HC Deb 20 June 1933 vol 279 cc716-27

7.15 p.m.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

I beg to move, in page 38, line 12, column 1, after the word "which," to insert the words: are constructed or adapted to use coal gas as fuel, or which. Hon. Members will recollect that in Committee the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Clarry) and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) raised the question of the taxation of coal-gas vehicles, and I promised them that I would look into the matter because I felt that in view of some of the facts they mentioned I had rated the immediate possibilities of this entirely new form of locomotion rather too highly. In consequence I am to-day moving certain Amendments which will put the coal-gas vehicle on exactly the same footing as the steam vehicle. The Amendment which I now move refers to hackney carriages driven by coal-gas, and later I shall move similar Amendments which will extend the same con- cession to goods vehicles. I would, however, repeat the warning that I gave during the Committee stage, namely, that I am making this concession because of the limitation of the immediate possibilities of these vehicles. If at any time they should make such an advance as to compete on more equal terms with other forms of vehicles that are more highly taxed, it will be necessary for me to reconsider the scales now proposed.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 39, leave out lines 2 to 20.

In page 40, line 35, column 1, leave out the words "carry or haul no," and insert instead thereof the words "neither carry nor haul any."—[Mr. Stanley.]

7.17 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 42, line 16, at the end, to insert the words: For the purposes of this paragraph the weight unladen of any vehicle shall be taken to be the weight of the vehicle inclusive of the body and all parts (the heavier being taken where alternative bodies or parts are used) which are necessary to or ordinarily used with the vehicle when working on a road but exclusive of the weight of—

  1. (a) water fuel accumulators (other than boilers) or coal-gas containers used for the purpose of or in connection with the supply of power for the propulsion of the vehicle; and
  2. (b) loose tools and loose equipment."
The object of this Amendment and of two consequential Amendments which will be moved later, is to provide that in estimating for tax purposes the unladen weight of a gas-propelled vehicle, the weight of the cylinders which contain the gas shall be excluded. This is a request for another small concession to the gas-propelled vehicle. The term "unladened vehicle" is defined in the Roads Act of 1920, Section 7, Sub-section (6), which provides that: The weight unladen of any vehicle shall be taken to be the weight of the vehicle inclusive of the body and all parts (the heavier being taken where alternative bodies or parts are used) which are necessary to, or ordinarily used with the vehicle when working on a road, but exclusive of the weight of water, fuel or accumulators (other than boilers) used for the purpose of propulsion, and of loose tools or loose equipment. That definition is used for the purpose of the Finance Acts in determining the duty payable by vehicles which are taxed by weight. Gas-propelled vehicles under that definition would be weighed with the gas cylinders attached and the weight of those cylinders would be included. No doubt that is due to the fact that when the Roads Act was passed this form of gas propulsion was not in use. In any event I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be prepared to bring these vehicles on to the same level as other vehicles. The House will notice that the definition makes it clear that the accumulators of electrically-propelled vehicles are not included in the laden weight. The steel cylinder for storing gas is in very much the same position for tax purposes as the accumulator for storing electricity. The matter is of some practical importance to those who are interested in this new form of propulsion, because these cylinders weigh a considerable amount, and the result might be that a vehicle would be raised to a higher category of tax if weighed with the cylinders in position. There are other technical difficulties which this new form of propulsion has to overcome, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make this concession.

7.21 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so because of the newness of this procedure of running motors on gas, and the fact that it is going to be very much handicapped by the great weight of the cylinders. Should there be a very big development in this direction, of course the Minister of Transport can easily make alterations, but during the period when we are trying a new experiment it seems very hard that we should be heavily handicapped by weighing in the cylinders with the machines and consequently raising the taxation of the vehicle.

7.22 p.m.


I would add my plea to those of my hon. Friends. I am told that there are about a dozen of these vehicles now in existence. Therefore whatever happens it is not going to wreck this year's Budget, and any danger financially lies in the future. On the other hand if these new vehicles are a success, they will make a profound change in the whole economic situation. At the moment our fuel imports are practically equal to our fuel exports. That position would have been quite undreamed of a few years ago. The whole of our economy has been profoundly disturbed by that fact. If this experiment is a success the situation will be entirely altered. In another branch of transport there is a very good analogy. In assessing the net weight of ships for the purpose of harbour dues the authorities take into account only earning capacity; they leave out of account the space occupied by the propelling machinery and by crew. We are not going quite as far as that, because we are not leaving out the weight of the driver's seat. But in principle we seek to establish the same thing. As it has already been conceded in the case of the heavy batteries used in the electrically-propelled car, I hope the Minister will accept this Amendment.

7.24 p.m.


I would like to add my plea to the Minister that he should accept this Amendment, which does not seem to raise any particular question of party but does seem to raise an important question as to the possibility of developing an alternative use for coal in this country. In view of the fact that, as the last speaker said, the financial results this year can be hardly anything at all, owing to the very small number of vehicles at present being used for experiments, I am sure that the Minister of Transport would please everyone if he said that for this year he will make this concession in order to give this new form of alternative possibility in the use of coal the best chance of establishing itself in this country.

7.25 p.m.


I must own that while I have been listening to the speeches on the Amendment I have felt that the speakers ought to have the privilege of bearing the same Christian name as myself, because this is a clear case of Olivier asking for more. No one who has listened to the Debate would realise that I have just moved an Amendment which gives to these particular vehicles a very large concession indeed. On the last stage of the Bill I discussed both these questions together, and I said that, although I was not prepared to give the concession which is now demanded, I would consider the other concession. It may interest the House to know that I had considerable doubt afterwards whether I had been wise in making that concession, because at the very moment when hon. Members interested in this matter had been making the appeal to me on the ground that really the immediate possibilities of these particular types of vehicles were not nearly as glowing as I had presumed, a learned counsel, instructed by one of the owners of these vehicles, was making an appeal in another place to my right hon. Friend on the ground that these particular vehicles were perhaps the hope of the country in the future. I decided that on the whole I was justified in making the concession that I did make, because at the moment there are certain limitations on these vehicles. But I should not have been prepared to make that concession had I known that I was also to be asked to make a further concession of this kind. These gas cylinders are not very different from the petrol tank, which is just as necessary to the petrol-driven vehicle as the cylinder is to the gas-driven vehicle. Therefore, if we are to include the weight of the petrol tank in the unladen weight of the petrol vehicle, we have equally good ground for treating the gas cylinder in the same way.


The fuel in the petrol tank is excluded by the definition. The petrol tank is very light.


So no doubt will the gas in the gas cylinder be excluded.


And the air.


I feel that in the concession already made I have gone a very great way to meet the views of hon. Members. If this new experiment, which we all want to see developed, succeeds, it will help home-produced fuel. If it can develop on commercial economic lines it will be able to do so under the taxation that is proposed. I cannot accept this extension of my concession.

7.28 p.m.


I am sure that the House appreciates the point of view of the Minister of Transport, and in the circumstances of the case I think he has gone to a very reasonable extent in meeting the request made to him. I ask him to have in mind for further consideration a matter relating to these vehicles which has not been so far raised. These other than petrol vehicles are necessarily limited to a very local scope in work, and as such they do not come into the category of transport which has been in competition with other established branches of transport, as to which there has been controversy regarding the general increase in the taxation of road vehicles. As these vehicles are strictly limited to a local scope and may more properly be regarded as ancillary to the railway services than the petrol vehicle usually is, I think there is a case for considering them specially in regard to taxation, not only at this moment, but in any future consideration which the Minister may be giving to the matter. The more we can develop the local vehicle which may be used for local purposes in no way antagonistic to the railway services, and which may be complementary to the railway services, the more the principle which lies behind these general proposals for amending taxation will be facilitated. I am sure that in all the circumstances we ought to be grateful to the Minister for the concession that he has made.


I regret that the Minister has been unable to accept the Amendment, but in the circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made:

In page 44, line 9, column 1, at the end, insert the words: or which are constructed or adapted to use coal gas as fuel."—[Mr. Stanley.]

7.30 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 44, line 40, to leave out from the second word "exceeding" to the end of line 45, and to insert instead thereof the words:

£ s. d. £ s d.
"3½ tons in weight unladen 42 10 0 56 13 4
Exceeding 3½ tons but not exceeding 4 tons in weight unladen- 50 0 0 66 13 4
Exceeding 4 tons in weight unladen—
for the first 4 tons 50 0 0 66 13 4
for each additional half ton or part of half ton 10 0 0 13 6 8"
I feel somewhat in the position of the importunate widow who by persistence at last gained her point, because I have to suggest to the House that they might feel disposed, through the Minister of Transport, to accept a somewhat similar proposal to the one which was made in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. It is, however, different from the proposal made on the Committee stage, which was not only for the purpose of trying to obtain a more easily graded step in the taxation of goods vehicles, but to secure a reduction of taxation. Our present proposal cuts out the idea of trying to secure any reduction in the actual amount of taxation of these goods vehicles but suggests that the Minister might feel disposed to concede the point at least of grading the steps of taxation in such a way as to be helpful to the trade and to those whose livelihood depends on the goods traffic of this country. I am somewhat encouraged, perhaps more encouraged than the importunate widow, in that the Minister when he resisted the form of the proposal in the Committee stage, speaking of the dual proposal for the reduction of taxation coupled with the easier grading of the steps, said: One is the old step of 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. He went on to say: It is extremely expensive also, and. would result in a large loss to the revenue."—[OFFICIAL HEPORT, 1st June. 1933; cols. 2236–7, Vol. 278.] I do not need to traverse the ground already covered, but I would point out that if a man has to decide between the choice of a certain vehicle weighing unladen five tons and a vehicle that weighs a little over five tons, he is faced with the certainty that that very slight increase which might bring the vehicle to over five tons unladen weight would cost him £20 in increased taxation. The tendency would naturally be for him to buy the vehicle that would come under the lower weight. That is a manufacturing point of considerable importance connected with the motor industry. I hope that it may be found possible for the Minister to accept the Amendment considering the generosity that we have witnessed this afternoon in regard to other forms of motor taxation. It was urged against the acceptance of the former resolution that, it would mean a lost of revenue of £675,000.

One can say with a certain degree of probability that if the new Amendment were conceded there would not be a loss of revenue but in all probability an increase of revenue arising from it, because the man who in consequence of the heavy tax would buy the lighter weight vehicle would be paying to the revenue a less amount than he would pay if he was only faced with a £10 tax instead of a £20 tax and bought a heavier vehicle. He would have the temptation to buy a stronger and better constructed vehicle for his work as a result. If he buys the better constructed vehicle it would bring in an extra £10 into the revenue which would not be there otherwise, because under present circumstances he would try to keep his weight down just under the tonnage level rather than over. Under this Amendment the duty is exactly half on the half ton rate, so that the general rate comes out at exactly the same level as it would do under the proposals made in the Finance Bill.

At this particular moment in the history of goods vehicles in this country there should be extended the utmost concession that can be reasonably and possibly (made, seeing the tremendous burden placed on goods vehicles, not only by restrictions which may or may not occur owing to the operations of a Bill now being discussed in Standing Committee but also by virtue of the extraordinary heavy increase in the duty. If this increase in duty can be somewhat tempered by a concession on the part of the Government on the lines now suggested, I am sure that it would be an approach towards the trade which would be very greatly appreciated in these difficult times. It might be necessary later on to readjust the matter, but at this moment one feels a certain amount of confidence in submitting this proposal to the House with a view to seeing whether the concession could not be made as a gesture to the trade, realising that the prosperity of the goods vehicle trade means the prosperity of the workers engaged in that trade, and that if that could be done it would be a great help both to manufacturers and workers. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give his very careful consideration to the matter and see whether he could not open his heart and grant this concession, for which we ask in all sincerity and earnestness, because we believe it to be a right, fair and just suggestion and one that would be greatly appreciated by all connected with the motor vehicle trade.

7.38 p.m.


I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment. In itself it is a small matter that we are putting before the House. It only means substituting half-ton steps for whole ton steps in the matter of the unladen weight of these petrol-driven vehicles. It does not involve any plea for a reduction of duty as a whole but only that steps should be half-ton steps rather than ton steps. The whole industry concerned with lorries and road haulage are very anxious that it should be passed, and I would suggest to the Minister of Transport and the House that at the present time, although they may feel that there must be a general increase of licensed duty as a whole for the reasons of the Exchequer and the need for revenue, it may be wise to try to mitigate any feelings of disappointment or any sense of unfairness by giving this small concession. I cannot believe that it will cost the Exchequer much money. I am inclined to think that the road hauliers themselves perhaps over-estimate the amount of pecuniary advantage that they will get from it, but that they do set store by it is undoubted, and I believe that there is something in the view put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend. The possible loss due to the road haulier taking advantage of the smaller step in order to get his vehicle on the cheaper grade is likely to be offset in great measure by the encouragement to people to get a rather heavier or sounder-built type of vehicle, knowing that if he goes into the next step which he would not otherwise have done he will not be called upon to pay the whole of the duty.

Those who think that the road hauliers have a strong case, as I do, have no desire to embarrass the Government. Although the mind of the Government may be made up on the Report stage on the general question of an increase in license duties, I hope that they will see their way to grant this small request. The Amendment has been put down to this part of the Schedule only. It may be argued that in that case it makes an unevenness between the scales applying to one particular class of existing vehicles and other classes. We can only say that if the Amendment had been put down to the different parts of the Schedule it would have presented a very cumbersome appearance. We did not want to overload the Order Paper with Amendments, but it would be perfectly possible, if the Minister so wished, to make this apply to the other classes at a later stage. I can hardly imagine that this Bill will be certified as a Money Bill. Therefore there will be opportunity, without any risk of loss of time in this House, to make this apply to the other goods vehicles at a later stage in another place. We have put down an Amendment which applies only to the largest class of these vehicles, which probably form three-fourths of the whole. I hope that as the Minister in regard to gas-driven vehicles has already made a large concession to-day and that he put that forward as a reason for not necessarily giving another concession, he will realise that in regard to this class of vehicle concessions have not been made in the course of this Finance Bill. I trust he will see his way to grant this particular concession, which is so much desired.

7.44 p.m.


I am much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment because in doing so he not only gave the reasons why I should accept it but by quoting the speech I made on a previous occasion he gave the reasons why I was not able to accept it. On the Committee stage I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) moved a composite Amendment which reduced the general scale proposed in the Bill and introduced this half-ton step. This Amendment leaves the scales as they are proposed in the Bill and deals only with half-ton steps. So far as the reasonableness of the principle has been recognised, I can only repeat that at various times this House has decided that the half-ton step shall be introduced, until now the scale goes up to three tons in half-ton steps. It is true, of course, that the more you develop that principle, the more there is a certain amount of extra administra- tive work, but the real objection to the Amendment is the objection of cost. Every increase that you make in the half-ton steps means less revenue, and it is on that ground that I was unable to accept it on the previous occasion and that I am unable to accept it to-day.

The hon. and gallant Member appealed to my generosity and said that I had been so generous on the last occasion, but I must point out that on that occasion my generosity cost me nothing, and on this occasion it would, I fear, cost me a great deal. Through no fault of my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment, I received notice of it only an hour or so ago, and it has been impossible for me to get an accurate estimate in that time of what the cost would be, but it would certainly be substantial. I think I am safe in putting at least at six figures the cost of this Amendment, and I am afraid that the contention that I should not lose but gain by accepting it is one that our experience in the previous extensions of this half-ton step does not bear out. I could not afford to sacrifice the revenue which this Amendment would entail.

Again, the acceptance of this Amendment would mean that an equivalent sum of money would have to be raised by raising the general scale of the tax, and that, I do not feel, would really benefit those who have to pay it. On the other hand, I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I understand the considerable amount of importance—perhaps my right hon. Friend was right when he said too much importance—that is attached to this matter by the manufacturers and the taxpayers, and it is certainly one of those things which I should bear in mind if a happier day ever dawned and it became my duty and privilege, not to put more taxes on the motor taxpayers, but to relieve them of some of these taxes that they now bear. I am afraid that in the existing circumstances I am unable to accept the Amendment.

7.49 p.m.


I want to acknowledge the great courtesy of the Minister and the Chair in permitting this manuscript Amendment to be brought before the House. It is not quite fair to the Minister to expect him to answer this question, and therefore, with the permission of the House, I would like to withdraw the Amendment and to express the hope that in the coming 12 months the Minister will devote special attention to this point in order to see whether it might be carried into effect in another year.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 45, leave out lines 6 to 22.—[Mr. Stanley.]

7.50 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 45, line 43, at the end, to insert the words:

£ s. d.
"(i) being vehicles chargeable with duty under sub-paragraph (b) of this paragraph and used for drawing a trailer which is used solely for the purposes of his business by the person in whose name the vehicle is registered 10 0 0
(ii) other vehicles."
On the Committee stage in response to an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves), I promised that I would give further consideration to the question of the scale of taxation of showmen's trailer vehicles, and it is in consequence of that promise that I put down this Amendment, which makes a considerable concession to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford, who is particularly interested in this question and who has done a great deal to bring it to my attention, explained to me that for important reasons he was unable to be here this evening, but he has discussed the matter with those principally concerned, who feel that this concession does meet their point of view.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 46, line 1, leave out the word "duties," and insert instead thereof the word"duty."—[Mr. Stanley.]