HC Deb 24 April 1928 vol 216 cc861-3

To return to the Oil Duty, the private motorists will naturally be disappointed that the only reply of His Majesty's Government to a widely signed petition, alleged to carry over 900,000 signatures, advocating the substitution of a petrol tax for the existing licence duties should be a new petrol tax in addition. I have tried my best to see if a partial substitution of an extra petrol duty above the 4d. could be introduced in place of the horse-power tax, or part of the horse-power tax, and I have considered carefully whether such an extra duty could be superimposed upon the new Oil Duty, which of course is required for the central purposes of the State. I close no door upon the future. I know well how in many ways it would be advantageous to the export of motor cars to our Dominions, but I am sure this cannot be done now. The complica- tions are enormous, and so are the differences of opinion. By no means is it to be supposed that there is only one opinion in the matter, even as to the increase of British cars and their exportation. It may well be that we gain as well as lose by the present situation, and the motor manufacturers themselves speak no longer with any decided voice upon the point. The burden upon commercial vehicles would be raised so sharply and heavily that a real shock might be given to a new and already indispensable agency in our economic life. There is not the Parliamentary time this Session for carrying such an intricate and delicate change.

Far more complicated than the Oil Duty of 4d., with only the two rebates I have mentioned to fishermen and agricultural tractors, a separate petrol duty levied for road purposes involves a new chemical frontier much more complicated than the one that divides the light oils from the heavy, and in addition involves a rebate to all who use petrol for any other purpose than motor transport—and they are very numerous, painters, cleaners and so forth. It is a highly complicated matter. I cannot undertake it in the present financial year. I am already putting a very heavy strain upon the Customs and Excise officials, and I do not wish to add to that at present. It might well seriously endanger the efficiency of the very important labours which now have to be carried out. I will not therefore discuss the merits of the proposal to-day, but I believe the motoring community, who are neither the least fortunate nor the least patriotic element in the nation, and who have been so greatly favoured by the downward movement of petrol prices, will not judge the issue from a narrow standpoint. I hope they will consider the plan and the policy of the Budget as a whole and form their opinion as citizens and not as motorists.

It is a part of the main argument I am submitting that heavy vehicles that run almost continuously upon the roads do not at present pay their proper economic share of road maintenance. The 4d. Oil Duty will fall appreciably upon them, and I stand here to argue that it ought so to fall, but I am anxious to reduce the additional burden to limits which do not impede the healthy development of this invaluable means of internal communication. The Minister of Transport, whose abolition we decreed last year, but who is happily still with us, has therefore, in consultation with me and with the approval of the Prime Minister, prepared a series of mitigating reductions of the licence duties upon the goods and hackney vehicles. They are only mitigations because they ought to pay more, and they are going to pay more, hut not to the full extent of the duty.

I will not detain the Committee by explaining the details at present. They will be set forth in the White Paper which will be available to-night. The essence of them is that there will be reductions in the licence duties on the lighter goods vehicles and hackney vehicles, and there will be in addition a 20 per cent. rebate of licence duty allowable for all heavy vehicles provided they are fitted with pneumatic instead of solid tyres. The Minister of Transport will take an early opportunity in the Debates on the Finance Bill of telling this part of the story. I will content myself now with saying that these mitigations are expensive. They will cost £800,000 in the present year and £1,250,000 next year. I have undertaken that the Exchequer should share the cost of these reliefs with the Road Fund; in fact, I propose to restore a portion of those funds which two years ago were transferred by me to my account, and to assume for the Exchequer the liability for the £600,000 grant to local authorities in lieu of the old carriage licences which at present is charged on the share of the motor taxes which goes to the Road Fund. The rest of the money for this remission will be provided by the Road Fund. There is also a subsidiary provision about certain kinds of trailer vehicles. With this my right hon. Friend will deal when the time comes. All these changes will take effect as from let January, 1929.