Why Differentiate Between Lorry and Private Car ?
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THE PROPOSALS contained in the Budget are such as to tend to perpetuate a. somewhat strange and illogical state of affairs in connection with the import of motor vehicles and their parts and accessories.
Recently we drew attention, in connection with the partial removal of the prohibitive Order, to the fact that, as soon as this ceases to operate, there is automatically introduced a differentiation of treatment as between private motorcars and commercial motor vehicles.
In introducing the Budget, Mr. Austen Chamberlain naturally took the opportunity of giving some praetical indication in support of the pledge of the Government to introduce a system of Imperial Preference. In so doing he was inevitably faced with the antagonism, or at least the grave suspicions, of the extreme free trade party. Consequently, he took the line of least resistance, and, instiead of introducing new customs and excise duties, merely applied the principle of preferential treatment to the duties already in force. This method of attacking the subject may be politic, but in certain ways is highly, Some of the excise duties were imposed not primarily for purposes of raising revenue, but rather for saving shipping space, steadying the rate of exchange and other reasons. These duties are now continued in operation ostensibly as a means of raising revenue and only in a smaller degree, if at all, as a measure of safeguard for home industries.
Regarding the customs duty on motorcars from the revenue-producing standpoint, or from the standpoint of safeguarding home industry, there is no conceivable reason why the duty should be applied to private, cars while commercial vehicles are allowed to come in free. Undoubtedly, the home industry needs the assistance afforded by a duty, and the only logical procedure At the present juncture is to extend the scope of operation of the duty to cover all classes of motor vehicles.
The present anomalous position is simply due to a set of temporary circumstances that were operative early in the war. These circumstances had no connection whatever with post-war revenue or the security of industry.
Presumably, political considerations are sufficiently weighty to prevent the Chancellor of the Exchequer from introducing brand new duties, but they ought not to be so strong as to prevent him from modifying or extending the scope of existing duties, within limits, so as to make the Budget proposals consistent with the purpose for which they must have been put forward.
We hope that, before the Financial Bill becomes law, an adjustment, will have been made which will place commercial vehicles on the same level as that already occupied by private motorcars from the point of view of customs duty.
The Complicated Machinery of Petrol Taxation.
DIFFERENTIATION in the dutiability of petroleum spirit has brought about a, very unsatisfactory state of affairs, has laid the door open to evasion and fraud, and has resulted in an increase of the staff necessary for the administration of the law and the collection of the duty. Petroleum spirit is liable to a duty of sixpence per gallon if it be used in private cars ; to a duty of threepence per gallon if used in cars employed in trade or husbaniry, hackney carriages cars of doctors and veterinary "6surgeons when used for professional purposes, and it is free of duty when used in motor fire engines, stationary engines, motor boats and aeroplanes, and also when used for cleaning purposes.
The complication is even greater than this statement would imply, because the half duty in respect of spirit used for commercial vehicles and others under the same heading is only payable by the roundabout process of full payment less rebate, involving the filling up of forms, trouble in verifying claims, endless correspondence, much delay and many unfair decisions. The difficulty imposed on the -medical man is probably overcome by discontinuing the use of his car for private purposes.
Yet a further complication—in fact, a whole mass of complications—arose out of the extra licence duty, payable to the Petrol Control Department. And, on • top of all, we have had one home product—shale spirit —paying the excise duty as a motor spirit whilst benzole, also a home product, has been declared duty free. .
Users of commercial vehicles have suffered to a material extent, as we discover from the number of letters, which reach us from time to time, asking for advice and information on the subject of recovery of duty.
We foresee the abandonment of the petrol tax as Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a hint in his Budget speech of the substitution of taxation in another form, which will probably be in the direction of an increased carriage duty. Commercial vehicle users will, undoubtedly, welcome any scheme of taxation which will free them from the trouble and irritation which the present system involves. ,
Benzole Could Render Better Service.
THE MANNER in which the subject of benzole and the encouragement of its production and use was dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer compels the thought that the statement could, with very , great advantage, have been made considerably earlier. The policy of the Government in the matter must have been thought out and decided months ago, and there has not been the slightest reason for withholding the information for the Budget speech. Much argument, discussion and anxiety would have been saved, both producers and consumers would have known where they were, and the hands of the petrol-importing group would not have been played into, as has been the case.
The !benzole-producing industry produced last year more than 42,000,000 gallons of benzole. Allowing for the amount represented-by the benzole which must be left in the gas to enrich it, and for the quantity which will be required for the dye industry, about 20,000,000 gallons are available annually for motor fuel. From the point of view of national safety, the new industry which has sprung up should be encouraged on every hand, because it gives us an additional indigenous source of fuel. From the point of view of the user, it should be encouraged because it can be a competitor with imported fuel, tending towards a much-needed reduction in price. But, so far as we are able to gather, up to the present, the benzole producers are 'seeping the price at the highest level possible, short of spoiling -the market. They are reaping the advantage of the duty, which averages 40. per gallon (for it is fair to assume that about one-half of the available output is consumed by commercial vehicles and the other half by private cars), and are keeping the selling price at about VA. per gallon below that of petrol. The difference being HO slight, the user is not encouraged to ask for it in preference to petrol and to take trouble to get it. Our idea, is that the price should be brought down to a true competitive level and, if -this is not done, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should reconsider the matter of taxation, and if he considers that this is 8, case of profiteering, should see that the revenue reaps a big share of the benefit.
THE OFFICIAL ENQUIRY with regard to the Slough Depot has now commenced, and it may be said at once that the Government's case was not materially improved by the evidence of its principal witness, Major-General Sir A. R. Crofton Atkins. We all respect General Crofton Atkins for the admirable work that he has done during the war, but neither this respect nor his personal popularity need prevent us from stating candidly that, in this instance, we -cannot see eye to eye with him and are not impressed with the soundness of his point of view.
The great difficulty in this enquiry is to distinguish between the question of whether there was a
war-time justification far the Slough proposal, per haps in a modified form, and the question of whethei such arguments in its favour as still exist now the war is over, are, when taken alone, adequate to justify a continuance of expenditure.
General Crofton Atkins is strongly in favour of a single central-depot. In support of his view he quotes the intention of the London General Omnibus Co. to centralize in order to secure economy as against the present system. The case is, of course, quite different when we deal with the peace-time -employment of the Slough buildings. We are told that they are to be devoted for the next three years to the repair of foreign vehicles at present owned by the Government, the repair of British vehicles being handed over to their manufacturers if they can be induced to undertake it. It is suggested that ultimately the depot will serve as a general repair shop for Government vehicles owned by any Department. It is stated that only obsolete spare parts will be, manufactured at Slough, other spares being presumably purchased from the vehicle manufacturers.
Now, the whole of the fleet of the London General Omnibus Co. operates over a very limited area. The organization, therefore, lends itself to a centralizing process. On the other hand, if we assume that the Government will rim rural services „and mail services wherever required throughout the British Isles, we have quite a different case. Dependence must obviously he placed upon local garages for small repairs. If local garages must be used at all, they must be staffed and therefore we cannot effect the economy in staff and supervision which would result if everything could be done from a central depot. Dependence on such a depot for larger repairs and overhauls involves the transport of vehicles to and from the place at which they work. General Crofton Atkins mentioned in evidence that the Advisory Committee of the Surplus Government Property Disposal Board had advised that vehicles should be repaired before sale. The report of the Advisory Committee has not been published, and the conclusion stated may well be somewhat misleading if it is not accompanied by the arguments which led to that conclusion. From the taxpayer's standpoint, the object of repairs before sale is to secure a better financial retmn. We should not be surprised if one of the reasons for anticipating a better return was that vehicles repaired under the supervision of their manufacturers would thereafter carry the manufacturers' guarantee of condition.
Failing such a guarantee, we are inclined to think that if we consider the taxpayer's interest only, this would be best served by marketing as many as possible' of the vehicles as promptly as possible in their present condition. One can hardly imagine, for example, that an American vehicle repaired by the Government will in two or three years' time, when it has become an obsolete type, fetch a particularly good price in the open market.