HC Deb 10 June 1936 vol 313 cc238-41

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

4.40 p.m.


There is a small point to which I want to refer, of which I have given notice to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, as to the definition of "road construction machinery." I have been advised that there is some doubt whether road construction machinery includes the tower wagons which are used for the repair of overhead trolley wires for electric trams. There is also some doubt whether snow ploughs can be regarded as being used for the repair of roads, and the same applies to machines used in frosty weather for scattering sand or grit. All these machines obviously come within the class covered by the Clause, and I think that the definition is drawn in such a way that they may be included, because "road construction machinery" means: a machine or contrivance suitable for use for the construction or repair of roads. I am not certain whether the repair of overhead trolley wires can be deemed to be the repair of roads. If they repaired the tram rails, they would come within the definition. I am not sure either whether the scattering of grit or the ploughing of snow can be regarded as repairing a road. All these classes, however, really ought to come within the concession contained in this Clause.

4.42 p.m.


The question of grit scatterers was dealt with two years ago, and they pay no duty. We dealt with snow ploughs last year, and they also pay no duty. I am informed that the trolley wire-mending towers come under a different category, because they are not road construction vehicles. They are vehicles used by the owner of the tramway for repairing his own plant.

Perhaps while I am on my feet I may explain what this Clause does. It is a concession which, to a certain degree, is consequential on the provision in last year's Finance Bill dealing with the taxation of vehicles carrying what is called fixed machinery. This Clause exempts machines used for no other purpose than road work, because the Chancellor does not desire to make revenue out of such vehicles. In fact, the Ministry of Transport want to encourage the use of the most up-to-date of these vehicles on our roads. Further, vehicles which have solid tyres pay a tax of 33⅓ per cent. more than vehicles with pneumatic tyres, and with certain of these road construction vehicles great heat has to be used and they cannot have pneumatic tyres. We feel that the concession must be strictly confined to vehicles which are used solely for road work. If they are used for other purposes, such as building and other things of that kind, they must pay tax. Under Sub-section (2) provision is made that if they are used for other purposes—any anybody can see what a big loophole there would be if they were allowed to be so used—they are deemed to be vehicles without a licence, the penalty for which is a £20 fine or three times the duty under the 1920 Road Act. Subsection (3) deals with the exemption of trailers for the same kind of machines, and the Committee will like to know that the loss to the revenue will be negligible.

4.45 p.m.


Under the category of road construction vehicles would come, unquestionably, those mechanical diggers which are used for trenching and excavating purposes. There are a number of road contractors who go about from building estate to building estate working on contracts for the construction of the private roads on those estates, and the bigger of those contractors employ mechanical diggers. They are in competition with contractors who employ manual labour. I fail to see why the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is so sensitive about his revenue and about the logic of his financial system that he will not allow a scientific instrument to come into the country free of duty, is prepared to forgo the duty on a mechanical digger used purely for commercial purposes for the construction of private roads. I can understand the position of the Parliamentary Secretary in saying that vehicles used in the construction of public roads at the public expense should not be taxed, but these private contractors' machines are in an entirely different category, because they are used only, or primarily, for private roads.

4.47 p.m.


I cannot associate myself with the doctrine which has just been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson). His argument that the Chancellor is not putting enough taxes on those who are making private roads is one the Committee should not support. The development of housing estates should be encouraged, and anybody who has devoted any time to the question of housing and town planning knows that one of the real difficulties in providing houses which can be let at reasonable rents is the high cost of road construction. In the days when I was a member of a housing committee that was a problem which was constantly before our minds—the high cost of estate development in contrast with the actual cost of building the houses. One step towards the cheapening of road construction in recent years has been the development of these mechanical diggers, mechanical grabs and other road-making machinery, and so far from providing less employment, in the long run their use means, of course, the employment of more labour. If by the use of machines we cheapen the cost of road construction, we stimulate the development of building estates.

I am sure that when my hon. Friend has had time to give more thought to this question he will see the fallacy of his doctrine. According to his view, if we were to scrap all the machines now used in the construction of roads it would mean more employment. On the contrary, if we were to go back to the old system of hand labour in road construction the cost of making many new roads would become prohibitive, especially in hilly country. The time occupied in their construction would also be increased, which is an important factor to be taken into consideration. In the long run it certainly would not lead to the employment of more labour on road construction. The very last thing any Member of the House should do at this time is to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should put more taxation on any form of road vehicle, because he is only too glad to find new channels of revenue, and with very little pressure he would yield to the suggestion.

4.50 p.m.


I really cannot allow the remarks of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) to pass unchallenged. The suggestion in the background of his speech was, apparently, that if we put a tax on the mechanical diggers used in the construction of roads on private estates we should almost put an end to house building. What is the position? The ordinary piece of road fronting a small semidetached house can be cut and sewered and finished off in a condition ready to be taken over by the local authority for about £30, and the bulk of that expenditure is on the concreting and the sewering. The saving by the use of a mechanical digger is very small, except perhaps in very hilly country. At the very most the difference in the cost would be only about 2d. a cubic yard; it might be more in hilly country, but certainly not more in average country. I am not suggesting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should put the tax on these vehicles, but am only pointing out to his logical and tidy mind that here he has slipped up.