HC Deb 26 June 1916 vol 83 cc562-6

Resolution reported,

3. "That there shall be charged on a licence to be taken out by any person who desires to be supplied with motor spirit a duty at the rate of sixpence for every gallon with which he is authorised to be supplied by the licence."

Resolution read a second time.


I beg to move to leave out the words "authorised to be," and to insert instead thereof the word "actually."

I would point out to the House, in support of the unusual action of objecting at this stage, the extraordinary form upon which this Resolution is based. It is another matter upon which we had very imperfect information when the Resolution was passed in Committee. That may be an excuse for the House looking closer into it now. This Resolution deals with the proposed new tax on motor spirit, and the tax is embodied in such a form that the House ought to hesitate before sanctioning it. The machinery is this—many Members will be acquainted with it by this time—a licence is to be issued, say, for one hundred gallons of petrol, and on the licence the duty is to be paid. The man who obtains the licence might never obtain the petrol. He might die; a great many things might happen, and a man might not use the petrol if he takes it. To authorise a tax because you are permitted to use some taxable article is a new step which this House ought not to take without full consideration. The Amendment I propose would provide that the tax should be imposed on the petrol actually used or supplied. That is the ordinary way in which all Customs Duties are levied. This Resolution, which levies the tax on the grant of a licence, seems to be extremely inconvenient to everybody and to make it almost impossible for the tax to be fairly or properly levied. Therefore, in order to avoid doing great injustice to people who try to work under it, I move this Amendment.


My right hon. Friend has really chosen the most inconvenient method possible of airing his views on this subject. Surely he had much better wait to discuss the scheme until it is before us in detail. The right hon. Gentleman complains that he had very little information on the last occasion. He had all the information for which he asked. He was here, the scheme was explained to him, and he voted for the Resolution.


No, I did not.


Well, he did not vote against it, and he has shown that he understood it from what he said to the House just now. When we get to the Clause it will be possible for him to suggest to the Committee that they should make the alterations he desires. The whole basis of this new tax, on the subject of which the Committee agreed to drop Clause 11 in the Finance Bill as originally introduced, is that it should be a Licence Duty and that it should be payable when the licence is taken out. If the man who applies for the licence is not likely to use the whole of the petrol, then let him apply for less. It will be no gain to the State if some private consumer of petrol asks for petrol he does not really want. The intention is to get the man to apply for the amount of petrol that he wants. If he does not get it all there will be a refund.


What will happen if he does not use it?


He will get a refund, and if he does not apply for all he is licensed to get there will be a refund.


Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that if a licence is granted for a larger quantity than is used a refund will be given?




That is not clear.


The user of petrol will say, "i want a hundred gallons of petrol in the next month." The Petrol Committee will say, "We cannot give you a hundred gallons; we will give you eighty gallons. That will be your rate." He will have a licence to get eighty gallons of petrol, and he will pay for that licence eighty sixpences, or forty shillings. With that licence he will go to the shop where he buys petrol and demand as much petrol as he wants on the occasion he wants it. His licence will be endorsed to the effect that he has had that petrol. He will go on being supplied with petrol in that way until he has had the eighty gallons; he will not be entitled to any more. If he does not apply for the whole of his eighty gallons, and he will send his licence back at the end of the three months, he will be entitled to a refund of the difference between the amount endorsed upon the licence as having been supplied to him and the amount to which he is entitled. Surely that is a very simple scheme. If the right hon. Gentleman does not like the scheme he can go into it on the Clause, when all the details of the new Licence Duty will be before the Committee. Before sitting down I should like to correct one statement I made when I spoke on the last occasion. It had been the intention of the Government to impose half duties on petrol used for trade cars. Representations have been received since then, and although we propose to persist in the proposal to ration trade cars, there will be no duty charged on the petrol.


Is the licence for three months?


It will be for different times. If the hon. Member will look at the Clause he will see that it is in the power of the Licensing Committee to frame regulations.


Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, which has a great deal of interest for the trade, I should like to ask whether under the heading of trade cars, for which no Petrol Licence Duty will be charged, the Government include petrol used for testing purposes in the air, on the road, or on the bench?


That is all trade.


Will the freedom from the duty, which the right hon. Gentleman says will apply to trade cars, apply also to doctors and veterinary surgeons?


They pay half duty.


There is another point arising out of this increased duty—to which I am not objecting—which is that the price of petrol has been artificially increased with a view to limiting consumption. Will the Government consider, before we go into Committee, whether anything can be done to reduce the price? There is no reason for any artificial high price if the Government are going to limit consumption, as they foreshadow in this Resolution. I do not ask for an answer now, and only raise the point by way of giving notice that I shall raise it in Committee.


I should like to take the opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a certain inconsistency of policy in this matter on his part. He proposes here, quite fairly and properly, to pay back any duty paid on petrol not purchased under the licence. That is perfectly fair and honest. Why did he not do the same thing in 1914 with the Brewers' Licence Duty? Why did he then keep 3d. in his pocket and not return it? I tried to get him to return it, but could not.


I was not Chancellor of the Exchequer then.


Of course, it did not arise until last year. The right hon. Gentleman then repudiated it. I have some hope in the matter, and I shall go to him and ask for it again.


The House will be interested to know what method will be adopted for supplying petrol to users. Many men have applied at the places where they usually have obtained it, and find they cannot get it at all.


With regard to exemptions from the charge on petrol, can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether farmers using motor cars for going to market or attending fairs, or in any other business of their farms, will be charged the whole amount, or only half, or none at all?


In view of the explanation given by the Government, I would ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Resolutions reported,