HL Deb 28 April 1948 vol 155 cc459-61

2.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government, if, in view of the reports of complaints with regard to parcels of food and/or clothing directed to recipients in the United Kingdom, they can now give information with regard to:

  1. (a) Widespread allegations of failure of arrival of parcels where despatch has been notified, or of arrival in pilfered condition.
  2. (b) Allegations that duty has been levied on "used" clothing.
  3. (c) That Purchase Tax has in some cases been levied, and if they will state what are the present instructions with regard to the above.]


My Lords, a large number of the allegations of non-arrival of parcels from overseas are unfounded. In many cases, addressees in this country, having received advice, frequently by air mail, that a parcel is being sent to them, not realising the transport and other difficulties, assume far too quickly that the parcel which is in fact on the way has already been lost. It is important to bear in mind the vast increase in this traffic since pre-war days. It has risen from about 1,750,000 parcels a year in 1939 to about 17,000,000 a year at the present time. The majority are gift parcels. The volume of parcel traffic awaiting shipment to this country from various ports is frequently far in excess of the shipping capacity, and delay in despatch is often inevitable and despatch in proper sequence most difficult.

Losses due to pilfering and damage in transit unfortunately sometimes occur, but the number of such losses is very small when related to the traffic concerned. Pilfering may occur either before or after the parcels reach this country. In the former case, the facts are brought to the notice of the overseas postal administration concerned, so that appropriate action can be taken. Where pilfering occurs in this country, inquiries are undertaken by specially trained investigating officers with a view to the detection and punishment of the offenders. Shipping companies and railway authorities give all possible assistance to avoid losses. The most important factor concerning damage to, and loss of contents from, overseas parcels is bad packing. Owing to bad packing, large numbers of parcels from overseas are received in a damaged condition. Frequently, contents are loose in the mail bags. Every effort is made to associate loose articles with the appropriate parcel, but this is not always possible and numerous items find their way to the Returned Parcel Offices to await a claimant. The task of reconstituting parcels to prevent further damage or loss imposes a considerable and serious burden on the Post Office in the way of manpower, paper and string.

As regards parts (b) and (c) of the noble Lord's question, the position under the law is that all imported clothing is liable to Customs duty unless it is despatched from a Commonwealth country and is admissible free of duty under the Imperial Preference provisions. Purchase Tax is also chargeable to countervail the internal tax on clothing; the only exempt categories are certain industrial garments and clothing for young children. Clothing which has been worn is not on that account exempt from either duty or tax, but these charges are waived as a concession in cases where the Customs officers who examine parcels are satisfied that the garments are genuine discards, which are not imported on purchase or for resale. Any provision for excusing articles from taxation merely because they had been washed or given token wear would invite obvious evasions, and in practice the concession is confined to parcels of clothing which from its appearance has obviously been well worn. I apologise for the length of the reply, but I trust that it will satisfy the noble Lord.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply, but arising out of it may I ask, in view of the generosity of the people who send these gifts, particularly from the United States, whether it would be possible for him to make representations in the appropriate quarter in regard to parts (b) and (c) of my question? Perhaps it might be possible for particularly lenient treatment, and to allow some measure of flexibility in such cases. There is deep disappointment in this matter in the United States on the part of these generous senders and also among recipients in this country.


I will certainly draw the attention of the Department concerned to the matter raised by the noble Lord.

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