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 Header Item Customs Bill 2014: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Customs Bill 2014: Second Stage

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 863 No. 2

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Customs Bill 2014: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to revise and partially consolidate the law relating to customs; to repeal the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 and certain other enactments; to make provision in connection with Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2913/92 of 12 October 1992 establishing the Community Customs Code; to give continuing effect to the Customs Co-operation Convention drawn up on the basis of Article K.3 of the Treaty on European Union, on mutual assistance and co-operation between customs administrations, done at Brussels on 18 December 1997 (Naples II Convention); to give effect to the Council Convention on centralised customs clearance concerning the allocation of national collection costs retained when traditional own resources are made available to the EU budget, done at Brussels on 10 March 2009; to give effect to Council Decision 2009/917/JHA of 30 November 2009 on the use of information technology for customs purposes (CIS Decision); and to provide for related matters.

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Customs Bill 2014: Second Stage

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Customs Bill 2014 was published on 3 October 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate, revise and modernise Ireland's existing national customs legislation, some of which dates back to the Customs Consolidation Act 1876. The Bill can thus be seen as another significant milestone in Revenue's comprehensive programme of consolidating and modernising our tax and duty legislation. Deputies should note, however, that this is not a "standard" statutory consolidation of the existing customs legislation. Instead, it includes the two additional elements of revision and modernisation that were necessary to cater for developments in trade and in technology over the last almost 140 years.

The principal domestic legislation under which Irish customs operate is the 1876 Act. That Act has been extensively adapted over the years to take account of various events and developments, for example, the foundation of the State in 1922, Ireland's joining of the EEC in 1973 and the introduction of the EU Single Market in 1993. As a consequence, many of the provisions in the Act are of doubtful validity, yet they still remain on the Statute Book.

In addition, a number of other Acts concerning customs matters were also passed in the intervening period, for example, the Customs Act 1956 and the Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1988. Numerous Finance Acts have also introduced customs measures, as have a number of ministerial regulations made under the European Communities Act 1972. The result is a complicated, overlapping structure of old and newer national customs legislation that can be difficult to follow and understand. The Customs Bill is designed to address this issue. When enacted, the Bill will repeal the old structure with a single, much shorter Customs Act that will be clear and easy to understand and access. This consolidated approach, which is in accordance with the requirements of better regulation, will result in much clearer legislation in the customs area to the benefit of all.

Deputies should be aware that there is also a European dimension to this matter. The EU customs legislation, known as the Community Customs Code, directly provides most of the legal framework for customs, including the rules relating to rates of customs duty in different circumstances, customs valuation, the form of declarations and so on. As a consequence, national legislation is now needed only in respect of those areas that are not already covered by Union legislation. Typically, these include certain control provisions, enforcement provisions and sanctions for breaches of the various customs provisions.

This trend can be seen in the structure and the much smaller size of the Customs Bill. The bulk of the material in the Bill reflects a small core of existing legal provisions relating to customs now updated, of course, to reflect modern language and terminology. This includes certain controls and procedures that are not included in Community legislation, mainly relating to arriving and departing aircraft and vessels; specifying the various offences that arise in a customs context, for the most part involving smuggling; specifying the penalties associated with these offences and the procedures to be followed in court proceedings; and providing the necessary powers to customs officers to enforce customs law.

The Bill also includes a number of administrative and housekeeping provisions, among them the repeal and revocation of a large body of legislation, much of it of old vintage, that will become redundant upon the enactment of the Bill and its subsequent commencement. The Bill provides for meeting a number of specific EU and international customs obligations relating to mutual assistance between Ireland and other member states and to centralised customs clearance. The Bill also carries forward the existing customs appeals procedures. Deputies might note that the new legislative provisions are simply a reiteration of the procedures that currently apply. Any change applied to the tax appeals procedures will have appropriate application to customs appeals. The Bill also restates and modernises the existing legislation applying customs law to prohibited or restricted goods on their import into or export from the State.

I will give a more detailed section-by-section explanation of the Bill shortly. Before I do so, however, I ask Deputies to try to imagine the environment for which the original 1876 Act was designed to cater and the social and political mores of those times. I like to think that we have moved on confidently from then. For example, we no longer have a need for some of the more extreme powers with which customs were conferred at the time. However, we will always have those who will try to outwit our customs rules and, therefore, not everything has changed in the Customs Bill that I have laid before the House.

Before I go through the specific provisions of the Bill, Deputies might wish to be reminded of the scale of the customs operation in modern Ireland. For example, Customs and Excise annually processes on the automated entry processing system approximately 1.1 million customs declarations in respect of goods being imported from or exported to non-EU countries. This breaks down into approximately 600,000 declarations in respect of imports and 550,000 in respect of exports. The most recent Exchequer figures show that customs duty collected on such imports was €270 million in 2014.

However, it is not just the scale of the customs operation that should be noted. Customs and Excise also has an enviable reputation for the way that it does this business. Deputies might like to note that in recent reports from respected international bodies such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and the Swiss-based Institute for Management Development, Ireland, particularly Customs and Excise, scored highly in terms of ease of doing business with them. Some of the rankings achieved by Ireland in categories in which Customs and Excise has a direct involvement are as follows: in trading across borders, Ireland scored fifth in the world and second in the EU; in the burden of customs procedures, Ireland scored eighth in the world and third in the EU; and in the efficient transit of goods, Ireland emerged as the leader in the world, beating Singapore into second place. Deputies will agree that these rankings paint an excellent picture of the way that Customs and Excise goes about its business and that the Revenue Commissioners are to be congratulated on this.

With that in mind, I will go through the Customs Bill and describe the main provisions contained therein. Section 1 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and commencement of the Act. Sections 2 to 5, inclusive, provide for the interpretation of certain words and expressions used in the Bill to assist in the understanding and application of the Bill, for the repeal of certain statutes and the revocation of certain statutory instruments and for a number of technical linkages to provide for legal certainty and legal continuity in the operation of the law relating to customs in respect of the relationship between the repealed enactments and the Customs Bill.

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