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Clause 13—(Excise Licences For Tractors, Etc)

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1950

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I beg to move, in page 11, line 36, at the end, to insert:

"and after the word 'agricultural' there shall be inserted the words or woodland ';".
This Amendment and some subsequent ones in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend have been put down in pursuance of an undertaking that I gave during the Committee stage—and which was not subsequently withdrawn—in response to an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane). We have, I think he will probably agree, gone all the way to meet him. The Amendments cover not only the case of the farm which has woodland produce, but also extends to land occupied with the farm and also to forestry estates.

It is rarely possible to say, "Thank you," to Ministers for having made a concession during the Committee stage and then implementing it as fully as, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman has done. It always seems to me that the words proposed by the Treasury are so much more obscure than those which Private Members put on the Order Paper. On this occasion, they are certainly a great deal longer. I have read them carefully, however, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has genuinely made an attempt to go the whole way my hon. Friends and I asked him to go, and I should just like to say how grateful we are to him for his having cleared up what was, undoubtedly, a confused and unfair situation.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 11, line 39, after "within," to insert "a radius of."

I have a consequential Amendment down, in page 11, line 39, to leave out "of a" and to insert "from the boundary of the." If this Amendment and the consequential one are agreed to by the Government that line will then read:
"… for hauling, within a radius of fifteen miles from the boundary of the farm…."
I feel that it is the wish of both sides of the House that the drafting of this important Bill should be as clear as possible, and remove any opportunity for petty infringements and frustrations which would cause ill will. By the drafting of the Clause as it is at the moment the farmer is in a very difficult situation. His tractor is not fitted, as far as I am aware, with a milometer, and yet if he goes outside 15 miles from the farm he will be penalised.

When the Government speak of 15 miles, do they speak of 15 miles from the farmhouse or from the boundary of the farm? There may be quite a substantial difference on some farms. Then the farmer is allowed to cross fields, I take it, without going outside the 15-mile regulation; but he may be going on and off roads. I think it would be much easier for the farmer, and the authorities who have to impose this regulation, if it could be clearly defined that it is a radius of 15 miles from the boundary of the farm.

This is an alteration in drafting which would cost the Treasury nothing. The alteration would be quite an easy one to make and the insertion of the proposed words would make for a clear under• standing of what distance from the farm the farmer may travel. I feel that the Government and, I am sure, the Opposition do not want a number of petty cases of infringement of this kind to arise, and that if they will agree to the Amendment they will help to an easy working or this Clause.

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is very desirable that these matters should be made very clear to the farming community. Furthermore, in country districts, where roads tend to wind a good deal and there are farms in very narrow valleys, it is difficult to judge whether the concession means 15 miles of road distance or 15 miles radius. In any event, it is very important that the matter should be made a good deal clearer, and I hope the Government will accept the Amendment.

We have considered whether these words are necessary or not, and I am advised by the Solicitor-General that they are not necessary. The hon. Member will probably recall raising with me during the Committee stage the question of what the words meant exactly, and I think I then said that it was 15 miles from the boundary of the farm in any direction. That is the case. Apparently the words "a radius of" are not necessary because Section 34 of the Interpretation Act, 1889, define distance as being

"… measured, unless the contrary intention appears, in a straight line on a horizontal plane."
It means, as the crow flies.

Quite true. It is due to the configuration of the earth. If one measures with a tape measure up a hill, the distance may be six miles, whereas it will be much less if measured along a straight plane. That is what the Interpretation Act means.

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for reminding me of the shape of the earth. However, I think the hon. Member will appreciate that this is a well understood phrase, and that it is unnecessary, therefore, to put in the words "a radius of." Equally, it is not necessary to put in the words "from the boundary of," because clearly one would not measure the distance from a farm as from the centre point of the farm, or some point in the farm. It is clearly from the borders or the boundaries of the farm. I think it is a well recognised principle that we do not add words that are unnecessary. That being so, I suggest that we do not do so on this occasion.

It is quite true that we never put in words that are unnecessary, but can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the distance is necessarily from the edge of the farm? Is there a legal definition somewhere, or in the Interpretation Act, about that?

I am advised, again by my right hon. and learned Friend, that it would not be taken to mean anything else.

As the Minister's remarks were based on a scientifically inaccurate interpretation of the Interpretation Act—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, he talked about a horizontal plane. We know all about that; but that has nothing to do with the point at issue. He said it was "as the crow flies." That surprised me very much. I thought they had only rooks at the Treasury.

7.0 p.m.

I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, in view of which I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further Amendments made: In page 11, line 41, leave out "produce of," and insert:

"or woodland produce of that farm, or agricultural or woodland produce of land occupied with."

In page 12, line 5, at end, insert:

"or for hauling articles required by that person for land occupied by him with a farm;
(v) for hauling, within fifteen miles of a forestry estate in the occupation of the person in whose name the vehicle is registered under this Act, agricultural or woodland produce of that estate or fuel required for any purpose on that estate or for domestic purposes by persons employed on that estate by the occupier of the estate, or for hauling articles required for such a forestry estate by the occupier of the estate;.—[Mr. Gaitskell.]

I beg to move, in page 12, line 22, at the end, to insert "or nursery."

If I take up only a very short time in proposing this Amendment I am sure it will not be taken as showing any lack of appreciation of the importance of this proposal to the people concerned. This Amendment does not arise from any recollection of my childhood days, but refers to nursery gardens, and arises from what I regard as an anomaly and an unfairness, although I would not go so far as to say a hardship, which has crept in during the consideration of this Bill. There are, of course, many nursery gardens, and those which I think are very deserving of the help I now propose should be given are those which are mainly horticultural; in other words, those concerned mainly with growing fruit trees, soft fruit bushes, vegetable seeds, and things of that sort.

There are other nursery gardens in respect of which that horticultural aspect is only a minor one, but I hardly think the present moment is the opportune one to discuss exactly what is a horticultural or nursery garden. In my submission, that has been already decided on three grounds. First, the wages and hours of work are already decided by the same machinery which fixes the hours of work and wages of agricultural workers. Secondly, the tractors which are the subject of this Amendment are used in almost identically the same way as agricultural tractors; that is to say, they are used for ploughing, harrowing, mowing, muck carting, taking stuff from one end of the garden to the other, and also for station work.

The third ground, which to my mind is rather a telling one, is that hitherto—certainly in my constituency—they have been classified as deserving the 5s. rate. Under this Clause, as I read it—and I should be delighted to be told that I am reading it incorrectly—tractors on a market garden will not go from 5s. to £2, but will go to the only alternative rate available to them, which is the hauliers' rate of £25, which seems a very big change in actual cash value on a small number of tractors, and is in fact a change in their status.

It may be that, while the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to include these particular words in the Bill, he does intend to leave it still open to the local taxation officers to decide in which category they should come. If that should be so with the various types of horticulture and, say, ornamental work carried out by these nursery gardens, I should have considerable sympathy with him, and he would have gone a long way to meet the cases which I seek to alleviate by this Amendment. Acceptance of this Amendment would cost him very little. There is only a small number of men involved, and I therefore believe the Amendment to be one to which, no undertaking whatever having been given, it will be comparatively simple for the right hon. Gentleman to accede.

I beg to second the Amendment.

We were very grateful when the Chancellor agreed to put down these Amendments to cover what was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), and we therefore feel that we need have no hesitation in asking him to go just that little bit further to make the picture perfect. My hon. Friend has made the case perfectly clearly and fully, and there is only one small item I should like to add to reinforce his argument. It is in relation to nurseries which consist of young trees such as Scotch firs, oaks or beeches, or anything else which may be wanted for forest plantations. I think that perhaps strawberries, blackcurrants and raspberries, and so on, would be covered by the words "market garden." Whether Scotch firs and other small trees are covered by "woodland produce" I very much doubt. I do not think that they are woodland produce; they are rather the things which produce the wood, and we must have nurseries in which to raise those small trees. I therefore hope that this small Amendment will be accepted, and that the reduced taxation will apply to those nurserymen who are raising trees.

When the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) moved his Amendment in Committee, I explained the great difficulty of drawing a line in this business, and I warned hon. Members that we should have to be careful not to let in too many people by the concessions we were making for something fairly specific, namely, woodland produce and forestry. I am afraid that we cannot accept this Amendment because, in our opinion, it really would carry the concession much too far. It is quite true that some nurseries produce fruit trees and other plants for farmers, and, though I would hesitate to give an opinion—and would not be qualified to do so on this—I suppose that if they were producing agricultural produce only they would get the benefit of the new provision.

It is clear that nurseries are engaged on many other things as well, and are predominantly concerned with producing various shrubs, trees, roses and other things for gardens. They even engage in quite a lot of landscape gardening work, which is very far removed from agriculture. I really do not feel that we can reasonably bring them into the concession without justifiably exciting the criticism of the hauliers, whose position in this matter we must also bear in mind. It is not fair to extend the concession, I think, beyond the limits to which we have already gone, and I am afraid that I must ask the House to reject the Amendment.

I quite appreciate the desirability of not extending the concession but if the term were "forest nurseries," which is what they are usually called, would that not protect the situation?

Though I would hesitate to give an opinion on this matter, I should have thought that if it were concerned solely with forestry work it would probably be covered by the Amendments already made.

I raised the question of the discretion of the local taxation authorities. Do I take it that that is withdrawn?

I understand that there will be no question of the discretion of the local taxation authorities. It would, of course, be a matter for the courts if somebody infringed the Act and were summoned; he would have a right of appeal in the ordinary way, and it would be for the courts to decide whether or not the case was covered.

Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us what would happen in the case of a farmer who, as is sometimes the case, also runs a nursery that is part and parcel of the farm. If it is a separate part of it, it would undoubtedly come under the heading of nursery and not farm.

I think that it is difficult to decide a case of that kind. If part of the farm, it would be covered by the Amendment already agreed, but if it were a separate nursery, it probably would not.

Amendment negatived.

Further Amendments made: In page 12, leave out lines 23 and 24, and insert:

"(b) any reference to woodland produce includes the wood and other produce of trees which are not woodland trees."

In line 25, after "farm," insert "forestry estate or other land."

In line 27, after "farm," insert forestry estate or other land."

In line 31, at end, insert:

"and the reference to articles required for land occupied with a farm shall include only articles required for the land in connection with the doing on the land of any agricultural or forestry work (including the getting and carrying away of any woodland produce)."—[Mr. Gaitskell.]