HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc487-8
Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Minister of Transport what is his estimate of the current amount of paid annual vehicle excise duty; and what action he is taking to collect unpaid amounts.

Mr. Fowler

Excluding amounts refunded, the figure for 1979–80 was £1,109 million. In addition, fines, costs and back duty of almost £6 million were collected from evaders. In association with the police I am stepping up my Department's enforcement effort, and a successful campaign against evaders was mounted in Nottinghamshire in February and another has just started in Warwickshire. Other possible ways of reducing evasion are being studied and I am having a special and urgent study carried out in association with Sir Derek Rayner.

Mr. Baker

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he accept that if some of the current estimates of unpaid duty are accurate, the need for increasing this form of duty—which is believed to be under consideration—would be avoided if proper collection were made?

Mr. Fowler

I am not sure to what my hon. Friend refers on his last point. It is certainly the case that the reduction of evasion would make a substantial difference. That is why we have taken this action in, for example, Nottinghamshire, which led to a significant increase in re-licensing and detection not only of evasions but of many other road safety offences.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I declare an interest in that for 25 years I have been trying to get an answer to this question? Each time the question is asked Ministers give the same reply. Is the Minister aware that evaders pay only a nominal fine and a quarter's arrears, having saved hundreds of pounds in the tax they have dodged? Will the Minister take action to ensure that evaders pay back all the arrears, plus a hefty fine? He may then get somewhere.

Mr. Fowler

I bow to the hon. Gentleman's experience in this matter over the last 25 years. I shall certainly take up his question with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The Government are taking action against evaders, and if the hon. Member studies the report on the Nottinghamshire case, he will see how effective we have been.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

Do traffic wardens have a specified duty to scrutinise tax discs that are displayed on cars? If so, how effective have they been, and what steps are being taken to make them more effective?

Mr. Fowler

Traffic wardens carry out this duty, but in the crackdowns in Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire they were also aided by the police. I should like to pay tribute to the co-operation not only of the chief constables but of the police in those counties for the work that they have done.

Mr. Anderson

There are people outside Nottingham who do not pay their duties. If the Minister is serious about evasion, surely more enforcement officers should be employed. Does not this conflict with the way—by cash limits and otherwise—that the Government are cutting down on the employment of such officers?

Mr. Fowler

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not declaring an interest, as a previous questioner was. I think that the hon. Gentleman makes a fairly familiar point, and I understand his constituency point of view. However, I am sure that he will also agree that not only are we collecting more in terms of unpaid duty but we are making the whole Swansea system and the licensing system much more efficient and effective with fewer staff. I think that that is to the good of the general public.

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