HC Deb 10 December 1920 vol 135 cc2690-9

(1) If any person being a manufacturer of or dealer in vehicles makes, in the prescribed manner, an application in that behalf to the council of the county in which his business premises are situate, that he may be entitled, in lieu of taking out a licence for each vehicle kept by him at the appropriate rate of duty chargeable under the Second Schedule to the Finance Act, 1920, to take out a general licence in respect of all vehicles used by him the council may, subject to the prescribed conditions, issue to him such a licence on payment of duty at the yearly rate of fifteen pounds, or, in the case of a licence chargeable with duty under paragraph 1 or paragraph 2 of the said Schedule at the yearly rate of two pounds:

Provided that—

  1. (a) licences under this Section at the yearly rate of fifteen pounds may be taken for one quarter of the year only beginning the first day of January, the twenty-fifth day of March, the first day of July, or the first day of October, and in the case of any licence so taken out the duty shall be thirty per cent, of the full annual duty; and
  2. (b) the holder of any licence issued under this Section shall not be entitled by virtue of that licence to use on any road more than one vehicle at any one time, or to use any vehicle on a road for any purpose other than such purposes as may be prescribed; and
  3. (c) nothing in this Section shall operate to prevent a person entitled to take out a general licence from holding two or more such licences.

(2) Provision may be made by Regulations under this Act for assigning a general identification mark to a person holding any licence issued under this Section.

(3) If any person is aggrieved by the refusal of a council to issue a general licence under this Section he may appeal to the Minister, and the Minister shall on any such appeal make such Order in the matter as he thinks just, and the council shall comply with any Order so made.

An Order made by the Minister under this provision shall be final and not subject to appeal to any Court.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "the" ["to the council of the county"], to insert the word "county."

Having used the term "county council," I do not understand why a different expression is used here. There seems to be no necessity for it and it will only create confusion.


I think the Amendment will make nonsense, and cannot be moved.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "duty at the yearly rate of fifteen pounds" and insert instead thereof the words "a fee not exceeding five pounds."

I understand it is the intention of the Minister to make some modification of this amount, and an intimation has been given that a suggested reduction of £10 would not be resisted by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that he had come here this afternoon with the full intention of being agreeable to the Committee. I want him to be generous enough to increase the sphere of those who will appreciate his attitude by meeting those traders who are intimately concerned with this Clause. From the point of view of the trade, it is undoubtedly the most vital of any contained in this Bill. I appreciate the reasons which have led the right hon. Gentleman to include this payment. No payment of this character was ever suggested in the original Bill and this is all extra revenue, and in fact duplicate revenue. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's idea that all cars using the roads shall pay their fair share in respect of such user, but he is going to get from the private user of the car a very considerable measure of revenue for which no user will be possible. For instance, take the question of a private person taking out a licence in the middle of a quarter. Obviously the Ministry of Transport will get the benefit of such portion of the quarter that has passed before the licence has been taken out, and there will be a considerable margin in the hands of the Ministry arising from that source. What will the position of the trader be in that respect? There are two classes of trader who will be primarily affected. There is, first, the manufacturer and, secondly, the retailer. So far as the manufacturer is concerned, if this fee of £10 remains it will put an intolerable burden upon the industry of the motor-car manufacturer, who is already heavily pressed and is suffering under most adverse conditions, because while manufacturers require very considerable user of the roads it is very small indeed in respect of any particular vehicle, and the purpose for which they will have to pay £10 is in the main merely for the purpose of delivering a car from their works to the town in which it is to be received, and the moment the car arrives at its destination a licence has to be taken out by the person who has bought the car, and therefore this charge only arises in respect of the use of the car from the moment it leaves the works until it reaches the purchaser, and that will be paid for in full by the purchaser of the car.

Manufacturers may often require a large number of cars for a comparatively small distance at the same time, and I ask the Committee to contemplate the unnecessary burden and charge of paying £10 per plate for the purpose of delivering, we will say, on any particular day 100, 200, or it may be 300 cars from the manu- facturer's works to a port for the purpose of exporting. Such a charge would be entirely unreasonable in view of the user of the road which would be made. Then there is another section of traders who would be very heavily hit if this proposal went through, and that is the small retailer. I believe there are 7,000 or 8,000 of these small traders who have a right of user in all the town and country districts, and most of them have occasion to take delivery of a limited number of cars during the year. Some of them only take perhaps half a dozen cars during the whole year. If he is so fortunate as to require to take delivery of two cars in the same day, he has to pay £20 for the purpose of these plates, which will be hanging up in his garage for the balance of the year unused, and I am sure that user has certainly been paid by the customer to whom he delivers the car. This will place an almost intolerable burden alike upon the manufacturer and the agent, and I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment. In the early stages of the Bill much play was made by some critics of the fact that there has been gross abuse in regard to the present number-plates on the part of the trade. I am not here to justify or condone the abuse of any law, but there is a very heavy contra account against the law on the part of motorists who have been most wickedly fleeced and robbed in the name of the law, and speaking as a motorist and a human being, any way I could possibly get back on the law because of the many injustices it has perpetrated upon the unfortunate motorist would be a source of infinite gratification to me. I hope, therefore, I may impress on the right hon. Gentleman the wisdom of meeting this case. If he will meet this request I can promise him that manufacturers and agents alike will only be too willing to co-operate with him in stamping out any abuse which may possibly creep in, and I ask him not to prejudge the possibility of any abuses in the first instance but to fix this fee at a reasonably minimum amount and let it run at that for a period, and if then he can show that there is unfair and unreasonable user of the road in consideration of the amount paid, I am sure no trader or trade association will raise any obstacle to any Amendment he may care to make. I am sure he will admit that in matters connected with the motor industry generally the representatives of the trade association have met him very fairly. They are willing to co-operate with him most cordially, and on their behalf I hope he will accept the Amendment.


I desire to support the Amendment. On public grounds I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to press for this very high penalty. When a car is delivered to the purchaser he pays the tax, and gets a licence, which provides money for the Road Fund. Prior to this Bill manufacturers and agents paid £3, I think, for which they could have a hundred of these plates, so that it was merely a registration fee and not taxation. The motor industry has agreed to pay taxation to the amount of eight or nine millions per year, and the trade did not suppose there was going to be an attempt to raise another quarter of a million. The trade is quite willing that registration should be continued. In no other country in the world is there this tax on the motor trade. In the United States, France, I believe in Germany, there is merely a registration fee, such as was imposed here prior to the Bill. This proposal would put a serious burden on manufacturers here which their rivals in foreign countries do not have to pay. The motor trade is at present in a very different condition from what it was in the spring. Several motor firms have closed down, one of the biggest is only kept going because the workpeople agreed to a 25 per cent. reduction in wages, and in some cases receivers have been appointed. The Stock Exchange list shows the fall in the shares of the industry. This is not the time to put increased taxation upon the trade. The Minister, on Second Reading, defended this tax because of the abuses which had taken place. I am convinced from evidence he placed before me that there were abuses, and that people used to drive to Hindhead or elsewhere on the supposition that they were testing a car when there was really no such intention. I desire, with the authority of the trade, to make two suggestions on behalf of the Association of Motor Manufacturers to meet this question. In the first place they will accept any Regulations the right hon. Gentleman makes to render impossible abuse of these trade plates, with any penalties he likes to suggest for improper use of these plates for purposes other than trade purposes; and, secondly, that these plates should not be allowed to be used on Sundays at all. Everybody knows Sunday is the day when motor cars are largely used. The purpose of this taxation is nominally in order to pay for the use of the roads. Not to use these plates on Sundays would effectively abolish the abuse, and ensure the using of those plates for the purpose of carrying on the manufacture, testing and delivery of cars from the manufacturer. I strongly support the Amendment, and ask the right hon. Gentleman not to put any burden on this industry at present.

Viscount CURZON

I wish also to support the Amendment. I am very much concerned at the position of the motor industry. I believe it to be true to say that it is in very low water indeed, and I think we should hesitate before wishing to place any further direct burden on the industry. Can the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the very serious position of the industry, postpone the coming into operation of this increased fee for trade number plates, and to postpone it for at least a year. Then if there is abuse he can increase the figure to whatever he thinks right. I feel that the motor industry is absolutely vital to this country. It is an industry which performed the greatest service on land, sea, and in the air during the War.


I do not think the subject has been put quite fairly in describing this as a penalty. The principle of the new taxation is that the users shall pay for the roads, and for better or worse we adopted a certain scale. The last thing I would wish to do would be to do any injury to the motor industry, but we have to compromise in those matters and to see what we can do to meet the views of both sides. There are those who think very strongly that the cars on test, moving from place to place, and being used for administration purposes, should pay the full tax. It is very difficult to say what is a fair figure to put on for the road user by these cars. I agree there has been a great deal of flagrant abuse, which, after all, the legislation in a way encouraged, because you got a licence and you could duplicate plates as much as you liked. Abuses or frauds, for that is what it is, will be far more likely now, because the charge is higher. I am very glad to hear from the hon. Baronet that the trade has at any rate wakened up to a sense of its responsibilities in the matter. I hope they will take steps to prevent the flagrant misuse of these registration plates whatever the tax may be If they do not stop it it will be essential in the near- future to take further steps by legislation to prevent it. I hope that they will do that in recognition of the trust which the Government is placing in them now. But these red number plates are a great advantage. We have adopted the principle of road users as a basis of taxation. I am anxious to reduce the rate of taxation as much as possible, but it is difficult to arrive at what is a reasonable tax and whether it is oppressive or not. I have got here two extreme cases. One firm, which was using five plates, got 16,600 miles per annum, and another firm with two plates got only 50 miles per annum. I cannot see how you are going to work it out and say whether it is going to be oppressive or not. The whole thing was considered most exhaustively by a Committee. I do not think that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders heard the evidence or were represented on the Committee. Subsequently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry met these gentlemen. After hearing the whole story, after considering the concession of the normal rate from £15, the Committee on again looking into the matter recommended me to accept £10 instead of £15. Splitting the difference is a very usual manner of settling these matters, and I hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham will accept this suggestion.


I would be quite willing to consider a solution on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend but he came here with the knowledge that £10 had been agreed on.


It has not been agreed on.


Not formally but the suggestion has been made. That was what my right hon. Friend had in mind. If he cannot meet me all the way the proper way to try to meet our proposal is from two points of view because this £10 will be an intolerable burden. £3 has been the total paid by the wealthiest manfacturer for unlimited facilities. My right hon. Friend now suggests £10 for one plate. He has given an example of how unfairly it may work out. For instance the person who has two plates and uses the road to the extent of 50 miles will pay £20 for the 50 miles. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make some concession. The concession which he is suggesting is one which he had up his sleeve before he came here.


I must express surprise and regret that the hon. Member for Nottingham has not at once accepted gratefully the concession that has been made. It seems to me that the whole case made by the hon. Member and by my hon. Friend (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) is completely answered not by the concession, but by the statement of my right hon. Friend, which is true, that the dealer or manufacturer can and does recover in the majority of cases the initial outlay on licensing on the sale of the car. I have been a purchaser of cars for ten or twelve years, and I know the practice. I know that when the maker or dealer does the registration, as he can by arrangement with the purchaser, there is an addition to the price of the car which reimburses the cost of registration. That is the whole case. Therefore no manufacturer and no dealer has a grievance when he trades upon that system. But there was one point which the hon. Member raised which struck me as thoroughly reasonable. That was that the amount of licence for a car which is intended for export should be recoverable when payment has to be made merely for the purpose of transporting the car from the place of manufacture to the place of embarkation. There undoubtedly is a hardship in this not being done. Possibly my right hon. Friend will consider this before the Report stage, with a view to providing machinery for reimbursing the manufacturer who is exporting. That is a real point of importance. I am surprised that my hon. Friend has not accepted the concession offered. I am a little surprised that it was made by the Minister, but, having been made, I think that it ought to be welcomed by the Committee.


I also put my name to the Amendment, and I would ask the Minister if he would not meet us a little further. I would call attention to the number of ex-service men and women who are affected. Many of them are in partnerships in garage businesses, and have only small capital with which they buy cars and sell cars on commission. The Government proposal would be a burden on such people.

Amendment negatived.


Can I propose now to insert the words "ten pounds"?

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)

I have called upon the hon. Member to move the next Amendment standing in his name on the Paper.


I think there is some misunderstanding. I thought the Minister was going to move the insertion of the words "ten pounds."


The hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Atkey) did not withdraw his Amendment, and the Committee has decided that the words he proposed to leave out shall stand part of the Clause.


I did not wish to withdraw my Amendment, but I did not understand that my action debarred me, if my Amendment was defeated, from moving another Amendment to insert the words "ten pounds."


That is what has happened.


On a point of Order. I submit to you that there has been a little error. The words "of fifteen pounds" stand, as you put the Question, but my right hon. Friend no doubt—


That is not a point of Order. We cannot go into that.


It is a point of Order for the Report stage.


It is not my business now to decide points in reference to the Report stage of the Bill.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), to leave out the words "at the yearly rate of two pounds" and to insert instead thereof the words "not exceeding twenty shillings."

This is a concession which I hope the Minister will make in connection with motor cycles.


Exactly the same point arises here as in the last case. The matter has been very carefully considered. It is not all additional taxation, because the traders, the agents, are paying the petrol tax to-day, and if you take into account the difference in the value of money there is not much in it.


Is it proposed to make any concession here on motor cycles?


According to the re-commendations.


I hope the hon. Member for Nottingham will accept this concession. As an older Parliamentary hand I ought to have been more alert on the last occasion.


I do not know how to put it, but I am taking the concession.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In Sub-section (1) leave out the words "at the yearly rate of two pounds," and insert instead thereof the words "not exceeding thirty shillings."

In Sub-section (1, b) leave out the words "on any road." Leave out the words "on a road."

At the end of Sub-section (3) insert the words "and shall, on the application of the Minister, be enforceable by writ of mandamus."—[Sir B. Geddes.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.