HC Deb 12 June 1934 vol 290 cc1609-13

A licence for vehicles registered under the Roads Act, 1920, in the name of a person following the business of a travelling showman and used solely by him for the purposes of his business and for no other purpose may be taken out for a period of seven days, and the duty payable upon such licence shall be one fifty-second part of the annual rate of duty thereon with an addition of fifteen per centum upon the said one fifty-second part.—[Mr. Groves.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Years ago I had the pleasure of thanking the Minister for a concession to this group of industries, which took the form of an application for a seven-day licence limited to goods vehicles unladen the weight of which is 11 tons. On the back of the application form for a seven-day licence issued under the Roads Act, 1920, for a mechanically propelled goods vehicle, it is stated: Seven-day licences are issued on payment of one fifty-second of the annual rate of duty with an addition of 10 per cent. for vehicles exceeding 11 tons in weight, unladen, changeable with duty under paragraph 5 of the Second Schedule to the Finance Act, 1920, as amended by the Finance Act, 1933. The form goes on to give details of the group of vehicles to which this proposed concession applies. There is the agricultural goods vehicles, and then the showmen's special goods vehicles. My own view is that it was the intention of the Government at that time to apply this concession to showmen. May I put it that arrangements have been so drawn that the Department did not seem to realise that showmen have no vehicles that would come within the category of the Schedule to which I have referred? Showmen of the country are a very small group of honest, hardworking people, and they do not in this country use or own one petrol vehicle exceeding 11 tons in weight. I have the figures before me in case the Minister is not apprised of the details. There are 789 vehicles licensed and owned by showmen of the country, nine up to one ton, 39 up to two tons, 145 up to three tons, 345 up to four tons, 210 up to five tons, and 41 between five and six tons, a total of 789 vehicles. I have in my mind the idea that it was the desire and intention of the Minister to give these vehicles the benefit of this proposed concession, and the only point that excludes them is that they must exceed 11 tons in weight. I do wish to impress on the Minister of Transport the real feeling that the people engaged in this industry have for a long time felt the severe depression, which has affected the entertainments industry and amusements generally in this country.

We are all aware that these folk are receiving less income and ought not to have imposed upon them increased obligations. There is one point in connection with these travelling showmen which I hope the Committee will bear in mind as showing that the vehicles owned and used by the showmen come within the category of special vehicles. These vehicles must, by Act of Parliament, conform to certain special standards and requirements and could not be used as ordinary haulage vehicles. Many years ago showmen used to travel about the country with horse-drawn vehicles but the change in road construction and the development in the use of the motor has compelled them to use highly taxed vehicles and they have been treated in that respect on a common basis with the general hauliers of the country. Yet the showman on the average only uses his vehicle on the road to cover about 500 miles per year. I think this is a new Clause which the Government ought to accept. I feel a little disappointed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is no longer in his place but we have always received from the Minister of Transport courtesy and consideration and I would appeal to him to grant this concession. I ask him to remember that these vehicles can only be used for purposes appertaining to the showmen's industry and not for general purposes. Some of them are utilised on fair grounds for the generation of electricity and the Government get a fair return from the petrol which is used in that way. On these grounds I ask the hon. Gentleman to give this Clause his consideration.

7.17 p.m.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

The hon. Member's historical survey of the taxation of these vehicles was not quite correct. The change which was made during the passage of the Finance Act of last year and which is the cause of the document just read to the Committee by him, was not made with particular reference to showmen's vehicles or with any consideration for their particular claim. It was a general concession in respect of goods-carrying vehicles exceeding 11 tons unladen weight. Vehicles of that kind have to be run under very special restrictions. The owners have to notify beforehand the local authorities through whose territories the vehicles are to pass and they have to be guided by those local authorities as to the times at which they will complete journeys, and the movements which they are to make. It was pointed out and I felt with considerable force that the vehicles were largely used for special jobs, that they were not on the road every day like ordinary lorries and that, in their case, it was equitable that this special concession should be given which was given in respect of no other class of vehicles, enabling a licence to be taken out for a period of seven days instead of for a quarter. Showmen's vehicles, incidentally, should there be any exceeding 11 tons, would share in that concession equally with any other class of goods-carrying vehicles but I would remind the hon. Member opposite that this was never proposed as a concession to showmen's vehicles. It was a concession in respect of heavy goods-carrying vehicles, whatever the class.

The Committee, I am sure, would like to see the most sympathetic treatment possible accorded to the showmen of this country. In the competition between British showmen and Hollywood films I feel sure the sympathy of the Committee is all on one side. In considering the new schedule of taxation for goods vehicles last year I did give the most careful consideration to the case of the showmen. They had a good case on the ground of principle, that is to say, their user of the road is undoubtedly less, and therefore the damage which they do to the roads smaller than that of other vehicles of the same weight. They also had a good case on the question of sentiment, and we strained every point we could in order to help them. The result was that in the new scale of taxation, which imposed upon other commercial vehicles very heavy increases, in the case of the showmen there were some instances in which their taxation was actually reduced, and in no case of vehicles under three tons was there any increase in the taxation which had to be paid. Moreover, during the passage of the Finance Act through this House in response to an appeal from the hon. Member opposite I made a further concession on the trailer duty which showmen had to pay.

I feel, therefore, that the case of the showmen has received every possible consideration, and I am afraid that I could not possibly justify the extension of the privilege of the seven-day licence to them. If it were to be given in respect of showmen's vehicles there are many other classes of vehicle owners who would feel themselves equally entitled to such a concession. There has been, as a matter of fact, an application from the representatives of the motor industry as a whole for the provision of these licences. I went carefully into the matter, and I found that the proposal was, from my point of view, impracticable. I have done something to meet the case by the abolition in this Finance Bill of the surrender fee, which means that it is possible, by surrendering your licence, without having to pay a surrender fee to obtain what is in fact a one month's licence. The fact that the showman does not make regular and continuous use of his vehicles on the road was fully considered in fixing the reduced scale of taxation which they now have to pay, and although in common with other Members of the Committee I have the greatest sympathy with these people, I feel that in the scale adopted last year we have gone as far as possible to meet their special case.

7.22 p.m.


As I have said already, the Minister is always very courteous and considerate when we put a case of this kind before him and I would only ask him to give his attention to one special point, which has been brought to my notice. It relates to the difficulty in which showmen may be placed when they have to move, say, on the last day of February and the first day of March. They have to pay for two licences when they are compelled to move on two days coming at the beginning or at the end of the period although their vehicles may not have been in use during the period as far as road haulage is concerned. Perhaps the Minister would consider later the fact that fairs throughout the country are held upon precise and specific dates and that showmen may have to move in on the last day of one month and the first day of the succeeding month. My experience is that if the Minister promises to consider a case he meets it fairly and I merely ask him to consider that specific point.


Perhaps the hon. Member would take another opportunity of bringing the details to my notice.


In that case, I do not press my proposal, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.