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Ways And Means

Volume 415: debated on Wednesday 31 October 1945

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REPORT [ 23rd October]

Mechanically-Propelled Vehicles Duty

Question again proposed "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

It is not necessary for me to add much more to what I was saying when that interlude took place. All I can repeat is that my right hon. Friend has got his mind open on this one point as to the size of the steps which, I understand, is the main bone of contention between the manufacturers or, at any rate, between a few of them and the rest interested in this matter. I hope the House will let us have the Resolution now, and postpone any further discussion until the appropriate time.

May I, for one moment, be a voice crying in the wilderness? I do not want to take up much time, but I think something more ought to be said on this matter because not everyone agrees with the attitude and philosophy which has been expressed during this Debate. I am inclined to the philosophy of Mr. C. E. M. Joad and when the Chancellor was speaking, I interrupted to tell him, when he said that motorcars were not now a luxury but a necessity, that I would tell that to my constituents. I represent a constituency of 45,000 people, with a population now of about 100,000. I do not suppose one per cent. of them own a motorcar, or have any prospects whatever of doing so and I hope there will be some sense of proportion in this matter because the same kind of silly nonsense, as I think it is, was expressed during Debates on civil aviation, when it was said that soon everybody would own an aeroplane.

God help us when everybody owns an aeroplane and everybody owns a motor car. What kind of civilisation shall we have? [Interruption.] I do not know whether hon. Members would really like a country where everyone owned a motor car or an aeroplane. I should not. I think there is something to be said for a little more simplicity in life, and a little soul, as well as machinery, in our philosophy. I think we are going machine mad. I protest against that attitude. Let us realisethat there is something more in life than rushing about everywhere, under the aegis of the internal combusion engine, and high octane petrol. Good heavens, have we not more important things to do? Europe is facing starvation and famine; and we can talk about motor cars being a great necessity for everybody, and no longer a luxury. I suggest that they are a luxury. I am not saying, absurdly, that we should have no motor cars, and abolish them. But I do enter this word of protest against the kind of mind there is behind these discussions, and express the hope that the Chancellor will stick to his guns.

4.30 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that his mind is still open on the questions of the steps. I think he has shut his mind to the much bigger question of the amount of revenue which he must get from the motor industry. As these discussions proceeded, I found myself wondering whether the Treasury had considered the effect on employment of insisting on getting a fixed sum from the motor industry, in one way or another way. After all, what we want is expansionist economy. I disagree with the last hon. Member, who suggested that we should treat transport like whisky—as something we should deliberately tax in order to reduce its consumption. I am of the opinion that cheap transport is the basis of a better standard of life for everybody.

Does the hon. Member think it right to treat whisky in that fashion?

:I can only say that I like whisky. But when I wake up in the morning, after a day during which I have not had whisky, I do not feel any the worse for the lack of it. I, therefore, conclude that it is not a necessity of life. A fixed amount of money from one level of production of motor cars is a greater burden than if we can spread it over a much expanded production. Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer satisfied that, in sticking to the principle that he must get so much revenue from transport, he has taken into consideration the effect upon the volume of employment? And, secondly, is he quite sure that the export trade has been given its due weight? Can he assure us that this horse-power tax will not, in fact, prejudice our export trade? Has he looked into that very thoroughly, and come to the conclusion that the small cars are worth while which we are going to go on producing as a result of the total weight of taxation on transport described by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett)? Is he sure he is not paying too much by way of the export trade in order to get this fixed sum from taxation into his coffers? My experience abroad, in recent years, makes me think that there is a much bigger market for the small British car abroad than there used to be, when the population of many foreign countries consisted mainly of very rich and very poor. Obviously, the very rich wanted big cars. But during the war primary producers have had their income levels very much raised, and I think that there is a large stratum of foreign populations today who will want small cars. I am not pessimistic about selling the British small car in countries where it would not have sold very well before. Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer taken all these things into consideration, or is he just following the old Treasury dictate—so many millions from transport?

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.