Aviation: Passenger Duty — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 2:45 pm, 23rd January 2012

To ask Her Majesty's Government what criteria they took into account when deciding to increase the rate of air passenger duty, in particular in respect of flights to the Caribbean.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, the new rates of air passenger duty, or APD, which take effect from 1 April 2012, were confirmed in the Autumn Statement following a freeze in APD rates in 2011-12. Over the two-year period 2011-12 to 2012-13 APD rates, including those for flights to the Caribbean, will rise in line with the retail prices index. This increase, which does no more than keep pace with inflation, is necessary if the Government are to meet their overall fiscal projections.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer, but he is aware that air passenger duty is less if you fly to Hawaii than to Barbados, even though that is nearly double the distance. However, the Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world and the distortions created by APD rates are damaging to Caribbean countries-loyal friends and supporters of Britain. Would the Government consider amending the rates of APD to the Caribbean islands if they nominated Bermuda, an associate member of CARICOM, as their capital, bringing their banding into line with the US, their major tourism competitor? If not, what plans do the Government have to provide economic support to the Caribbean now that its livelihood is threatened?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, in the current economic climate, air passenger duty is clearly a burden on all businesses whether in the Caribbean, the UK, or wherever else they are based. That is why we had a one-year freeze, although it is right that aviation should make a fair contribution. However a banding structure works, it is bound to have anomalies. It is the case, as many noble Lords will know, that because the banding works in essence on where the capital city is, the anomalies are indeed there, as my noble friend says, but whenever there are bandings there will be anomalies. We listened to the case that was made very well by the Caribbean authorities, including the tourist organisation, during our full consultation last year. We have no plans to make any further changes, other than those set out in the response to the consultation, but I hear very clearly what my noble friend says about how challenging the situation remains.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Labour

My Lords, do the Government accept that the Caribbean now has a number of very fragile economies and that these duties will have a disproportionate, deleterious effect on their well-being, and therefore will in many ways affect the United Kingdom too, which benefits greatly from many of those who hail from that region?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, although I do not underestimate for one moment the effect on the Caribbean, there will be very many businesses located there, here and in other places for which air passenger duty is a burden. The present system of four bands was introduced by the previous Government. We had a one-year freeze in order to recognise the difficult situation in which people were placed by this and we looked at it. However, the fact is that the APD raised approximately £2.5 billion in 2011-12 and is an important revenue-raising duty.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, what would be the effect of the suggestion that was made about Bermuda? Would it be possible for the Caribbean countries to reclassify themselves with Bermuda? What would that involve and would it make quite a difference to them, as has been claimed with regard to the United States?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

That is a hypothetical question because there is no live question about there being a way to reclassify the Caribbean somehow from band C to band B. To illustrate the broader point, however, many of the respondents to the consultation suggested that we should move back from four bands to two, but that would have resulted in all those in short-haul bands A and B paying more, so it would have increased the air passenger duty for 91 per cent of all passengers paying it. There is no easy way of moving places from one band to another.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, the Minister has referred to a number of anomalies. Does he accept that the anomalies display unfairness, and what are the Government going to do about them?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

As I have explained, the previous Government moved from a two-band system to a four-band one, which raised in the order of £300 million when they came into office and, by the time they left office, was raising in the order of £1 billion. These things are not easy. Where there are real difficulties, however, the Government recognise them. For example, special arrangements have been put in place for long-haul flights out of Northern Ireland to recognise its very special circumstances-its land border with a country that has no APD-and to preserve its flights to the United States. We have said that we will also look at the possible devolution of APD to Wales and Scotland.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative

My Lords, one of the ways in which the system deals with anomalies is to divide large countries such as the Russian Federation into two APD bands. Why has it not been possible to have such a solution for the United States and Canada, which remain in one band and which creates the injustice that my noble friend Lady Benjamin referred to?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, after reviewing this question at considerable length, a decision was taken to leave well alone on all this. As I have tried to explain, as soon as one moves one thing, that opens up the question of all sorts of other adjustments to maintain the revenue.