Clauses 16, 17 and 18 implement the Smith commission’s recommendations by fully devolving two taxes: air passenger duty and the aggregates levy. Those taxes will be switched off in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament will then have full competence to maintain, redesign or scrap them. The changes made by clauses 16 and 18 will switch off APD in Scotland and give the Scottish Government the power to charge their own tax on passengers departing from Scottish airports. The Scottish Government will be free to make their own arrangements with regard to the design and collection of any replacement tax. Alongside that, funding for the Scottish Government will be reduced by an amount equivalent to the APD that would have been raised in Scotland.
Clauses 17 and 18 and schedule 1 make changes to ensure that the UK aggregates levy can be fully devolved to Scotland. The Smith commission agreement stated that there would be full devolution of the levy to Scotland following resolution of the legal challenges against the levy. The changes made by clause 17 will give the Scottish Parliament the power to charge a tax on the commercial exploitation of aggregate. The clause also introduces schedule 1, and together they enable the existing UK levy to be disapplied to Scotland. These provisions allow the Scottish Government freedom in the design and implementation of any tax on the commercial exploitation of aggregate in Scotland.
Amendment 36 would, in essence, have opposed clause 16 standing part of the Bill, because I want the Committee to explore the specific issues related to air passenger duty and the more general principles about tax competition between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom that may well evolve from a discussion on air passenger duty.
Some of us who voted to set up the Scottish Parliament in the first place now think that, although it seemed a very bold decision at the time, it was less bold than it might have been and that if we had the benefit of being able to go back in time—we do have the benefit of hindsight—the proposals that the Government are making might well have been those that should have been put before the House after the 1997 general election, with us now moving towards full fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Parliament. It was a fundamental mistake to set up a Scottish Parliament with mainly spending powers and no tax-raising powers, apart from the plus or minus 3p on income tax.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One of the mistakes is that there is no incentive for the Scottish Government to grow the economy. A great example that we have in the Hebrides is that the Scottish Government have put a road-equivalent tariff on to the ferries. This has grown the economy in the west of Scotland, but the increase in tax revenue is not going to the Government that funds it but to Westminster, which gives no extra cash and further incentives to roll it out further across the west coast. It is similar with childcare and a number of other issues.
The hon. Gentleman makes a pretty fundamental point about devolution. When the House was making a decision to devolve powers, it would have been sensible to settle on a grant basis that was fair between Scotland, England and Wales, which the Barnett formula was not, and then allow the Scottish Parliament to raise taxes on that basis, so that if it wanted better-quality services, it could have had higher taxes and, if it was more efficient, it could have had better services or lower taxes, and so on. That is a very clear principle.
The important point I am driving at is that, if the Scottish Government had proper control of their taxes, they could have grown the economy more and that growth would have delivered far more than the zero-sum game of who has got and has not got what in the UK. It is the ability to grow the economy that tax powers would give that is really fundamental.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that Scotland, or any other devolved authority, should benefit from the initiatives it takes and from its own efficiencies, I agree completely. We are moving that way, but the Bill does not move far enough. No Minister or shadow Minister has been able to explain to me, in any of our debates, why we should have the unfair funding in the Barnett formula.
Those are the basic principles. I now want to explore how, if taxation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the United Kingdom Government will respond to competition. Air passenger duty is a very good example. As I understand it, the SNP intend to reduce air passenger duty by 50% and then reduce it to zero. That is quite a sensible policy for the SNP to follow. For that matter, it is a sensible policy for the United Kingdom Government to follow, because a number of consultants’ reports have shown that there is almost certainly likely to be a benefit for the whole United Kingdom if air passenger duty is taken away.
Every other country in the European Union has moved either to very low rates of APD or, as in the Netherlands, to zero. It is therefore a sensible policy, but the Government do not seem to have a clear position on what they will do about the very unfair competition between regional airports.
Air passenger duty is a perfect illustration of what I said earlier. If the Scottish Government decided to lower APD and that upped the rate of economic activity in Scotland, they should benefit from the fruits of that activity. The benefits should not go to Westminster, because it would not compensate the Scottish Government for that initiative.
“I think the best approach to dealing with this concern, which I think is perfectly legitimate, is to cross the political boundaries of our two parties to try to find a solution that helps these regional airports that can be affected by an air passenger duty decision north of the border.
HMRC has done some work on this and I think it anticipated that Manchester airport would lose around 3% of its traffic and Newcastle could lose around 10% of its traffic. That was work carried out a couple of years ago… I think you and I—I made the same offer to Ed Balls—could work to help regional airports in the north of England if the Scottish Government were to go down the road of dramatically cutting its air passenger duty.”
“We have a couple of years to work this out—it does not have be done tonight or tomorrow—and we can work out a plan that protects the brilliant Newcastle, Manchester and other regional airports.”—[Hansard, 27 January 2015; Vol. 591, c. 726.]
What progress has been made on that? This is about a loss of 3% and 10% of business, which are not trivial amounts.
This will result in not only an economic benefit for Scotland, but in real competition, which will come in two forms: there will be competition for passengers on short-haul flights, for which APD is £13 per passenger, and for those on longer-haul flights, for which it is £71 per passenger. Obviously, the same amount is paid for the return flight. A passenger from Newcastle therefore has an incentive—this applies to large families in particular—to travel to Edinburgh or Glasgow in order to save some money. Someone travelling long distance from north America or China has the same incentive.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a knock-on effect on cargo? If the successful flight from Newcastle to Dubai were to be jeopardised in any way, the revenue earned from the airport through the transfer of cargo in that passenger aircraft would also be at risk.
I agree with my hon. Friend. There is competition not only for passengers, but to get airlines and aircraft to land. Given that a lot of cargo is carried in an aeroplane’s belly, if Newcastle, Manchester or Leeds Bradford loses a flight to Scotland, it will lose not only the passengers and the benefit they bring but the cargo carried by the plane. The United Kingdom already has experience of that with Belfast airport. The Northern Ireland Assembly managed to get the power to vary APD because it was in competition with Dublin airport, which was taking passengers and aircraft to travel from south of the border. That is well known to people who are interested in transport, but it is less well known that the impact was not only on Belfast, but on English and Welsh airports, as people decided to fly across the Atlantic from Dublin to save the £71.
I will conclude by talking about the economic impact on England. I have given the figures for the savings that passengers could make, and airlines can of course take advantage of those savings by choosing to split them between passengers and their own profit lines. If, however, for the sake of argument, one Ryanair flight and one easyJet flight were moved from Manchester airport to Glasgow, £2.9 million of revenue would be lost to the United Kingdom Treasury and 450 jobs would be lost in Manchester. That is not insignificant when one is trying to build an economy, and I do not blame Edinburgh or Glasgow for trying to build their economy in the way that Newcastle and Manchester are doing. Those figures represent nearly 250,000 passengers, and the economic impact in relation to long-haul flights is much more significant.
The hon. Gentleman is making a point about cross-border competition. Does he agree that there is another point about the longer-term sustainability of airports outwith that area, such as Inverness and Dundee? They need additional support and would benefit from the reinvestment in Scotland of the revenue generated by additional passenger traffic.
I agree with that perfectly sensible point.
The Government may have a number of possible solutions, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to respond in some way. Manchester airport has made the case strongly to the Government that there should be an air passenger duty holiday on new long-haul routes, and that would be helpful. The Government could devolve decision making to other parts of the United Kingdom as well as to Scotland, although it would be difficult to find a mechanism for doing so. The Government could also agree to compete with Scotland, because if there is no competition, there will be an unfair loss of jobs through lowering the rate of air passenger duty.
Such solutions seem sensible to me, given the experience in the rest of Europe and, indeed, in the rest of the world. The tax was brought in not for environmental reasons, as is sometimes said, but entirely to deal with the hole in the budget after the 1992 general election. It is an inefficient tax: consultants have estimated that it costs the economy more than it brings into the Treasury in cash. Even if the Financial Secretary cannot give an absolutely definitive answer today, I hope he will assure us that he is willing to look at some of the sensible responses to this new competition in tax regimes.
The hon. Gentleman has been very kind in giving way. The tax is about more than just a hole in the budget; it is actually a demand-management tool for Heathrow and perhaps for Gatwick as well. If airports are full, APD is a demand-management tool that might work. It is certainly not helping in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Manchester. The solution is not to worry about each other, but for us to be rid of it, and for the Government to keep the demand-management tool in airports that are already saturated.
I do not agree with the point the hon. Gentleman makes in his fourth intervention. Demand management is not the solution for our regional airports, which have huge extra capacity, but if I went down that line, I expect you would rule me out of order, Mr Crausby. I look forward to the Financial Secretary’s response.
I will come on to the comments made by Graham Stringer in a moment.
The provisions relating to the devolution of air passenger duty—I will concentrate on the duty, rather than the aggregates levy or the further provisions in clause 18—were set out clearly in the Smith agreement:
“86. The power to charge tax on air passengers leaving Scottish airports will be devolved…The Scottish Government will be free to make its own arrangements with regard to the design and collection of any replacement tax, including consideration of the environmental impact.
“87. In line with the approach taken in relation to the Scotland Act 2012, if such a tax is introduced by the Scottish Parliament to replace Air Passenger Duty (APD), the Scottish Government will reimburse the UK Government for any costs incurred in ‘switching off’ APD in Scotland.”
Given that they simply would not collect it, I do not imagine those costs would be very high. The provisions also require:
“88. A fair and equitable share of associated administrative costs will be transferred to the Scottish Government. The…block grant will be adjusted”.
A wide range of organisations that gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament Devolution (Further Powers) Committee backed the devolution of APD, including Institute of Directors Scotland, Glasgow chamber of commerce, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. As the report says:
“This was coupled with support for either a reduction or scrapping of this duty after devolution had taken place.”
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre analysis for the Committee, referred to in the report, found that:
“Draft clause 14”— now clause 16—
As with many of the clauses we have discussed, there is no recommendation as to how the transfer would work or how the block grant would be adjusted, but, as I understand from other clauses, there is no requirement for legislation to achieve that. Essentially, the legislation delivers on the Smith agreement in the way anticipated. We have no concerns with the drafting of the clause, which did not change between the Command Paper version and the Bill.
In terms of the policy approach on air passenger duty, on which much of this clause stand part debate is centred, the Scottish National party supports the devolution of air passenger duty to the Scottish Parliament. We are pleased that the Scotland Bill will deliver this recommendation. We have previously set out our proposals to halve APD when control over the tax is devolved, and we fully intend to abolish it when public finances allow. We believe that taking that action will encourage greater tourism and investment in Scotland, boosting our economy and creating new jobs.
There are a substantial number of benefits for consumers from the reduction of air passenger duty, not least because the UK levies are some of the highest aviation taxes in the world—indeed, APD is relatively rare in other countries. APD is currently £71 for an economy class long-haul flight, which is extraordinary—that is over 2,000 miles. Abolishing APD would mean that a family of four, with children over 12-years-old, would save something under £300 per long-haul flight—a substantial saving by any measure. Reducing APD would therefore save consumers money, and, in certain circumstances, significantly reduce the cost of family holidays.
There are broader economic benefits from a reduction in air passenger duty. A report commissioned by Edinburgh airport in March 2015 found that a reduction in APD would bring considerable economic benefits to Scotland. The report argued that the Scottish Government’s policy of halving APD in the first instance would create new jobs, and that a failure to take action would cost Scotland tourists and tourism revenue. Its key findings included the fact that a 50% reduction would provide benefits to Scotland worth £200 million a year, meaning a £1 billion economic boost over the lifetime of a Parliament; and that a 50% reduction would bring considerable benefits to local communities, creating something in the order of 3,800 new jobs by 2020. On the other hand, it was estimated that we could lose out on about 1 million passenger journeys a year if APD was not reduced. Again, by 2020, that would cost the Scottish economy up to £68 million in lost tourism expenditure every year. It is clear, therefore, that devolving and reducing APD would have a considerable economic impact on Scotland and that failure to act would mean Scotland missing out on significant tourism and hospitality revenues.
We have heard what happened in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Although the 2014 study by Ulster University was a little more ambivalent and suggested only a limited number of scenarios in which Northern Ireland might benefit, supporters of a reduction pointed to the success of this approach in the Republic of Ireland. As the BBC reported:
“Tourism NI chairman Howard Hastings said: ‘If you compare with our nearest neighbour in the Republic of Ireland, in the two years since they abolished air passenger duty, they've seen arrivals grow by 1.1 million passengers.’”
It is self-evidently a success, and if we can replicate that, we can deliver the benefits I have described. If we do not, we will face the cost of failure.
The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton and others tabled amendments that are not being debated—although the debate has been very similar to the one I would have heard had we been debating them—and expressed concern that the devolution of APD to Scotland would disadvantage airports in the north of England, as travellers journey across the border to Scottish airports in order to travel to holiday destinations abroad. The SNP makes no apologies for championing Scotland, and we believe that the reduction and eventual abolition of APD would benefit Scotland’s economy and tourism sector in particular. Its devolution is also a cross-party commitment agreed through the Smith commission.
Attracting more tourists to Scottish airports by reducing APD could also benefit the north of England by rebalancing the economy away from London’s pull and bringing more visitors to the northern parts of these islands as a whole. If one considers Edinburgh to be a hub airport, I am sure that businesses in the north of England would rather spend an hour on the train from Newcastle to Edinburgh than four, five or six hours on the cross-London journey to Heathrow, let alone travelling to a hub airport such as Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle. Edinburgh is the ideal solution for people from Durham, for example.
A stronger Scottish economy will also bring significant economic benefits to the north of England, as new trade and investment opportunities arise. However, we are concerned about some of the UK Government’s threats in relation to APD—this relates to what the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton said about competition. During the election, the Prime Minister astonishingly expressed concerns that a reduction in APD would “distort competition”. He said:
“The SNP government in Scotland is committed to using its new powers to cut and eventually abolish air passenger duty for flights from Scottish airports. That could distort competition and see business drawn north of the border with a huge impact on airports in the rest of our country so we’re reviewing the way air passenger duty works to make sure other cities don’t lose out”.
Devolving and amending APD is not a distortion of competition; it is competition.
“outlined plans for an annual review of the impact of Scottish Devolution on the rest of the UK. He announced what he’s calling the ‘Carlisle principle’”.
He did that during a speech in Crewe—one would think he would go to Carlisle to do it, but Crewe it was. He said that the aim was to make sure that policies devolving more power to Scotland did not have a negative impact on other parts of the UK—in areas such as air passenger duty, tax rates, university tuition fees or energy policy. If only we had thought of that, we would not have abolished the subsidies for onshore wind.
The Prime Minister said:
“I want to set out a new principle—you could call it the Carlisle Principle—that we will make sure that there are no unforeseen detrimental consequences to the rest of the country from Scottish devolution, for either England, Wales or Northern Ireland.”
Will the Minister explain what the Carlisle principle—whatever it actually is—will mean in practice for the devolution of APD? I hope that when he gets up, he will say precisely nothing.
There is agreement on all sides that we have a no detriment and a no advantage principle, which was agreed before the Smith proposals were published. They are clearly being adhered to. There is all-party agreement on the devolution of APD. There can be no backsliding. I suspect there will be no votes on this. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says in his summing up.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby.
I do not oppose the devolution of APD to the Scottish Parliament, but as my hon. Friend Graham Stringer said, it will have a dramatic effect on regional airports within the UK. Stewart Hosie mentioned the attractions of Edinburgh to north-east businesses that want international flights, but I have to say that they would sooner fly directly from Newcastle. As for the notion that people would fly to Edinburgh and then get on a train to travel south to our region, that would not be an alternative to flying directly to the north-east via Newcastle. Newcastle airport has been a success story for the north-east.
We hear much from this Government about rebalancing the economy. The north-east has taken the brunt when it comes to the loss of public sector jobs and it also has the highest levels of unemployment in the UK. There have also been knock-on effects from the Government’s decisions deliberately to divert funds from poorer regions such as the north-east to the Tory heartlands.
We have heard the Government’s rhetoric about growing the private sector. Newcastle airport has, I think, been a great example. A few years ago, I had the privilege of being a director of the airport, which is great partnership between the local authorities in the region and the private sector. In 2012, the airport added value of some £640 million to the north-east economy, and under its master plan by 20130 it will generate some £1.3 billion for the north-east economy. It is currently sustaining 7,800 jobs, rising to over 10,000 by 2030.
The team at Newcastle airport now provides direct flights to Dubai and to New York, and those international flights will be put at risk if the Scottish Government go ahead with their plans. I understand that this is a devolved matter, and I understand the reasons why the Scottish Government want to reduce APD. Clearly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton said, the tax was brought in for environmental reasons that now make little sense when it comes to growing the country’s economy.
I could be reading the amendment paper wrongly, but am I wrong to interpret the hon. Gentleman’s amendment 36, which has not been called for debate, as designed to delete the clause that would devolve air passenger duty? Several times, the hon. Gentleman said that he was not opposed to the devolution of APD, but I thought his amendment was supposed to delete the provisions that made APD a devolved matter.
The reason for that is that I was advised to do so to get my probing amendment on the amendment paper. There is no intention to delete the provisions, and the amendment has not been selected. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman’s experience in the House would make him au fait with the procedures for ensuring that Members can get a subject debated.
The Scottish Government’s proposals on APD do not make economic sense. Reducing and abolishing APD will clearly grow airport traffic into airports in Scotland as well as grow jobs, yet that will be to the detriment of airports such as Newcastle’s.
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned that further devolution to Scotland might make Scotland too successful, surely the answer is to see further devolution to the regions and great cities of England, not to stop further devolution in its tracks so that everything remains centred in London for ever and a day.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s thrust, but what the Government have proposed for the north-east is not clear: an elected mayor whose area would stretch from Berwick right down to the Tees. That is the only way we will get any sort of devolution to the north-east at all, and there has been no public debate about it.
Clearly, the measures on air passenger duty will grow jobs in Scottish airports. I accept the point made earlier about the more outlying airports. In this country, we seem to have a policy of looking at regional airports as we do the major city airports. However, it is clear that small airports and communities, whether in Scotland or the rest of the UK, need connectivity to the major hubs.
Prestwick airport, the oldest passenger airport in Scotland, is in my constituency. We are not even connected to London. There was a time when people could take transatlantic flights from it, but no longer. Rather than thinking that Scotland would steal from the north of England, can the hon. Gentleman not accept that the total number of tourist visitors could grow?
I agree, but if air passenger duty were zero in Scotland and the same as it is now in Newcastle, Scotland would clearly have an advantage. I do not want to get on to how much Scotland is able to devote to its tourism promotion budget, something that we need more of in the north-east.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be setting out the most attractive form of tax competition. If Scotland gets rid of air passenger duty, there will be real pressure on the Chancellor to abolish it for the rest of the United Kingdom, and the whole economy will grow. It is marvellous to see the whole House moving in such a right-wing direction in its economic debates.
On this very rare occasion, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would abolish APD altogether; it is a tax that, as the Scottish Government have recognised, stifles economic development. A PwC report says that the number of overseas visitors would grow by 7% if we abolished it altogether and that more money would come in from other taxes.
Scotland, for her own, sensible reasons, could halve and then abolish APD, leaving Newcastle at a great disadvantage. That would cost jobs; it has been anticipated that up to 1,000 jobs could be lost by 2025 if the situation remained the same, along with £400 million gross value to the economy of the north-east. One of the poorest regions in the UK cannot afford to be at such a disadvantage.
As my hon. Friend Graham Stringer said, there seems to be a bit of confusion over the Government’s approach. He read out the Chancellor’s comment at the Treasury Committee sitting. The Chancellor seemed to be sanguine, giving the impression that if Scotland reduced its APD, airports such as Newcastle could happily soak up a 10% loss in traffic. I am sorry, but I have been a director of the airport and I know the management team well—I know how hard they have to work to attract every single flight and new route to Newcastle. A clear 10% loss would not be acceptable. My hon. Friend mentioned another point. The Chancellor also said that his personal view was that tax competition should be allowable. If that means putting the north-east at a disadvantage, the Government have to address that.
There has been some confusion. During the general election, the Prime Minister was asked by a local newspaper about unfair competition affecting Newcastle airport and—we should not forget the other airport in the north-east —Durham Tees Valley airport. He was questioned about reducing rates of APD for north-east airports to match the reduction in Scotland, as the Labour party in the region had been arguing. He said that that could be a positive suggestion.
What we need now is clear action. We have a new Minister for the northern powerhouse, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, James Wharton. I understand that his constituency includes Durham Tees Valley, so whether he can persuade the Treasury to do something about the effect of the clause on the north-east economy will be an interesting test of his power. We hear a lot about the northern powerhouse. Those of us in the north-east think that it ends in Manchester.
It is important that the effect of the clause is addressed. If it is not, this unfair tax will not only cost jobs in one of the poorest regions of the UK, but stifle one of the few economic drivers in the north-east in Newcastle airport, which can grow not only business, but competition. As I said in an earlier intervention, Newcastle airport is important not only for passengers, but for cargo revenues. It enables companies in the north-east to export around the world. The direct flight to Dubai has meant that a lot of local businesses have been able to export products there directly and to grow.
I am interested to know the Government’s approach to this issue. If the clause is passed, we cannot have a lag that leaves regions such as the north-east being hit by the tax competition which the Chancellor seems to think is acceptable, but which the Prime Minister clearly wants to do something about. The ball is firmly in the Government’s court to ensure that this anomaly is put right.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for North Durham (Mr Jones) for the way that they have spoken about this issue. I am unconvinced by the argument that they had to table an amendment to delete the devolution of air passenger duty in order to make speeches. Speeches could be made on clause stand part. None the less, whatever the flow of logic, I am delighted that they have confirmed that they support the devolution of APD. I will be very supportive, in return, of some of the arguments that they have made.
As I have been through this issue in one guise or another over the past few years, I thought that it might be useful to remind the Committee of a little bit of history. The devolution of APD was proposed by the Calman commission. For Members who were not in the House at that time or who are not fully up on these matters, the Calman commission was the response of the Unionist parties to the SNP’s breakthrough in the 2007 election. We are still debating the devolution of APD because it disappeared from the legislative programme arising from Calman that was enacted in the last Parliament. It was proposed again by the Smith commission, which was the response of the Unionist parties, through the vow, to try to deflect the yes campaign in the final days of last year’s referendum.
Both those events, incidentally, have been overtaken by the fact that 56 Members of Parliament now adorn these Benches for the Scottish National party. No doubt, at some occasion in the not too distant future, we will be back debating the Government’s response to that latest political development. Surely history tells us—the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton referred to this—that it would have been far better to have been more extensive and generous with devolution in the first place, and that we should not repeat the mistakes that the Government and the Unionist parties made in the past.
I had a meeting with Howard Davies a few years back when he was asked to chair the Airports Commission. I will be generous and say that it was set up to address the under-capacity and congestion at airports in the south-east of England—or perhaps it was to bash Boris’s proposal for an island airport. The point was to reconcile between Heathrow and Gatwick. We can be absolutely certain about two things in respect of the proposals that will come from the Howard Davies commission. First, we can be certain that, whatever the final adjudication, it will be some considerable time before either Heathrow or Gatwick emerges as the winner from the process. Secondly, we can be certain that, whatever emerges from the process, considerable amounts of public money, running into many billions of pounds, will be devoted, by one means or another, to expanding the capacity of those airports, which are severely congested at the moment.
The reason I mention this is that when I had my meeting, as First Minister, with Mr Davies—it might be Sir Howard Davies now, for all I know—[Interruption.] I am told that he is soon to be ennobled—other people have more information on these things than I do. Anyway, when I had my meeting with Sir Howard, I said, “Given that, whatever happens, your proposals will take some time to be enacted, would it not be a grand idea for you to propose, in the meantime, measures to relieve some of the congestion in the south of England airports? Perhaps reducing air passenger duty in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England and, pro tem at least, diverting some of the business from those airports would relieve some of the extraordinary pressure on them.”
I was very disappointed when, in his interim report, Sir Howard made clear his belief that such a move would constitute a “distortion of competition”. I thought that that was a magnificent argument in its way—magnificent in terms of brass neck. It was clearly not a distortion of competition to propose the expenditure of billions of pounds of public money on investment—financed by all of us—in increasing the capacity of the south of England airports, but it somehow would be a distortion of competition to reduce the taxation and increase the revenues generated by airports in the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I do agree with that, but I also think that we must consider the motivation for the introduction of what appears to be a remarkably foolish tax. Any Chancellor looking at Heathrow, for example, would see a fully congested airport and an air passenger duty with an effective collection rate of 100%, whereas any Chancellor looking at the north of England, Northern Ireland or Scotland would see airports with substantial capacity where a reduction in APD could increase business, and, given increased revenues from VAT and other taxation, would see the magic formula for a Laffer curve emerging. I was going to turn to Mr Rees-Mogg at that point, but when I mentioned the Laffer curve, he was busy having a conversation, just when he could have reached a peak of excitement.I think that it would be possible to achieve that Laffer curve, reducing the tax and increasing the revenue, and it seems that my view is shared on both sides of the Committee.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that, whether the Davies commission decides on Heathrow or on Gatwick, the vast majority of the investment will come from the private sector? It will not be billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Does he not also recognise that there has been a campaign in the aviation industry to abolish APD altogether, and that the Treasury is hooked on the tax because it is worth £2.3 billion a year?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s first point only to the extent that there are people who argue that nuclear power does not require the investment of public money. I think he will find that, as the implementation of these proposals proceeds, substantial amounts of public money will be invested in the infrastructure to make it viable and credible. According to a recent study of transport infrastructure spending per head in various parts of England, the figure for the south-east of England was over £2,000 per head, the figure for the north-east was £26 per head, and the figure for the north-west was £200 per head. I do not have the exact figures, but I think that I have the relative parameters just about right—
The figures that the right hon. Gentleman has given are moving in the right direction, but the distortion is actually even greater. The capital expenditure figure is over 90% in London and the south-east, compared with single-figure percentages in Yorkshire and Humberside and the north-east.
I am never knowingly undersold. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. I was trying to moderate the figures slightly, in case the Committee found them incredible. However, they do tell us where we should be turning in the context of “distortion of competition”.
I am delighted that Members from the north of England have accepted that this tax should be devolved, and I am delighted that they have accepted the economic argument behind the direction in which the Scottish Government are moving. I think that the tax should be reduced at airports in the north of England as well, because they have substantial capacity that would increase revenue for us all. I am glad that their amendment did not become the basis of this conversation, because if the Scottish Government had opposed the devolution of part of APD to Northern Ireland, no progress would have been made. We are now on the verge of having APD devolved to Scotland, and I say to Members representing north of England constituencies that they should take the attitude that this should be the example for further devolution of a sensible policy which not only benefits one part of the country but looks at the economic opportunities in all parts of the country.
Unfortunately, I arrived for this debate at the end of the VAT fiddle discussion. I hope when the Minister replies on APD that, instead of his wholly disappointing and negative attitude to the embezzlement of VAT from the Scottish police service, he will return to the style of grace and imagination with which he usually so adorns the Dispatch Box, and this time recognise the opportunity for Scotland, and indeed the north of England, of making sure that this disgraceful tax is reduced and economic activity is increased.
I do not share this cosy consensus. Stewart Hosie made it very clear in his usual honourable way—I have sparred with him many times—that if APD is devolved, the Scottish Government, if controlled by the SNP, will cut it markedly and have the goal of abolishing it. He helped the Committee by quoting the Prime Minister to the effect that there would be—these are my words, not the Prime Minister’s—a “beggar my neighbour” attitude downwards on APD. Call me old-fashioned, but I think environmental laws should be state-wide and international, and I consider APD to be an environmental law, which is why I voted for it years ago.
As ever, the SNP has been totally open with the House: it wants to see the number of airline passengers increase throughout the UK. That is an environmental step backwards. Fortunately, we have environmental laws internationally through the EU, for example on waste disposal and air quality, something on which the UK is, to coin a phrase, falling foul at present.
Following the hon. Gentleman’s argument, does he want to increase the rate of APD or is he saying the Tories have got it at just the right rate?
Yes, I would increase the rate of APD.
I was a Member of the House when the Climate Change Act 2008 was debated—there are several other such Members present, although we are a minority. There is in that Act a target which I think is UK-wide—I stand to be corrected on that—for an 80% cut in the UK’s CO2 emissions by 2050. I did not vote for that because I thought it was, to coin a phrase, hot air and, sadly, in the years since that Act has been passed, I have been proved right, as we see tonight.
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. Climate change legislation is devolved and the Scottish Parliament has its own Act in which the targets are even more ambitious and well on the way to being met.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that. Can he inform the Committee how on earth Scotland and the Scotland Parliament are going to meet those figures if they are intent on increasing the number of airline passengers?
Because, as one of the hon. Gentleman’s hon. Friends alluded to, one direct flight is better than two indirect flights.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the whole history of airline travel hitherto has been that it increases exponentially. It has done so, and if allowed to do so, will continue.
So I do not share this cosy consensus. I am not part of the airline and airport love-ins. As Members will know, airlines and their passengers already get a huge subsidy because of the low price they pay for airline fuel—kerosene. Members ought to bear this in mind when debating APD: no doubt the figures are lower in Scotland, but across the UK in any given year half the population do not fly. I believe that hon. Members have a completely distorted view of this matter. I suspect that I am one of the very few Members of this House who does not fly; I have not flown for years. I suspect that every other Member has a distorted view, based on self-interest. [Interruption.] It is not me who is causing a huge amount of environmental degradation through flying. The greenhouse gases emitted by aeroplanes at high altitude are far more damaging than the same amount of greenhouse gases emitted at sea level. Air travel is the most polluting form of mass travel.
In that context, I regret that the Government are devolving air passenger duty. Yes, I would increase it. The UK Government will live to regret this measure, because we are clearly heading towards the abolition of air passenger duty in Scotland and, eventually, through a process of “beggar my neighbour” downwards, across the rest of the United Kingdom. That will be another nail in the coffin of the doomed and uneconomic HS2 railway line. People will continue to fly south from Scotland and the north of England, and vice versa, rather than using the HS2 line. It is already uneconomic and, with the abolition of air passenger duty, it will become even more so.
I do not want to detain the Committee for long, but let me just pose a few questions on what has been said about air passenger duty and the aggregates levy. I shall start with air passenger duty. Prior to the election, Opposition Members wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking what impact a rate of air passenger duty that was higher in Scotland than in England would have on regional English airports and Scottish airports. Will the Minister tell us what the Government’s movements have been on that impact assessment?
Hon. Members were berating my hon. Friend Rob Marris a moment ago, but he has raised an incredibly important environmental issue. The issue has been raised directly by the Committee on Climate Change, which reported recently that Scotland had missed its climate change target by 4.5%, the third time in a row that it had missed an annual target. The report also asked the Scottish Government to assess the impact of carbon on the economy in relation to the slashing of air passenger duty. I cannot ask the Scottish Government this question directly from the Dispatch Box, but can the Minister tell me whether an environmental assessment has been carried out on the raising or lowering of the duty?
On the aggregates levy, will the Minister tell us what progress has been made on resolving the legal issues relating to state aid and when we can expect the levy to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
We have had a reasonably lengthy debate in which Members have not, for the most part, tended to differ on the substance of the clause on air passenger duty, although Rob Marris is never afraid of setting out a contrary opinion. In fact, some Opposition Back Benchers argued for the abolition of APD, which would cost about £3.2 billion, while others argued for increasing it. If there is a need for fresh thinking among Labour Members, we are hearing plenty of it this evening, even if there has not been much in the way of coherence.
I am aware of those studies. I will not detain the Committee for long on this subject, but we do not agree with the conclusions of the PwC study. We do not believe that the benefits of abolition would be as significant as the study suggests.
The hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and for North Durham (Mr Jones) talked about the impact on regional airports of the devolution of APD to Scotland. We recognise the potential impacts and the Government are reviewing options for supporting regional airports to deal with the effects of devolution. We will be publishing a discussion paper on this later in the summer and our document will address many of the concerns raised during today’s debate by the hon. Gentleman. I will ensure that it is available to Members of this House.
There are arguments and different views as to the economic impact of cutting APD. We are legislating to devolve this to Scotland, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be supporting this legislation. That move is also part of the Smith commission arrangements. It has potential knock-on effects for regional airports, particularly those close to the Scottish border. As I say, we are reviewing our options there and will report later in the summer.
One advantage of the reduction in APD that we have been able to achieve in Northern Ireland is on the main flight between Belfast Aldergrove and New York city. That flight is well used, it has made Aldergrove’s position more powerful and it has connected the United States and Northern Ireland—I could say more. That is just an example from Northern Ireland, and the effect of one flight could be replicated across the whole United Kingdom.
Again, the hon. Gentleman is making a particular case. There are particular circumstances applying to that flight to the US, especially the competition that existed from the Republic of Ireland, which was why steps were taken on that point. As I say, we will be setting out options—
Is the Minister telling the House tonight that the Chancellor has changed his views? When he went before the Treasury Committee last year, he talked about the effects on Newcastle, which he said would be about 10%. He said:
“That was work carried out a couple of years ago, but in Newcastle’s case, its traffic was up 12% last year, so I think these are manageable.”
Is the Minister now giving a commitment that this will be looked at or is the Chancellor sticking to his position that a reduction of 10% would be acceptable and “manageable” for Newcastle?
Let me repeat what I said earlier: there are potential impacts of devolution on regional airports, the Government are reviewing options for supporting regional airports in the light of those effects and we will publish a discussion paper later in the summer. I understand that the hon. Gentleman, who has campaigned consistently on this matter, may be a little impatient, but if he will just bear with us for a little longer—
I understand the constraints and I would not expect the Minister to criticise his boss. He said a discussion paper will be coming out, but what is the timescale going to be? Clearly if the Scottish Government move to reduce APD as quickly as they get the powers, that will have a direct effect on places such as Newcastle. What timescale is he looking at?
Is it the Government’s view that the existence of APD has had any effect on the number of airline passengers flying to and from the UK, and within the UK, in each year since it came in? Do the
Government think the existence of that tax has lessened the numbers, had no effect on them or, paradoxically, increased them?
I should put it as neutrally as I possibly can. We do not believe that the behavioural effects are as great as those set out in the PwC report, which is why we believe APD does raise revenue. There is a consensus—not a universal consensus—that it is right that we move on APD. On the point about regional airports, we will come back to that later in the summer.
May I also pick up the point on the aggregates levy? Ian Murray asked about the likely progress on legal matters. The European Commission was forced to reconsider its 2002 decision that the exemptions from the levy did not provide state aid following legal action by the British Aggregates Association. It announced its decision in March, finding that the levy as a whole was lawful, as were most of the exemptions. The Government are currently informally consulting trade associations on draft legislation to reinstate those exemptions—for example on slate and clay—found lawful by the Commission in March 2015.
With those points of clarification, I hope that the clauses before us can stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.