May I express by personal appreciation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for including one or two Clauses concerned with transport and so enabling me once again to savour the joys of this Committee on the Finance Bill.
This is a Clause which we welcome, but I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us a little information about it. First, what will be its cost in a full year? Secondly, has he any estimate of the number of vehicles currently affected? Thirdly, why has it been decided to have the date of 1st September, 1966? If this is a concession which it is correct to provide for these vehicles, I would have thought that it would have been more appropriate to use a more immediate date, particularly as the Clause provides for a refund for the period after 1st September. Presumably if that is the correct thing to do the refund could have been given for a longer period, even though there were administrative difficulties. Perhaps we can be enlightened.
Finally, how exactly did this problem come to the attention of the Treasury and what sort of delay was there between when representations on the problem were first made and the decision to make the concession? One would have thought that there would exist some permanent machinery, able to deal with this type of problem without having to come to the House with a Clause in the Finance Bill to make special provision, so that a more immediate decision could be made for this type of vehicle and the taxation problems connected with it.
I welcome the Clause. It is a decent and proper provision which will be attractive to industry and will provide some measure of relief where it is well deserved.
I am not sure whether the Government are fully aware of the fact that the Clause may prove to be the last hope for certain types of commercial vehicles, which at present I do not suppose are contemplated as coming under it. These failed to get relief in a different direction a couple of years ago, and when my party was in power, by way of rebate on heavy fuel oil.
I am referring to mobile construction vehicles, in particular such things as the mobile concrete mixer, of which there are many on our roads. Relief or rebate has been sought for these vehicles, on the fuel used not for driving them but for mixing the concrete. This was turned down and the Treasury refused to give relief, having found reasons which satisfied the Ministers of the day. I have on the Notice Paper new Clause No. 4—"Rebate on fuel for mobile construction machinery". I hope that that will find favour with the Government. However, should the attempt fail to obtain rebate on the fuel not used for the transportation of these vehicles but, as I explained, used for the machinery which mixes the concrete, there will no doubt be a move to disarticulate the concrete element—to get the mixer away from the vehicle—so that the vehicle itself will pay the tax and will use non-rebatable fuel while the concrete mixing element will qualify for rebate and be untaxed under the Clause.
It will be appreciated that this is an inefficient method and will still encumber an industry which is trying to reduce its costs. This Clause provides one way at least by which these costs may be reduced and I know that the industry welcomes the provisions.
I am glad of the welcome which the two hon. Gentlemen opposite have given to the Clause. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) posed four questions and I will deal with them in the reverse order in which he put them. He asked when the matter came to the attention of the Treasury and how much delay there had been. I regret that I cannot go into detail on this issue, except to say that as soon as the matter came to my attention I saw that it was dealt with as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Worcester asked what this would cost in a full year. The type of vehicle which will benefit from the provisions of the Clause now pays between £19 and £306 per year in vehicle excise duty. The reduction in duty will depend on the weight of the containers carried, now to be discounted, but it will probably range between £36 and £63 a year. The number of vehicles which will be affected is not known exactly. It is probably comparatively small, not greatly exceeding 1,000, and on that basis, although I cannot quantify it further, a simple arithmetical calculation should produce a rough figure of the total cost.
The hon. Gentleman then asked about the relevance of the date 1st September. This will be the first convenient date for this provision—since vehicle excise licences are issued on a monthly basis—after the Bill becomes law. A forward operative date for changes of this sort affecting rates of duty is common practice. There is a precedent. It is Section 11 of the Finance Act, 1964, which exempted certain vehicles used by invalids.
While I welcome the Clause, I must ask my hon. Friend some questions about the operation of subsection (3), which states:
If any question arises whether a body is from time to time actually used for the purpose mentioned in subsection (1) … the body shall be deemed not to be so used until the contrary is shown".
In the event of it being a new vehicle, how will the person applying for a licence be able to show "the contrary" since the vehicle has never been used? Does this mean that such a person will get a licence, but at a greater rate until the vehicle has been used, whereupon he will get a licence at a different rate? The subsection uses the words:
If any question arises whether a body …".
In what circumstances would such a question arise? Does this imply that there will be some sort of inquiry about whether a vehicle is used in this way?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. Subsection (3) merely states, in other words, that the onus is on the user to show the kind of body on the vehicle from the point of view of the container. I understand that there is no difficulty of the type canvassed by my hon. Friend, but if there were such a difficulty there is the usual appellant machinery in the Ministry and cases of this kind are dealt with when a person is aggrieved. We deal with matters of this kind from day to day.
I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I still do not completely understand the position about the date 1st September. I appreciate that it is not administratively convenient to issue new licences at the new rates until 1st September. The hon. Gentleman quoted the example of the 1964 Act. However, was there in that Act the same refunding provision concerning a proportion of the licences already paid as exists in this provision? If not, why, having included these refunding provisions, is it not possible to refund it on, say, 1st April or 1st May?
I could not answer the last part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, about whether or not there is a refunding provision in Section 11 of the 1964 Act, without notice. As I said, the date in the Clause is the first convenient date on which we can bring this provison into effect after the Bill comes into force.