HL Deb 12 July 1982 vol 433 cc71-3

7.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8th June be approved.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move that the Excise Duties (Deferred Payment) Regulations 1982 laid before this House on 8th June be approved. Recent events have caused the Government to look closely at our procedures for deferred payment of excise duties. To meet our European Community obligations under Article 95 of the Treaty of Rome, we must ensure that the duty treatment of home-produced goods and goods imported from other Member-States has equivalent effect. In cases decided by the European Court, this has been held to apply not only to the actual rates of duty but also to the methods of assessing and paying duty. The arguments about precisely what this means in the context of payment methods are very complex, but the conclusion we have reached is that the only area of doubt as regards our present payment arrangements concerns beer, cider, made-wine and matches. We think that the differences between our treatment of imported and domestic products in these fields are such as to raise genuine queries under Article 95. This doubt could, of course, be removed either by extending duty deferment to imported goods or by withdrawing the existing duty deferment provisions for domestic products. The latter course would be an unfair blow to our producers and would be quite unjustified. Extending deferment to imported beer, made-wine, cider and matches is a relatively minor measure attracting a once-for-all cost in the first year of less than £5 million. Accordingly, we have decided to follow this course as a sensible way of removing any doubts or uncertainties.

The regulations we are now discussing give effect to this decision and provide for deferment of the excise duties payable on imported beer, made-wine, cider and perry, and matches, which are in free circulation in the European Community, immediately prior to consignment to the United Kingdom. They will enable duty to be deferred whether the goods are delivered direct to the home market at importation or are first deposited in a bonded warehouse.

In most respects, their provisions are similar to those which have been in operation for several years for customs duties. Importers must make prior application for approval from Customs and Excise and give security for the duty, normally by banker's guarantee. In return, payment will be deferred for an average period of 30 days.

These provisions will give similar periods of deferment to those allowed to United Kingdom producers. I should perhaps, however, explain the position regarding beer, as it is slightly more complicated. For United Kingdom brewers an average of 40 days' deferment is allowed, as opposed to the average of 30 now proposed for imports. The reason for this is that duty on beer in the United Kingdom is assessed at an early stage of production. Imported beer, however, is in a finished state. The 10-day difference reflects the average time-lapse due to the production process, and thus ensures that the proposed deferment provisions will have an effect equivalent to those in operation for United Kingdom brewers. These regulations will come into force on 15th October, 1982.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8th June be approved.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for explaining the intricacies of this particular order. The Statutory Instruments Committee have examined the order and they have made no comment on it. It is necessary for this order to be laid, as the noble Lord has said, in order to implement the United Kingdom's obligation to the Community to enable excise payments to be deferred on imported beer, made-wine, cider and matches. I felt that this was rather an odd bunch of products. Beer, I can understand; and the noble Lord has explained to us the situation with regard to beer imported from the Community as opposed to beer which is made in the United Kingdom. I am wondering whether different regulations will apply with regard to the payment of duties for, say, beer imported from Australia, which is without the Community and is not made here either. Therefore, are there some different arrangements for payment of duty with regard to beer imported from elsewhere?

I find "made-wine" a new term in the customs regulations. One feels it must be somewhat different from ordinary wine or different from fortified wine. Perhaps it is some form of reconstituted wine, some form of powder which is imported and will be transformed into British sherry or products of this nature. I wonder whether the noble Lord could inform your Lordships about this special category of made-wine. I also find cider a rather odd item on this list. I am not perhaps such a devotee of cider drinking as I was in my youth. I do not recall ever drinking imported cider. Maybe the noble Lord can inform your Lordships of the amount of cider that we import and what is the importance of this particular alcoholic drink included with the others?

Regarding matches, this definitely seems the "odd man out" as it is not a drink of any sort. One wonders whether in fact one has been remiss, when returning from overseas, in not declaring any matches which one may have picked up in restaurants or hotels throughout the Community. I wonder whether the noble Lord can clarify that point as well.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, first of all, the noble Lord asked about the application of these arrangements to Australian beer. As I understand it, this order applies only to our European Community obligations. It does not relate to the importation of spirits, for example, where I think there are no Community obligations; and it certainly does not apply outside the European Community. Made-wine is a fermented drink made from imported grape juice or the juice of other fruits imported. There is I understand a type of cider in France of which the noble Lord may not have partaken; and I must confess that I do not think I have done so either. Clearly some have, and that is why this regulation applies to that.

As for matches, the noble Lord need not be concerned that he has failed to declare the odd box of matches that he has inadvertently brought in with him from his trips abroad. I understand that the rate of duty is £1.15p per short standard—and a short standard in regard to matches is 7,200 matches, no less. Therefore the noble Lord will probably not even need his Barclaycard to pay the duty.