HC Deb 02 July 1957 vol 572 cc1019-22

Subsection (1) of section two hundred and seventy-one of the Income Tax Act, 1952 (which defines "industrial building or structure" for the purposes of Chapter I of Part X of that Act to mean a building or structure in use for the purposes listed in paragraphs (a) to (g) of the subsection), shall be amended by substituting for the words "or tunnel undertaking" in paragraph (b) of the subsection (as amended by section twenty-five of the Finance Act, 1952) the words "tunnel or bridge undertaking":

Provided that the amendment made by this section shall have effect only in relation to expenditure which is to be treated for the purposes of the said Chapter I as incurred after the coming into force of this section.—[Mr. J. J. Astor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)

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

The proposed Clause appears complicated but is very simple. It relates to the depreciation allowance given to industrial buildings not more than fifty years old and in use for the purpose of the qualifying trades defined in Section 271 of the 1952 Income Tax Act. In those trades are such matters as inland navigation and docks, but not toll bridges. The proposed new Clause relates to toll bridges.

Some time ago it was proposed to put a bridge across the River Tamar, which runs between Cornwall and Devon. It is to be built in the vicinity of Plymouth. In order to do this a private Bill, known as the Tamar Bridge Bill, had to be introduced. In the Bill is a Clause to allow the proposed bridge operation to benefit by the allowance to which I have referred.

Toll bridges in general do not benefit from the allowance. I suggest that it is neither fair nor reasonable that one bridge operation should benefit from the allowance while others do not, the more so because, in conjunction with the drive for better highways, there are proposals for further toll bridges.

The Clause proposes to allow expenditure on the construction of toll bridges to benefit from the allowance. This is not a party issue; no party principles or policies are involved. It is a reasonable and beneficial proposal and should commend itself to the Committee.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I beg to second the Motion.

I feel that the new Clause is perfectly reasonable; and that, in view of the Government's new policy of insisting that all future bridges shall be tall bridges, toll bridges ought not to be in a position less favourable than that of dock undertakings, and, indeed, that of the Mersey Tunnel. The Mersey Tunnel, when it was constructed, received from the Government a grant of £1½ million which, at the time, represented about 30 per cent. of the cost.

The Tamar bridge to which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) referred, will get no Government grant at all, nor will similar bridges which will be built in the future. A special Clause had to be added to the 1952 Finance Bill to enable the Mersey Tunnel undertaking to benefit by this tax concession. By that time, the Mersey Tunnel was a very profitable undertaking. It is very unlikely that the Tamar Bridge, or any bridges built after it will be very profitable.

The principal point to be borne in mind is that this is a local authority undertaking and not one which is run for private profits. At the moment, congestion on the Torpoint ferry, which takes the main traffic from Plymouth to South Cornwall is terrible and waits of up to two hours are necessary. The bridge is essential, and the Bill relating to it has been promoted by the Cornwall County Council and by the Plymouth Corporation. The Measure has gone through all its stages in the House, and is now before another place. If this tax concession is granted, it will not benefit Cornwall and Plymouth only but all future undertakings of this kind. For that reason, I hope that the Government will accept the Clause.

Mr. Powell

This new Clause removes what is, at present, an absurdity—that a toll bridge qualifies for capital allowance if it is operated by a transport or dock undertaking, but not if it is operated, for example, by a county council. That is clearly an indefensible situation and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) has said, it is one which ought to be remedied by general legislation, and not within the ambit of a Private Bill. I would, therefore, recommend the Committee to add the Clause to the Bill.

Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I want to thank the Minister for accepting this Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) referred to the bridge as being located in Plymouth, but as it crosses the Cornish River Tamar into Saltash, which is in my constituency, I am glad of the opportunity of expressing my thanks.

Mr. J. J. Astor

I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary for being able to see his way to accepting the Clause which will, I think. be of general benefit to everyone.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.