HC Deb 30 April 1919 vol 115 cc191-2

Next I must say something about the Motor Spirit Duty. Since I came into office I have had to give a good deal of attention to matters connected with this duty. It was imposed by the 1909 Budget. The full duty, formerly 3d. per gallon, raised in 1915–16 to 6d., applies only to cars used for private purposes. Cars used for trade or husbandry, hackney cars, cars of doctors or veterinary surgeons when used for professional purposes, are all entitled to a rebate of half the duty. Motor fire engines and certain other cars are entitled to free spirit. Petrol used by stationary engines, motor boats and aeroplanes or for cleaning purposes is also free. In 1913–14, the year before the War, about 47 million gallons paid full duty, over 40 millions paid half duty, and nearly 8 millions were delivered free of duty. I think the Committee will see that a tax of this character is open to serious objection. It is complicated and therefore expensive to administer and collect. In the second place, the test of dutiability is not in the nature of the article but in the use to which it is applied. The same quality of spirit is dutiable if applied to one purpose and not dutiable if applied to another. The machinery for collecting the duty prescribed in the Act is that the duty is to be collected at the full rate and repayment made where the user is entitled to an abatement. In practice the extreme inconvenience of this is overcome in the case of some large users, such as the London Omnibus Company, but the examination of the claims for rebate from small owners gives rise to an immense amount of trouble and an immense consumption of time and irritation, which is correlative not to the value of the tax so much as to the trouble of investigating the claim. Lastly, as the Committee will observe, in a tax of that kind so levied there is a wide opportunity for evasion and for fraud.

I think there is a great deal to be said for levying the charge, whatever it may be, that we wish to levy on the users of motor cars in some other form than in the form of a tax on petrol, but a satisfactory scheme of licensing could only be worked out after conference with the various interests affected, and I desire before making any proposals on the subject to have the advantage of the advice and assistance of the Minister of Ways and Communications as soon as the House has placed him in the saddle. I propose therefore to discuss this question with him in the interval between the present and the next Budget and I hope by next Budget Day that I or my successor may be in a position to make proposals in regard to it.