HC Deb 20 June 1950 vol 476 cc1079-97

(1) The Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, shall have effect as if subsection (2) of section four (which sets out the vehicles chargeable with duty at the rates provided for by that section) were amended as directed by the next following subsection of this section, and accordingly read as set out in the Schedule (Section 4 (2) of the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, as amended) to this Act. (2) The amendments to be made in the said subsection (2) are as follows—

  1. (a) in sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph (a) the words "in the occupation of the person 1080 in whose name the vehicle is registered under this Act" shall be omitted;
  2. (b) at the end of the said paragraph (a) there shall be added the following subparagraphs:—
(iii) for hauling, within fifteen miles of a farm in the occupation of the person in whose name the vehicle is registered under this Act, agricultural produce of that farm or fuel required for any purpose on that farm or for domestic purposes by persons employed on that farm by the occupier of the farm; (iv) for hauling articles required for a farm by the person in whose name the vehicle is registered under this Act, being either the owner or occupier of the farm or a contractor engaged to do agricultural work on the farm by the owner or occupier of the farm; (c) paragraph (e) (which specifies the tractors and other vehicles for which the section provides rates of duty from twelve pounds upwards according to their weight), shall be omitted; (d) in paragraph (f), for the words "the foregoing paragraphs", there shall be substituted the words "paragraphs (a) to (d). (3) The rate of duty chargeable under the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, in respect of any such vehicle as is mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) or (d) of subsection (2) of section four of that Act shall be two pounds, and accordingly in the fourth column of the Third Schedule to that Act, for the words "5s. 0d.", wherever they occur, there shall be substituted the words "£2 0s. 0d. (4) In subsection (2) of the said section four (and in this subsection)—
  1. (a) any reference to a farm shall include a market garden;
  2. (b) any reference to agricultural produce of a farm shall include osiers grown on that farm;
  3. (c) any reference to articles required for a farm shall include articles which are or have been required for doing work on and for the purposes of the farm, except that in the said subsection (2) the reference to articles required for a farm by a contractor engaged to do agricultural work on the farm shall include only articles required for the farm in connection with that work;
  4. (d) any reference to the owner of a farm includes any person having any estate or interest in land comprised in the farm.
(5) In section two of the Finance Act, 1935 (which disallows rebate on heavy oils used as road fuel for a vehicle as defined in that section), for the definition of "vehicle," in paragraph (d) of subsection (7), there shall be substituted the following definition: (d) the expression 'vehicle' does not include any such vehicle as is mentioned in paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d) of subsection (2) of section four of the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, as amended by the Finance Act, 1950 (or as would be mentioned in the said paragraph (a) as so amended if the references therein to the said Act of 1949 included references to the law as to the registration of mechanically propelled vehicles for the time being in force in Northern Ireland), or any vehicle being a road roller. (6) The foregoing provisions of this section shall have effect only as from the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and fifty-one, but the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, and section two of the Finance Act, 1935, shall have, and be deemed to have had, effect as if the periods respectively mentioned—
  1. (a) in sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 1 of the Sixth Schedule to the said Act of 1949 (which paragraph makes a temporary extension of the class of agricultural tractors etc. qualifying for a five shilling licence and for oil rebate in Great Britain); and
  2. (b) in subsection (4) of section eight of the Finance Act, 1943 (which section has the same effect as respects oil rebate in Northern Ireland);
ended with the end of the year nineteen hundred and fifty instead of with the end of June in that year.—[Mr. Gaitskell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister of State for Economic Affairs (Mr. Gaitskell)

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

This new Clause is designed to modify the arrangements regarding excise licences for tractors. Before the war there were two rates of duty paid by farmers. In the first place, a tractor which was used only for farm work, for moving from one part of the farm to another part of the same farm, or for use on the roads only for hauling tractor machinery, paid the nominal duty of 5s. a year. On the other hand, if a farmer wished to use a tractor for carrying the produce of his farm, he had to pay a £12 tax or more according to the weight and, of course, quite apart from the duties paid by farmers, hauliers and contractors paid still higher rates.

During the war temporary arrangements were made because of the shortage of transport enabling farmers to pay the nominal rate of 5s. on tractors of both kinds and they were also granted a rebate on heavy oil used for road vehicles which had been introduced some time before the war for other vehicles. In 1949 the Vehicles (Excise) Act consolidated the pre-war arrangements and brought the temporary provisions I have mentioned to an end and simply reimposed what I have described as already applying before the war.

Discussions have taken place with the representatives of the farmers, the National Farmers Union, to see if we could find a more satisfactory arrangement than the pre-war arrangement. I think there is no doubt that in many respects it is not very suitable for modern conditions in which the amount of farm machinery and the number of tractors have enormously increased. On the other hand, obviously one cannot have a situation in which the farmers pay a very low rate and are completely free to compete with hauliers, who pay a very much heavier rate.

After discussions, agreement was finally reached on the provisions in the new Clause. In future there will be a single rate of £2 a year in place of the two earlier rates, and the £2 a year rate applies not merely in the conditions that applied to the old 5s. rate, but also to the conditions, broadly speaking, which applied to the old £12 rate. Even those have been widened so that in some cases agricultural contractors, for instance, can tax their vehicles at the new £2 rate, whereas before the war they would have had to pay the very much heavier rates. The qualification of what I have just said is that there is now a mileage limit of 15 miles applied to the new rate.

The only other part of the Clause I need mention is the extension of the oil rebate to the new vehicles taxed at the £2 rate. The Committee will probably agree that this is a more satisfactory and simple arrangement than the one we had before the war. It is acceptable to the farmers and, therefore, I commend it to the Committee.

Sir H. Williams

This afternoon's performance is rather like a variety performance, because we have had a different Minister for each new Clause. I am not saying that is a bad thing, although it is a bit like a "Crazy Gang" performance.

This new Clause, I am certain, is a valuable concession, but it is an interesting illustration of the mess we are getting into because we have all the laws much too tight. I ask hon. Members, for example, to read paragraph (iii). The concession goes to people if they haul within 15 miles of a farm. I am wondering now that is to be administered. We are going to have a whole lot of snoopers watching farmer "B" to see if he goes 15½ miles beyond his farm.

This is all the result, not of a bad Clause, but of having the whole thing so tied up, and the Government are in such a mess that they have to give someone a measure of relaxation. It is in such a form that in due course it is bound to lead to prosecution and all sorts of innocent people are to be charged because their lorry or tractor has gone more than 15 miles from their place of occupation.

Later, the proposed new Clause gives a definition of agricultural produce and I am certain it is a useful definition. It includes osiers, which, I believe, are used for basket making. I am not an expert on that, but I see that there is an Amendment down in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum), which seeks to include all forestry products, and if it were carried there would be no need to insert the word "osier."

The Clause illustrates the awful mess we are in because we have tied up the whole community so tightly and Clauses like this have to be proposed in order to take off the shackles. I am not in the slightest opposed to the Clause and I am certain it will help a lot of people, but it exposes the deplorable condition in which we now find ourselves because the legislation is too tight.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

While I would not disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) on the general question of de-shackling the whole community, the fact remains that this new Clause is one which deals with the agricultural community rather than the urban community, and it has been agreed, I am informed, with all the different people directly concerned. To that extent, therefore, it is to be welcomed. Of course one must realise that it is in fact increasing the burden in one direction, although there may be relaxations in certain directions. Anyone may see from the perfectly simple drafting that subsection (3) says: for the words '5s. 0d.,' wherever they occur, there shall be substituted the words '£2 0s. 0d.' Anyone will realise that that is a burden being put on in one direction. However, I am informed that the general relaxation is welcome and, therefore, on the Second Reading of the Clause I offer no opposition. If Amendments are called, that may be another matter. Although negotiations have gone on for a very long time, I am glad that they have come to a conclusion on which both sides of the table were able to agree.

Mr. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)

May I ask a question about the 15-mile limit? The right hon. Gentleman has assured us that the main provisions of the Clause have been agreed by all parties interested. It would seem on a first examination that 15 miles is too short a distance. Could we have an assurance that the Minister consulted interests in the outlying parts of the country?

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Gaitskell

In reply to the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), I feel sure that if only one Minister were to speak on these new Clauses or Amendments the Opposition would be the first to criticise and, seeing other Ministers on the Bench, would say that they should say something, some time. We thought that a little variety was probably more enlivening to the Committee than the same voice all the afternoon. As for the complexities which the hon. Member suggested were introduced in this matter, I must remind him that they were introduced when the tax was first applied to road vehicles. We are seeking here to simplify something which was not very satisfactory before the war. It is generally agreed that this proposal is an improvement.

In reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence), I would say that we have consulted and discussed this matter with the National Farmers' Union, who are after all the most representative body in this field. They have certainly accepted the 15-mile limit as a limit which is at least very much wider than the limit of the farm, which previously applied. At the same time, the conditions under which tractors can be used have also been modified quite substantially. I think the hon. Member will agree that we must have some limit, otherwise the possible competition of those taking advantage of this new Clause with the hauliers would be quite unfair.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down, North)

My farming constituents generally will welcome this new Clause. I have certainly had many complaints during the last two years about a change being needed in the taxation of tractors. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) suggest that there were too many shackles and this proposal was loosening shackles. I agree that the Committee is at present taking a definite step towards loosening these shackles. This proposal will be a great help, certainly to the farming community in my constituency. As for the limit of 15 miles, I dare say we should all have liked the figure to be 20 or 25 miles, but I think that 15 miles will be a very useful distance in my constituency and in the North of Ireland generally.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

I am in some difficulty about this Clause because I do not know if the Amendment which follows is to be conceded. If not it will be peculiar if agricultural produce is defined only by the word "osier". There are a lot of other things such as pea sticks and bean boughs which a farmer may want to carry. Once one begins naming such products one might have a very long list. It is permissible for a farmer to carry firewood for his own purposes, but he may also collect cordwood from trees felled on his farm which he may want to sell. I am not sure that that will be permissible. If the Minister does not intend to accept the Amendment to which I have referred, could he do something to deal with the point I have mentioned?

Mr. Macdonald (Roxburgh and Selkirk)

My farmer constituents will welcome this new Clause, but they are almost certain to ask for some explanation about the 15-mile limit. I do not wish to sound pedantic about this provision, but I should like to ask whether the limit operates from the borders of the farm or whether what is envisaged is a 15-mile radius from the farm. Most tractors are not fitted with speedometers or mileage indicators so far as I am aware. It would be a much easier provision to observe if it meant a 15-mile radius rather than 15 miles over fields and along roads.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Solicitor-General informs me that it would be 15 miles from the borders of the farm in any direction.

Sir H. Williams

By road distance or as the crow flies?

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I welcome this concession to the farmers, and I appreciate it. It will meet the case in my constituency, but a point does arise about the remoter areas. To take the West Country, there is Devon, in which are great areas such as Dartmoor. There one could point to many cases where this limit would not operate satisfactorily. That consideration applies even more to the Highlands. I suggest as a solution that the Minister might look into the feasibility of giving an exemption where tractors are used at very long distances from the farm buildings.

I am the last person to advocate the use of more certificates or Governmental activities of that kind, but I fully realise that a limit must be imposed under the circumstances. I should like to ask whether for the very sparsely populated areas—and I think this plea ought to embrace Wales as well and possibly parts of Yorkshire—it might be possible to consider my suggestion that where there is a recommendation, say from the county agricultural committee, certain farmers might be allowed to operate over a wider radius, purely for agricultural and forestry purposes of course. For that reason I urge the Minister to reconsider this matter.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I should like to support what has been said so well by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), and to draw attention to two cases. The first is that of a farmer or crofter who has a peat bank which may be a considerable distance from the farm building or the limits of the farmer's arable area. The other is that of a farmer having to lift most of his stores from a pier which may be a considerable distance away.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I hope that the Minister will take due note of the point which has been raised about the sparsely populated districts. In particular I hope he will always bear in mind the effect of a 15-mile radius limit in cases of farms situated on a peninsula, and which have a seaboard on one side of the farm. In such cases the mileage which is allowed is less than in the case of farms in the centre of the mainland. This point should be borne in mind and special conditions should be laid down for those so situated. I trust that the Minister will pay attention to that matter.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

At present if one pays £12 the tractor can be used over any distance. Do I understand that with the £2 flat rate tractors can be used only within a radius of 15 miles and that one cannot apply for a £12 licence to enable it to be used over any distance?

Mr. Gaitskell

The £12 licence is abolished.

Mr. Roberts

Does that mean it is impossible for a farmer, if he wishes, to take things by his own tractor further than 15 miles? I know many who do rather than go to a road haulage concern or nationalised transport. If he is prevented from doing so that is a retrograde step.

Mr. Gaitskell

He falls into the same category as the general haulier and he is put in the same position as the general haulier.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

As the representative of a constituency which is vitally interested in this matter, I should like to support what was said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am sorry that I was unable to be present at the opening of the discussion, the reason being that a constituent wished to see me, and I left the Chamber. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I meant no discourtesy. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland drew attention to what might happen in the case of peat banks standing at a distance from the farm. I represent a constituency where farmers have to travel a considerable distance from one part of the farm to another, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have had many representations from the occupants of such farms ever since this new tax was made, indicating the way in which they would be penalised. They have requested me to put forward on their behalf the strongest representations of which I am capable.

That is the only reason which compels me at this late stage to say a word in support of what has been said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and also by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who spoke with first hand knowledge of conditions, particularly in the North of Scotland, which to a certain extent resemble the circumstances in my own constituency. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to this matter. If he does he will be doing something on behalf of agriculture which he and his Government always tell us they are so desirous of doing.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

I wish to raise one point arising out of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman said that the £12 licence was abolished altogether, and in future the farmer would be put into the position of an ordinary road haulier. That is a most unfortunate position for any man to find himself today. The ordinary road haulier is at the mercy of the transport monopoly. If a road haulier wants to go above 25 miles he has to apply to the Transport Commission and do all sorts of things, and is generally turned down. I have a letter from Sir Cyril Hurcomb to the effect that in the future pretty well nobody is to be allowed beyond 25 miles. I consider the matter ought to be cleared up. There may be some perfectly good explanation, but at the moment I am a little concerned because we should not like anybody else to find themselves in the same unfortunate position as the road hauliers.

Mr. Gaitskell

We are not here dealing with "A", "B" or "C" licences in the sense the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) seemed to suggest. We are concerned simply with the Excise Duty. I am surprised that the hon. Member, who so frequently speaks for the road hauliers, should be objecting, as I understand it, to this Clause. The imposition of the 15-mile limit is in fact to protect the hauliers from what might otherwise be unfair competition by the farmers. These discussions took place over a considerable time and I am quite sure that there was a feeling among the road hauliers that there would be unfair competition from the farmers.

Regarding the point raised by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), I ask the Committee to leave the matter as it stands. It is the result of fairly lengthy negotiations. I agree that there may be one or two cases where farms are very remote and where there will be inconvenience if the 15-mile limit is imposed. But I think that the hon. Member will agree that we are here concerned wholly with tractors, and it is not likely that they will travel a long distance on the roads. The suggestion that special arrangements should be made or certificates issued would result in cluttering up the administrative machinery too much, and I do not think that we can contemplate an additional administrative burden of the complexity which would necessarily be involved.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to whom application is to be made for the agricultural licence?

Mr. Gaitskell

To the licensing authority.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

Which one?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Is it the commissioner or the licensing authority?

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

The commissioner—

Mr. Thorneycroft

One right hon. Gentleman says the commissioner and the other one says the licensing authority.

Mr. Gaitskell

What my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport was about to say was that it has nothing to do with the commissioner.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I do not wish to make any trouble about this, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will at least promise to look into this matter. I quite realise the administrative difficulties, but it is not a matter of one or two instances in Scotland; it is a very wide question which may affect hundreds of people. I ask him to consult with the Minister of Transport, who at any rate knows me well enough to know that I would certainly not wish to clutter up the machinery of any office with additional staff—rather the reverse.

If we are trying, as is being done with a considerable amount of success, to encourage Highland farming, a matter of this sort ought to receive careful consideration. The Minister should consult with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Transport. I do not think that is an unfair thing to ask. There are also some cases in England and it is essential that in these matters we should try not to make special hardships. I hope he will have some consultation with the Scottish authorities in this matter between now and the last chance we shall have of discussing it.

Mr. P. Roberts

May I ask the Minister to reconsider the decision to abolish the £12 licence altogether? It seems to me that all the difficulties I am pressing will be overcome if he would maintain the £12 licence, so that those who wished to pay it and take their goods further than the 15-mile limit would be enabled to do so. Otherwise, so far as I can see, the Minister will upset certain farmers who have already laid down their transport arrangements to be covered by the £12 licence. I cannot see why he should wish to abolish that licence, because if it were retained he would get more revenue.

Mr. Spence

The Minister has said that the £12 licence is to be done away with. Can he explain what will be the position of a contractor who uses his tractor and threshing machine all over the countryside as is very often the case in Scotland? Will there be a licence available for that contractor, now that the £12 licence is to be done away with?

Mr. Gaitskell

If the hon. Member will look at subsection (2), paragraph (iv), he will see that the £2 licence can be applied for hauling articles required for a farm by the owner, or a contractor engaged to do agricultural work on the farm by the owner or occupier of the farm. So that a contractor in that case would be covered by the £2 licence.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

The Chairman

The Amendment which it is proposed to call is in the name of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), and perhaps it would be convenient to discuss it together with the next Amendment, also in the name of the hon. Member for Westmorland in subsection (4, b) at the end to insert, "timber and other woodland produce."

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

I beg to move as an Amendment to the proposed new Clause, in subsection (4, a) at the end, to insert, "and woodlands."

Up to the present the law governing the licence duty payable by agricultural and forestry tractors has attempted to maintain an artificial distinction between the two as if they were entirely separate industries; instead of branches of the same industry, if I may use the metaphor, which very frequently overlap.

The old 5s. licence had a number of advantages but it also had some bad points. One of those was that it constituted an open invitation to all farmers to break the law. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that if one paid 5s. and hauled behind a tractor only as much as a load of firewood, or a few fencing stakes, or a small quantity of timber from a spinney on a farm, one was breaking the law. There must be tens of thousands of persons owning tractors who only paid a 5s. licence and who frequently broke the law.

This new Clause does go some way to meet this disadvantage but not the whole way. We even allow osiers to be loaded on a trailer behind a tractor licensed at the new rates. Why should the twigs of the willow be given this privilege while a man who happens to be hauling branches of the willow which are to be used in the chip basket trade, or the more noble part of the tree which is designed to be made into a cricket bat, immediately breaks the law and becomes liable, I suppose, to heavy penalties? However, that is what we are now being asked to welcome.

In spite of this feeble step forward, any farmer who hauls behind a tractor licensed at the £2 rate any woodland product whether from a small or large wood which he happens to work in conjunction with his farm, will still find himself breaking the law. Thousands of farmers will find themselves in that position every year. If he wants to keep within the law and he looks up the rate he is asked to pay, he does not find that he will have to pay just the next higher rate, because that is a privilege reserved for showmen's vehicles. He will be asked to pay the highest rate of all. Hence while he is doing his best to grow timber, which at the present time is a very scarce and much needed product indeed in this country, he will be rated far more highly than someone who takes his coconut shies from one part of the country to another. I am quite certain hon. Members are not prepared to approve that.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not say that if he widens this Clause so as to allow the haulage of timber he will be causing undue wear and tear to the roads, because as the Clause is at present drafted a man can take as many hundreds of tons of sugar-beet as he likes to the station, provided it is not more than 15 miles from his farm; yet if he hauls one load of timber he finds himself once again outside this new law. I think that the 15-mile limit is ingenious, and although certain arguments can be adduced against it there are certain others to be said in its favour. One of them is this. I believe it is the view of the right hon. Gentleman that to widen the Clause in order to give benefit to the forestry branch of the industry, will be very difficult to administer "because it will be difficult to distinguish between the tractor which is used, if I may so put it, to carry out acts of husbandry and the tractor which is owned and used as a specialised vehicle, and which may be employed day in and day out on the main road dragging logs from one part of the country to another.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has invented the 15-mile limit that difficulty is immediately solved, because I do not think the very heavy tractor, for which there are special licence rates in the consolidating Act of last year, or the specialised vehicles which some members of the timber trade possess, would ever come within this category, because no one would want to limit himself to using them within a 15-mile radius. I therefore do not think that that difficulty, which has been represented by the right hon. Gentleman before as being a very big one, any longer holds.

It is certainly true that a substantial part of the woodlands of this country which are privately owned are worked separately from any particular agricultural holding, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that more than a third of our farms are owner-occupied, that a very large proportion of those include quite a considerable area of wood land, and that the proportion of the total farms in that sort of occupation is increasing year by year. At the same time, I ask him to bear in mind that the timber situation in this country is critical—so critical, in fact, that there has never before been such a strict control of felling in peace-time or in war as there is at present.

To meet that—although it may have escaped his attention—one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the Minister of Agriculture, through the Forestry Commission, the other day launched a new scheme to encourage all farmers to plant poplars along the edges of streams, along the edges of farm roads, in waste corners, and so on, as is the custom in large areas of Northern France, in Flanders, and indeed in North-West Europe generally, but which has not been the habit in this country up to the present. It is only in isolated cases that that practice may have been followed here. Only a matter of days ago the Minister of Agriculture not only invited farmers to make use of all these waste scraps and corners, but also offered a subsidy of 2s. a tree for a minimum of 200 poplar trees successfully planted on one farm in any one year.

That is virtually an invitation to every farmer in the country to see whether he can find an odd corner somewhere where he can make a contribution towards solving our timber problem. Unless the right hon. Gentleman meets us on these Amendments he is in fact saying that he proposes to wreck this scheme of the Minister of Agriculture in the first few days of its existence, it is quite impossible for anyone to consider planting poplar trees in the odd corners of his farm, or along the banks of any stream which may cross his farm, if he will not be able to look after those poplars properly and haul away the final timber unless he pays £35 or £40, or something of the sort, as a licence for his tractor. It simply rules the thing out altogether.

Although this new Clause goes some way towards meeting the grave disadvantages which lay in the old rules, I submit that it has not really gone far enough, and unless something further is done along the lines we suggest the right hon. Gentleman will have shown that it is not his intention to help the rehabilitation of our farm woodlands, which is most important today, and which I am quite certain is the intention of the majority of Members to aid.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

First, I wish to thank the Chancellor for introducing this new Clause, which I am sure will be much appreciated by the agricultural community throughout the country. However, I also wish to support these Amendments, and to ask the Chancellor to consider whether he cannot go some way, if not the whole way, to meet the ideas embodied in them. As the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) pointed out, over a large part of the country there is a close association between forestry and agriculture. We are not faced, as they are in large parts of Scotland, or Wales for that matter, with great areas of woodland which are, as it were, economic units in themselves.

In the Midlands and the South of England there is this very close association; there are small estates on which there are both agricultural land and woodlands where the two are run closely together. Owner-occupying farmers have small woodlands and copses on their farms, and the Forestry Commission are trying to do all they can to encourage the growth of timber on these kinds of properties. Up to now, they have been very much neglected, and there is no doubt that, in the timber shortage with which we are faced at present, this kind of woodland property can provide a useful contribution to the solution of our problem.

4.30 p.m.

It is a fact that, over most of this kind of property, agricultural tractors are used for both agricultural and forestry operations, and we cannot separate the two. On one day, a tractor is ploughing or hauling sugar beet, and, on another day, it is hauling the thinnings of neighbouring woodlands, and if we try to separate the employment of the tractor on these two purposes, we shall land in hopeless confusion. The two things must go together. The hon. Member for Westmorland also asked why the osier should be exempted while the main trunk or body of the tree of which it is a shoot is not exempted, and there are hundreds of cases that could be quoted, such as the hauling of hedge stakes, barbed wire, piles and gate material from neighbouring woods, which are obviously part of general farming operations.

I agree that we do not want to encourage, or leave a way open for, farmers to haul timber long distances and compete with contractors and thereby escape the larger duty, but I think the provisions which are being included in this new Clause will make it impossible for timber to be hauled in this way over long distances. It would be possible to haul it, perhaps, to a neighbouring railway station, but a 15-mile limit would prevent anything else. I hope the Chancellor will do all he can to meet this point, because it is very desirable that small woodlands should beencouraged in view of the timber shortage, and because, in actual fact, the operations of agriculture and small forestry are very closely interwoven.

Mr. Gaitskell

I have listened to the points made by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) who moved this Amendment and to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), and I think I can probably save the time of the Committee by saying that, in principle, we are prepared to accept the proposition that a farmer who has woodlands on his farm and who uses a tractor for hauling the produce of those woodlands, if necessary taking it 15 miles in order to sell it, should have the benefit of this £2 rate. I think that is really what the hon. Member for Westmorland wanted, but, as my hon. Friend has said, we have to be rather careful in drawing the line so as not to let in all timber contractors, which clearly is not the purpose of this Amendment. If the hon. Gentleman will be so kind as to withdraw the Amendment, we shall have a look at the wording and put down our own Amendment on Report.

Mr. Vane

Can the right hon. Gentleman define a little more clearly what he means by the word "farmer"? I agree that we do not want to encourage the man who buys timber in one part of the country and delivers it to another, because that is a contracting business. However, as the hon. Gentleman opposite has said, the industries of agriculture and estate woodland management really merge together, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be too narrow in his interpretation, so that his new Clause will only include an odd spinney half the size of this Chamber. I want it to include something bigger than that, even if it excludes the Forestry Commission, which, the Committee may like to know, does not pay Excise Duty at all.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

It is more important today to grow poplars for matchwood than it has been at any other time, and the Board of Trade are trying to encourage in every way they can the growing of poplars for that purpose and have issued a paper which gives details of the scheme. Presumably, this has been approved by the Treasury, and I think that every farmer who has land suitable for this purpose should take up this scheme, because growing poplars helps to drain the land as well as other things. It is of great importance to the farmer, not only from the point of view of forestry but from other points of view as well.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

May I ask the Minister if, when thinking over the definition of the word "farmer" for which my hon. Friend has asked, he will consider whether it would include the home farm on an estate, so that tractors from the home farm could be used on the woodlands? I understood him to say that, but I am not quite certain that it does cover the home farm.

Captain Crookshank

I think the right hon. Gentleman has met the point made by my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment, and I am grateful that the Minister has said that he will accept the idea behind it. My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable on forestry questions. We all know that there must be some limit and that we must not allow people to carry timber all over the country, but that was not the point that we have in mind at all. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will consider the matter and put down his own Amendment later on. Therefore, unless there are any other novel points to be raised I suggest that my hon. Friend should withdraw his Amendment and reserve the right to criticise at a later stage if he does not like the Amendment which the Government put down.

Mr. Gaitskell

I am much obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I was going to suggest that myself. I think that points raised since I spoke last have showed the need for precise definition, and I can assure the hon. Member for Westmorland that that is our intention. It is our intention to cover woodlands where they are ancillary to or part of a farm. We are quite agreed about that, but I should like time to consider the wording, because we must be careful not to make too wide a breach. If hon. Members will leave it like that, we shall put down an Amendment on Report stage, when, if they do not like it, we can have another discussion.

Captain Crookshank

If, as the right hon. Gentleman will probably agree, he is not such an expert on this problem as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, perhaps he will take them both into consultation if he is in any difficulty?

Mr. Gaitskell

I shall be very happy to do so.

Mr. Vane

In view of the generous way in which the Minister has met the point of the Amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.