HC Deb 01 June 1933 vol 278 cc2210-36

11.9 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 32, line 14, after the word "than" to insert the words "coal, gas or."

I presume that it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I deal with the various Amendments to the Seventh Schedule which stand in my name. With reference to compressed gas for motor vehicles this, as I think my right hon. Friend will appreciate, is only just emerging from its experimental stages. There has been a great deal of exaggeration, which is not warranted either on the work that has been done up to date or on what may be effected in the immediate future. Certainly there are a number of points that deserve notice. Compressed gas for the use of motor cars is cleaner and it is 100 per cent. British fuel from coal. But it has been found by experience that the costs are so heavy that there is not much prospect of any development in compressed-gas driven vehicles except under highly favourable conditions. We are asking that compressed coal gas should be put in the same class as petrol vehicles, and we ask for new concessions dealing with the assessment of the unladen weight, which has a material bEarlng on the amount of licence duty chargeable. On the assumption that there is an increased licence to be paid for compressed-gas driven vehicles of approximately £20, if we could assume an average vehicle with average mileage consumption, this would be approximately equivalent to 3d. a gallon on petrol, which completely rules it out for the time being. It may be argued that the petrol duty is partly a contribution to the upkeep of the roads and compressed gas does not bear any proportion of this, but gas undertakings pay a very large amount of rates per annum and are generally amongst the largest ratepayers in their particular areas. They are, therefore, contributing very largely to the upkeep of roads. The two concessions that are asked for are practically negligible from the income point of view, but would be of inestimable value in developing re- search work in connection with a matter that is very closely concerned with British fuel for driving motor cars.

11.12 p.m.


I support everything that has been submitted by my hon. Friend, but, as the matter covers a very wide field, and one that affects a considerable interest in gas-driven vehicles, I should also like to call attention to the position of some road vehicles and the duties which are set out on the top of page 38, and which appear to be practically the same as those that appear in the lower half of the page as applicable to petrol-driven engines. These duties, it would be seen, are in fact, as far as the steam-driven road vehicle is concerned, much more burdensome, because the unladen weight is necessarily so much greater than in the case of the petrol-driven vehicle, in addition to which the maximum over-all weight of 19 tons allowed for the heaviest class of steam vehicle acts very prejudicially against it. I would ask the Committee to consider the position of the heavy steam vehicle in respect of the alleged damage done by them to the roads as against the damage done by the lighter petrol-driven vehicle. I would also ask the Minister to consider that in no way can these allegations be sustained. In fact, the actual reverse is the position.

The effect upon the road surface of the six and eight-wheeled vehicle, especially in these days, Since the fitting of pneumatic tyres and the restriction of the speeds, is so much lighter than the more speedier petrol vehicle and much less damaging to the surface. If one looks at the various views put forward by many committees and boards which have had the matter under review, one finds that the petrol-driven vehicle does not enjoy by any means the same longevity in respect of its tyres as is enjoyed by the steam vehicle. In view of the great development which has taken place in the steam vehicle and the methods which are adopted to avoid the emission of obnoxious steam and fumes, and the great claim this type of vehicle has upon the attention of the Minister in respect of the various Amendments upon the Paper, I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment.



The Amendment covers exactly the same point as the Amendment which I have put down a little later on the Order Paper, and therefore I should like to say a few words in support of it. My sole purpose is to try and encourage the consumption of home-produced fuel on the road, and I do not see why in this Schedule one should find that the steam-driven vehicles are taxed at a lower rate than the coal-gas vehicles. At the present time there are many firms which are experimenting with coal gas and great hopes are held out for considerable development of coal-gas vehicles and for the transport to be carried on the roads to be propelled by gas rather than by imported oil, so that I hope that the Government will be prepared to give sympathetic consideration to the Amendment.



We are dealing with a matter of great complexity, without, perhaps, all the information that might be possessed. The Government have presented to us a series of very complicated Schedules, and they have no doubt taken great trouble in drawing up those Schedules. Whether they represent the best solution, I do not know, and I very much doubt whether the Government know. They are based, presumably, upon the assumption that a vehicle ought to be taxed in proportion to the damage it does to the roads. But there is the further consideration that to some extent we should try and protect the production of certain British fuels against certain foreign fuels, and my main concern for the Amendments on the Order Paper, to about a, dozen of which my name is attached, is that we ought to do everything possible to protect British industry. I am an unrepentant Protectionist. Whenever I get the chance to protect British industry I want to do it, and I think the various Amendments on the Order Paper would have the effect of protecting the production of gas which, incidentally, means the production of coal. Therefore, I support it.

I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer —I do not suppose he is going to accept any of the Amendments to-night—will have an exhaustive investigation, in consultation with the industries affected, as to the merits of these Schedules. Budgets are produced in secret and the Chancellor of the Exchequer always tells us that he cannot anticipate his Budget statement, although that is perfectly sound in regard to a great many proposals in the Budget, it is a thoroughly bad principle in regard to a great many other proposals, and I look forward to the time when some Chancellor of the Exchequer will anticipate his Budget proposals in part. So that people can discuss in advance what he proposes to do. That is impossible when he is proposing to vary Customs duties or Excise duties, but there is no reason why that old fashioned and bad principle should be continued in respect of every case. Here are a series of proposals. They may be good or bad, I do not know, but there has been no detailed explanation of them and I do not suppose that the Minister at this time of night will give us a very exhaustive explanation of them, but I hope he will examine the proposals in the Amendments to which many of us have put our names. We desire to protect fuel made in this country as against imported fuel.

11.22 p.m.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I am afraid that at this late hour I cannot give, nor would the Committee expect me to give, an exhaustive account of the reasons that induced me to adopt this scale. In adopting the scale and fixing the amount for the non-petrol using vehicles I had two principles in mind. The first was that as far as possible they should receive no subsidy, that is, that by using a different fuel than that which is taxed and contributes to the revenue they should not escape the same share of the cost of road user as was borne by the petrol-driven vehicle. Secondly, having fixed that general principle, in particular cases variations could be made in order to make special allowances, and the scales could be altered one way or the other with respect to the user of roads by particular vehicles. It was for that reason that when the scales were drawn up I made a difference between the steam and the coal-gas vehicle, because I felt that there were certain limitations on the use of the steam vehicle which made it a less heavy user of the road than the coal-gas vehicle might possibly become. The heavy un- laden weight of the steam vehicle and the need for refuelling meant some handicap in its user of the roads.

I admit that in comparison heavy oil seemed to enjoy more or less an advantage over coal-gas, and therefore I became a convert to the principles of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) and gave coal-gas a certain measure of protection. It is true to say that facts have been brought to my notice Since the scales were first inserted in the Bill which make me believe that I took at that time too optimistic a view of the immediate potentialities of the coal-gas vehicle, and it appears that some of the rosy reports which were given of it are, when it comes to taxation on the basis of those reports, not quite so rosy as they appear, and that in fact they now fall rather into the category and under the limitations of steam vehicles than as being a really potential competitor of the petrol-driven vehicle. I should like hon. Members to understand that any alteration that it was possible for my right hon. Friend to make would be due to these existing handicaps, but that the situation would have to be reviewed if invention and the progress of science removed those handicaps. I am prepared between now and Report to consult with my right hon. Friend to see what possibility there is of meeting this less favourable view of the present capacity of these vehicles than I took in the first instance. With regard to the aggregate weight of the gas cylinders, I am afraid that I cannot accept that proposal. Cylinders which contain gas are in the same category as tanks which contain petrol, and if one is included in the weight of the vehicle there is no reason why the other should not be included also.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.27 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 35, line 11, at the end, to insert the words: and tractors which are used solely for the hauling of native timber from the place where it is felled. This Amendment and several later Amendments on the Order Paper deal with the question as to whether a limited class of timber tractors, vehicles which are normally used for the purpose of hauling timber from the place where it is felled, should be charged on the scale which is applicable to agricultural tractors or whether they should pay the higher scale of duty which is applicable to other tractors, and I would suggest that it would be convenient to discuss the Amendments all together.


I think they really deal with one question. There are several Amendments, but they deal with the same point.


The question really is whether forestry can fairly be regarded as a branch of agriculture. From the point of view of nature operations in the woods of planting, cultivating and cutting timber are clearly very analogous to similar operations which are carried on in the fields. I will not labour that point at this late hour. Let me, however, tell the Committee how this matter has been regarded by Parliament in the various Acts which have been passed. A true reading of the Statutes is that the question as to how the matter is dealt with in any particular case depends on the particular aspect of the question before Parliament. In the Corn Production Acts of 1917 and 1921, we find that in the 1917 Act the term "agriculture" does include the use of land for woodlands, whereas in the 1921 Act agriculture does not include the use of land for woodlands. The reason for that distinction is very fine indeed; it depends on some other sections of the earlier Act. When we come to the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 we find that amongst the excepted employments is employment in agriculture, including horticultural and forestry work, and, in the same way, in the Agricultural Wages Act, 1924, agriculture includes the use of land as woodlands. It is clear that the reason why men employed on woodlands are given the same treatment as an agricultural labourer is because the operations they carry on are similar. In a much more recent Act, the Rating and Valuation Act, 1928, agricultural land includes land used for plantations, woods or the growth of underwood. Therefore, from the point of view of Statute law, forestry is included in agriculture. The real ques- tion the Committee has to decide is whether in the particular aspect we are now considering timber tractors, used for hauling timber, should receive the same treatment as agricultural tractors.

Why was this original concession granted to agriculture? It was in the Finance Act of 1920 that the two scales of duty were first drawn up. In the earlier part of the Debate on that Act it was suggested that the scale of duty for agricultural vehicles was an unfair differentiation in favour of agriculture, but the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Caut-ley) made it clear that the taxes are imposed solely for the purpose of improving the roads, and that the theory of the taxes was that the heavier taxes should be put on the vehicles which were used on the roads most and the lighter taxes on those which were used least. The Minister of Transport at that time, Sir Eric Geddes, accepted that view, and said that the reason why agricultural vehicles had a light scale of duties was that they used the roads to a comparatively small extent.

What is the position of timber tractors? Investigation will show that the timber traffic vehicles are used in just the same way to a large extent in the woodlands for the purpose of extracting timber from the places where it is felled. Therefore I suggest to the Minister that it would be fair to give to timber vehicles the same concession as agricultural vehicles have, on the ground that they are used very largely on the land instead of on the road. There is one other point. Some hon. Members may think that this preference in favour of agriculture has been given partly as a kind of help to agriculture. If that is so I suggest that timber production in this country is just as much a depressed industry as agriculture, that it is just as much of national importance, and that it ought to receive the same treatment. It has been recognised by the Forestry Commission that it is to the national advantage for the owners of land to plant land with timber. They get a grant to enable them to do that planting, and the material to plant.

What has been suggested against the proposal? It has been suggested in the past that these timber lorries and waggons do a great deal of damage to the roads. There is a certain amount of confusion of thought about that. It is true that if you have a heavy timber lorry and compare it with a light vehicle used in another industry, the heavy lorry does, comparatively, a great deal of damage, but where is the evidence that a single ton of timber carried on a particular vehicle does more damage to a road than a ton of any other commodity? There is no evidence and there cannot be any. Another suggestion is that the timber vehicles do a great deal of damage to the roads because they use wheels shod with iron. That may have been a good argument in the past, but Since the Traffic Act of 1930 and the Order made under it, most timber vehicles have had rubber tyres. That has been so Since 1st January last.

This Amendment strictly limits the concession to those vehicles which are used solely for the removal of native timber from the place where it is felled, and they ought to get the same relief as the agricultural vehicle gets when it takes corn from the farm where it is cut. I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment. If he cannot do so now, I ask him to consider the matter very carefully before the Report stage. The Amendment is not like many of the Amendments we have had moved to-night, where the proposal has been to reduce the existing scale of taxation. This is an Amendment dealing with a different proposition, where it is proposed to put an additional Duty on vehicles in future. If that Duty is once imposed many people will be hard hit by it. If a decision is deferred to another year it may be too late to save many people.

11.35 p.m.


I hope, if the Government cannot see their way to accept this new Clause, that they will consider whether something might not be done to modify these proposals between now and the Report stage. My hon. and gallant Friend the Mover has referred to the rather loose statement, frequently repeated, in discussions on this question, that more damage is done to roads by the haulage of timber than by any other form of transport. Of course there is no reason why the car- riage of 5 tons of timber should do more damage than the carriage of 5 tons of any other commodity. What sometimes happens is that, where a large area is felled all at once, the transport of the timber to the nearest station causes continuous traffic for a certain time and the road may be badly knocked about in consequence. But I ask the Committee to remember that, normally, timber is only felled after 70 years' growth; and that the owner of the wood and his predecessors had been paying rates towards the maintenance of the road for the previous 70 years, during which the demands of timber on road transport had been negligible, apart from a few occasional thinnings, and he and his successors will continue to pay rates for the subsequent 70 years until the new plantations mature. The justification for the Amendment is that there is no logical reason for drawing any distinction between the use of the soil for the production of timber and its use for the production of an agricultural crop. I have yet to hear any argument which will hold water for discriminating between one vegetable and another on the ground of longevity.

There is one consideration which has not received sufficient attention from the House of Commons. It is that the State is now, by far the largest owner of woods in the United Kingdom. The Forestry Commission has already planted 220,000 acres and is continuing to plant at the rate of more than 20,000 acres a year. In one or two years from now, it will be necessary to begin the work of thinning the earlier plantations which are now 13 or 14 years old. It is easier for a Member who has no official connection with the Commission to speak with freedom on this subject. If this Schedule goes through in its present form, the loss of revenue to the State, resulting from inability of the Commission to market its timber at an economic price will be immeasurably greater than any trifling loss to the Exchequer which may result from the email concession we now ask. All sections of the Committee, I know, are anxious to encourage the progress of afforestation. Its economic value and social value to the country are so well known that it is unnecessary to emphasise them now. But it is not irrelevant to observe that the amount of direct employment afforded by the expenditure of the Commission is at the rate of one man employed to every £140 spent in the year, or about double the estimate given in the "Times" by Professor Keynes and 5 times the estimate given in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the normal amount of direct employment afforded by Government expenditure. It will be a calamity if this Committee does anything which will restrict and in many districts destroy the possibility of marketing British timber at economic prices.

Some of my hon. friends have complained that no Minister is responsible for afforestation. I think the advantages of having afforestation conducted by a statutory body, independent of political change, are so great that no one would wish to alter that system but there is this inevitable disadvantage, that whenever we try to make any representations, such as we are making now, to the Government we find on the part of every Minister whom we approach the greatest zeal and promptitude in transferring over representations to some other Minister. We are tossed about like a shuttlecock from the Exchequer to the Board of Trade, from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Agriculture, from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Mines, which is supposed, by all other Departments, to know something about pit props, and, fiNaily and as a last resort, to the Scottish Office. I hope that tonight we may find a secure resting place in the generous bosom of the Minister of Transport, and I hope the Government will consider, collectively, whether this misfortune cannot be averted for the timber industry by the simple expedient of removing this false distinction between agriculture and forestry, which has no basis, either in equity or in common sense.

11.41 p.m.


I cannot offer myself as battledore to my hon. and learned Friend's shuttlecock. We all agree, as he says, that we wish to see an improvement in the condition of this industry, but he will realize that the larger aspects of industrial policy, not only of forestry but of other industries, is beyond my provInce, and all that I am concerned with is the road user of vehicles which these industries employ. My hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment has tried to establish the principle that I should regard forestry and agriculture on an exactly similar footing, and in that he has been supported by my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down. They appealed to me, first, on the ground of Nature, considering that, as vegetables, apparently, there is no difference between a larch and a leek, but I would remind my hon. Friends that I am not interested in the vegetables but in the carriage of those vegetables, and that while I have to consider whether there is a difference between agriculture and forestry, it is not what difference or similarity there is in the things that * grow, but what difference or similarity there is in the way in which those things are transported. The concession which was given some years ago to agriculture was not given on the ground of any particular circumstances of the agricultural industry itself or the state the industry was in; it was given on the ground that certain vehicles engaged in agriculture spent very little of their time upon the public roads and, therefore, were entitled to a concession in comparison with other vehicles employed by other industries, the Majority of whose time was spent upon the public roads. Of course, my hon. Friends will realize that when they talk about the concession to agriculture, it is not every agricultural vehicle that obtains the concession at all. It is very strictly hedged round with conditions intended, so far as possible, to restrict this concession to agricultural vehicles mainly used upon the land, but which may from time to time go upon the public roads.

If we come now to consideration of this point alone, I think hon. Members will see at once what an immense difference there is between the transport of the product of forestry and the transport of the product of agriculture. The Amendment is practically without limitation at all. It is quite true that the vehicle which is to receive this concession is to start from the place where the timber is felled, but once it has fulfilled that condition, it can end its journey anywhere else in the United Kingdom—it can spend the whole of its time upon the roads—and when I am told that it is a fallacy to say that the transport of timber does more damage to the roads than does the transport of any other kind of commodity, I would remind my hon. Friends that I am not seeking to say that it does more damage and therefore asking the forestry wagon to pay more; I am only saying that it does as much damage and asking it, therefore, to pay on the same scale as other commodities which are transported along the road. I am afraid that much as I sympathise with the position in which the forestry industry is to-day, I cannot distinguish between its user of the roads and the user of other heavy industries which are equally depressed. In these circumstances, I regret that it is not possible for me to accept the Amendment.

11.45 p.m.


I have been authorised to express the view of the Forestry Commission on this matter. The Commission are far from happy about the present position of the English woodlands. Taking a long view, we attach the greatest importance to their restoration to proper conditions of silviculture for producing a reasonable amout of timber. Their economic position is very unsound and unsatisfactory, and we are afraid that, unless some concession is given in respect of the haulage of timber from the place where it is felled to the nearest sawmill or the nearest place where it can be put upon the rail, a great deal of the timber which is now mature and is ready for market will not be marketed at all. The result of that will be that a greater proportion than ever of our woodlands will become derelict, and will fail to be managed under proper silvicultural conditions to produce their proper share of timber.

We are not suggesting that special facilities should be given to the haulage of timber by mechanical vehicles merely because it is a load of timber. We do not advocate the long range haulage of timber by mechanical means. I hold the view—I do not know whether it is supported by the Commission because it has not been discussed by them—that for State purposes the horse is still the cheapest form of road transport to the local station or the mill; but while that is true of the State, it is not true of the timber merchant who has to come from a distance. Whether it is more economical to use the horse or the tractor is not really material now. The fact is that a great many tractors and mechanically propelled vehicles are in use to-day for hauling timber which is mature to the railway station or the sawmill, and we fear that if anything interferes with that practice timber will fail to reach the market altogether. That will be very bad in the national interest. Therefore, without going so far as to support the Amendment, the Forestry Commission would like to join in the appeal to the Minister of Transport to consider whether in the national interest some concession might not be made so as to ensure that timber which is ripe for the market shall not fail to get there because of the imposition of these additional taxes.

11.49 p.m.


I also regret that the Minister cannot do anything to help the old English industry of the timber merchant. By his own test I cannot but think that he has come to an absolutely wrong conclusion. I am not aware of anyone who sends by road timber butts cut from the round timber. It is never conveyed long distances in that way. It is taken from where it is felled—and this Amendment deals only with those vehicles employed in the removal of the timber from where it is felled—to the timber merchants where it is made into merchantable commodity. I do urge that the same consideration applies to that as applied to the agricultural vehicles to which exemption was given when we pointed out to the Minister in charge at that time that those vehicles were not on the roads for any comparatively long periods. The same thing happens here. I am speaking of English timber, with which I am acquainted, for I do not know about Scotland.

I have seven or eight timber merchants in my own Division and I have had letters from one or two. One of them points out that the bulk of the work done by his tractor is in felling the trees to the ground and getting them out of the wood, and not on the roads at all. He estimates that his tractor has only been on the roads about 2½ hours each day. It does comparatively small damage to the roads. That is the test, and let us apply that test. The timber merchant asks for some exemption for what is an agricultural product. The timber is either taken direct from the place where it is felled to the railway station and sent by rail or it is taken to the timber merchants' saw mills. I do urge the Minister to reconsider this matter. It means that you are going to destroy one of our rural industries—goodness only knows, there are few enough of them, as it is—by excessive taxation which can do no good. I do beg the Minister to reconsider it before the Report stage and before he does this fatal injury to a very deserving industry.

11.53 p.m.


May I make an appeal? I agree with what the Minister said, but I think the situation has changed Since the hon. and gallant Member for Bye (Sir G. Courthope) spoke on the subject, because he speaks with great authority, and he has put the point of view of the Forestry Commission. The Committee should bear in mind that this House grants a very large sum of money for every year to the Forestry Commission, whose large-scale programme has been encouraged by every Government Since it started. If the policy which we are now embarking on is going, in the considered opinion of the Commission, to have a deleterious effect on their programme, it seems to me that we ought to look at this matter from a rather larger aspect than the small aspect of the roads, with which the Minister is primarily concerned. Therefore, while I agree with him when he says that the wording of the Amendment is not very good I should like to make an appeal to him that he should between now and the Report stage consider perhaps in consultation with the Forestry Commission or with his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, some limiting words that these vehicles should be considered agricultural in their office as between the forest areas all over the country and the nearest railhead or the nearest sawmill. After all, forests are not in the most accessible spots and it would be well if this could be limited even to that degree. I do not know whether it is even administratively possible, but I would urge the Minister, after what has been said, to consider the matter. I would not have made this appeal had it not been for what the hon. and gallant Member for Rye said, but I hope the Minister may find an opportunity to consult the people concerned in order to see if he cannot do something along these lines.

11.55 p.m.


I may tell my hon. and gallant Friend that I have already arranged to see both the representatives of the Forestry Commission and of the Timber Trades Association between now and the Report stage. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who speaks with such authority on these matters will not think it wrong of me to remind him and the Committee that in 1926, when a similar Amendment was moved, he spoke against the Amendment and held very strongly the view which I am putting before the Committee tonight that forestry has no right to be treated on the same basis as agriculture and should not, therefore, enjoy the same privileges and exemptions.


In view of the Minister's statement I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Capt. Strickland.


May I call your attention, Sir Dennis, to my Amendment—In page 37 to leave out lines 33 to 53—That Amendment deals with the exemption of electric vehicles. A lot was said by the Minister with regard to various types of vehicles, but I hope you are not under the impression that electric vehicles were mentioned, because I have been "kangarooed" very unjustifiably.


The hon. and gallant Member is mistaken. I have no option in the matter, because his Amendment is not in Order, as it would create a charge.


It is to exempt vehicles from taxation, and is certainly in Order. It does not increase the charge.


I am quite right. If the hon. and gallant Member left out those lines higher duties would be payable.

11.57 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 38, line 41, to leave out from the second word "exceeding" to the end of line 46, and to insert instead thereof the words:

£ s. d. £ s. d.
"3½ tone in weight unladen 41 0 0 54 13 4
Exceeding 3½ tons but not exceeding 4 tons in weight unladen 47 0 0 62 13 4
Exceeding 4 tons in weight unladen—
for the first 4 tons 47 0 0 62 13 4
for each additional half ton or part of half ton 6 0 0 8 0 0"
I shall have to try to compress my remarks on this very important subject into a very few sentences, but it is going to be extremely difficult to bring my arguments into the compass of the time which the Committee will be willing to concede to me at this hour. My Amendment deals with the proposed taxation of motor vehicles and the form in which that appears in the Schedule. It was only reasonable to expect that the old scale of charges which had only visualised vehicles of the unladen weight of 5 tons and above that weight made no additional charge, would give place to a new scale which would impose a heavier charge on vehicles above that weight. No one would object to that principle being carried out. This Amendment is moved more to secure an adjustment than to criticise the action of the Government in placing heavier duties on these heavier vehicles which have been evolved under our system of road transport. The objection I have is based on two grounds. The first is that already, before these extra duties are put on, the motor trade is paying more than double the cost of the roads of this country. Therefore, we have some right to ask why it is that the motor trade should have been particularly selected in this Budget as the one instrument for obtaining further revenue; provided that it is not being abstracted from that trade on account of the damage which it might be held that those vehicles do to the roads.

The second great objection we have, and perhaps it is the more important one, is based on the effect which this additional taxation is bound to have on the general trade and industry of the country. When the Royal Commission went into this matter, it came to the very definite conclusion that vehicles of between nine and ten ton unladen weight should not be called upon to pay a higher tax than £120 per annum for the use that they made of the roads. The Government have departed from that principle. Although we hear many allusions, when theories have to be supported, to what the Salter Conference or the Royal Commission recommended, the Government certainly cannot advance the theory in this case that they have followed the advice of the Royal Commission. I am aware that the Salter Conference advised a higher rate of duty, but I am basing my remarks upon the Royal Commission, which was a Commission held in public with public evidence, and not the secret type of evidence upon which the Salter Report was based.

Under our proposal, the nine-ton vehicle would pay just about £119, thereby bringing it into line with the taxation that was suggested by the Royal Commission. That would apply only to pneumatic-tyred vehicles; the heavy-tyred ones would pay 33⅓ more than that. The taxation has one very bad feature— its very sudden rises. The difference in taxation between one ton and another is going to cost not less than £20. Hon. Members will see by that what a burden is being put upon the industry. It has been stated that the Lord tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, but I am bound to think that the wind will not be less inclined to blow upon the face of the trader who is suddenly faced with this additional burden.

We ask that the duty should be graded in half-ton steps. It is no new proposal. The Government recognised the system some years ago, when they graded the steps of the light-weighted vehicles. I presume that they made that grading because they realised the vast difference that it would make in encouraging motor manufacturers to produce engines for carrying heavy goods. That taxation is in such moderate rises that men would not hesitate between the purchase of one vehicle and another. Half-ton steps at present only rise up to the four-ton unladen weight. Above that, one is suddenly faced with a £20 rise per ton as one goes up the scale. Those half-ton rises are very greatly appreciated by motor manufacturers, and there is no question that it helps them very considerably.

My first point is that the Government should consider making the rises by half-ton unladen-weight, instead of by steps of one ton. That would be conferring a tremendous advantage upon the motor manufacturing industry which would not have to try to cut down the efficiency of their engines, in order to bring the vehicle just under the tonnage instead of rising, say a hundredweight or two, above it, and then finding no market for the vehicle because the extra hundredweight in unladen weight would mean an extra £20 upon the annual cost of running that type of vehicle. What will happen will be that there will be the lightest possible tonnage in the vehicle, which will then be loaded with the heaviest possible weight that it is capable, within reason, of carrying. Experience has shown that this probably would not lead to loss of revenue. In 1923 the average horsepower of motor vehicles in this country was 17, and in 1933 the figure had dropped to 13; so that, at £l per horsepower, the average revenue per car, instead of being £17, as in 1933, is now £13. If this concession could be made, it would have the effect of increasing rather than decreasing the revenue. It would not affect the proposed scale for the lighter vehicles, but it would affect the scale for the heavier vehicles, and at first sight it might be thought that it would lead to a heavy loss of revenue; but I am sure the Minister's experience will show that in this country the largest part of the revenue from motor taxation comes from vehicles of 2 and 2½ tons, and that at 3 or 4 tons unladen weight there is a drop of nearly half in the revenue from the taxation, showing that the revenue would be made up by the acceptance by motor users of the duties proposed by the Government for vehicles of lower weight.

I have investigated the probable effect on the revenue if this Amendment were accepted, and I find that, whereas the revenue under the old system would be just over £8,000,000, and the estimated revenue under the new system would be £10,000,000, under the proposal of this Amendment it would be just over £9,000,000; so that, even on the basis of last year's tonnage rates, the Government, if they accepted my Amendment, would receive just over £1,000,000 more, but they would, of course, be short by something less than £1,000,000 as compared with the rates they now propose. On the ground, first, of the efficiency of the vehicles and the effect on the manufacturing trade, and, consequently, on employment, and, secondly, of the enormous and steep rise proposed by the Government this year, I would ask the Government to consider the adoption of a half-ton rise at the rate of £6 per half-ton, which would have the effect of encouraging the motor trade and of helping the general trade and industry of the country,

12.9 a.m.


This Amendment applies to the ordinary petrol-driven vehicle, which is the most important and most typical class. The Royal Commission were of opinion that up to five tons unladen weight vehicles of this class were paying enough in taxation, and that above five tons £120 ought to be the maximum licence duty. What those vehicles pay is partly licence duty and partly petrol duty, and the two together form the burden that they pay in taxation. At that time petrol was taxed at 4d. a gallon. Now it is taxed at 8d. a gallon. That part of the burden has been doubled. Consequently, from the point of view of the Royal Commission, most of these vehicles are already paying too high taxation. The scale of duties in. the Schedule, instead of being modified, is being considerably raised and the burden made heavier. I should like the Minister to tell us on what principle the Government acted in devising that scale. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech told us it was not based On the Salter Report nor on the principle of the motors paying for the roads, and it is certainly not based on the Report of the Royal Commission. In the light of criticism that has appeared Since, many people will say that in certain definite respects the Salter Report was quite clearly mistaken, but even judged by that report the taxation is too high. In that report it was proposed that the licence duty should be increased so as: to cover the whole cost of the roads. The cost of the roads has gone down and, therefore, there is no justification, even on the lines of that report, for increas- ing the licence duty to the extent proposed.

The Minister of Transport might say it is the need for money. I do not say for a moment that it is the intention of the Government but it is a fact that one industry is penalised when it is in competition with another. It would be no more unjust to get money for the Exchequer by taxing electricity and leaving gas free or vice versa. If a burden has to be imposed, it should be imposed upon industries alike so as to leave the field free as between them for fair competition. I trust that the principle of half ton rises may be accepted, which would be a very great relief to the industry, and that on reconsideration of the whole policy that underlies this transport question my right hon. Friends will see their way to mitigate the burden that will be placed on the industry.

12.15 a.m.


I do not think the Committee at this time of night will want an elaborate explanation of the reasons which led me to adopt this scale. My right hon. Friend and his friends had the opportunity at an earlier stage in the discussions of this Bill and failed to take advantage of it. I was not quite able to follow the reference he made to the reduction in the cost of the roads. He seemed to think that because the cost of the roads had been reduced that in itself made my scale inequitable. But he will notice that my scale has been reduced in comparison with the Salter scale, and the reduction in road costs might be one of the reasons which have led to this particular scale rather than to the actual figures proposed in the Salter Report. This Amendment is twofold, and both folds of it would cost money. One is the old plea for a half-ton scale. In itself, that is not harmful, and in fact it might be an advantageous proposal. It would add a certain amount of administrative difficulty, but that might not be much in comparison with certain advantages it would give the manufacturer. It is, of course, extremely expensive also, and would result in a large loss to the revenue. The second part is merely a frank reduction of the scales proposed to a level not merely far below the proposals of the Salter Conference but far below the reduced Scales I pro- pose in this Schedule. The total effect of the Amendment would be to deprive the revenue of some £675,000. But this Amendment deals only with petrol-driven vehicles. If either the half-ton step or the scaling down of the general Schedule were accepted for petrol-driven vehicles, it would be impossible in equity to refuse the same consideration for vehicles driven by some other form of fuel, and the consequential loss to the revenue would then be greater. In these circumstances, having already largely reduced the scales from those proposed by the Salter Conference which was composed not only of representatives of the railway companies but of road users as well —and having by that reduction conferred an advantage on road users, it would be impossible to accept this further reduction and deprive the revenue and the Road Fund of this large sum of money.

12.19 a.m.


This Amendment, as the Minister has said, is avowedly designed to whittle down the proposed licence duties on the heavy type of goods road vehicle. I was very glad to hear him say he could not accept it. I would beg him to bear in mind throughout these discussions that it is only because it is a firmly-established custom that no motion can be made to augment these duties except by a Minister of the Crown that there are not a very large number of amendments on the Order Paper in a contrary sense to that which we are now discussing. I believe that if the Committee were to have a free vote on the question whether these proposed licence duties should be increased or decreased, there would be an overwhelming Majority in favour of an increase.

The Minister has told us that after months of careful consideration and examination, with the able assistance of officials of the Ministry of Transport, the Salter Conference, with its equal representation of road and rail interests, made unanimous recommendations on the amounts to be paid by different classes of goods road vehicles. In every case the licence duties proposed in this Bill fall short of those unanimous recommendations. The Salter Report recommended the payments for the different classes of vehicles so as to ensure that each should pay its proper share towards road costs. Any proposals which fall short of these payments leave that class of vehicle in the position of receiving a subsidy, and any Amendment which seeks to reduce the payments still further would increase the amount of that subsidy. I wish to see justice done not only between road and rail transport, but also between one class of road vehicle and another. Under the duties proposed in this Bill, the heavier classes of road vehicles are greatly favoured in comparison with the lighter classes. A fair basis of comparison would be by the gross-ton-mile unit, which is a measure of the weight of traffic which passes over the road. On this basis the lightest class of road vehicles will pay at the rate of .901 pence per gross-ton-mile, whereas the 10-ton vehicle will pay at the rate of .229 pence. The result is that if moving a given weight over a given distance, the light vehicle will pay four times as much in licence duty as the heavy vehicle. If equity is to be established between one class of road vehicle and another, the licence duties on the heavier vehicles as proposed in the Bill would need to be substantially increased. If this Amendment to reduce the licence duties in respect of heavy vehicles had been accepted this discrepancy would have been still further widened. It would have meant that the light vehicle would still have to pay at the rate of .901 pence per gross-ton-mile, against only .193 pence paid by the 10-ton vehicle. The ratio of disadvantage to the light vehicle under the Bill is 4 to 1, and under the Amendment it would be increased to 5 to 1. I beg the Minister to continue his resistance to this Amendment. The Government, as I said in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, have in my opinion taken a step in the right direction. This is the first attempt yet made by any Government to place goods road transport on anything approaching a self-supporting basis.

12.25 a.m.


If nothing else had induced me to rise the speech we have just heard would have done so. The railway companies have nothing better to offer for the assistance of industry than the increased taxation of road traffic. The only scheme the railways have to put forward is to tax other forms of trans- port out of existence. My constituency is very much interested, not only in road traffic, but in trade and industry as a whole, and traders believe they are entitled to have their goods carried in the cheapest and most efficient way. Another reason why I rise to speak is that the Minister, I thought, made a very regrettable sneer, unusual from him, with regard to our not having spoken on the Budget Resolutions. To a back-bencher like myself, who spent three days getting up in the hope of being able to catch the Speaker's eye in the Budget debates, it is very annoying to find a Frontbencher who has ample opportunities to speak, sneering because we failed to get in. Quite unexpectedly the debate collapsed one evening, and the particular Resolution was rushed through. With the Majority the Government have I think they might have been more generous in this matter and express some desire to discuss this very important piece of taxation. It is not our fault that it is being discussed at this time of night.


Why do you not make them give you another day?


I should be very glad to have another day. The Black Country feels very disappointed, because after 18 months of the National Government we had hoped to find some reduction of taxation. Instead we find a very heavy oil tax suddenly imposed, and a very heavy and crippling motor tax, coupled with the Minister's Bill to fetter road traffic. All these burdens are hurled down on the unfortunate Black Country, and we are asked at this hour of the night to keep quiet, go to bed and say nothing. It is very unfair and very unreasonable. I hope the Minister in his calmer moments will think over some of the Clauses and Amendments which we have not been allowed to discuss to-day. His object is to put a tax on heavy vehicles because they destroy the roads. That his is argument, so far as he was gracious enough to give up any argument to-night.

There is an Amendment down, which was not called, to reduce the duty on six-wheeled vehicles. If such a proposal were accepted, manufacturers would immediately tend to increase the number of wheels on a vehicle, and this would reduce the destruction of the roads. Will the Minister consider that proposal before Report stage? This Amendment regarding the half-ton step is obviously desirable in the interests of good design. The Ministry have fettered our designs for years with their obsolete formulas, and it is time they took a different view. When in 1926 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) introduced the present tax, the Ministry of Transport could not imagine that anybody would ever make a vehicle above five tons in weight. Now they try to wipe out these heavier vehicles by colossal and stupendous taxation. It is highly unfair. I ask them to exercise more imagination and to consider the suggested Amendments which have been put forward. They have been very carefully drawn up. We have not had an opportunity to discuss them to-night. I hope that on the Report stage the Minister of Transport will show some desire, not merely to destroy the roads and help the railways, but to help manufacturers generally by improving transport throughout the country.

12.31 a.m.


The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has a just cause for indignation and we desire to help him in every way. The nascent revolution should be encouraged, and we propose to go into the Lobby with him, provided he and his friends appoint the Tellers.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule."

The Committee proceeded to a Division.

Commander Southby and Dr. Morris-Jones were appointed Tellers for the Ayes; but there being no Member willing to act as Teller for the Noes, the CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.

12.34 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 39, line 42, column 1, after the word "vehicles," to insert the words: (other than goods vehicles described in the heading to paragraph (b) of this Table). I wish to put my point of view in the first Amendment, and it may not be necessary for me to move the second Amendment which appears on the Order Paper. I have to express my thanks to the Minister for his courtesy. I feel that he has seen our point of view. He has followed the recommendations of the Salter Conference for the purpose of increasing taxation. Some of us feel that these recommendations with regard to the utilization of trailers had ovErieoked the case of the showman, and the Minister now proposes to increase the taxation on trailers considerably. The showmen have only eighteen tractors of the lower weight, but over five tons they have a large number. The hon. Gentleman, I feel sure, will see that the proposed increase, exceeding forty per cent. upon the showmen who are running the heavier vehicles, will mean that they will not really be able to pay it. These people, we all know, have a very precarious living. One or two of us have put their views to the Minister, and he might, before the Report stage, endeavour to see if the proposals at present made really do not impose undue hardship on those who run vehicles, especially on those who run vehicles over five tons. If he does that, his action will be appreciated not only by the showmen but by many Members of this House. We are not putting this Amendment forward in any carping spirit. The manner in which we were received by the Minister has earned our Sincere appreciation. The Minister, I feel sure, will on behalf of the showmen apply himself to this Amendment between now and the Report stage, and we trust that he will be able to meet us by putting forward some proposition to adjust the tax to the circumstances of these people. If I obtain any such promise, I shall be able to withdraw the Amendment.

12.38 a.m.


The position with regard to these showmen's trailers is that under the old scale the payment they made was £6 without regard to the weight of the vehicles which drew them. They have suffered a basic increase, and a further increase in proportion to the increased weight of the vehicle which draws them, with the trailer included. The showmen's trailers may now have to pay as much as £20. I have had the advantage of representations from the hon. Gentleman and some of his friends in private, and I have also had the advantage of his speech to-night. Although I think that the claim he makes for the showmen that they should be allowed to stay on the old basis, and that they alone should not suffer any increase in this general scaling up of taxes, is one which cannot be sustained, I think, as these trailers are not in use as goods vehicles, but as living houses, that there should be a scale not exactly on the same scale as the old, but between that and that which it is now proposed to charge. Before the Report stage I hope, with my hon. Friend's assistance, to put down an appropriate scale between the low scale asked for and the scale at present in the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 40, line 4, at the end, to insert the words: Where a vehicle used for drawing a trailer has the trailer attached to it by partial superimposition, the vehicle and trailer shall, for the purpose of determining the amount of duty chargeable under this paragraph, be treated as if they together formed a single vehicle, and the vehicle shall not be chargeable with duty under sub-paragraph (d) of this paragraph. This Amendment is intended to meet a point made in a new Clause put down by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. North). It deals with articulated vehicles, which consist of the ordinary vehicle and trailer, but, owing to the particular mechanical design, the trailer is superimposed direct on to the vehicle, and there is no connecting link between the two as in the ordinary case. It was found in previous Finance Acts that this might be a way of evading taxation, and it was therefore laid down that both the weight of the vehicle and of the superimposed trailer should be aggregated and taken as the weight on which taxation should be paid. But, in addition, the trailer, as well as being aggregated in the total weight, had to pay a separate duty. I feel that, in view of the fact not only that the taxation has been considerably increased but also that the weight has to be paid for additioNaily on the superimposed portion, it would impose an undue burden upon a form of vehicle which, from the point of view of road user, is rather to be encouraged than discouraged. The effect of this Amendment would be to exempt these articulated vehicles from payment of the separate duty for the trailer, leaving, of course, the taxation on the aggregate weight of the vehicle and the superimposed trailer.

Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

EIGHTH SCHEDULE.—(Enactments Repealed.)

Amendments made: In page 41, line 6, at the end, insert the words:

"8 & 9 Geo. 5, c. 40. The Income Tax Act, 1918. Sub - section (4) of Sect. Thirty-nine." — [Mr. Hore-Belisha.]

In line 14,at the end, insert the words:

"18 & 19Geo.'V. c. 17. The Finance Act, 1928. Section thirteen as from the first day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty four."— [Mr. Stanley.]

In line 15, column 3, after the word "section" insert the wosds: three, as from the first day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty-four; section." —[Mr. Stanley.']

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Tuesday, 13th June, and to be printed.—[Bill 117.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the Clock upon Thursday evening, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Fourteen Minutes before One o'clock.