Clause 47 - Repeals

Part of Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 18 January 2005.

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Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury) 10:00, 18 January 2005

The Bill aligns the penalties for all offences with the police counterparts for England and Wales. It has the same force and seriousness for customs officers as for police officers. We are all well versed in the consequences of obstructing a police officer in the conduct of his or her duty, and those penalties arise in relation to customs officers, too. I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about whether there have been any prosecutions under the obstruction arrangements; there have been none for kidnapping since I have been a Treasury Minister.

On the matter of signalling to smugglers, the hon. Gentleman is right again; the measure goes back a long way. The specific provision is no longer required. When we were considering the Bill, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary and I thought that the Committee would expect us to remove statutes that were not being used and thus were no longer needed.

The conduct in question is the offence of being knowingly concerned in an attempt at evasion of duty or prohibition and is arrestable under section 170(2) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984PACE—as applied to Customs and Excise matters by the PACE application to Customs and Excise, which is in statutory instrument 1985 No. 1800. An officer may enter premises under section 17 of PACE to effect an arrest. Paragraph (v), section 86—concerning a higher penalty where the offender is armed—has been overtaken by an increase in the mainstream penalties for smuggling under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. The Firearms Act 1968 now provides for the enhanced penalties for armed crimes of all sorts.

The hon. Gentleman's final point was about the use of false scales. Again, he is right; it is a penalty under the obstruction provisions. The penalties are enforceable by fine and imprisonment; the obstruction provisions for Customs and Excise officers in the course of their duties follow those provided for the police in England and Wales.

It is perfectly clear that all these matters are dealt with elsewhere, giving the protection that we would rightly expect our customs officers to receive in pursuit of their duty. Neither the Economic Secretary nor I would do anything to undermine those processes. First, we need to ensure that our officers can carry out their duties on behalf of the House safely in all circumstances. If the very few circumstances in which they were challenged actually occurred, the penalties in the proposal have to be enforceable. The Economic   Secretary and I will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that those officers are properly protected.

With those explanations, I think the Committee will agree that with legislation that goes back a very long time, the most recent powers are the most effective and should be used. Whenever possible they should be standardised for all law protection work. Customs matters have been aligned on that basis for some time and the Bill puts it beyond doubt by removing old legislation that is no longer used.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.