HC Deb 23 July 1919 vol 118 cc1430-2

All duties of Customs on motor spirit imported into Great Britain or Ireland are hereby repealed.—[Mr. Joynson-Hicks.]

Brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move. That the Clause be read a second time. The case is simply this. The House will remember that in 1909 the Road Board was established and certain Petrol Duties were imposed on motorists. We have heard a good deal recently about the user of roads. These taxes were imposed by the present Prime Minister when Chancellor of the Exchequer, and these are the words the right hon. Gentleman used: The tax has been imposed purely for the benefit of the roads of the country, and it is no part of the general scheme of the Government for raising revenue. I would like hon. Members who occasionally cry out against us motorists to note this, and I wish the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) were present. The right hon. Gentleman went on: The brunt of the expense at the beginning must be borne by motorists, and to do them justice they are willing and even anxious to subscribe handsomely towards such purposes, so long as a guarantee is given, in the method of control of the expenditure, that the funds so raised will not merely be devoted exclusively to the improvement of roads, but that they will be well and wisely spent. 5.0 p.m.

Relying upon those words motorists quite freely and willingly agreed to the imposition of this particular taxation which was not imposed on any other form of conveyance, and in order that the funds so raised should be transferred to the Road Board and used for the improvement of roads. Mr. McKenna in 1915 asked that this tax should be diverted from its original purpose and put into the general funds because, and quite rightly, he said we could not afford to waste any money at all and needed every penny for the purposes of the War. Motorists willingly acceded to the suggestion and paid the tax in 1916–17–18. The War is over and I move in order to obtain a declaration from the right hon. Gentleman that he agrees with the statement of the Prime Minister in 1909 and Mr. McKenna in 1915. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is giving this year far more than the proceeds of this tax to the. roads, namely, a sum of £10,000,000 out of the general taxation, because it is realised that the manner in which the roads were treated, and necessarily, during the War by the Government and other vehicles has involved very large expenditure in the repair of those roads. Road users and authorities are grateful for that Grant. On the other hand, they want the right hon. Gentleman, as soon as he can, and I do not press it this year as the War is not fully over, to restore this tax to its original purpose so that the road authorities may have a certain sum which they can depend upon for a period of at least five years, so that they may lay their plans for the improvement of roads, which as in the case of the building of a main road may take at least five years. I would ask my right hon. Friend, if he can, to give us an assurance that he will be able next year to restore this money to its original purpose, and thereby enable the Minister of Ways and Communications, though I would prefer to see the old Road Board, and the authorities concerned to cut their coat not according to the cloth at the moment, but the cloth spread over for five years.


I beg to second the Motion.


My hon. Friend has stated the case so fairly that I have very little to add. I recognise that the original Motor Spirit Duty was put on in order to find a revenue for the improvement and upkeep of the roads. I have certainly no intention, so far as I am concerned, of diverting that tax permanently to any other purpose whatever. I think that that tax, or its equivalent, should go to the upkeep and development of roads. My hon. Friend explained the circumstances under which the tax was diverted during the War. The old tax would have been restored for its purpose this year if it was at all adequate to the needs of the position; but obviously the situation which had arisen was one which required more heroic remedies, and when we were providing this payment it was not worth while to restore this tax and then diminish the £10,000,000 by an equivalent amount. I said that the original tax, or its equivalent, should be restored to the purpose for which it was originally imposed. I did no exclude from consideration the question of giving a larger sum than the original tax would produce on the present use, but I am not now considering that point. All I say is that the obligation is in relation to the original tax and not to the increased tax which was superimposed during the War. With regard to the future, as the House knows, I indicated that this tax is a, costly one to collect, and a very inconvenient one, because it depends on the use of the article which is taxed. I do not think a tax of that kind can ever be a satisfactory fiscal weapon. I have privately invited representatives of the industry to suggest an alternative, and I now take the opportunity of repeating that invitation publicly. Assuming that they are to be taxed to the extent to which they are now taxed, is there another way which will be more suitable from the revenue point of view and from theirs, because our interests are really the same, and I would like to know what they would suggest? I have no intention of going back on the original bargain or understanding between the present Prime Minister when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and the motorists who cooperated with much public spirit with him.


I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has met me, and I am very glad to withdraw the Clause. There is only one thing I would say, and that is, in asking me to suggest another form of hari-kari for the unfortunate motorists, I would rather he submitted a tax and leave me to criticise it, rather than that I should submit one and leave him to criticise it. However, we are considering what proposals, in fairness to the Exchequer and ourselves, we can put before the Chancellor.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.


My right hon. Friend (Mr. Adamson) has given notice to move a new Clause as to an allowance. I am ready to accept the principle of this Clause, but this is not the most convenient place. That would, I think, be after Clause 24. I am not satisfied that the words of the Clause are quite suitable, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be willing to take the matter on Clause 24.


I am quite willing to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.