HC Deb 11 May 1959 vol 605 cc977-83
Colonel Richard H. Glyn (Dorset, North)

I beg to move, in page 12, line 2, to leave out "five" and to insert "fifteen".

The object of the Amendment is to increase the radius within which it is permissible to use what is known as a transport box attached to a tractor, which in many ways is more suitable and more modern than the old-fashioned trailer. I think it is right to say that this matter was first raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), whom I am glad to see in his place today.

I would say that the agricultural community and the countryside as a whole appreciate that the Clause as it stands represents a concession and will serve to clear up a certain amount of misapprehension which has existed in some districts as to what the law might be, because it has been interpreted slightly differently in different areas. For some years it has been possible to draw, as the Act says, or, as we would generally say, tow or haul a trailer or farm implement behind a tractor within a radius of fifteen miles from the farm, but originally the permission was only to tow. With improved modern implements which were attached to tractors and which raised loads by hydraulic means, it was pointed out that these were outside the law as it stood, and in 1953 the law was altered to allow these implements to be carried within a radius.

Now we have what is known as the transport box, similarly attached to the tractor and serving to carry small loads. In many cases this is a much more suitable arrangement than the old-fashioned trailer, because it takes up much less space on the road and saves the very great congestion which is familiar in country districts on market days. I think that the police in most districts will agree that it is safer because it does not swing about and takes up very much less room on the road. I do not know if my right hon. Friend had all these reasons in mind when the Clause was originally drafted and it was decided to clear up the matter and to help by having these transport boxes expressly permitted within a radius limited to five miles, but that is a very much smaller area than the fifteen miles radius permitted to a trailer.

The object of the Amendment is to extend the radius within which transport boxes may be used from five miles to 15 miles to put them all square with trailers which they are so fast replacing. I submit that this is not merely a question of the convenience of the farmers, it is a question of the safety and of the convenience of other road users and of the congestion in the market towns.

Whereas there may be some areas in which the radius of five miles may be adequate, in the West Country, particularly in my constituency, in north Dorset, it is only a comparatively small proportion of the farmers who are within five miles of a market. Many are 10 and some as far as 15 miles away from a market. Some are even farther away than that, but they are accustomed to employ a haulier, which is probably cheaper, because 15 miles as the crow flies is probably as much as 40 miles out and back by road, and the time factor and wages make it cheaper to employ a haulier, as is widely done.

For these reasons, it would be a tremendous help, not only to farmers but to other road users in country districts, if this Amendment could be allowed and if the radius for these convenient transport boxes could be extended from five to 15 miles.

Sir J. Duncan

I should like very warmly to support this Amendment so ably moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Colonel R. H. Glyn). It seems to me a most reasonable thing that if one can haul a trailer to market, a trailer which takes up a lot of room and goes rather slowly, one should also be able to use an agricultural tractor with a box at front or back to go the same distance to market. It is the object of the Amendment to secure that.

The original law on the subject was consolidated in 1949, and under it a tractor paid varying licence duty according to its weight. By the Finance Act, 1950, a flat rate of £2 was paid on all agricultural vehicles. The object of the Amendment is to make the £2 rate applicable to tractors if they have boxes, provided they are restricted to a fifteen-mile radius.

This would be easier for administration. If a policeman finds a tractor more than fifteen miles away from its farm he can pick up the owner. Under the law as proposed now, if the tractor has a box on it the policeman has to see whether it is five miles from the farm; if it has a trailer attached to it, it can go fifteen miles. For ease of administration I should have thought that it would have been simpler to have made the fifteen-mile limit for both.

My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the question of safety. It will be noticed that in subsection (1, b) there is a limit on the size of the box. If the box is on the front it is limited to 7 sq. ft., if on the back, to 15 sq. ft. I would emphasise this because if the weight were on the back of the tractor and it were an excessive weight it would be dangerous because the front wheels would tend to rise off the ground. The limitation in the size does ensure adequate safety.

9.45 p.m.

There is the further point that in many parts of the country farmers have more than one farm. They frequently have a low-ground farm and a hill farm and have to go from one to the other to carry fodder to the sheep in snow or to carry potatoes from a farm to the house or from one farm to another. It will be stupid if they must have a trailer to cover fifteen miles between one farm and another and if they have to take the box off every time they travel. According to the Clause, the box must be removable. It must be fixed in such a way that it can be taken off the front of the tractor.

It will be an awful nuisance, therefore, if a man has a call in a snowstorm to go to his hill farm to take hay to the sheep and he has a box on the tractor which he must take off because the distance is more than five miles, and he must attach a trailer which is more difficult to operate in snow and on slippery roads. For all these reasons, therefore, I think that the Amendment is sound. I believe that it has been asked for in principle by the National Farmers Union for many years. I hope that it will be accepted by the Government as a piece of common sense, as something which will ease administration and something which on its merits improves the Clause.

Mr. Harold Davies

I sincerely hope that the Amendment will be accepted. The provision which it proposes would be specially valuable in hilly districts in wintertime. There is hilly country in the Leek area where it is very difficult to take out fodder to cattle along country lanes in winter. As hon. Members have said, it would be ridiculous and almost impossible to drag a trailer to do this work. I need not labour the point. This is a reasonable Amendment. It would be of great help in hill farming areas. I hope that it will be accepted.

Mr. Nugent

The Clause has been inserted in the Bill to meet the difficulty which has been found over the last few years as this device of the transport box has developed and farm tractors have continued to run about the roads with transport boxes on the back. In most areas the police have been fairly lenient, but it has been a breach of the law. The Clause, therefore, has been inserted to meet the practical difficulty which has arisen and to legalise what has now become a very general practice.

The point of the Amendment is to extend the limitation of five miles to fifteen miles. The arguments are very evenly balanced here. There are two arguments in favour of leaving the limit at five miles and differentiating it from the fifteen-mile limit for trailers. The first is the nature of the tractor itself. The £2 per annum concession for the tractor is granted on the basis that a tractor is not a load-carrying vehicle. It is simply a hauling vehicle which can have a trailer behind it to carry goods. As soon as the tractor itself carries the load in the transport box, it becomes a load-carrying vehicle like all goods vehicles.

The second argument is the question of safety. The tractor, being a hauling vehicle and not a load-carrying vehicle. is not required to conform to some standards of safety. For instance, it is not required to have two independent braking systems nor the conditions of fitness which we demand in ordinary road vehicles. There is a possible danger in a tractor being turned into a load-carrying vehicle when, as opposed to the trailer which itself has an independent set of brakes, it might not be entirely safe on the roads.

As a practical man, having had a great deal to do with tractors and transport boxes on trailers, I am bound to accept that on the whole a transport box is likely to be safer than many trailers I have seen, provided that it is reasonably loaded. It is true that, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) has said, we have limited the size of the box to 15 square feet, and so a large load cannot be carried, although it is surprising what will appear in some people's transport boxes.

Nevertheless, I think the safety factor is on the side of the transport box rather than that of the trailer, and in the even balance of arguments here I think we should accept the Amendment, especially for the obvious convenience of having the limitation for both set at fifteen miles, instead of five for one and fifteen for the other. It cannot be often, Sir Gordon that an Amendment is successfully moved on the Finance Bill to give three times what the Chancellor was offering, but on this occasion it does not seem to cost much, so I am able to make the concession and I advise the Committee to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Geoffrey Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)

I beg to move, in page 12, line 24, at the end to insert: (6) Subsection (5) of section five of the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, shall be amended by adding in paragraph (b) after the words "a snow plough", the words "or trailer gritter of the type designed to render roads fit for the passage of traffic in conditions of snow or ice". Subsection (2) of section seven of the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1949, shall be amended by the addition of the following proviso:— Provided that this subsection shall also apply to a mechanically propelled vehicle being a bulk gritter or similar contrivance of a type designed to render roads fit for the passage of traffic in conditions of snow or ice". Section 5 of the Vehicles Excise Act, 1949, deals with the duties which are chargeable on goods vehicles and subsections (2) and (4) deal with the position which arises when those vehicles tow trailers or in some way have trailers affixed to them. There are two forms of trailer. One is where it is different from the vehicle towing it, and the other is where the goods vehicle used for drawing the trailer has the trailer attached to it by partial superimposition and, according to the nature and weight of the trailer. additional duty is payable in accordance with the Fourth Schedule to that Act.

Subsection (5) of Section 5 of the 1949 Act makes certain exceptions to the rule that additional duty is payable if the vehicle is towing a trailer. One of the exceptions is where the trailer happens to be a snow plough. It seems to me that there are good reasons for making that exception. First, a snow plough is not often used and if it paid the same rate of duty as a normal trailer obviously the weight of duty per mile would be very heavy indeed. It seems to me that the same kind of argument can also apply to a trailer gritter or a bulk gritter used in rather similar circumstances; in other words, where perhaps there has been a fall of snow, it has thawed, there has then been a frost and the roads have become slippery. Then the local authority attaches some kind of gritter to the back of an ordinary vehicle which goes round the roads and makes them safe for the motorist. It seems to me a matter of logic that if a snow plough is exempt from trailer duty for the reason that it is seldom used and would be far more expensive to operate if it had to pay the same rate of duty as the normal trailer, the same argument applies in the case of gritter trailers, whether superimposed on a vehicle or, in the case of the larger vehicles, separate ones.

It is a fact that there are very few gritter trailers or bulk gritters used by private interests. They are nearly all used by local authorities. So it seems to me irrational to free the snow plough from duty and leave the gritter chargeable. For that reason, I hope my hon. Friend may be able to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Nugent

I can help the Committee here. The Amendment is acceptable to us in principle. We feel that these machines should be treated in the same way as snow ploughs. The only point that I have to make is that the Amendment does not fit well into Clause 11, which deals with agricultural tractors, and would be more appropriately dealt with by way of a new Clause. If the Committee is agreeable, I would advise my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens) to withdraw his Amendment on the understanding that the Government will table a new Clause on Report.

Mr. Stevens

In view of my hon. Friend's assurance, I thank him for accepting the principle, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.