HL Deb 12 December 1966 vol 278 cc1497-500

5.32 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Bill is to enable the Minister of Transport to make grants to bus operators, for their stage services, in respect of the 10 per cent. surcharge on motor fuel duties which was imposed under the regulator on July 21. The Minister is already refunding to bus operators the 6d. per gallon increase imposed in the Autumn, 1964, Budget. When the 10 per cent. surcharge was imposed, the Prime Minister promised that it, too, would be refunded. The Finance Act 1965 gave the Minister of Transport power to make grants to cover the 6d. increase. The Minister introduced a scheme of payments, after consultation with the bus industry, and that scheme is available to make the extra payments now promised. But the Minister's powers under the Finance Act 1965 are specifically limited to the 6d., and these powers must be extended before payments can begin.

The Bill will first of all extend the Minister's existing power to pay grants by raising the limit of 6d. per gallon, to which I have referred, to cover the additional amount payable by virtue of the Order which imposed the 10 per cent. surcharge (3.9d. per gallon), this power being retrospective to the date of the surcharge, July 21, 1966. It will also give the Minister a continuing permissive power, subject to the approval of the Treasury, to pay grants in respect of any surcharge imposed under any future use of the regulator. This must not be taken to suggest that the Government would in all cases accept that such grants should be paid. That would necessarily depend on circumstances at the time, and the provision implies no automatic commitment to do so. But the provision has been included so as to avoid any future difficulty of this kind which might arise.

Bus operators are already receiving grants totalling about £4½ million per year in respect of the 6d. increase. The additional payments, for the surcharge, can begin as soon as Parliament authority under this Bill has been obtained. In a full year, they will amount to nearly another £3 million if the surcharge is continued. The actual payments made in the current financial year will be just over £1 million. This takes account of the fact that the surcharge did not begin until July, and that, because claims are quarterly and some operators take a little time to submit them, many will fall to be paid in the next financial year rather than this one.

My Lords, the original grants in relief of the 6d., and the present grants, are being made to spare from these taxation increases, which have been generally imposed, the stage bus services, which are, broadly speaking, the essential local bus services in both town and country. They are a vital part of public transport which it is the Government's policy to strengthen. I commend this Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Phillips.)

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness for commending this Bill to the House and explaining its purpose to us? As I understand it, and as she said, it implements the Prime Minister's promise on July 21 last to pay the rebate in respect of the regulator surcharge as it affects the public bus services. I may say that I follow the somewhat complicated arithmetic which results in £1.1 million being provided to implement this undertaking for the remainder of this financial year. I also understand that the repayments are made quarterly in arrears, and that, because it takes some time for bus companies to fill in the forms which they must fill in, £1.1 million will turn out to be sufficient this year.

I wish to make only two brief comments on the Bill. The first is that, although this is the season of good cheer, this is no act of Santa Claus giving us a handsome Christmas present. It is really no more than an act of grace—if I may say so, rendered all the more so by the noble Baroness so charmingly commending the Bill to the House—because the Bill must be seen against the background of the total amount of taxation which the Government have imposed on the road user, both public and private, in the past two years, which is no less than an extra £280 million per annum. The annual value of this little Bill i s£2.9 million per annum. So this is giving us back roughly 1 per cent., or 2½d. in the pound, of what is being taken away. So that when I say that this Bill is no more than an act of grace, it is the act of grace of the highwayman who, having rifled your pocket, gives you back a few coppers to pay your bus fare home. I am sure that Robin Hood would have treated us rather more generously than that. However, beggers cannot be choosers, and we must be thankful for the small mercies which the noble Baroness has been gracious enough to give us. Therefore Her Majesty's Opposition welcome this small gesture to the public bus services.

With regard to timing, I have observed that some five months have now passed since the Government imposed this new tax. The bus companies, therefore, are suffering from inconvenience as a result of the delay in repayment of tax to them, and this, coming, as it does, on top of the forced loan which they now have to carry for the selective employment tax, is probably causing them some financial embarrassment. Consequently, we on this side of the House are anxious to do everything possible to help Her Majesty's Government to make amends for past delays by expediting the Bill on to the Statute Book now. I have much pleasure in commending the Bill to this noble House.


My Lords, I should like to express my appreciation of the noble Lord's acceptance of this Bill. He may be glad to know that in all the papers this morning my stars told me that I should receive no opposition to-day, and I am grateful that he, at any rate, has borne this out. I appreciate his feeling that this is an act of grace, though I would say that it does not flow from me personally. I am sure the noble Lord would agree that in other Acts Her Majesty's Government are giving similar rebates to other industries, and although he quoted a figure of £2 million, the total figure will probably be much greater. He will be glad to know that this Bill is retrospective. I know that he has been studying the same material as I have, and he will know also that as soon as the Bill takes effect these small operators, of whom we are very conscious, will receive this refund just as quickly as they complete the necessary forms.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.