HC Deb 17 December 1992 vol 216 cc473-6W
Mr. Butler

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about the frontier controls on the movement of goods between EC member states following the completion of the single market on 1 January 1993.

Mr. Heseltine

1. The Edinburgh European Council recognised the completion of the single market by its end 1992 target date.

2. Perhaps the most visible sign of the completion of the single market will be the changes in the general regime for trade in goods at our frontiers with other member states of the European Community. These changes will not apply to the movement of goods between the United Kingdom and countries outside the Community.

3. Customs are making very considerable changes to controls for the single market. Formalities, forms and fiscal frontiers will end for intra-EC traffic. In particular the single administrative document will be abolished. Her Majesty's Customs calculates that reduced documentation will save British business £135 million a year. As a result of these changes EC travellers will see a panoply of controls traditionally associated with customs at the border vanish, including red and green channels, the need to make a declaration and quantitive or value restriction on goods brought back for personal consumption.

4. Baggage and car hall layouts will therefore no longer present an impression of barriers to travellers; screens, baggage benches and notices barring the way will all be removed. All of this amounts to no visible sign of a regular or routine Customs presence. In the single market, Customs are confident that travellers and freight traffic will now move freely through the Customs area, subject only to spot checks, conducted on the basis of intelligence and sharply focused profiles, on a small proportion to detect illicit traffic in a few high priority areas.

5. Her Majesty's Customs will, above all, continue their vigilance against traffic in illicit drugs. The money laundering provisions which form an important adjunct in the fight against drug smuggling will likewise remain in place. Licences will also still be needed for the movement of licit drugs, in keeping with our international obligations under the Vienna conventions. Her Majesty's Customs will also continue to seize obscene material imnported from other EC member states.

6. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade announced on 10 December, a new Export of Goods (Control) Order will come into force on 31 December 1992. Under this order, licences will still be needed for the export to all destinations of dual use goods, weapons, explosives, munitions and firearms and nuclear goods. It will remain an offence to export these goods to EC member states without a licence.

7. EC visitors wishing to bring firearms into the United Kingdom will continue to need prior permission to do so from the police. Commercial firearms movements will be covered by the harmonised Community licensing regime introduced by the weapons directive. Under this regime we will be notified of all firearms movements to, or through, the United Kingdom and a specific licence will still be needed to import the most dangerous firearms which are prohibited in the United Kingdom. The ban on individuals importing stun guns and CS gas sprays, the private possession of which is prohibited in this country, will continue. The import into the United Kingdom of other forbidden weapons will remain prohibited.

8. Licences will continue to be required for the export of cultural goods over certain monetary thresholds. This licensing system will be policed, inter alia, by selective frontier checks.

9. The EC waste shipments regulation will permit member states and their competent authorities to exercise controls on all cross-frontier shipment of wastes, including bans in prescribed circumstances. This will therefore render the existing United Kingdom import controls on asbestos waste unnecessary. However, in the intervening period after 1 January 1993, but before the regulation comes into force, it will continue to be an offence to import asbestos waste into the United Kingdom.

10. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 1 December the arrangements for trade in wildlife, and products derived from the wildlife trade, following the completion of the single market. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is separately announcing changes in connection with the completion of the single market in relation to agriculture, fisheries and food.

11. In addition, the Government have been reviewing, along with other member states, all the other prohibitions and restrictions on trade between the United Kingdom and other member states of the European Community, the enforcement of which has in the past heavily depended on the information available from the single administrative documents. Traditionally, these prohibitions and restrictions have applied to a range of goods imported or exported from or to both EC and non-EC countries. For a great many of these goods, the risks have been predominantly on trade between the United Kingdom and non-EC countries. The Government have therefore reviewed the rationale for those prohibitions and restrictions, some of which are historical, with a view to determining which can only be enforced effectively and proportionately by means of export and import controls. Throughout the review, the Government's main concern has been to retain the highest possible standard of protection for the United Kingdom, consistent with our Community obligations. Where it has been decided that frontier controls need not be retained, therefore, any restrictions on the sale, use or manufacture of these items on the territory of the United Kingdom will remain in place.

12. In other areas, the Government's review has revealed a number of prohibitions and restrictions which derived from moribund legislation, or legislation which has been overtaken. It has been a specific offence to import articles bearing devices which imply Government sanction or guarantee. Domestic protection against this abuse is, however, provided by the—more general—provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act. Although the prohibition of imports of goods bearing a false indication of origin has been enforced actively, alternative domestic protection is also available under the Trade Descriptions Act.

13. The recent legislation to prohibit certain types of dangerous dogs only needed the security of an import ban during the transitional period. Now that the legislation is fully in force, and the deadline for obtaining a certificate of exemption in respect of these types of dogs has passed, the offence of possession of an un-exempted dog in the United Kingdom provides adequate protection. The separate announcement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will cover other frontier controls on animals.

14. Further cases of prohibitions and restrictions have been overtaken by EC legislation: our national prohibitions on the import of specific carcinogenic substances and matches made of white phosphorus have been overtaken by EC legislation on dangerous substances. The spread of common safety standards in the EC, particularly through the "New Approach" industrial standards directives, make it no longer necessary to retain Her Majesty's Customs' formal powers to detain unsafe consumer goods at the frontier, though Customs will continue to liaise closely with trading standards authorities in cases where information about such goods becomes available to them. The increasing body of harmonised food law and legislation on medicines in the European Community makes our national frontier controls on foodstuffs and medicines from next year unnecessary. The national United Kingdom controls on the import of textiles and clothing will become redundant on the completion of the single market, and will be subsumed into a genuinely Community-wide regime.

15. We have identified a further set of prohibitions and restrictions which are rarely used, and where the Government feel confident in relying in future on inland offences, which already carry the greatest weight of enforcement. These are described below.

16. The import control on substances—chiefly goat hair—which might be infected with anthrax, affects imports destined for only a few United Kingdom processing sites. However, the legal obligation of all processors of these substances to handle them correctly and prevent any risk of infection will prevent any increased hazard to health. The prohibition on the supply and use of certain sizes of lead fishing weights by anglers has played an important role in reducing the poisoning of swans and other water fowl. The main legislative weapon has been the National Rivers Authority byelaws; the associated frontier control has rarely been used. Similarly, the frontier zones have not proved an effective place to challenge counterfeit. So from next year there will be no importation or exportation offence for counterfeit currency, and fictitious postage stamps and the dies for making them as far as goods travelling between the United Kingdom and EC countries are concerned.

17. A similar pattern appears in intellectual property. Powers for owners of intellectual property to request Her Majesty's Customs to seize counterfeit or pirate goods, that is goods that infringe trademark or copyright, have never been used to detain goods imported from the EC. In practice, enforcement of intellectual property rights inland has been the norm, either with rights owners taking legal action themselves or by the enforcement of criminal offences. From next year, the option of action at the frontier will cease for goods entering the United Kingdom from the EC.

18. The prohibition on the import of horror magazines had also fallen into disuse, and from next year the Government are content to rely on the offence of possession for selling or hire and other offences which penalise those who seek to profit from such material. Similarly, the prohibitions on the import and export of lottery material are now rarely used, and other powers already exist to deal inland with unlawful lottery material. As regards imports of nuclear materials, we have concluded that there is sufficient control of these materials within the United Kingdom to enable the associated frontier control on their import to be abolished.

19. Finally, frontier controls on unapproved CB radios and cordless telephones play in important role in forestalling the use of equipment using the wrong radio frequencies. Such equipment can cause serious interference and endanger life and limb by interrupting radio use by emergency services. However, the main danger here is equipment from outside the Community. Our controls on third country traffic in CB radios and cordless telephones will be retained and restrictions on manufacture, sale and possession will continue to be vigorously enforced.