Landfill tax: taxable disposals

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 25 April 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Panel of Chairs

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Clauses 61 to 64 stand part.

Amendment 1, in clause 65, page 73, line 4, leave out subsection (2).

Clauses 65 to 70 stand part.

New clause 3—Review of oil and gas corporation tax rates and investment allowances—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within two months of the passing of this Act, commission a review of the corporation tax rates and investment allowances applicable to companies producing oil and gas in the UK or on the UK continental shelf.

(2) A report of the review under subsection (1) must be laid before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

New clause 4—Review of tax regime relating to decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within two months of the passing of this Act, commission a review of the ways in which the tax regime could be changed to increase the competitiveness of UK-registered companies in bidding for supply chain contracts associated with the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure or the development of new fields in the UK continental shelf.

(2) In undertaking the review under subsection (1), the Chancellor of the Exchequer must consult—

(a) the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy;

(b) the Oil and Gas Authority;

(c) Scottish Ministers; and

(d) such other stakeholders as the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks appropriate.

(3) A report of the review under subsection (1) must be laid before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I plan to focus my comments in this part of the debate on alcohol duties, which I anticipate will be of greatest interest to hon. Members. Other clauses within the group provide for other duty changes, and a new clause has been tabled by Kirsty Blackman on the oil and gas decommissioning regime, which we may come to.

Clause 65 sets out changes to alcohol duty rates that took effect on 13 March 2017. We announced in the 2017 Budget that the duty rates on beer, cider, wine and spirits will be kept flat in real terms, uprating by retail price index inflation. This is in line with policy and previous forecasts. As hon. Members will probably be aware, the public finances assume that alcohol duties rise by RPI inflation each year, so there is a cost to the Exchequer from freezing or cutting alcohol duty rates. If alcohol duty rates had been frozen or cut at Budget 2017, the Government would instead have had to raise taxes in other areas of the economy, to cut public spending or to increase the public deficit. Consumers and businesses continue to benefit from the previous alcohol duty changes, which initial estimates suggest will save them around £3 billion in duty between fiscal years 2013 and 2017. I will now briefly set out how past duty changes and other Government policies have affected different drinks and the sector.

I will start with spirits duty. The Government recognise the important contribution that Scotch whisky makes to the economy and local communities. The Scotch Whisky Association, which I had a meeting with and had the chance to hear from directly, estimates that Scotch whisky adds over £5 billion overall to the UK economy and supports more than 40,000 jobs, some 7,000 of which are in the rural economy. Distilleries provide an important source of employment in rural communities. The Scotch Whisky Association estimates that exports to nearly 200 countries in every continent were worth nearly £4 billion last year and accounted for about 20% of all UK food and drink exports. Single malt Scotch whisky exports exceeded £1 billion for the first time last year, and more Scotch whisky is sold in France in just one month than cognac in an entire year.

The Government are committed to supporting this great British success story. Scotch whisky was one of the first food and drink products to feature in the GREAT campaign, giving it high visibility internationally in key markets. More recently, the Scotch Whisky Association joined my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on her trade mission to India last year. Scotch whisky is currently just 1% of the Indian spirits market, but it has the potential to grow to 5% with the right trade agreement. That would be equivalent to a 10% increase in the current global trade in Scotch.

The spirits duty escalator was ended in 2014, and the tax on a bottle of Scotch whisky is now 90p lower than it would otherwise have been. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North has tabled an amendment to reverse the uprating as applied to spirits. To be clear, that would not help exports, because the £4 billion of exports a year are unaffected by the duty change, as no duty is paid on exported spirits. Instead, it would help those selling in the UK market. The amendment would cost the Exchequer, and so increase the deficit by, around £100 million this year. For the reasons I have indicated—not least the bottom line scorecard cost—the Government reject the amendment, which would not help exporters of whisky or other spirits and which is unfunded. Clause 65 will keep spirit duty rates flat in real terms, so consumers will continue to benefit from the previous change to spirit duty rates.

While we are on spirits, I should touch on another great British success: the UK gin industry. When I met the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, it informed me that, in 2016, gin sales exceeded £1 billion for the first time in the UK. I suspect that many of us will be partaking of a number of these products in the weeks ahead. [Interruption.] I said many of us. We will be partaking perhaps in celebration or perhaps for sustenance or who knows what reason. It is good that we put these British success stories on record.

I was also told that the number of gin brands has more than doubled since 2010. [Interruption.] Yes, doubles all round. The price of a typical bottle of gin remains 84p lower than it would have been now that we have ended the spirits duty escalator. As with Scotch whisky, no UK duty is payable on exported gin.

As well as ending the spirits duty escalator, we also ended the beer duty escalator to help pubs. Pubs play an important role in promoting responsible drinking, providing employment and contributing to community life—that sentiment is expressed regularly on both sides of the House. Brewers also make an important contribution to local economies. The increase in the number of small breweries in recent years has increased diversity and choice in the beer market. By promoting interest in a larger range of beers, it has benefited all brewers.

The clause will not undo the previous beer duty cuts or freezes. The Government cut the tax on a typical pint by one penny at Budgets 2013, 2014 and 2015 and then froze duty rates last year. As a result, drinkers are paying 11p less in tax on a typical pint this year than they otherwise would have paid.

On wine duty, the Government are committed to supporting the UK wine industry. The first joint industry and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wine roundtable last year resulted in a set of industry targets, including to increase wine exports tenfold and to double production to 10 million bottles by 2020. The wine sector will continue to benefit from the previous changes to wine duty rates.

Cider makers, too, play an important role in rural economies, using over half the apples grown in the UK. The duty on a typical pint of cider remains around half the duty on a typical pint of beer. The tax on a typical pint remains 3p lower than it would otherwise have been, as a result of the Government’s changes to cider duty rates since Budget 2014.

To conclude, we fully recognise the importance of the alcohol industry to the economy and local communities. I have talked with and met various representatives from across the industry, and I will, of course, continue to engage with them. The cuts and freezes in duty rates since the ending of the alcohol duty escalators continue to deliver great benefits. They will save consumers and businesses around £3 billion in duty between fiscal years 2013 and 2017. However, allowing alcohol duties to fall every year in real terms would be unsustainable in the long term. If alcohol duties had been frozen or cut at Budget 2017, the Government would instead have had to raise taxes in other areas of the economy, cut public spending or increase the public deficit. The clause simply increases duties in line with inflation, as assumed in the fiscal forecasts. This is not a return to the real-terms increases year after year imposed by the alcohol duty escalator. I therefore suggest that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

I will start by talking about alcohol and whisky, and then I will move on to talk about oil and gas. Specifically on whisky, I appreciate the Minister taking the time to talk about the contribution of the Scotch whisky industry. It does, indeed, contribute to our economy; of particular note are the 40,000 jobs it provides, including the 7,000 in the rural economy, which are really important for Scotland’s rural communities.

The positive changes the UK Government previously made to spirit duty meant there was confidence in the industry again, and we have seen a real change in the industry over the last couple of years, with a dozen new distilleries opening and 14 in various stages of planning, but the changes that have been made this year will put 36p on a bottle of whisky and mean that £4 of every £5 spent on whisky goes to the UK Government’s coffers.

My hon. Friend Brendan O'Hara, who is the chair of the all-party group on Scotch whisky, spoke about this issue on Second Reading, although not at enough length—he got only four minutes. He is really concerned about distilleries. I appreciate the Minister talking about the success story that the gin industry has been for new distilleries—it takes a long time to mature Scotch whisky but not to mature gin, so distilleries can be up and running pretty quickly. The issue is the context in which things are seen. I understand that, as the Minister said, the change will not affect those selling abroad, but given that most producers sell whisky in the domestic market, it will obviously have an effect on those who also sell abroad.

In the wider context of Brexit, where the trade deals we currently have will no longer exist and we will have to negotiate new trade deals, including with the EU, if we are to sell whisky to France, as the Minister mentioned, we will have to have a trade deal. We will have to have trade deals with all the countries we trade with under the EU’s free trade agreements.

A major concern for those of us who represent constituencies involved with whisky is the protected geographical indication. The EU has protected geographical indication status, so people are not allowed to bottle whisky somewhere else and call it Scotch whisky. We are set to lose that protection when the UK leaves the EU, and it is important that the UK Government do what they can to ensure that the Scotch whisky industry can continue to trade and protect its brand—but I do not see that coming through. If the Government had not raised duty in this Budget on spirits and on whisky in particular, the industry would have known that it had the confidence of the UK Government and been in a much better position to take decisions.

Moving on to oil and gas, we have two new clauses on the amendment paper. New clauses 3 and 4 on behalf of the SNP are in my name, and I particularly thank my hon. Friend Callum McCaig for his input into them. New clause 3 is about investment allowances. This Tory Government have come up with a line that we are one of the most competitive fiscal regimes for oil and gas, which is all well and good, but we also have one of the most mature fields in the world. In the North sea and on the UK continental shelf, we are also having to do things and implement technologies we have never seen before. A huge amount of innovation from our companies is having to go on in order for them to be able to achieve the UK Government’s and Sir Ian Wood’s maximising economic recovery strategy.

New clause 3 is about investment allowances and corporation tax rates on companies producing oil and gas. The UK Government have put the tax up and put it down, but they have not at any stage sat down and looked at the entire taxation regime for the oil and gas industry and said, “We are operating in a new scenario.” They have kept the level of taxes that we have had since oil and gas began to be taken out of the North sea. It is time for the UK Government to look at that tax structure and those tax regimes to see how they can incentivise companies to ensure that they are getting the best out of the North sea and securing jobs in the north-east of Scotland, and beyond, for as long-term a future as possible.

New clause 4 is particularly about the competitiveness of UK-registered companies. I have mentioned decommissioning and the development of new fields in the UKCS around us. The new clause is similar to one that we tabled to last year’s Finance Bill. I would really like the Government to take action on this. Whenever I go to meet supply chain companies or individuals working at the coalface, as it were, in oil and gas, they tell me that this is a major issue. Decommissioning is beginning in the North sea, where some of the fields are at the end of their life and some installations are at the end of their usable life, whatever we do. This is still a relatively new thing for us, and our supply chain companies are having to innovate. We do not want any of the jobs created in decommissioning to go abroad if we can possibly help it. We would like this UK Government to look at what they can do to the tax regime to ensure that those jobs are kept in the UK as far as they possibly can be.

We are also asking about that in relation to new fields. On Second Reading, I spoke about small pools, which have fewer than 50 million barrels of oil. In this current tax system and fiscal situation, they are not particularly economically viable, and so the vast majority will not be exploited. If changes were made to the tax regime in order for these small pools to be exploited, and further encouragement given to enable companies to develop new technologies so that we can access small pools, the UK Government’s tax take would increase. If we just leave them there, there will be a problem, particularly further down the line. A number of the small pools rely on current installations, and if the big installation in the middle is decommissioned, we lose access to all the smaller fields round about. The UK Government therefore absolutely need to be on top of that today.

Finally on oil and gas, I turn to something that made me pretty angry in the Budget debate. The Chancellor announced that he was going to make it easier for companies to transfer late-life assets—that is, installations that are near the end of their useful life—and said, “We’re going to have a commission to look into this.” That is exactly what the Chancellor announced in the Budget last year, apart from saying that we would have a commission. If the Government had done it last year, they would not need a commission this year. I know that this is a technical matter, but the Government need to get themselves in gear and make these changes so that the assets can be transferred from the big player who has other things to focus on to a new player coming into the industry who can make the most of the asset and ensure that as much oil and gas is extracted from the field as possible. I appreciate that the Government are having a commission, although I would rather that they had done it last year. We will be absolutely on board in supporting this change happening as soon as possible.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 60 accordingly disagreed to.

Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 62 to 63 disagreed to.

Clauses 64 and 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 66 and 67 disagreed to.

Clauses 68 and 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 70 disagreed to.

Clause 71