HC Deb 24 February 1969 vol 778 cc1182-98
Mr. Carmichael

I beg to move, Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 27, leave out from ' that ' to ' and ' in line 31 and insert: in relation to any period before the transfer date, a local authority have and always had power to make arrangements with the Postmaster General for him to issue licences and collect duty under the Act of 1962 on their behalf '.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if we discussed at the same time Amendment No. 5, in Clause 3, page 4, line 33, leave out subsection (5).

Mr. Carmichael

The Amendment is necessary because of the Post Office Bill, which will not receive Royal Assent before this Bill. Powers are given to local authorities to ask the Post Office to do certain things. It is proposed to empower local authorities under the Post Office Bill to ask the new Post Office Corporation to carry out certain functions.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Heseltine

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in line 33, leave out subsection (5).

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 48, in Schedule 1, page 36, line 30, leave out from beginning to end of line 32.

Mr. Heseltine

That is convenient, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister is in his place because the Amendment is designed to remove an Amendment which was introduced by the Government in Standing Committee. The purpose of the Government's Standing Committee Amendment was to make it possible for the vehicle licence revenue, the road tax, to be collected from people on the Scilly Isles who own cars.

The first major objection which my hon. Friends have—we voiced it in Committee—to this provision is the Government's desire to raise the taxation of the Scilly Islanders by this means. It was extraordinary that the Government made this change in Committee. The result is that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), who represents the citizens of the Scilly Isles, has not had an opportunity until today to comment on this alteration as he was not a member of the Standing Committee.

My hon. Friends and I spent many hours opposing the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, and during that experience we got used to the roughshod ways in which the constitutional practices were treated. I hope that we can expect something better from the present Minister, although I was surprised to find him using this questionable tactic of introducing a change of this kind in Committee. It is deplorable that this should be the first time that hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee have an opportunity of discussing the matter.

In these circumstances there was a real case for having discussions and consultations with those who will bear this taxation. This point was put to the Government in Committee, and subsequent to that stage the Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me explaining why the Government did not think that such consultations should take place. In his letter dated 20th January, 1969, the hon. Gentleman wrote: I hardly think it would have been right to hold consultations with the Council on this point, thereby implying that there might be some scope for negotiation on whether an oversight of many years ago should be perpetuated now that it had come to light. It was a feeble excuse. What evidence is there that this has been an oversight? Why is it not possible that when the original Isles of Scilly Order was introduced and in various resulting changes in road licensing generally it was decided to continue this exception? I see no reason to believe that this was an oversight. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives will explain that there are real differences of principle affecting the people who live on the islands. If there had been discussions and consultation, some of these points would have been settled.

8.15 p.m.

There are certain reasons why the islanders should be treated differently. The Western Morning News, the daily newspaper with the largest circulation in the West Country, gave a clear indication in an article published on 7th February last of the conditions that exist in the area. It stated: The only metalled road in the Scillies is on St. Mary's, much of that is in poor condition and its total length is 11 miles. The four main off-islands of Tresco, St. Martin's, St. Agnes and Bryher have roads of about a mile in length, which have been made by the islanders themselves. That is the background against which the people using these roads are to be asked to contribute £25 for their cars, plus any increase which might be made in the level of road tax in years to come.

There are some 200 cars on the islands. The use that one can make of a car there must be curtailed. Drivers do not enjoy the same facilities of travelling considerable distances as are enjoyed by motorists elsewhere in the United Kingdom. These cars are used mainly for the movement of goods which are imported into the Scillies by ship. The passenger usage for which there is scope is severely restricted. A car owner living on the islands who wishes to travel further afield must cross with his vehicle to the mainland, which is an expensive operation. The 40 miles must be done by ship ferry; and the moment the car touches the soil of the mainland the owner must pay the road tax. This means that the only people who can escape this imposition are those who drive their cars exclusively on the islands.

It is relevant to consider that hardship will be suffered by these people. First. we must appreciate the transportation system between the island and the mainland. B.U.A. operates a helicopter service, and a private company operates a ship ferry service from St. Mary's to the mainland. The ferry is run as a profit-making operation. There is no subsidy, and it is an expensive business if one wishes to cross with one's car.

We may be told later that one of the justifications for extending road tax to the Scilly Islands is that there are many islands in Scotland where such an exception does not apply. It is important to remember that in those circumstances the islanders have the advantage of subsidised ship services. Because the Sallies' ferry service is not subsidised, all items imported into the islands are expensive. This is particularly relevant to motoring because, for example, petrol is up to 7d. a gallon more expensive than on the mainland. Most commodities are imported, which means that families on the islands must pay more for most goods.

We are speaking of small sums. As there are about 200 cars, the gross revenue which they would contribute would be about £5,000, and it is reasonable to assume that it would cost about £1,000 to collect that sum. In other words, this exercise will result in a net revenue of about £4,000. In view of the small sum involved and the hardships which the islanders must face, there is a case, in equity, to consider allowing this exception to continue.

Mr. Nott

I have to thank my hon. Friends for the very considerable vigilance they displayed in Standing Committee in protecting the interests of my constituents in the Isles of Scilly. They displayed far greater knowledge and understanding of the situation than did the Parliamentary Secretary who had the task of introducing the Amendment.

I have to say a number of harsh things about the Minister—he has probably heard them from me before—but I do not blame him personally. He did not guide the Bill through Standing Committee, but he must bear responsibility for the gross incompetence which his Department displayed in this case. Whatever procedural technicalities there may be—and I do not raise again the point of the potential hybridity of this Bill—there is something thoroughly distasteful about a Government who do not think it wrong to introduce for the first time a new tax bearing on part of the United Kingdom by tabling Amendments in Standing Committee.

Where that action has been taken without due warning, or any notice whatsoever, either to the part of the country so concerned or to its council, which is established under Statute, or to the Member of Parliament representing that part of the United Kingdom, the Government's action can only be described as arrogant and obnoxious and altogether lacking in the courtesies and civilities which normally mark parliamentary life.

For historical reasons the Isles of Scilly have not up to now levied duty on vehicles, but the power to levy duty under Statute has been held by the Council of the Isles of Scilly for a considerable number of years. If local government independence means anything at all, and if the relationship between central Government and local government is to be one of co-operation rather than of confrontation, it might have been assumed that before removing a statutory right the Minister would at least have informed the Council that he intended so to do.

Similarly, it would have been in accordance with the normal courtesies under which we conduct our business in this House for the Minister to have informed the hon. Member most concerned of his intentions where the Minister was, in fact, excluding that Member from either representing his constituents' case on Second Reading or from serving in the Standing Committee in order to discuss the subject there. Moreover, when the matter had been discussed in that Committee and was brought to my attention the following day it would have been thought by any reasonable man that the Minister would at least have arranged then to have informed me and the council that he regretted the way in which the matter had been raised, and that he was now informing the council and the Member most concerned albeit after the event.

What happened was that I had to inform the Council of the Isles of Scilly of what happened in Standing Committee the previous day. To its astonishment, the Council found for the first time that this tax was to be levied without its ever having been mentioned to them beforehand. At the same time, the Ministry did not even then contact the council and ask it to discuss the matter. It was left to me to arrange a meeting between the Council and the Department. At not one single point of time have I had any communication with the Ministry.

I must point out to the Minister that on two occasions this week a Minister concerned with matters in my constituency has had the courtesy to inform me about something arising in the House the next day. In one instance, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy wrote to me the day before the Defence White Paper was published to tell me that in it certain announcements were to be made that affected my constituency. That is a normal thing for Ministries to do, and it could be described as a normal courtesy of parliamentary life.

Nothing of that sort happened in this case. I take no offence myself, but it is grossly offensive to the Council of the Isles of Scilly to be treated in this manner. Unless the Minister can apologise, not to me but to the Scillonian people and the Council, for the way in which they have been treated in this House, this subject may be raised in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Onslow. Amendments will be tabled, there will be a vote, and I hope that in due course this Bill will come back here to be debated further.

It is no part of my case that the Isles of Scilly, for some historical reason and by virtue of location, should be entitled for ever more to an endless dispensation from taxation which other people bear, but if the Minister decides to reverse a longstanding tradition he might at least have been expected to be well-armed in the Standing Committee with the correct facts.

The Minister's first contention—that there was no reason why the Isles of Scilly should be in any more beneficial position than the Isle of Wight or the Isle of Arran—sounded reasonable, but is, in fact, thoroughly unsound. I do not intend to debate the merits of the Isle of Wight—it has no analogy at all to the present case—but I will use the analogy suggested in the Committee of the Isle of Arran.

As the Ministry of Transport knows very well—though it was before the Minister took office—as a result of lengthy discussions held with the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, myself, the Ministry of Transport and many other Ministries, the Isles of Scilly are in a very special and unique situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) has said, there is a British European Airways service to the Isles of Scilly, but the B.E.A. services between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly are wholly unsubsidised, whereas the air services to the Scottish islands are subsidised to the tune of up to £½ million a year.

The Minister should know, further, that freight rates by sea to the Scottish islands are subsidised. Generally speaking, the freight rate to the Scottish islands is no greater than the rate to the furthest point on the mainland, and this arrangement is set out very fully in publications of the Scottish Highlands Transport Board.

The Isles of Scilly cannot, therefore. be compared with the Scottish islands The steamship company is privately owned, it has to pay its way, and it has no subsidies of any kind at all between the mainland and St. Mary's. The result is that freight rates to the Isles of Scilly have an infinitely greater impact on the cost of living there than freight rates can possibly have, any time, on the Scottish islands. Petrol costs 7d. a gallon more in the Isles of Scilly, and it costs about £14 return to transport a vehicle from Penzance to St. Mary's, the main island. Freight rates to the outer islands of St. Agnes, St. Martin, Tresco and Bryher are one-third more than to St. Mary's. It is an utterly false analogy to compare the Isles of Scilly with the Isle of Arran in this way.

8.30 p.m.

On at least four of the five islands the roads were built entirely as a result of local labour and subscription by the islanders, and not a penny of public money was involved. Payment for the concrete was made by the islanders and by the Duchy of Cornwall. On St. Mary's the roads were built mainly with public money but from individual contributions. Although the Council now receives a small rate support grant for upkeep of the roads, that has operated only recently and did not exist at the time when the roads were built.

Whether the yield will be commensurate with administrative costs is a matter for the Minister to decide. I think he will be landing his Department in potential legal entanglements of immense complexity. The Parliamentary Secretary estimated in Committee that there were approximately 200 vehicles on the Isles of Scilly. He was 100 per cent. wrong, for there are about 400. One might have expected that when introducing new taxation he would get the correct facts.

The yield is likely to be very small, for an important reason. Section 6(6) of the Vehicle (Excise) Act, 1962, exempts vehicles from road fund licence which are intended to be used on public roads only in passing from land in a person's occupation to other land in his occupation. More importantly, Section 24 defines a public road as, a road which is repairable at public expense. On the mainland it is the presumption of law that where a road is being maintained by the inhabitants it is a highway maintained at public expense, but in the Isles of Scilly the land is almost wholly owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, a Crown body established under its own management Acts, and nine-tenths of the roads in the Isles of Scilly may not rank as "public roads" at all.

I assure the Minister that the inhabitants of the Isles of Scilly are very persistent and independent-minded people. If they think they can get away without paying vehicle excise duty under the law as it exists, they certainly will.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

If they follow the example set by the Minister, they can also do it illegally.

Mr. Nott

If the Minister persists in pushing this Clause through, we may invite the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) to the Isles of Scilly. He would enjoy it no end, and perhaps he could instruct us on one or two of the avoidance technicalities which he has noted in London and elsewhere.

It appears that there will be an endless legal squabble as to whether or not the roads outside Hugh Town are public roads or not. This may continue for a long time.

On this matter there is a division of opinion in the islands. I do not claim that every person there is furious about the introduction of this taxation. Many who do not own motor vehicles are quite happy. It is normally the case when such taxation is imposed that those who own vehicles are angry and those who do not own vehicles are pleased because the number of motor vehicles may be reduced. Those who are not in the proud position of being motor vehicle owners with which they can ply their way around the island will have a rude shock, however, if the Bill goes through.

Placing an extra tax of £25 a year on a vehicle will have a substantial impact on the cost of living in the islands. Already many trades people, if confronted with an additional tax of this nature, will not be able to bear it and delivery of goods throughout the islands is likely to be affected.

The Minister has power to do as he wishes by this Clause, but it is monstrous that he should have introduced it in Committee while giving the hon. Members representing this area no chance on Second Reading of stating his constituents' views. The Minister did this without reference to the Council of the Isles of Scilly, which has statutory power to levy licences itself. Having made that mistake, the Ministry made no effort to get in touch with the Isles of Scilly to tell the Council what it had done. Nor did it get in touch with the hon. Member representing the Isles. It was left to him to get in touch with the Ministry and inform the Isles of Scilly what was going on.

I do not necessarily claim that the islands should be exempt for ever more. Nor do they do so. But the facts which the Parliamentary Secretary gave in Committee to support his case were in many cases erroneous. His analogies were untrue. The Ministry might have taken more trouble to present his case in the proper way and handle it in a manner more consistent with the way in which we normally conduct business in this House.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) has referred to the merits of the case and the way in which it was handled. He complained that the Council of the Scilly Isles had not been informed I can only reply that, as he knows, the Council has since been to the Ministry, when the full apology to which it was entitled was made, quite properly. As far as I understand the situation, the Council accepted the apology. I also think that the hon. Gentleman's complaint is justified, and I apologise to him as well.

We have discussed the merits at great length, but it was right and proper that the hon. Gentleman, who was not a member of the Standing Committee, should seize this opportunity of making his point. The simple point is that no one likes paying taxes if he has not been previously paying them. Obviously, people in that area are bound to have strong feelings, and not merely those who live in the islands but the visitors and tightly-knit politically motivated communities which seem attracted by the islands—people of great eminence—also have their point of view to express on this, because it is a fundamental change.

It is largely an accident that the islanders have not paid this tax. Everyone else in the United Kingdom does. The reason they do not pay is that they have not been caught by the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1962, which refers to counties and county borough councils, and the Council of the Scilly Isles is not a local authority. But this has been known for some time. Discussions have taken place in the past, when the possibility of changing the situation has been discussed. Of course, one does not expect the islanders to volunteer. Nor was it felt worth while to change the law to meet the point. But now, of course, we have a new situation.

We are introducing new legislation designed to deal with the whole question nationally and on a national basis. What we would be faced with doing now would be deliberately to exclude from that new legislation a section of the nation and, therefore, one has to ask, "Is there a case not for just ignoring this and letting it go on because it can be argued that it is not worth the trouble, but for positively taking a decision to exclude this community?" The amounts involved are not vast. The figure is about 400 vehicles. In terms of cost, I understand that this is about half a clerk at £750 a year, with accommodation and so forth. The revenue is about £8,000 a year.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

What about an enforcement officer? Surely there must be one of those in the Scilly Isles?

Mr. Marsh

I am sure that my hon. Friend will use his Recesses to their customary value by checking up on the Isles of Scilly as well. But I can only say, as Minister of Transport, that if there is to be an enforcement officer he will be on someone else's Vote and not mine.

The amounts are not vast and nobody argues that they are. The question is whether or not the situation is so different there that we positively exclude the Isles of Scilly from the legislation.

What are the arguments? First, it is said that because it is an island its costs are higher, and that its costs are higher than those of some other islands. That argument must fail. We have a large number of off-shore islands, and inevitably the costs of transporting goods and freight to and from an island are clearly much higher than in the suburbs of London or in one of our large conurbations. That argument could not be used unless we were to say that all the offshore islands should be excluded from the Excise duty. Incidentally, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have irrefutable evidence that the Excise duty is £25 and not £35.

Then it is argued that there are special circumstances here because of the shipping and freight costs which are higher than those which normally apply to an off-shore island. I am sure that the House will agree that it would be a major change to start linking the obligation to pay tax to the amount of costs incurred. Some of the off-shore islands, because they are further away and more difficult to get to, have higher costs than others. Some parts of the country involve higher costs than other parts of the country.

One cannot use the first argument and say this is an island and that it therefore costs more money to transport goods there, because that argument would apply to all other off-shore islands. One could not use the second argument and say that this is an island where the transport costs are higher than some other islands, because if one goes down that road one throws upon the whole country the choice to argue whether people should pay the full rate of tax or not. Nobody likes paying a tax that he has not paid before, but the simple fact is that we can find neither a justification nor a way of taking this one small group of the community and saying, "You alone shall not pay tax for a vehicle."

The argument was raised about the status of roads. What matters here is whether they are "public" roads. There are some roads in Hugh Town which are. We know they are because the council has told us they are. The other roads on St. Mary's are Duchy-owned and may or may not be "public". Their actual status is under discussion at present between the Council and the Duchy, but so long as there are some "public" roads in the United Kingdom upon which ordinary vehicles are travelling, it is difficult without rethinking the whole method of taxation to see a way not of just letting sleeping dogs lie but of consciously providing in this new legislation a means by which they and they alone should be excluded.

I finish as I started. The apology has been made, and it is unqualified. But the fact is that we are now introducing new legislation. We are having a national central licensing organisation, and if this Amendment were accepted we would have to say that there is something so unique about the Isles of Scilly that they and they alone must be excluded. I see no way of doing this unless we begin to consider the other off-shore islands and not only begin to exclude them but choose between them.

Mr. Nott

May I mention one point? The right hon. Gentleman appreciates, of course, that if it is only Hugh Town that has publicly-owned roads—this is just a small town in the middle of the islands—there will be an immense problem of deciding on which vehicles tax should be paid and on which it should not be paid. Only a tiny fraction of the vehicles use Hugh Town at all. Even under the present legislation, as long as the vehicles do not use the public roads in Hugh Town for, I think, more than six hours a week, Excise duty is not payable on them. The problem will surely be immense.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will deal with another difficulty. Should not the poor Londoners who wish to take their cars to the Scilly Islands then have a rebate?

Mr. Marsh

My hon. Friend and I have been long agreed on the movement for home rule for London. It should be very viable. I have the distinction of probably being the only member of the present Government who has not been on holiday in the Isles of Scilly.

On the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, there are some roads which are clearly public roads, there are others which are in dispute, and there are many private roads, particularly in other islands. One is faced not with a clear choice of excluding or including islands, but of having to judge how much public road there is, what the freight costs are, and so on, which is not a practical proposition.

I recognise how strongly the islanders feel about this, and everybody in the House would feel exactly the same if they had to pay a tax which they had not hitherto had to pay. The islanders are the only people in the United Kingdom who do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty and in the new legislation we cannot see a sensible way of preserving that position.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

The whole House will have been impressed by the forceful and penetrating way in which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) has spoken on behalf of his constituents, a privilege which was denied to him in Committee. The Minister has made a generous apology to my hon. Friend and to the Scilly Islanders. It was good of the Minister to give it in such an open and clear way; it is appreciated.

On the other hand, the hon. Member for St. Ives and the Scilly islanders would have been glad to know how this mistake arose and what steps have been taken to make sure that it never happens again. It was an outrageous example of, perhaps, petty bureaucracy, which I hope we will never see again.

Even bearing in mind the arguments which the Minister has put forward, I doubt whether it is possible to consider this proposal anything but a mean and miserly product of petty bureaucracy. The amount of revenue obtained will be very small, and, from what the Minister said, it seems certain that enforcement will be extremely expensive.

The Minister said that this was a tidying-up exercise, and that in bringing in a new system we have to make a positive decision whether the Scilly Islands should be excluded, but he has not explained how the special problems of the Scilly Isles in relation to public roads will be dealt with. It is crystal clear that if the islanders are difficult, and they insist that the law should be applied—and I understand from the Isles that counsel's opinion on the ownership of roads has already been obtained for a separate exercise—then the Government will have administrative problems which will require several inspectors, of the kind which the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) would like to see operating in London, going to the Scilly Islands to see how many vehicles travel over six miles of public roads in any one week.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives has said how few roads are classified as public roads. The Minister has said that only a few roads are public roads. Under Section 6(6) of the 1962 Act exemption is given to vehicles intended to be used on public roads only in passing from land in a person's occupation to other land in that person's occupation and for distances not exceeding in the aggregate six miles in any calendar week. The definition of a public road is given in Section 24 of the Act as a road which is repairable at the public expense.

The point that my hon. Friend so ably touched on was that on some of the islands the Council of the Scilly Isles is voluntarily taking on the repair of these roads and maintaining them, although it would appear that in the law there is some doubt as to whether it should be responsible. Is the Minister to drive it into the position where it will stick to the letter of the law and say, "We shall not repair roads for which we have no legal obligation", and thereby exempt a very substantial percentage of the vehicles on the Scilly Isles?

We on this side of the House were appalled when we found out how little research the Government have done into applying the law to the Scilly Isles. Despite all the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives, who is always so active on behalf of his constituents, and the penetrating questions put to the Minister by my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) and other hon. Members in Committee, we do not know whether the Government will raise any money.

Moreover, we do not know just how many vehicles this will apply to, and we do not see how it can be applied unless there is an army of enforcement officers on the Scilly Isles. The Scilly Isles have enough to contend with, with the various visitors they have from parts of London, including Downing Street, and elsewhere, without having to put up with an army of enforcement officers.

There has been an oversight of a sort. This has been a unique historic privilege which has existed for some time, not to give general exemption to Scilly Islanders who want to take their cars to the mainland but to those who stay on the Islands and travel on the very few roads there. When there has been so much confusion and bungling over the issue, and when my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives has tried so energetically to obtain clarification, we cannot leave the Amendment until the Government clearly indicate to whom this will be applied.

Is it to apply to all the vehicles, or only to some? Will the exemptions of Section 6(6) of the 1962 Act be applied? If they are to stay—and they are certainly inscribed in the Bill, how are the Government to determine those vehicles which will drive only six miles on the public highway in any week?

Mr. Marsh

The exemption applies only to vehicles that go from land in the user's occupation to other such land for less than six miles a week. A typical example is a farmer with a road running through his farm crossing the road. It is not just a question of travelling six miles on any non-public land.

Mr. Taylor

Absolutely, and we want to know how many of these vehicles are in use.

I got some details about the kind of vehicles in the Scilly Isles. I understand that there are 409 to be precise. The Minister said 400, but we shall not accuse him of being too inaccurate. A substantial number of these are agricultural vehicles. There are 50 vans or Land Rovers which are used for agriculture. There is one large lorry which is used for agriculture. There are 90 tractors used for agriculture.

Mr. Marsh

This has nothing to do with whether they are tractors or agricultural vehicles. The point is whether they are crossing from land in the owners' use to other land also in their use. The only place in which this applies normally is a road running through a farm or field where one wants to cross the road. It does not matter whether the vehicle is agricultural or not. The point is which land one is going to and from.

Mr. Taylor

We do not expect the Minister to come here and lecture us on the law. We on this side of the House have gone into this very carefully. We tried to do this before discussing things with him. We are concerned about the extent to which he is aware of the situation in the Scilly Isles. It was crystal clear from our discussions in Committee that the Government had not done their homework on the Scilly Isles. We want to know the extent to which they have done it now.

Mr. Nott

The point that my hon. Friend is making also concerns Section 24—whether they are public highways. Hugh Town, which has the public highways, is smaller than the Palace of Westminster. All the public highways in the Scilly Isles do not cover an area greater than the size of the Palace of Westminster. All the rest are not public highways.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

I was about to come to the question of public highways. This is a second part of the law which perhaps the Minister has examined in relation to the Isles of Scilly. A public highway is defined in the 1962 Act, as my hon. Friend so rightly said, as a road which is repairable at public expense. Can the Minister say what percentage of the roads in the Isles of Scilly are repairable at public expense? My earlier point was that in certain islands it appears that the Council accepts the liability to repair these roads, although, under the strict interpretation of the law, it might not be eligible to do this.

We want to know how many of the vehicles will be examined under Section 6 of the 1962 Act, what percentage of the roads are public roads under the definition in Section 24, and what percentage tage of the roads are being maintained by the Council of the Isles of Scilly at present, although there is no legal obligation on the Council to do so.

After all the confusion and bungling there have been on this important matter affecting a group of people whom my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives has so ably represented in the House, we are at least entitled to factual answers, not just the Minister's opinions on these points. Surely in view of the long interval between the Committee stage and this stage, and of all the bungling we have had, we should at least get some factual answers before the Government insist on driving this mean and miserly product of bureaucracy through.

A mendment negatived.

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