HC Deb 20 December 1967 vol 756 cc1241-3
10. Mr. Noble

asked the Minister of Transport if she will seek to exempt commercial vehicles based in the Highlands and Islands from the new tax proposed in paragraph 68 of her White Paper on the Transport of Freight.

Mr. Swingler

Heavy lorries cause wear and tear on all roads in all parts of the country. We see no reason to exempt traffic in particular areas.

Mr. Noble

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that in the Highlands there are two or three specific problems which are not present to the same degree in other parts of the country? In particular, the nature of the roads is not comparable with other parts of the country, and the nature of the loads which heavy lorries can carry is quite different. Therefore, the increase in costs to an area where this is a very sensitive item is extremely important.

Mr. Swingler

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the problem to which I have referred exists in all parts of the country, namely, the additional wear and tear, and the consequent additional road costs, resulting from the increasing use of heavy lorries. That is the reason for the Answer that I have given. The right hon. Gentleman must judge it in relation to the benefits that all parts of the country receive from the rising expenditure on roads.

Mr. W. Baxter

In view of the justifiable opposition throughout Scotland to the provisions of the Transport Bill, will my hon. Friend take immediate steps to exclude the whole of Scotland from those provisions?

Mr. Swingler

I had better not anticipate the debate which will begin shortly. No doubt my right hon. Friend will deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Brewis

What will happen in areas like North-West Scotland, where there is no alternative railway? Do we just have to carry this extra cost?

Mr. Swingler

It is not a question of alternative modes of transport but a question of wear and tear on the roads —and, therefore, the extra costs—caused by heavy vehicles. As was explained in my right hon. Friend's White Paper, that is the reason for the imposition of this charge. Hon. Members can judge the matter in relation to the benefits to be received from the rising expenditure on transport.

Mr. Maclennan

Before applying the provisions of the Transport Bill to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, did my hon. Friend consult the body which the Government have set up to supervise all aspects of transportation in the Highlands, namely, the Highlands and Islands Development Board? If not, will he do so immediately?

Mr. Swingler

My right hon. Friend had the widest consultations on all aspects of the Bill. We are about to deal with the Bill in debate. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend from the Scottish Office will be intervening in the course of the debate, if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and no doubt this point will be dealt with.

Mr. Peter Walker

How does the Minister justify his remark that every consultation has taken place when nobody knew that this tax was coming and when the Minister has not even yet published the evidence justifying it?

Mr. Swingler

I have said that this is explained in the White Paper. The charge is imposed on account of additional costs quite plainly caused by heavy lorries in all parts of the Kingdom. On the question of consultation, the hon. Gentleman knows what the constitutional position is in relation to charges. My right hon. Friend had consultations shortly before the White Paper was published.