APD: rates from 1 April 2016

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 7 Gorffennaf 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The clause increases the rates of band B air passenger duty in line with RPI. Band B rates apply to journeys more than 2,000 miles from London. From 1 April 2016 the reduced rate for the lowest class of travel will increase to £73 and the standard rate will increase to £146.

APD is currently charged on all passenger flights from airports in the UK except in Northern Ireland. It was introduced in 1993 and came into effect on 1 November 1994. Powers to set APD have subsequently been devolved to Northern Ireland and are in the process of being devolved to Scotland. APD raises a significant amount of revenue for the Treasury: £3.2 billion in this financial year according to the latest OBR forecasts. The measure is not expected to have an Exchequer impact but, as ever, businesses may incur a negligible one-off cost to update their systems, according to the tax information and impact note.

The increase with inflation has become standard practice, and with APD having been increased in this way for both 2013-14 and 2014-15, I see no reason to oppose it today. However, I want to use this opportunity to push the Minister on support for English regional airports, following the devolution of APD to Scotland and Northern Ireland. As he will be aware, the Scotland Act 2016 devolved powers to set the rate of APD and the Scottish National party intends to halve Scotland’s rates. Northern Ireland already has a rate of zero. During the passage of the Scotland Bill several MPs from both sides raised concerns that further devolution would put regional airports in England at a significant disadvantage and create a distortion of competition.

HM Treasury published a discussion paper in July 2015 outlining three possible options for tackling the issue: devolving APD within England; varying APD rates within England; or providing aid to regional airports. It invited comments by 8 September, but to date no Government response has been published.

When I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on 20 October last year, in my former capacity as shadow Exchequer Secretary, the Financial Secretary told me that the response would be published in due course, but to date I cannot see a summary of responses. In a recent written answer he stated:

“The Government is carefully considering the responses received to the discussion paper on options to support English regional airports from the potential impacts of air passenger duty devolution and will respond in due course.”

Perhaps he could take this opportunity to provide an exact date, if possible, for publication of the Government’s strategy to support regional airports. Aside from that and the other matters I have discussed, we will not oppose the clause.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Llafur, City of Chester

It is a pleasure to see you in the chair once again, Mr Howarth. I wish to speak only briefly. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles reminds us that the Scottish National party Government in Scotland have chosen to reduce APD. It is nice to hear that for once they have actually done something with the tax powers they have been given, because of course they have been dodging other tax powers despite having the authority to exercise them.

May I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles? The tourism industry across the UK is crying out for clarity on APD, because of the devolution issues. The differences in air passenger duty now make it financially viable for a family of five to drive from the north-west of England, the area that I—and your good self, Mr Howarth—represent, up to Scotland to save money. Those price differentials now mean that that makes sense, so they are damaging the tourism industry and the airport sector outside London.

The impression of the tourism industry—fairly held, I think—is that Treasury Ministers have been kicking the issue into the long grass for a long while. They have been looking for a solution, not finding one and then having a further review. My hon. Friend has outlined some of that. I therefore stress to Ministers again that there has to be a long-term and sustainable answer to those variables in air passenger duty. The existing situation is not sustainable, so the sooner we get a consistent and sustainable balance that the tourism industry can live with, the better for our economy as a whole.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Exchequer Secretary

Clause 137 makes changes to ensure that the rates of APD for 2016-17 increase in line with RPI, so that the aviation sector continues to play its part in contributing towards general taxation and reducing the deficit.

As the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles rightly said, APD raises a little more than £3 billion annually, so it is an important part of Government revenue. The increase in rates has effect from 1 April this year and was announced at Budget 2015 to give the industry sufficient notice of the change in rates. The low level of inflation and the rounding of APD rates to the nearest £1 mean that short-haul rates will remain frozen for a fifth year in a row, which will be to the benefit of about 80% of passengers.

The hon. Members for Salford and Eccles and for City of Chester raised the important subject of APD devolution and the options that the Government have been considering. To be clear, APD will be under the control of the Scottish Parliament, but the Scottish Government are still consulting, so no change has yet been made. The three options in the discussion paper published at summer Budget 2015 were correctly identified by the hon. Lady: to devolve the setting of APD within England; to vary the rates within England; or to provide aid to regional airports. The issues are complex and we continue to consider the various options. I am not in a position to give a specific date, but we will of course respond in due course.

APD is a fair and efficient tax, where the amount paid corresponds to the distance and class of travel of the passenger. The changes under the clause will ensure that the aviation sector continues to play its part in contributing towards general taxation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 137 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 138