Commons Reject Gas Bill Amendments
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By Our Special Parliamentary Correspondent
Road Transport Topics in -Parliament
Gas and Steam Vehicles (Excise Duties) Bill was considered in Committee of the House of Commons last week when a series of amendments were submitted by _Mr. Ellis Smith with the object of securing further redaction of the duties on gas and steam vehicles. The Bill was passed through Committee without amendment.
In moving the first amendmert, Mr. Smith reiterated what had been done in other countries to encourage
producer-gas / vehicles. From a scientific and business point of view, he said, one was bound to conclude that this Bill required alterations on the
lines suggested. • The idea was to give road transport an inducement to carry out conversion to home-produced fuel and at the same time to maintain and increase the volume of goods to be carried by road. If the Minister could not accept any of the amendments he hoped he would at least give some concessions.
It would appear on the surface that his amendments would mean a loss in revenue, but on analysis it would be found that they would mean a substantial increase. His proposals would mean a huge saving in petrol. We were importing approximately £90,000,000 worth of petrol a year and there was need for economizing in these imports.
GAS-VEHICLE PETROL RATION TOO SMALL
HE hoped the Minister of Transport would withdraw the letter of January 20, in which it was stated that arrangements had been made for the issue, for producer-gas vehicles, of only one-sixth of the normal basic petrol ration. As a result a vehicle weighing between 10 cwt. and 1 ton would receive two units a fortnight.'
If this policy were carried out, it would discourage people from experirnefiting with conversions to gas and he asked that, at least for six months, he would withdraw that letter.
From the point-of view of national economy the proposals he was laying before the House were a good business proposition. Transport companies should be given_ no excuse for not embarking on the capital expenditure involved as soon as possible.
GENEROUS TREATMENT TO HELP GAS "THE Government, replied Mr. J. Bernays, was as anxious as Members opposite to encourage the use of producer gas and the Minister was particularly anxious to do everything practicable to encourage its grofvth. With regard to the petrol allowance, the Department realized that a small amount was needed to run producergas vehicles and operators of such 1558
vehicles would certainly get the allowance they required.
The allowances for weight had been most carefully considered and . he thought they were on the generous side. The Government was trying to be as generous as it could, because it wished to avoid any subsequent complaint that it had failed to implement its undertaking that no increase in taxation would result if an operator converted his vehicle froth petrol to gas propulsion. If it were discovered that the allowances were insufficient, and did not carry out the Government's pledge, the position would again be examined to see what could be done in that respect.
He was afraid that the plea that gas vehicles should be exempted from taxation went far beyond the Government's original pledge. Such exemption would place petrol and electric vehicles at a considerable disadvantage.
AMFLE INDUCEMENT WITHOUT BIG REVENUE LOSS
TFIAT argument, said Mr. J. I Griffiths, might do very well in ordinary times, namely, that the Government should hold the balance equally between one and the other, but it was not holding the balance now. It was rationing petrol. It was controlling. Surely at a time like this it was appropriate that the Government should indicate, by tax remission and in other ways, the desirability of diverting traffic from one form of propulsion to the other.
Mr. Bernays remarked to this that•the Member seemed to have made the
Government case, because whilst petrol was being rationed raw materials for gas propulsion were not.
Mr. Griffiths commented: " You, are not rationing coal now, but you did."
Mr. Bernays then said that in any case such a tax concession would involve • a serious potential loss . of revenue to which it was impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to agree. He received £12,000,000 a year from goods vehicles and, if gas conversion were a success, the amendment would mean a serious loss to the Treasury.
The real inducement to conversion was that fuel for gas vehicles would be untaxed and unrationed and Members would see what-a great fillip this would give. It had been estimated that the cost would be equ“r-alent to petrol at 5d. or 7d. per gallon. When Members recalled that petrol to-day was Is, 10th per gallon they would appreciate what a tremendous advantage this represented in connection with running costs. It was an even more important inducement that the fuel would be unrationgd,
MANUFACTURERS' READY RESPONSE
THE Mines Department informed him, continued Mr. Bernays, that it had already had ,450 inquiries about the new apparatus and believed that some 20 concerns had decided upon manufacture. These facts, he thought, indicated that manufacturers were ready to respond to the needs of the situation and that a real increase in the production of gas-propelled vehicles was in sight.
He added that there was no intention by the Government to ration coal in this connection.
The first amendment to increase from 10 cwt. to 15 cwt. the reduction of weight for computing duty, where the weight unladen exceeded 12 cwt. but did not exceed 3 tons, was rejected by 157 votes to 103.
Another amendment, to the effect that no duty should be chargeable in respect of a gas vehicle for three years, was supported by Captain Strickland, who referred to the great expenditure that might be placed on a single haulage contractor and. pointed 'out that it was not to be passed over lightly. It was oppbsed' 1Dy -the Government on account of the loss of revenue and rejecte.d.
One or two further proposed amendments in the scale of rates chargeable in the case of vehicles not exceeding 1i tons in 'weight were also .rejected, as well as an amendment requiring that, where an operator owned more than five vehicles the reduced rates of duty should not apply unless at least 25 per cent. of the fleet were constructed to use gas.
The Bin was then reported without amendment to the House.
FUEL SPECIFICATION AND PRICE CONTROL
REP L ING to Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Lloyd said his attention had been called to the appointment by the coal and carbonization industries of a committee to investigate technical deveropments in connection with vehicles propelled by producer gas and to consider the fixation of a uniform price and standard of quality.
The Mines Department, he said, was in touch with this committee, and he understood that a specification for transport gas-producer fuels had been issued, recently, by the committee to the Press, and that it,..would issue further statements from -time to time.