioners to make a regulation requiring every bookmaker to parade on Monday morning and submit himself to examination, possibly by removing part of his clothing, to see whether he had concealed any notes which he had obtained during his lawful avocations. I should like to make it quite clear that I did not suggest for a moment that the Commissioners would have made such a regulation. All I suggested was that they might have made one, and I am still not quite sure that they could not have done so.

The honourable and learned Gentleman, as I understand him, has indicated that in the execution of this power of enforcement the Commissioners would consider themselves limited in the sense indicated by paragraph 19, but it certainly does not say so, and a number of us feel that there ought not to be a precedent created for an unlimited power to make regulations of this kind. It may be that this has been done before in relation to Customs. I know the difficulties which there are today, particularly at places like London Airport, and no doubt regulations have to be made, but that they should be applied in relation to this particular subject matter seems to be rather different.

I should like a little more explanation from the hon. and learned Gentleman, as to how it can be that, when we in Parliament approve this very wide power, it can be considered that there is restraint. Paragraph 19 of Schedule 2 indicates some of the ways in which this power could be implemented, but it certainly does not involve any restraint on the general power, and, although it is I rue that we in Parliament may he able to object, to have a regulation possibly made by the Commissioners is not really lair to them.

I do not suggest for one moment that they would want to make regulations of hat kind, but if they are empowered to do so, then carried with the power may also be said to be the duty. I feel that it should not be the Commissioners who should impose very severe penalties and control in that way. Therefore, before I decide about this matter I should like a little more explanation as to how it can be said that the inclusion of paragraph 19 imposes any such limitation.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. MacDermot

I do not think there is a great deal more that I can say in answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), without repeating myself. To put it in legal terms, I think paragraph 1.8(1) would be construed in the light of paragraph 19 on the principle of expressio unius exclusio alterius.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the Schedule to the 1963 Act he will see that it lays down specifically certain maximum penalties—for example, a penalty of £200, or double the amount of duty which is unpaid, or payment of which is sought to be avoided, as the case may be. If, in the unlikely event, the Commissioners should have an aberration and seek under paragraph 18(1) to lay down regulations which would seek to increase those penalties, for what it is worth, my view would be that those regulations would be ultra vires.

I can certainly repeat the assurance that I have given, that they would not attempt to do such a thing.

Mr. Roots

In the light of the assurances which the Financial Secretary has given, although I cannot say that I am entirely convinced, at least we shall have an opportunity to consider them.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he will consider a number of matters. So will we; and, in the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.