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Mr. Wilson: This is a rare parliamentary occasion. Every time the Minister rises to his feet, he exposes just how little he knows about what he is trying to put into statute. Is he talking about hundreds or thousands; about millions of pounds or tens of thousands of pounds? He can give us no inkling, because he does not know. Even worse, the Minister does not know how many vehicles are involved, or how many of their owners abuse the system. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) promised to explore the point when we contacted him. Surely the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency knows the answer to this problem. Let us say that 500 legitimate
Column 806companies benefit from the islands allowance and 10,000 abuse the system--but the Minister does not know. He would then be under the impression that the number of firms affected by the provision was the total. The Minister has had no briefing on the substance of our point, which is that only a tiny number of firms is involved.
What the Minister is hoping for here is to brass-neck it through to a vote, to push it through, and then that would be the end of the matter. Opposition Members who represent island communities are not disposed to let him do that. He is being humiliated by his own ignorance and he should accept that.
He should withdraw the proposal. He should accept the fact that he has no idea about the amount of revenue or the amount of abuse that is involved, and therefore he does not know what he is legislating for. Afterwards, he can take it up with the people who failed to advise him, who told him that this was a little thing that would slip through late at night because of the Jopling report, who said that only a handful of yokels in the furthest periphery were affected. I hope that the Minister has learnt a lesson tonight, because when he starts messing about with people on that basis, he will not get away with it. When he starts messing about with islands, the interests of which some of us work very hard to defend, he will not get away with it. He cannot tell us anything that he is trying to do tonight in any detail. Until he does, we shall make him talk. We shall make him explain. We shall continue to ask him for the statistics on which the proposed legislation is based. So the Minister had better bring some statistics to the Dispatch Box, or else recognise that he is in for a long night.
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I have been listening to the entire debate. I do not represent any islands, and came to the subject completely new. I do not think that the Minister has treated the Committee fairly. Having listened to the strength of the debate--hon. Members from six different political parties have spoken--I know that it is not a party issue. It is clearly an issue on behalf of a geographical minority.
When the Minister invites the Committee to reject the amendment and says that the matter can be raised at some later stage, he is not correct. He knows perfectly well that, if it is rejected, the chance of this issue being selected on Report is remote. We all know that. What he should do is invite my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) to withdraw the amendment, on the assurance not that he can solve the problem but that he will discuss it with his colleagues in the Department of Transport and come back to the House on Report with a more lucid explanation and, if possible, a solution. If he did that, we could make real progress.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: In saying that the matter could be raised on Report, I meant that if it is the wish of the House to discuss the issue further on Report--you said, Dame Janet, that it is a matter for Madam Speaker--I shall certainly do what I can to ensure that the House has an opportunity to discuss it. I have no reason or motive to prevent fair discussion on a matter that is clearly of interest to hon. Members and their constituents. I am certain that I gave a reason for rejecting the amendment, which is based on studies of the existing situation--an anomaly that is not founded in law and that invites abuse.
Column 807I gave examples earlier of people advertising that abuse of the system in newspapers. The precise number of people abusing the system is, by definition, unknown. It is rather like fraud. One cannot quantify it precisely because it is unmeasurable. I am very happy to give the assurance that, if the House wishes to discuss the matter later on Report, I will do what I can to ensure that it is given that opportunity.
Sir David Steel: The Minister has a deserved reputation for intelligence and courtesy. I think that he should go a little further and invite my hon. Friend to withdraw the amendment so that it could be raised again on Report. Having listened to the debate, he is under an obligation to discuss with his colleagues in the Department of Transport what happened to the review and to the assurances that were given in letters to various hon. Members. That is the least that the Committee is entitled to expect of him. If he would just go that far, I am sure that we could make progress and return to the matter again.
Mr. Macdonald: We are making a little progress, but we still need some clarification. The Minister said that the House could return to the matter on Report, but he knows as well as anybody that the procedure--the proper way to ensure that the matter is discussed on Report--is for him to invite the mover of the amendment to withdraw it. The Committee will then read that as an understanding, a commitment, that the Minister will genuinely look at the matter to try to find out what happened to the reports that were drawn up by the Department of Transport.
I hope that he will use the time between now and Report to meet hon. Members who raised the matter with the Department of Transport, to talk it through with us and to make available to us the reports that the Department drew up--or was thinking of drawing up at one stage--plus any additional material that he thinks germane to the discussion.
It is not right to leave the matter hanging by simply saying that the House can return to it at a later stage. If the Minister invited the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) to withdraw her amendment, we should all know where we stood. The Minister knows the forms and courtesies of the House as well as anyone; if he genuinely meant the offer that he appeared to be making--the offer to deal with the issue at a later stage--he would follow it through by inviting the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.
If the Minister proves not to have made such an invitation, however, we must conclude that he did not really mean what he said about the House being able to consider the matter on Report. He has left confusion in the minds of hon. Members, and I think that it is incumbent on him to clear it up.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Whether the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) presses her amendment must be a matter for her. I have said that, if she does so, I must invite my hon. Friends to reject it; but I have also said that the House is fully entitled to debate further issues on which it feels strongly, and I assert its right to debate issues of public importance.
Column 808I go further than that, and say that the proper procedure is for the matter to be returned to on Report. I shall certainly endeavour to ensure that that is done, if the desired result cannot be achieved simply by the hon. Lady tabling her own amendments. That would enable the House to take a further look at the issue by using its regular and proper procedures.
Mr. Macdonald: Another inch of progress has been made, in that the Minister has suggested that the proper procedure is for us to discuss the matter further on Report, thus implying that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute should withdraw her amendment. He would clarify matters further, however, if he assured us that, if she does so, he will, before Report, meet all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have raised the matter. We have had letters from the Department of Transport saying that the matter would be considered; it would be only courteous of the Minister- -the courtesy that I would expect of him--to agree to meet us before Report.
Mr. Home Robertson: Responding to an intervention from the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the Minister referred to the existence of studies of the detailed implications of the concession and the amendment. It might be helpful to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members representing island constituencies if copies of those studies were made available: perhaps they could be placed in the Library of the House, in anticipation of further discussions of the subject.
The Minister seemed to suggest that he would not be willing to meet his hon. Friends, along with Opposition Members, to discuss the matter before Report, even after the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute had withdrawn her amendment. That is a startling and even shocking thing to say.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I have never refused to meet hon. Members on matters within my public responsibilities. If the hon. Lady or any other hon. Member wishes to discuss the matter with me, I shall naturally accede to that request.
Mr. Macdonald: We are making progress bit by bit. My understanding is that the Minister is saying that the proper way to proceed would be to discuss the matter on Report. If the hon. Lady withdraws her amendment, all interested Members would have an opportunity to meet the Minister to discuss the matter in a more measured way and, hopefully, at a better hour. That is one way of proceeding with the matter. The Committee is disturbed that an issue, which in one sense is small but is nevertheless vital, is being dealt with in a way that does not do it adequate justice. I think that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have recognised that simply to reject the issue out of hand would not be justice.
Sir Patrick Cormack: On my own behalf and that of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) may I appeal to the Minister and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie)? The Minister need only recognise that it is virtually unprecedented for an issue that has been voted upon to be brought back on Report. He should show that he has some of the sympathy for
Column 809islanders that the House unitedly demonstrated in 1982. We need the hon. Lady to recognise that perhaps she may not have enough troops at her command and the only chance of the matter being debated again is if she recognises that she has many allies in all parts of the Committee and begs leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mrs. Ray Michie: If the Minister will tell me and the Committee that he will discuss the matter with his Department of Transport colleagues and will agree to meet me and other hon. Members from all parts of the House to discuss the issue further, and if he will present proposals, I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment. All that we ask him to do is to consult colleagues and meet us.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I do not propose to repeat myself. I have already offered to discus this matter or any other within my responsibility with the hon. Lady or any other hon. Member. I am happy to give that assurance again. If the matter borders on the responsibility of another Department, I shall endeavour to obtain from the Minister concerned the authority to discuss on his behalf the matter being debated.
Mr. Macdonald: On a point of order, Dame Janet. Hon. Members who are trying to represent their constituents have been treated twice this evening to a grave discourtesy. First, we received from the Minister with responsibility for transport letters saying that the matter would be considered. We never had any follow-up to that and the undertaking was not kept to. Secondly, we appeared to have an understanding from the Paymaster General that, if we withdrew the amendment, it would be considered at the third stage, and we would have a meeting.
Clearly, an orchestrated manoeuvre by the Government Whips pushed the Question on the amendment to be put. Therefore, when he appeared to make the offer, the Minister was either unaware of what his Whips were doing, or, if he was aware, he was misleading hon. Members, who understood him to be offering to reconsider the matter at the third stage. That is a grave matter.
Mr. Salmond: On a point of order, Dame Janet. In view of what we have just seen, within the orders of the House, is it possible to emblazon on the Standing Orders the words, "Never trust a Tory Minister"?
Column 810Committee that it was for Madam Speaker to decide what could be selected on Report. It was in the light of what you said that an exchange took place, involving hon. Members of all parties, my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute and the Minister, in which, after some considerable persuasion, the Minister agreed that it would be possible for Madam Speaker to exercise her discretion, so that the matter could be raised again.
Then it clearly happened--not within your sight, but within your hearing-- that the Government Deputy Chief Whip called a vote to prevent the amendment from being withdrawn, with the obvious intention of defeating the understanding that the Minister had reached in the light of what you had said. Therefore, I ask you to consider whether that action should be deprecated by you because it sought to set at naught the advice you had given the Committee.
The Second Deputy Chairman: Let me make it quite clear. I do not have the discretion, but Madam Speaker has full and total discretion in selecting amendments or new clauses on Report. I have no doubt that she will take all matters into consideration.
Mr. Wilson: On a point of order, Dame Janet. Can we have your assurance that you will give a full report to Madam Speaker of what has just transpired? Tonight, we have seen the excreta of political life in the person of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight), who has cheated the House--
The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. I know that the evening is late and that feelings have been running high, but we can conduct this debate in a civilised way? May I make the point again to all hon. Members: Madam Speaker has complete discretion. She is not bound by anything that may be said or done and, of course, she, as all other hon. Members, will be able to read a full account of the matter in Hansard .
Mr. Wilson: The Committee, which has listened in large numbers to the debate, heard the agreement that was reached between the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute and the Minister. Within minutes, one hon. Member cheated on that agreement. That is why we are still discussing the matter. If the Minister had a shred of honour in him, he would do what is within his power to rescue the situation, by saying now that the Government will table their own amendment on the subject to ensure that it is debated further. If what the hon. Member for Derby, North has done in the name of Government is followed to its logical conclusion, not only this small issue, but the whole arrangement for late-night proceedings of the House will be affected, because no one will ever trust those people again.
Rev. Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Dame Janet. The Committee has listened tonight to the debate. The needs of a special proportion of our community, which stretches from Northern Ireland to Scotland, England and Wales, were put and, after much exchange, the Minister gave a clear undertaking. We accepted in good will that an arrangement would be made, that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) would withdraw her amendment, and that, at another time, we would have the
Column 811opportunity to come back. We all thought that the hon. Lady would be permitted to withdraw the amendment. After 25 years in this place, I am staggered to see something that has taken us all this time to get established being destroyed in a matter of seconds. If there is no trust in the House, how can we represent the people who send us here?
Mr. Malcolm Bruce: Further to that point of order, Dame Janet. You will be reporting to Madam Speaker on the conduct of business under your chairmanship tonight. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has said, what is causing the Committee considerable concern is that we have this evening witnessed an unusual but proper use of this place, which is to draw assurances from the Government. The Government were not willing but we were making progress. What concerns me is whether the Minister--reluctant as he was--knew in the very process of giving the undertaking that he would support the matter being discussed again on Report that the Government Whip was going to prevent the amendment being withdrawn. It is important that you find out, Dame Janet, and ensure that Madam Speaker knows exactly what happened.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland): In reaching her decision-- [Interruption.] I have listened to all the debate and I represent a constituency containing an island with three inhabitants.
If Madam Speaker is to judge fairly what happened and take everything into account, she will no doubt be extremely interested to know the attitude of the Minister in charge of the debate whose words induced my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) to seek to withdraw the amendment. It would be fair to the Committee if the Minister gave a sign at this stage, which Madam Speaker could read and which would help her to make up her mind, as to his intention.
The Minister will know that a motion voted against in the way that happened tonight is unlikely to reappear in the usual course of events unless he explains what the Government were seeking to do and that what the Deputy Chief Whip did was in the nature of a distraction, perhaps due to a lack of communication between the Minister and his colleagues further along the Bench. I therefore ask the Minister to tell us his intention; that is only fair to Madam Speaker and to the Committee.
The Second Deputy Chairman: The hon. Gentleman is repeating points that have already been made. It is very clear: Madam Speaker will have a full account of what has happened in Hansard , supplemented by answers to any questions that she may ask of me.
Rev. William McCrea: Hon. Members who have listened carefully to the debate heard the Minister promise that he would do all in his power to ensure that the matter could be raised again on Report. Does that promise still
Column 812stand? If the Minister does not intervene to reassure the House that it does still stand, will you, Dame Janet, ensure that Madam Speaker will has that fact passed on to her?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My words will have been recorded in the Official Report and I do not retreat one inch from what I said. I am certainly content, as I hope is the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie), to let the matter rest with Madam Speaker.
Amendment made: No. 47, in schedule 4, page 189, leave out line 6.-- [Mr. Wood.]
Question proposed, That the schedule be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Wilson: Dame Janet, I am delighted to be informed, as I trust that you will confirm, that the schedule is debatable. That, of course, gives us an opportunity to return to the question of vehicle excise duty affecting island communities.
I think that I can reasonably lay claim to a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the islands affected by the amendment in the schedule. I shall, of course, be anxious to take hon. Members through each of the islands affected. I am sure that Conservative Members will be very willing and interested to listen to the precise implications of their proposed legislation.
The terms of the schedule are especially important as they affect islands in my constituency and, therefore, I shall start with them. As you would expect, I shall move on to talk about islands in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), in which I have a certain journalistic interest, islands in the constituency of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie)--
Mr. Wilson: No, not yet. I feel that it is far too early in my speech. I had the privilege of being born and growing up in the constituency of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute. Indeed, I am a frequent visitor to the islands in the constituencies of other Opposition Members.
Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the islands in the constituency of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who spoke so eloquently in support of amendment No. 41. I am sure that he feels every bit as cheated by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) as I do. I am sure that the hon. Member for St. Ives will understand that the Conservative interest will read at least as badly in his local press as it will in the local press in the areas represented by the rest of us. That is something with which he will have to learn to live. I hope that he will manage to secure a meeting with the Minister in which the hon. Gentleman will understand that treating little people in this way is not very clever. To paraphrase words that could be used by hon. Members behind the Minister, "Even as you do unto the least of our children, so you do unto me."
That is the basis on which we set out to discuss the schedule and the impact on island communities of what is being proposed. Nobody should be in any doubt about the economic impact of the proposal. To talk about £4,000 vehicle excise duty on a vehicle which runs up and down the motorways--I could mention many roads along which vehicles run--is, of course, a reasonable charge over a
Column 813year. When one applies--I think that every hon. Member in the House will understand this--that same principle to vehicles which operate in very small island communities, it is easy to see the absurdity of such a proposal.
If any Conservative Member, including the shamed Minister, cares to come to the Dispatch Box and tell me that it is right for a vehicle which circulates round an island which may have 10, 12, or 20 miles of road to pay the same as a vehicle which operates throughout the length and breadth of Britain, I shall be willing to give way. I suspect that they would have some difficulty in saying so. There is no logic in such a case. The reason that is coming forward is nothing to do with the islands which are being punished by the proposal and everything to do with the rigid bureaucracy of the Treasury and of the people who have advised Ministers.
At this stage, I want to stress how badly let down Opposition Members feel about the way in which we have been treated--not, I should stress, by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who acted honourably. He listened to the case which we put on behalf of the island communities and he responded reasonably. Then this great hiatus appeared. The hon. Member for Salisbury lost his job and we heard no more about it. The promise that the Government would come back to us to discuss the reasoned case that we had put forward was ignored.
It was a source of astonishment to me, as it was to Conservative Members and other Opposition Members, when out of nowhere I received a letter from a haulier in my constituency, Mr. Bannatyre of Arran Haulage, in which he said that he had heard on the grapevine that the proposal was coming back through the Finance Bill.
Hon Members who had dealt with the matter received no notice. The promised review had not been carried through. We heard nothing about the proposal until it appeared in this form in the Bill.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South): On a point of order, Dame Janet. The annunciator system in the Chamber seems to have gone down. I am concerned that hon Members who may wish to come in and listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and many of my colleagues who wish to take part in the debate may not know that the Committee is still sitting and is likely to sit for some time yet. Although I see that the time--12.15 am--now appears on the monitor, the name of the hon. Member speaking is not revealed. It is important that the annunciator system should be functioning and I am glad to say that it is functioning once more. I am grateful to you, Dame Janet.
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Janet Fookes): It is obviously more convenient if the system is working, but it is not beyond the capacity of any hon. Member to walk to the Chamber to discover who is speaking.
I have not yet begun my tour of the islands. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in the Chamber. Not only was he born on the island of Islay, his middle name is Islay. It is not often that I regret the departure from the House of a Tory
Column 814Member, but instead of the present pretty ghastly hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), it would have been helpful to have the former Member for City of Chester here because he owned half of Islay--
The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. Although the hour is late, I deprecate adjectives of that kind. I ask the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) to guard against such language as he deploys his case.
Mr. Wilson: I apologise for my crude Celtic tongue. If the former Members for Devizes and for City of Chester were here, we would have a pair of Morrisons and between them they would own most of Islay. No doubt they would have argued with us this evening.
I do not want to intrude on the territory of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, but Islay is one of the most beautiful Hebridean islands. It is quite significantly different in terrain from the others, but it is economically very similar. It depends on its agriculture. Hon Members on both sides of the House will appreciate that the economic prospects of the distillery industry on Islay depend on the freight industry.
If I have time tonight, I will break Islay down into nine separate entities and talk about them in terms of the distilleries.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde): My hon. Friend will be aware that Strathclyde regional council carried out a poverty survey in the islands some years ago which showed that folk in that area desperately needed help and support. The welfare rights scheme showed that people were entitled to claim millions of pounds worth of unclaimed benefit. The terrible poverty was clear. The Government's proposals will create further poverty and the people on the islands will have to pay through the nose to buy food, groceries and all the rest because of the dramatic increase. As my hon. Friend will know, that increase will probably cause a repeat of the clearing of the highlands under the Tory landlords.
Mr. Wilson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He rightly highlights the reality of rural poverty in island communities. It is too often perceived that poverty is an urban phenomenon, whereas hon. Members who are familiar with island communities know that there is great poverty there, not least because of the disgracefully low wages paid by the estates and the people who subscribe to that philosophy. The major factor--this point takes us back to the schedule--in conditioning the economy of the islands is freight costs and freight charges. That is why the issue is so important. To many hon. Members who live in large urban communities, the idea that £4,000, £10,000 or £20,000 in vehicle excise duty is a major economic factor within a community might seem absurd, but if one is running a fragile business within such a community and one is incurring extra costs, it is a major factor.
In terms of Islay, I remember the campaign by Strathclyde region. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) is absolutely right. However, I return to the point about the distilleries. In the old days, everything which came into Islay--the supplies for the distilleries--and everything that went out again in terms of the finished product went by puffer or by small cargo ships--namely, Caledonian MacBrayne cargo
Column 815ships. I was saddened recently to receive a letter which told me that, because of a cut in Government subsidy, the very last puffer has disappeared from the whole of the western isles. The decline of the puffers, which is an interesting subject in itself, could--
Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): Before my hon. Friend thinks about leaving Islay, he will realise that the island beside it is Jura, which one gets to by going through the roads of Islay and then taking a small ferry, which, incidentally, is not a MacBrayne ferry. How will the tax affect the people on Jura? My hon. Friend knows that there is a small section of road. That produces particular problems, my hon. Friend will agree, for those on Jura. The economy depends on tourism and people climbing to the top of Jura, and so on. If they have to face a terrific charge, what will that do for an island as beautiful as Jura, which is threatened by the tax?
Mr. Wilson: I am some way from Jura yet, despite its being very close to Islay. Indeed, many times from Islay I have looked across to Antrim. I have a family connection with Rathlin isle, which I might discuss some time with the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who have been very supportive tonight.
It will be interesting to have the views of the distillery industry on Islay, because the tax will significantly increase costs of incoming grain and everything else that has to be brought in, and also outgoing products. With the decline of the puffers and MacBrayne's cargo fleet, everything has moved on to roll on/roll off ferries. They are primarily affected by the measure.
I bow to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, because I did not know until she said so tonight that the little shunting vehicles which take trailers on and off ferries are also to be covered. I can think of nothing more absurd. Where does anyone go with a shunting vehicle? Would a Conservative Member like to tell me where those little vehicles which are used on piers at ports operated by Caledonian MacBrayne go? They never go outside the marshalling area, never mind on an exotic journey down the M1. I see that we have now been joined by the Chief Secretary--
Mr. Wilson: I will not go down that road. In view of Dame Janet's strictures, I had better not say too much about that, even to prolong the debate--not that that is my purpose. I mean enrich the debate.
Mr. Wilson rose --
Mr. Salmond: I am puzzled by the narrowness of the speech of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). Is he aware that the schedule includes paragraphs on electrically propelled vehicles, road construction vehicles, roadrollers, snow clearing vehicles, street cleansing vehicles, power wagons used solely in
Column 816connection with street lighting and vehicles used for short journeys between different parts of a person's land? When will the hon. Gentleman deal with those important topics?
Mr. Wilson: I do not want to be selfish and deal with them all myself. By the time I have dealt with the islands issue comprehensively, someone else may feel the muse upon them. My hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) invited me to refer to Jura, and there is no more appropriate place to move to than Jura.
At every isle we mention, I regret the passing of Conservative Members. Is there no longer an Astor in the House? If there were, surely he would be putting the case for Jura because that family owns half the island.
Mr. Wilson: The hon. Gentleman speaks for them all--the entire British aristocracy is epitomised in his beatific form. If the hon. Gentleman cares to intervene about Jura and its requirements, I shall certainly give way.
The metaphor that springs to mind regarding Jura is that what we are dealing with tonight is positively Orwellian. Orwell lived in Jura and wrote some of his greatest works there. The House is debating a taxation measure for which the Minister responsible cannot give the remotest estimate of the amount of money involved. The entire might of this great institution is devoted to an issue where the Minister cannot tell us how many vehicles are involved or what proportion of them are believed to be operating fraudulently. If the Chief Secretary cares to intervene where his colleagues signally failed, I would be pleased to hear from him. There is plenty of time. The right hon. Gentleman can send out for the information which is somewhere in the files of his Department. I am shocked and astonished that the Chief Secretary has not been provided with the information, and that he has not been made aware of the previous correspondence of hon. Members with the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). It is an Orwellian situation, in which the little people are supposed to accept what is happening to them because some mighty machine has told them.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is not just the hon. Member for Salisbury who has given an undertaking? My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has said that she has had a similar undertaking from the present Under-Secretary at the Department of Transport. It appears that the Department of Transport has been wholly persuaded by the argument and recognises the case, but it has not communicated with the Treasury. The Department of Transport seems unwilling even to ask the Treasury while the issue is still being dealt with. Is not the position even worse than the hon. Gentleman describes?