Matters of moment, September 1980

Ministerial Madness

It seems absolutely astonishing that any Government, and especially the Conservative Government, can be SO stupid and unfair as to try to impose a tax on all motor vehicles whether these are in use or not in use, on the public road or off it. But that is just what Transport Minister Norman Fowler, hiding behind the fact that a great many cars go out on the road untaxed, is considering, and may soon make Law. It is a preposterous plan!

The days are over when it was regarded by some as a fairly harmless lark to run a car with a beer-bottle label on its windscreen, in lieu of a tax disc. We have no sympathy for those who use unlicensed vehicles on public roads. If the Police are perhaps too busy to spot all the offenders, that is a pity. But to suggest that the solution to recovering this lost revenue is to tax all motor vehicles, irrespective of whether they are in use or not, is utter folly. If this snide scheme comes into being it could well result in the fall of the present Government, on the grounds that not only would such biased legislation be disliked by an influential proportion of the voters, but also because such soft thinking reflects on the Tory Party in its entirety. It may be that the “Iron Lady”, who until now has been doing so magnificently, is more tired than is apparent and wishes to bring her Party to a discreet halt at the next Election, seeing in Fowler’s Folly a means of doing so without her main issues being held responsible. If this is not the case, we can only advise Mrs Thatcher to get Norman to one side, tear him off a sizeable strip, and tell him to drop it. . . .

It has been illegal for some time for any licenceless motor vehicle to be so much as parked on the public highway. This applies even to a vehicle being dismantled outside someone’s house. Quite justifiably, but once that vehicle has been taken into a private garden or garage, what possible right has the Treasury to insist that it still has to be taxed, presumably at the full £60 a year? If the owner of the property likes to fill his or her garage, or garden even, with old furniture, a model railway, cages of budgerigars, or whatever, possibly Mr. Fowler will generously leave them alone. So why single out the car-owning section of the community (heavy goods-vehicles are exempt) for such savage treatment?

It is illegal not only to park a mechanically propelled vehicle on the road, it is also illegal to tow even a disabled, untaxed, uninsured motor vehicle behind another one. Such action is right and proper, for a Government has to extract revenue as much as it can in return for a service in this case the provision of roads on which to run our motor vehicles; although this thinking has worn rather thin since Mr. Churchill “raided the Road Fund” a very long time ago and since an ever-growing petrol tax was added to the always-inflating car tax. But to try to grab used motor vehicles in private storage into the tax mesh can be termed criminal legalised robbery, applied in this case to just one section of the community. Those who tend their plants in the greenhouse, who read their books in the library or run their model-railways in the attic or whatever, will not be so taxed, unless other bureaucrats become afflicted with Fowler avarice. This is not only a Wealth Tax inflicted on one part of the community, it is one imposed not only on the rich, for many people own old cars of no value until they are restored, and such retention over a period of years will by Fowler’s Law cost a restorer thousands of pounds!

It is also very woolly thinking on Mr. Fowler’s part for the following reasons. Taxing cars not on the road will deter buyers of “second cars,” at a time when the Motor Industry is facing a grave recession, for a second family car is often off the road for part of the year, or is something the owner enjoys using alternately with another vehicle — but no longer, if it is to incur an unjust tax while in the garage, many will consider Fowler’s Law would be a law of discrimination, for presumably even if tempted by the £15 million or so that taxing every idle vehicle might raise, the Transport Minister will be obliged to exempt vehicles owned by musuems? To talk of special arrangements for historic vehicles, or for those laid-up for long enough periods, indicates that Norman Fowler has got into it up to his neck. How will such legislation be fairly applied? What of cars in dealers’ showrooms? Maggy Thatcher MUST make him drop it. .

We, the motor-vehicle owners. have been taken for a very expensive ride over the DVLC at Swansea, in so many ways. One of these is that we were promised short-term licensing as soon as those millions of pounds-worth of frenzied computers were functioning. Now Fowler has swung completely the other way, and is hoping that Britain’s millions of car owners will meekly accept a tax on every vehicle, whether it moves or not. Our guess is that they won’t!

Motor Sport has already sent a letter to the Minister about the matter — see page 1344. Not surprisingly, Mr. Fowler has doubts himself. He has asked for comments to reach him by September 15th. Make sure he gets them! Otherwise, you will find yourself paying tax on all your cars, no matter how little you use them or whether you use them at all—which applies to cars being worked on, cars laid up for much of the year, as with most veteran, vintage and classic cars etc.. and even the ones kept for personal pleasure or sentiment. but never ever taken out on public roads. We are convinced that no other section of the community has been to shabbily thought of by a Government Department, which would rely on the Swansea records to levy this unjust tax that the ailIng Motor Industry cannot afford the sales-loss the proposed new tax would provoke (and never mind those copers who will probably benefit from the wholesale panic disposal of aged cars), and that it is dismal that a Conservative Government is so biased against us. So tell it so, NOW.

That 1.25 million vehicle users apparently drive about taxless, costing the country £75 million, annually, is unfortunate. But this is the concern of the Police, overworked as they are, and with more important matters to attend to. Law-abiding car-owners should not be expected to pay tax on unused, even derelict. vehicles in an attempt to bring the dishonest into the net. As the Daily Telegraph so rightly says, “The road tax . . . should not apply to someone who is already paying rent and rates for a garage specifically to keep a car off the road.” It is as unfair as taxing everyone on the “use of tobacco or beer. on the grounds that one day non-smokers or non-beer drinkers may change their minds, THIS STUPID IDEA MUST NOT BECOME LAW.

The Lakeland Motor Museum has recently acquired from the BBC the full sized replica of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s “Bluebird”, built for the television play Speed King. They plan to use this replica as the centre piece in an exhibition devoted to thc exploits of Sir Malcolm and his equally famous son, Donald, and are keen to obtain further Campbell-related items for inclusion in the exhibition. Louise Sidebottom of 21 Oldfield Carr Lane, Poulton-le-Fylde, Blackpool, would be delighted to hear from anyone able to help.