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Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Willetts, David

Wilshire, David

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

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Yeo, Tim

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope

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Amendment accordingly negatived.

Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clause 15

Vehicle excise and registration: other provisions

6.15 pm

Ms Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South): I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 11, line 42, at end insert

`only if the Government has presented a report to Parliament before the passing of this Act on certain of its implications specified in subsection (2) below.

(2) The Government shall report to Parliament on the implications of Schedule 4 for--

(a) public and traffic safety;

(b) the standard of public service; and

(c) the costs to individuals, service providers and businesses; and on the results of public consultation.'.

The amendment requires the Government to withdraw schedule 4, which is long and complex, covers 24 pages and is cross-referenced with the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. In their haste to open up another base for indirect taxation, we believe that the Government have not taken proper account of public safety or of the cost to businesses and the likely implications for employment. In particular, I want to emphasise the full ramifications of the schedule and I want to put the case for full assessment, with public consultation with the relevant bodies, to be undertaken before the Government require the House to take a decision on these matters. Rather than deal with every category in the schedule, I shall use examples to make the principle points on public safety and the costs to businesses. The matter is further complicated by the fact that, in addition to schedule 4, the Government have tabled complex amendments in acknowledgement of their errors. They have tabled them in an attempt to ameliorate the worst excesses of their original proposals, but they have failed in that attempt.

I want first to consider the categories of vehicles that are now to have vehicle excise duty applied to them. Those vehicles are chiefly-- [Interruption.] It is difficult to debate an important issue while half a dozen conversations are going on. Forgive me, Dame Janet--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) is right. It was in my mind to draw attention to the matter, and I now do so formally. If hon. Members want to chat, they must go outside the Chamber to do so.

Ms Primarolo: Thank you, Dame Janet. I am much obliged. The vehicles that are covered--snow ploughs, gritters, street cleansing vehicles, street lighting tower wagons and road construction vehicles--are mainly used by local authorities or by the private contractors which now fulfil certain obligations, as a result of the Government's

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compulsory competitive tendering policy. I shall deal only with road safety and likely costs. Because of the complexity of the Bill, it has been difficult for private contractors or local authorities, in such a short period, to unravel the complicated relationships that are set out in the schedule.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has made

representations to me on the difficulties of ascertaining exactly the new rates of duty. Because of the separation of direct labour organisations and privatisation, it is difficult to see how costs can be measured. Clearly, for local authorities that are already rate-capped and have severe local authority grant settlements, any increase in cost will not just threaten the provision of services. I am sure that hon. Members can appreciate the significance of gritters or snow ploughs, particularly for authorities in the north of the country.

For example, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has said that about 30 vehicles in the Wigan authority's fleet will be in this class of taxation for the first time. In trying to decide the effect of the new charges, it contacted the local taxation office, which was unable to supply anything other than a range of duties that may apply. That means that the additional costs to that authority could be anything from £1,500 to £60,000 a year.

Not only are there costs and possible implications for local authorities, private business and employment, but there are clear road safety implications. If local authorities which face severe grant restrictions are unable to find money, there could be severe consequences for the future maintenance of local authority highways and for road safety. That is at a time when there is extreme concern about the condition of roads in local authority remits, as a result of funding arrangements.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham): In addition, is there not an equity point that, if specialist vehicles spend most of their time stationary because men are up the tower or if they are used only for the few weeks of the year when salting is necessary, that goes right against the theology of vehicle excise duty, which is aimed at trying to deal with damage to our roads? Clearly, a vehicle which spends little time travelling or is used for only a few days a year should not, in equity, be asked to pay the same as a heavy goods vehicle which travels our roads for up to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Ms Primarolo: As a former Minister in the Department of Transport, the hon. Gentleman has considerable expertise. I agree with his point. Before any alterations are made to exemptions or to concessionary classes for vehicle excise duty, the Government need to undertake a rigorous assessment of the likely impact of such changes on public safety. For example, I refer to the environment, although we have not mentioned it in the amendment, costs to

businesses--because of contracting out, there are now private contractors-- and the likely long-term effects on the quality of our roads. We are not satisfied that the Government have undertaken any consultations or consideration before preparing schedule 4.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Last week, in my constituency in north-west Yorkshire, there were severe weather conditions. The gritters and snow ploughs were out. Under the standard spending assessment, there was no extra allocation for increases in vehicle excise duty in

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respect of the vehicles that my hon. Friend has mentioned. Because weather conditions have not been as severe over the past few years, the budget has been cut. Whether that is right or wrong, it has happened, and it will be the case in future. Therefore, road safety will be affected.

Ms Primarolo: I agree with my hon. Friend. I was surprised, in the west country, to see television news reports of the dreadful weather that was occurring only a few hundred miles up the road and to see the different demands on the local authorities concerned. I do not want to make this into a larger point, but gritters are often dual-purpose vehicles. They might be dust carts as well.

Our general criticism still stands: the Government have not undertaken the necessary review. Whether a local authority undertakes work directly or whether it is done by a private contractor, the costs of providing that service will increase and therefore will fall on council tax payers. As a form of indirect taxation, that is regressive in that it hits people unequally. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has struggled to understand the implications of the measures, because it is also concerned about prospects for road safety.

The Government proclaim themselves, first, to be concerned about the environment; secondly, to be concerned about safety, and road safety in particular; and, thirdly, to be considerate of small business and employment prospects. However, they have opened an entire taxation base without undertaking a proper assessment. The vehicle excise duties that can be imposed under schedule 4 can be increased every year, just as vehicle excise duty on private cars has been increased in the past.

That presents an enormous dilemma in properly assessing the likely impact. The Government have not undertaken an assessment. Local authorities cannot say what the impact will be. Private contractors whom I have contacted are in the same position--they need more information and discussion before they can make a conclusive statement.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden): The Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and all emergency organisations are with the hon. Lady on that point.

Ms Primarolo: I was about to refer to the AA, the RAC and private vehicle recovery firms which undertake essential safety work on our roads. They not only recover stranded motorists but deal with dangerous lorry loads, oil tankers and many noxious chemicals and products that are transported on our roads.

The proposals on road recovery vehicles offer the greatest threat to road safety. We recognise that the Government were trying to simplify the vehicle excise duty regime but schedule 4 makes for a more complex scheme. Road recovery vehicles had been taxed at a concessionary rate of £85 per year, regardless of size. Under schedule 4, that concessionary status would be removed, and there would be an increase in the taxation classes to between £135 and £5, 000 a year. The Government are now proposing to amend that figure, and the Minister will no doubt put his case later in the debate. The pegging of the excise duty is dependent on the weight of the vehicle and the new taxation rates are linked to those for heavy goods vehicles. HGVs are on the road much more and their work is more predictable than that

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of recovery vehicles, so the categories are not comparable. By the nature of their work, recovery vehicles are used occasionally. The work load cannot be planned, as it depends on the weather and what accidents the vehicles are called to. Consequently, they spend a great deal of time off the road on standby. Safety could be compromised if the proposals go ahead.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): I have been in contact with two operators of heavy recovery vehicles in my constituency, and they have said that if the vehicle licence remains high, they will have to go out of business. As my hon. Friend said, it is only on the odd occasion when the vehicles are needed, and they are usually called out to help a tanker in trouble or in an emergency. I am worried that, if those operators go out of business, nobody will take up the emergency and recovery service.

6.30 pm

Ms Primarolo: I shall come to that point.

I have letters from private companies engaged in road recovery work which describe the difficulties that they will have in complying with the new rate if it is imposed, and also the implications for road safety. Large recovery vehicles may be called out only once a month to a road accident, but they are essential as they can clear any obstruction quickly. In a moment, I shall deal with the comments of the police with regard to the Government's proposals.

If a vehicle is taken out of circulation because it is too expensive to tax, another vehicle will have to be brought in from further away. The companies which are able to deal with accidents will be spread more thinly, and therefore there could be longer delays in responding to accidents and the time that the police will have to remain at an accident while waiting for an obstruction to be cleared could increase. That will not only waste the time of the police, who should be doing other things, but will cause a great deal of obstruction and possibly distress. It could cause disruption on the roads, and it is wasteful as well as unsafe. It is clear that the police cannot leave the scene of an accident before the road is clear.

The Association of Vehicle Recovery Operators has conducted a survey of all its regions. It says that if the proposal goes through, there will be no heavy goods vehicle recovery operators in Scotland north of Perth. In North Yorkshire, there is only one operator capable of removing heavy goods vehicles from Sutton bank, near Leeming Bar, which is a 1:3 gradient. That operator says that he will not be able to continue his service if the rate goes through, and if that happens, there will be no suitable vehicle to deal with an emergency within a 100-mile radius of that area.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): My hon. Friend is raising the problems in my county. I have spoken to the company in question, and its 26-tonne heavy vehicle--a vehicle on which the excise duty would rise from £85 to some £5,000 under the Bill's provisions--was used on only eight occasions last year. The company was paid on only six of those occasions. Even under the Government's modified proposal of a £750 vehicle excise duty, does that not mean that the Government will be taxing the operator more than

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£100 for every trip he makes with a vehicle that is delivering a public service in opening roads for the police and for other road users?

Ms Primarolo: I agree with the point so ably made by my hon. Friend.

The Paymaster General (Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory): It may assist the Committee if I invite hon. Members to look at Government amendments Nos. 44 to 47, which entirely take account of the points which have been raised.

Ms Primarolo: The Minister will put his case carefully and adequately to the Committee this evening, but we reject what he has said. The Government amendments do not go far enough, and we wish to press our points.

Those points are reinforced in a letter from the North Yorkshire police on the specific matter of road safety, which was addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley). The force makes it clear that the proposals to remove the concessionary classes will cause considerable difficulties. The North Yorkshire force currently contracts the recovery of accident and broken-down vehicles to the RAC. The actual recovery work is subject to a business agreement between the RAC and the individual private specialist recovery operators, with the recovery fees being reclaimed from the individual companies or from insurance.

The major concern of the force is not about the commercial implications of the excise duty changes but with the knock-on effect that will occur on the availability of suitably equipped recovery vehicles to deal with accidents and safety requirements. The implications for the North Yorkshire force and for the motoring public who use the roads of the county may be quite profound. As the number of recovery trucks diminishes, the time of arrival at accident scenes will increase, the frequency of tailbacks will grow and there will be a further risk of accidents. That will create a need for the police to spend more time at accidents, which will have obvious implications for road safety.

We think that the Government have been hasty in their rush to extend their taxation base. They have not taken proper account of the cost implications, nor of the implications for the future existence of businesses. That is shown yet again in a later schedule which affects farm goods vehicles, and increases the costs on farming businesses. Those costs are estimated to be more than £6 million for the loss of the exempt classes, and £3.8 million for loss of the concessionary classes.

Finally, to demonstrate the folly of the schedule, a Government who claim to be interested in the environment and have used the increase in petrol duties as their fig leaf, claiming that they are sticking to the Rio targets on traffic pollution and pollution generally, are proposing to extend vehicle excise duty to electric milk floats--environmentally sound vehicles that should be encouraged, not taxed--which will cause problems for a milk industry that is already beleaguered because of the Government's policies.

The schedule is ill thought-out and no consultation has taken place. It has implications for road recovery vehicles and businesses and for public safety, which are all at risk. We request that the Government withdraw the schedule,

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undertake a full consultation, produce a review and report back to the House before they make any changes to vehicle excise duty for those vehicles.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: It might assist the Committee if I set out the general background to the measures. Although we are debating clause 15, most of the detail is in schedule 4, to which the clause relates. A general explanation at this stage will help us when we debate the details of that schedule.

The present vehicle excise duty system is needlessly complex, with 132 different classes of concession and exemption. Lawyers cannot agree on some of the interpretations, which provides endless scope for expensive litigation. The system is also extremely archaic. Many of the provisions date back to before the second world war. They were added to during the time of digging for victory, when privileges and exemptions for agriculture were easier to justify.

Since then, technology has moved on. Some of the legislation that we are replacing refers to water being used for propulsion. It also explicitly provides for the wartime device of towing a trailer containing gas, which was used to propel the vehicle in question. That system is certainly no longer with us.

Some of the existing classes are empty. There is no relevant vehicle in them--perhaps there never was. New types have arisen, such as all-terrain vehicles, which have to fall into the general tax class because the concessionary tax classes have not caught up with their existence. I think that all hon. Members agree that the need for reform is plain and that it is overdue. The legislation is also anomalous.

Mr. Mills: When were the concessions for emergency relief vehicles on motorways discussed and agreed? I thought that it was about five years ago, so my hon. Friend's explanation hardly applies.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, another section of my speech deals with those matters. My general argument is that the system which we have inherited is anomalous and inconsistent.

I regret the fact that many of the amendments tabled by the official Opposition appear to cling to those anomalies. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) referred to street-cleaning vehicles, snow clearing and so forth, and I shall touch on those in detail later.

Under existing law, if a street-cleaning vehicle uses its hose to clear a gully, it is exempt from vehicle excise duty, but if it extends its hose a little more under the street to flush out a sewer, it is supposed to pay the full vehicle excise duty. A tower wagon--an hydraulic platform on wheels--is exempt when it is used for mending street lighting, but it must pay the full duty if it is mending a telegraph pole or a power line. The anomalies are indefensible and they invite tax evasion. We cannot expect policemen to check how far under the street the hose pipe from one of those cleansing vehicles goes, so the legislation is practically tailor-made for cheating and exemptions.

Many of the concessions are granted on the basis of nothing more than an operator's declaration that he or she qualifies and are thus almost impossible to police. When the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency carried out a

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detailed check on one class--restricted goods vehicles--it found that 90 per cent. of claimants for special treatment seemed to be claiming the concession wrongly.

6.45 pm

The legislation is extremely bureaucratic. For example, let us consider the exemption for vehicles travelling six road miles a week. We shall debate it later, so I shall not go into great detail, but claimants must fill in a form every year and swear that they will not depart from the road routes that they use between their fields. If they want to make a detour during the year, because of a blocked road or some such thing, they are supposed to inform the DVLA in writing. None of that makes for good taxation. In fact, the present system breaks every rule of good taxation; it is inconsistent, out of date, unclear, and difficult to enforce. We have aimed, first, to simplify the system so that it is easier for users to understand and cheap for the Government to operate. Secondly, we want to bring it up to date and to concentrate special treatment on those that most warrant it. Thirdly, we aim to grant consistent treatment for similar types of vehicles, thus removing anomalies. Fourthly, we insist that we can easily check that claimants for special treatment are genuine, so removing the opportunity to evade.

In place of the 132 classes, we have concentrated on four basic classes of vehicle, leaving unchanged the few add-ons for motor cycles, vintage cars and the like. First, vehicle excise duty exemption is granted to the most deserving cases, such as 999 emergency vehicles and those for the severely disabled. Secondly, very low rates of VED--only £35--are applied to those with a good case, such as snow ploughs, gritters, electric vehicles, tractors, other agricultural machines and mowing machines. Thirdly, a special low rate of £150 is applied to specialised vehicles that are based mostly on heavy lorries and have a specialised use; examples include mobile cranes, road rollers, digging machines, work trucks and showmen's lorries.

All other classes must pay the full vehicle excise duty. The presumption must be that, without good reason otherwise, a vehicle should be in that class. Most vehicles in the £35 and £150 classes will also continue to benefit from very low rates of duty on their diesel.

With any comprehensive reform, there are some winners and some losers--that is inevitable. The measures as a whole, however, increase the revenue from VED by less than 1 per cent. I believe that members of the Committee will join me in thinking that this is an overdue reform.

In her introductory remarks, the hon. Member for Bristol, South mentioned recovery vehicles.

Mr. Bayley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me if I do not give way? I know that he intervened, and I hope that I can assist him and my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills). I appreciate that the hon. Member for Bristol, South probably wrote her speech before the Government tabled amendments Nos. 44 to 47, but even after that was pointed out she ploughed on with unnecessary remarks about the additional taxation of recovery vehicles, with which we have already dealt.

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It is reasonable to put light breakdown vehicles, which are commercial high-mileage vehicles, into the £135 per annum class. We have met the concerns raised by a number of hon. Members and the trade that to tax very large vehicles, which may be infrequently used, at the full heavy goods vehicle rate would be wrong. That is why we put the heavier vehicles into three bands, the highest of which will tax them at £750 per annum.

Mr. Bayley: When the Minister intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo), he might have been under the misapprehension that I was talking about the vehicle excise duty rates for 26-tonne recovery vehicles, as originally proposed. I was not. The original proposal was for £5,000 excise duty. I gave the new figure of £750, which the Minister proposes in his amendment. The point is that, in the past 12 months, that operator in my county, the only operator who can clear Sutton Bank road, made just eight trips with his 26-tonne vehicle. As it happens, he was paid on only six of those occasions. Under the Minister's new proposal, the duty on that vehicle will rise from £85 to £750--a tax increase of more than £100 for each occasion on which the vehicle was used and paid for.

The Minister may say that his tax proposal amounts to only a 1 per cent. increase in the total vehicle excise bill, but for that operator--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. As I told another hon. Member earlier, interventions should be short. The hon. Gentleman's intervention has been quite long enough.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I fully understood the hon. Gentleman's point. It was put to me by the Retail Motor Industry Federation, which represents the Association of Recovery Vehicle Operators, when its representatives came to see me. I listened carefully to, and met, the federation's concerns. I have before me a letter from the federation saying that it is happy with the compromise that we have reached. If it is happy--after all, it represents the industry and the operator mentioned by the hon. Gentleman --that should be good enough for the hon. Gentleman.

We shall return to the issue in a later group of amendments. Mr. Bayley rose --

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am sorry, but I answered the hon. Gentleman's point. I said that the trade was happy with the new limit on very heavy recovery vehicles of not £5,000, but £750, a year. The hon. Member for Bristol, South mentioned snow-clearing and street-cleaning vehicles. I want to say a little more about that matter, because it encapsulates the problems with which we are dealing and the necessity for the reforms that we are introducing. We have recognised the special nature of snow-clearing and ice-gritting vehicles by putting them in the category that charges only £35 a year VED and allowing them to retain their right to use rebated fuel--so called "red diesel". Were those vehicles in the heavy goods vehicle class, they would pay not £35 a year but between £150 and £5,000 a year, as well as full duty on the diesel that they use.

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Street-cleaning and street-lighting vehicles will face normal VED rates. After all, those are commercial operations and, today, few such vehicles are owned by local authorities. Most are owned by private sector operators, often under contract to local authorities. Many local service vehicles such as refuse lorries already pay full VED. Why should street-cleaning vehicles be exempt when almost identical vehicles that clean sewers are taxed?

The Labour party needs to come up to date on that matter and realise what has been happening. Instead of single-use machines all owned by local authorities, we now have multi-use machines operated under contract by the private sector. It makes no sense to impose full annual VED on a vehicle when it is doing a job such as cleaning sewers, and exempt it when it is doing a slightly different job such as street cleaning, possibly on the very next day.

Ms Primarolo: The Minister said that the changes in VED are to simplify the system. He then explained that the Government needed to make the system a little more complex because it did not take account of recovery vehicles, which now need to be put in a different regime. He then referred to red diesel, which was previously linked to vehicle excise duty exemptions and concessions, which must now have an entire schedule to itself to override the vehicle excise duty schedules because the system does not satisfy demand. Is that not a more complex rather than a simpler system?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: I am glad that the hon. Lady has given me an opportunity to point out that we shall have a chance tomorrow, when the Bill goes upstairs to Committee, to debate the precise issue of the use of rebated fuel. Far from adding complexity to the system, we shall simplify that matter as well and put that provision into statute law.

I urge the Labour party to take on board the fact that the world has changed from one of municipally owned vehicles simply doing one job. Frequently, vehicles change operations from one day to another. Vehicles can change their configuration from one season to the next by using swap bodies; for example, a snow plough used in winter can be used for an entirely different operation in summer. The Labour amendment refuses to recognise that and puts back all the difficulties we seek to get away from.

The trade recognises the need for change, even if the Labour party does not. The police and the licensing agency know that the current system is becoming impossible to enforce. I only wish that we could persuade the Opposition, particularly the Labour party, to drop their ideological baggage just long enough to withdraw the amendment, which would take us back in time rather than forward.

The amendment would hinder and delay the very reforms that I have outlined. There are no adverse road or safety implications in the provision. We have given careful thought to the reforms, and the overwhelming need for them is recognised by outside bodies. We have delayed implementation of the VED system until 1 July 1995 both to give those affected an opportunity to adapt to the changes and to enable them to draw attention to any specific and special difficulties. I have already explained how we have responded to well-thought-out arguments presented to us in the context of recovery vehicles.

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We are not convinced, however, by the arguments against the need for overall change, which is why I ask the Committee to accept the clause and to reject the Opposition amendment.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I wish to follow the Minister, as he has rightly put before the Committee the rationale of the whole of schedule 4. We are not just dealing with the Labour party amendment; it is right and proper that we look at the principles behind the proposed changes.

I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Epping Forrest (Mr. Norris) in the Chamber to listen to the debate. His Department must have been actively consulted about the rationale for the changes, as I hope that the Department of Trade and Industry was consulted about their important energy implications.

There are a number of amendments standing in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends. They relate to agricultural vehicles, vehicle usage as opposed to vehicle ownership--that is the key energy conservation issue with which we should be concerned--the impact that lorries have on the economy and, finally, the special circumstances relating to commercial traffic on islands. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) will speak about that matter a little later.

I shall illustrate the extent to which the Government's apparent attempt to simplify vehicle excise duty not only will make the situation more complicated but is clearly not worth the candle. The Minister said that the total take in a full financial year will amount to only a 1 per cent. increase in VED, yet he is blundering into a series of mini-calamities-- each one may not be important to everybody, but they add up to a snowstorm of calamities.

As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said earlier, the only logical way to approach the tax is to relate it either to use of the highway or to the use of scarce resources. The Government's proposals do not relate directly to either use.

Perhaps the panic stations in rural constituencies have persuaded the Minister and his Treasury colleagues to re-examine the proposals for agricultural vehicles that use the roads for only a limited period. All U- turns are welcome, even if they are conducted on a motorway at such a slow speed that they cause a major hold-up. By trying to buy off his colleagues in rural constituencies, there is a danger that the Minister will end up with a situation that is as bad as the one he started with. It certainly will not be any less complex.

I will illustrate how the proposals will affect the individual farmer. A farmer from my constituency gave me at the weekend a careful assessment of the precise implications of the Bill--as it then stood; I acknowledge the Minister's comments in that regard. He estimated that he faced an additional cost of £1,080 a year under the Bill as it then stood. No doubt the amendments will improve the situation somewhat, but it will not improve dramatically. My constituent is a hill livestock farmer with 265 acres of land which is bisected by a major road proposal--the A30 on Bodmin moor. As a result, he has great difficulty in reaching some parts of his land. He says that he has

"no alternative other than to travel short distances on the public highway with agricultural vehicles and machinery to carry out essential day to day tasks such as inspecting livestock during the summer and transporting fodder in the winter."

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I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has now left his position on the Front Bench.

The farmer continued:

"Bearing in mind the fact that this government has also axed Farm Waste Pollution Control and Farm Conservation Grants in this same budget, reduced the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances by 2.5 per cent. in the past year, I feel it is outrageous to expect me to find a further £1080 per year to run my business and also to threaten extra costs for fuel when the Customs & Excise review their policy on red diesel."

I know that the Minister intends to address that matter in Committee, but I think that he will acknowledge that the industry is correct to be concerned about that point.

The National Farmers Union has also briefed a number of hon. Members on the subject and has said:

"Many agricultural holdings have parcels of land which are geographically close but not integrated within a "ring fence", and many more have contiguous parcels of land which are bisected by public roads necessitating the crossing of the road to take a vehicle from one field to another".

The NFU and individual farmers are saying that there is no specific rationale for the change which the Government currently propose. Their usage of the highway is very limited, but the legislation will impact greatly on the industry and on individual farmers. The NFU said:

"The revenue benefit of forcing all these agricultural vehicles which are used for short local journeys into the VED system is out of all proportion to the additional administrative burden and cost which it would place on farmers".

The Minister makes great play of simplifying administration and removing burdens, but I suspect that he is taking administrative burdens away from the Treasury and loading them onto individual businesses.

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