LSE Library Archives 2003-10-11

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Have taken a quick look at files 14/19 and 14/37. The former contains materials pertaining to the regulation of hackney vehicles (basically, taxi licensing) while the latter contains mainly memoranda on the petrol taxation question. 14/37 would be fairly difficult to go through as much of the material is stapled or on very tight tags; it might actually be preferable to get some of this at the PRO. But come back to that issue later.

14/38 contains mostly Minutes of Evidence from meetings held by the Maybury committee on taxation and regulation of road vehicles. There is however an interesting HMCE memorandum on the problems of collecting petrol tax (photographed, as noted below).

IDEA: After main thesis work is done, I probably could do a straightforward economic history paper on the horsepower tax in the UK. There is certainly the material here that is required to illustrate the thought process behind its adoption, and the reasons the Maybury committee believed it would not get progressively more distortive and caved in and recommended it. But that is only one end of the argument. There are others, including quantification of the distortive effect of the horsepower tax, in terms of manufacturing, pricing, car ownership, distribution, usage, export, and possibly characteristics of the road system. (Anecdotal evidence is not enough. It is not enough that in 1947, RJ’s friends in the motoring community advised him that the horsepower tax would end—who was responsible for that, BTW? Gresham Cooke?—and that the motoring industry would thereby be unfettered; or that RJ heard from motoring industry representatives in South Africa, Kenya, and New Zealand to the effect that the horsepower tax was slowing down sales of British cars.) Probably could show a distortionary effect by correlating per capita income across a range of advanced industrialized countries, using the same logistic curve the RRL used to predict car ownership. But should do ‘before,’ ‘during,’ and ‘after,’ and probably should take overall car ownership costs into account, to avoid being fooled by false proxies. Are there standard references giving the cost of licences and petrol taxes in the UK? Need to check with Garel Rhys, Sue Bowden, Stephen Plowden, and JSTOR on UK road taxation. (Further observations: there was an element of divide and conquer in that the road transport interests wanted vehicle-based taxation, while the RIA and other groups interested in the development of private motoring wanted petrol taxation. Frank Pick, representing the London Omnibus Company, was especially ham-fisted in pushing the vehicle taxation interests, and helped scuttle the motor lobby’s attempts to come up with a compromise whereby the private motorists would accept a horsepower tax but also be the first to benefit from tax-cutting when the very elevated rates in the immediate postwar period were reduced. The RIA was fairly singular in its creed of developing private motoring and roads for the private motorists, and although the vehicle manufacturers would have benefited from higher car sales, they were divided, since they felt cheap American-made cars would flood in with petrol- rather than horsepower-based taxation (thinking of the Model T here, and of course assuming that the low purchase price would prove much, much more attractive than the relatively higher running costs).

Note: 14/37 and 14/38 have duplicative content: the document numbered RV/TR/120.

5/15

Starting with this file. It is very thin.

. . . Finished.

8/36

Have also photographed this file. But have to do some follow-up inquiries, here at LSE, and also when I am back at home.

14/38

Right now, am photographing only the HMCE memorandum on petrol duty collection. Don’t want to mess with the minutes of evidence and other memoranda right now.

[Sigh] This visit was not as productive as expected, because of the massive duplication across 14/37 and 14/38, the fact that the two files consisted largely of material whose value I have a hard time determining because I don’t know quite enough to locate it in a policy context, and that the summaries of the committee meetings (with numbered actions) are really in 14/23, which I was hoping to get when I ordered 14/19 but did not because it turns out those two files are not housed in the same box. (I feel certain other files are housed with 14/23, but not sure which ones they are.)