HC Deb 10 June 1959 vol 606 cc1099-103

(1) No duty shall be chargeable under the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, in respect of any mechanically propelled vehicle constructed or adapted, and used, solely for the conveyance of machinery for spreading material on roads to deal with frost, ice or snow or for the conveyance of such machinery and articles and material used for the purposes of the machinery.

(2) In paragraph (a) of subsection (5) of section five of the said Act of 1949 (under which a goods vehicle is not chargeable with additional duty in respect of a trailer if the drawn vehicle does not exceed five hundredweight in weight and is constructed and used solely for spreading loose untreated gritting material) the words "not exceeding five hundredweight in weight" and the word "untreated" shall cease to have effect.

(3) This section shall come into operation on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine.—[Mr. Hay.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Hay)

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

I need not detain the Committee very long, as the purpose of the Clause is simple and has been discussed at an earlier stage of the Bill. The Committee will recollect that when Clause 11 was under consideration, my hon. Friend the Member for Langstone (Mr. Stevens) drew attention to the anomaly under which vehicles and machinery used for gritting, or depositing a mixture of salt and grit on the roads in frosty weather, have to pay vehicle Excise tax. We have looked into this. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave an undertaking that on Report we would seek to introduce our own Clause to put the matter right, but we have improved on that undertaking in that we have been able to table this Clause during the Committee stage after all.

I think that the Committee as a whole will understand the language of the new Clause which, unlike some of the other Clauses, is pellucidly clear In those circumstances, I simply commend it to the Committee, and hope that we shall add it to the Bill without delay.

Mr. E. C. Redhead (Walthamstow, West)

I appreciate that the new Clause is made in response to the undertaking given on Second Reading, and I certainly do not quarrel with the expressed intention of subsection (1). As local authority road construction vehicles are already exempt, under the main Act, of any duty chargeable on vehicles when drawing a snow plough or similar contrivance, it is clearly sensible and logical to extend the exemption to the vehicles specified here. Nevertheless, I feel that the Clause is still somewhat limited in its character.

I question whether it is really justifiable to extend the exemption to this class of vehicle whilst still leaving nonexempt, for example, local authority watering vehicles, which, I should imagine, are just as essential for the maintenance and good condition of the public roads.

Further, I am extremely doubtful whether the present drafting does all that the Chancellor intends and desires. I understand that machinery of this character, which is used for gritting the road or adding other material to the road in order to deal with snow ice and frost, is sometimes fixed permanently to vehicles which would, therefore, come within the exemption provided in the Clause. However, I understand that not infrequently a vehicle is used or adapted for that purpose only at such times a it is necessary and that, in between times, the vehicle will have other uses quite essential for road maintenance and so on.

The former, as I say, would be within the terms of exemption as drawn for it, but the latter type of vehicle, although perhaps substantially used for this purpose, would not get the benefit of the exemption because the Clause is conditioned by the phrase: … any mechanically propelled vehicle constructed or adapted, and used, solely for the conveyance of machinery … I appreciate that this qualification is in similar terms to that which applies to road construction vehicles. I suggest in that latter case that the condition is more understandable in so far as those vehicles will normally he in more constant use for purposes of road construction.

Again, I have some query with the words at the end of subsection (1)— … for the conveyance of such machinery and articles and material used for the purposes of the machinery. I have spoken to a public cleansing superintendent about this, and his first impression was that the Clause, while it would permit the conveyance of material used for the purposes of the machinery", would not include such material as grit and salt which are actually used for depositing upon the roads. It is open to construction either way. In that sense it needs to be looked at. At the same time, it would be advisable to have regard to vehicles which are used by local authorities for a wider range of activities than that contemplated by the Clause. I hope the Chancellor will see the wisdom of extending an exemption of this kind, because local authorities ought not to be penalised in having to meet a duty of this kind on vehicles which are essential for maintaining road surfaces.

Therefore, while I do not quarrel with the general purpose of the Clause, I am a little doubtful whether it would achieve all that is claimed.

Mr. Stevens

I thank the Chancellor not only for the speed of the undertaking which he gave earlier in Committee but also for the pellucid manner in which he has implemented it, even if the pellucidity is less obvious to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) than it was to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, who seemed to think there was no doubt about the matter. However, I thank my right hon. Friend very much.

Mr. Hay

Perhaps I may say a:word to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead). In my naiveté, I thought this matter was perfectly clear. I thought that by comparison with some of the Estate Duty Clauses in the Bill we should have no difficulty. But the hon. Gentleman is more knowledgeable of these matters than I am. I can only say that we are advised that the drafting of the Clause carries out the purposes which he has in mind. However, without giving any undertaking on the subject, I assure him that we will look at this point in the light of his observations.

With regard to water vehicles, the Committee is in a difficulty, to which it is not unaccustomed. When a concession is made it is often necessary for people to suggest that the concession should be extended. However, since we are trying to deal here with a rather limited point, namely, that of the snow-plough and of snow-treating appliance, if I may use that expression, I must resist any attempt at this stage to extend the purpose of this concession to other types of vehicle.

There may be all sorts of other considerations which apply. We feel that since, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the great majority of these vehicles or pieces of machinery are in the hands of local authorities and are used for public purposes, the exemption is justified. Beyond that I cannot go, but I hope nevertheless that the hon. Gentleman and I can find common cause in supporting the Clause as it stands.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.