VED: rates for light passenger vehicles, light goods vehicles, motorcycles etc

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury) 11:30 am, 6th December 2018

I beg to move amendment 108, in clause 57, page 40, line 12, at end insert—

“(10) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the revenue effects of the changes made to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 by this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the revenue impact of Clause 57.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 109, in clause 57, page 40, line 12, at end insert—

“(10) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on levels of CO emissions and the UK’s ability to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets of the changes made to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 by this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of clause 57 on CO2 emissions and climate change targets.

Amendment 110, in clause 57, page 40, line 12, at end insert—

“(10) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on the volume of traffic on the roads of the changes made to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 by this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of clause 57 on road congestion and traffic levels.

Amendment 111, in clause 57, page 40, line 12, at end insert—

“(10) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on air quality standards of the changes made to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 by this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 57 on air quality standards.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the clause and our amendments. As the Minister might outline shortly, the clause provides for changes to certain levels of vehicle excise duty, which I will refer to as VED, by amending the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, which will now be known as VERA—there are lots of acronyms in this.

Changes to the rates are due to take effect in relation to vehicle licences taken out on or after 1 April 2019. VED is chargeable on vehicles, dependent on various factors, such as vehicle type, engine size, date of first registration, carbon emissions data—indirectly—and other emissions’ impacts, such as air quality and public health. I will not go through all the changes to the various excise duty rates as they apply to the different types of vehicle covered by the clause. At this stage, I will simply note that they are relatively small.

The amendment would require the Chancellor to review the revenue impact of the clause and to publish the findings. That would allow the House, not to mention the drivers of those classes of vehicle and the public at large, to understand the impact on the public purse. Without such an assessment, neither the Government nor indeed Committee members would know how much additional money was available to redirect into measures to help drivers—in particular those on low incomes—to take up cleaner vehicles to the benefit of the natural environment and public health. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have undertaken any such assessment? If so, will he commit to publish it? If they have not, will he undertake to do so?

The amendment would require the Chancellor to review the impact of the clause on carbon dioxide emissions and the UK’s climate change targets, and to publish that analysis. As the Minister might confirm, road transport accounts for 22% of total UK carbon dioxide emissions—a major contributor to climate change. The European Union has agreements with motor manufacturers that aim to reduce average CO2 emissions from new cars. Colour-coded labels, similar to those used on washing machines and fridges, are now displayed in car showrooms, showing how much CO2 new models emit per kilometre. However, as traffic levels are predicted to increase, road transport will continue to be a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Given that light vehicles and other vehicles covered by the clause contribute substantially to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, will the Minister explain why no such climate impact assessment has been carried out? How will the Government take a lead internationally in the fight to keep average atmospheric temperatures below 1.5° C in the absence of full monitoring and measurement of all greenhouse gas emissions from all sources? He will surely also need to apply “polluter pays” disincentives in the form of increased taxes, for example, including relevant changes to VED.

Finally, will the Minister give a commitment that any such planned or future increase in VED will be recycled into helping drivers to adopt low-emission fuel alternatives, such as electric vehicles or, in future, hydrogen-powered vehicles—that is particularly important to help drivers who must use their vehicles for work purposes as well as for leisure activities—or, where convenient, into helping public transport alternatives, which are rarely available in some parts of the country and many rural areas?

Amendment 110 would require the Chancellor to review the impact of the clause on road congestion and traffic levels and to publish the results. Vehicle use affects our whole quality of local life: traffic can be dangerous and intimidating, dividing communities and making street life unpleasant, while air pollution and traffic noise can make urban living uncomfortable. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, taxing only fuel consumption and car ownership, no matter how the taxes are differentiated by emissions and engine size, cannot result in anything approaching an optimal tax, because neither is a good proxy for the impact of car use on congestion.

Many journeys occur on relatively empty roads. Those journeys are overtaxed because the congestion cost imposed on other road users is minimal. Rural road users are overtaxed relative to those who regularly drive in towns during busy periods. The result is too much driving in towns relative to the amount of driving in less congested areas, and the build-up of noxious fumes and climate-changing pollution. Those adverse impacts are in addition to the disruption for all drivers, who are less able to move freely and go about their business or other driving activities efficiently and without wasting so much time stuck in their vehicles. Not only is that personally frustrating and a contributor to so-called road rage, but the impact on economic and social productivity should be minimised. Will the Minister therefore explain why there has been no assessment of the impact of the clause on road congestion and traffic levels, or publish any that has been carried out?

Amendment 111 is similar, requiring the Government to assess the impact of the clause on air quality standards. As the Minister must be aware, air pollutants in transport include nitrogen oxide, particles, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, all of which have a damaging impact locally on the health of people, animals and vegetation. Air quality in the UK might be slowly improving, but many areas still fail to meet the health-based national air quality objectives and European limit values, particularly for particles and nitrogen dioxide.

In town centres and along busy roads, vehicles are responsible for most local pollution. Vehicles of all types tend to emit more pollution during the first few miles of a journey, when their engines are warming up. Although new technology and cleaner fuel formulations will continue to cut emissions of pollutants, these benefits are being eroded by the increasing number of vehicles on the road, including motorcycles, and the number of miles driven. Can the Minister please explain why he does not believe that any such assessment, as set out in our amendment, is necessary to understand the impact of the clause on such a critical aspect of road use?

Amendments 108 and 111 also allow us to address a particular aspect of the total revenue impact and the impact of the measure on air quality: the specific amount raised from VED in London and the extra amount that would be raised as a consequence of the clause, and the consequent impact on air quality.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

Are our amendments not particularly important in the light of fact that the Government have been taken to court three times by ClientEarth for failing European air quality standards and have lost three times?

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. The point has not been lost on many people, including in my own city of Norwich, where some people are part of a court case against the Government on this issue and on others relating to climate change. It is something that many people are concerned about, especially given the impact on very young children, who are often lower to the ground and closer to the fumes. I welcome the point my hon. Friend has raised.

This issue is directly relevant, because an element of VED revenue take, including the extra amount raised by the clause, is ring-fenced to provide a fund of about £500 million for air quality. Londoners are contributing to this, in common with the rest of the country. The Government have allocated about £255 million of that funding for clean air zone implementation and another £220 million for the clean air fund, including supporting measures to soften the impacts of clean air zones on the poorest and on small businesses. They also allocated an extra £20 million to £25 million in the Budget for city air quality measures.

London, however, is excluded from all that funding. The Government previously said that this is because London received a generous air quality settlement in 2015 under the then Mayor, who is now better known as the failed former Foreign Secretary. Frankly, that is an absurd claim, and I hope the Minister will not stretch his credibility by repeating it to the Committee today. In reality, the Government reduced the revenue grant by a far greater amount than any extra funding for air quality, reducing it from £700 million to nothing in this financial year. The Mayor’s office received no air quality funding from the Government as part of the last comprehensive spending review. Unlike other cities, London is not getting help to implement the ultra low emission zone, and nor can the Greater London Authority access the mitigation funding to help small businesses and low-income people in other cities to meet new vehicle emission standards. That is perverse.

In addition, that predates the changes to VED, which Londoners are contributing to, and ignores the fact that, quite frankly, the current London Mayor has far greater ambition on air quality than his predecessor did. London is introducing the first, biggest and most ambitious clean air zone—the ultra low emission zone—on 8 April 2019. This is an essential part of the national air quality plan to achieve compliance with our legal obligations.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Is my hon. Friend aware that my city, Oxford, is due potentially to be the first city in Europe with a zero emissions zone? We need more support for such initiatives from the Government—more than has been forthcoming up to this point.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Yes, I was aware of that. Labour local authorities in Oxford and across the country do fantastic work on the issue, but they often do so in isolation and with limited support from central Government. The Government should really be getting behind them, given the severe impact that poor air quality can have, not just on children, but on all of us—it is now believed to be connected to the onset of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.

The London Mayor has proposed a targeted scrappage scheme that uses camera data to ensure that only vehicles that are regularly in the ultra low emission zone receive scrappage funding. The proposal meets the criteria set out in the five-case model in the Treasury’s Green Book and has a positive business case ratio.

Will the Minister confirm that none of the general VED revenue will be spent in London, because the Treasury plans to give it to Highways England to maintain strategically important roads outside London? Strategically important roads in London are maintained by Transport for London without any Government support or a share of VED income. Frankly, I suspect that any assessment made under our amendments would reveal that money is available from the proceeds of VED, which of course will rise under the new rates proposed in clause 57. I am also confident that any assessment under amendment 111 would show that reducing harmful emissions in London is vital to our national effort on climate change and air quality, let alone the fact that it would address the suffering of ordinary people in our most congested city.

It is fair to say that there is a strong suspicion that the Government’s political refusal to support Londoners owes more to Londoners’ refusal to support them at the ballot box than to the best interests of the city or the country as a whole. If the Minister wants to dispel that impression, will he clarify what share of VED revenue comes from London now and what share he expects to come from London after the passage of the Bill?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am a London MP and my constituency borders the North Circular road. The Mayor has introduced a low emission zone for part of the road, but more is needed to reduce emissions. Does my hon. Friend agree that funding from this measure should go towards introducing low emission zones in other parts of London as well?

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Yes, I do. I do not think that there is a lack of ambition from the Mayor of London or from local authorities around the country; ultimately what holds them back is a lack of resources. Will the Minister commit to using the revenue to offer London the same air quality funding that is being made available to other parts of the country, to ensure that ultra low emission zones are a success?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

It is good to be back, Mr Howarth. As we have heard, clause 57 will make changes to vehicle excise duty rates for cars, vans and motorcycles with effect from 1 April 2019. As announced in the Budget, those rates will increase in line with the retail prices index from that date. As a result, they will have remained unchanged in real terms since 2010, with additional significant incentives for ultra low and zero emission cars. That comes on top of the Government’s decision to freeze fuel duty rates for the ninth successive year, which by April 2020 will have saved the average car driver £1,000 compared with the pre-2010 escalator.

Cars first registered on or after March 2001 pay VED based on their carbon dioxide emissions; 87% of those cars will pay no more than £5 extra in 2019-20. From April 2017, a reformed VED system was introduced that strengthens the environmental incentives when cars are first purchased, with all cars paying a standard rate in subsequent years. The standard rate will increase by £5 only. Expensive cars with a list price of more than £40,000 pay an additional supplement for five years of paying the standard rate. That will increase from £310 to £320, so it is only a modest increase, and it will affect about 7% of new car purchases. Finally, the flat rate for vans will increase by £10, and for motorcyclists there will be no more than a £3 increase in rates. We believe that those are modest, incremental changes, which protect the public finances but also pay careful attention to the cost of living for motorists.

Amendments 108 to 111, which the hon. Member for Norwich South has spoken about, would require the Government to review the impact of the clauses on various grounds: revenue, carbon dioxide emissions, carbon budgets, traffic volumes and air quality standards. I shall come on to his wider comment about the granularity of the available data in relation to understanding the impact on London, and his important points about air quality more generally—in all parts of the country, but particularly London. I hope to give him some reassurance on those points.

As I have said, the clause increases VED rates only by RPI. It maintains VED revenue in real terms for 2019-20, ensuring that motorists continue to pay a fair contribution to the public finances. As VED is increased only by RPI, the clause has no revenue impacts, as the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast assumes that rates will rise by RPI already. The impact is already in the public domain, and there is of course no revenue impact other than the increase by RPI. I am therefore not sure whether there would be any benefit from further information in that regard.

In relation to statistics and data in the public domain, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency publishes VED revenues on an annual basis as part of its annual report and accounts. In 2017-18 VED raised about £6 billion, making an important contribution to the public finances. We announced previously, and reconfirmed at the Budget, that VED revenues will be hypothecated towards the roads fund, which will fund strategic road investment across the country. I shall come in a moment to the point made by the hon. Member for Norwich South about London; but it is important to note that from 2020 the roads fund will, at £25 billion, be the largest we have had. It will make a major contribution to the improvement of strategic roads across the country, and it will invest in tackling productivity, by reducing congestion and helping people get more quickly to work and elsewhere.

As VED is a tax on car ownership, it is unrelated to congestion or traffic volumes. The changes will not, therefore, have an impact on the volume of traffic on the roads, air quality or our ability to meet CO2 emissions targets, as, I think, the amendments suggest.

The hon. Gentleman raised a distinction between supporting drivers in rural areas, who may well drive longer distances, and supporting those in urban areas, who might drive shorter distances. That is why, in addition to keeping VED low, and in this case increasing it only by RPI, our primary intervention has been the freezing of fuel duty—for eight successive years. That particularly helps those on lower incomes who must drive considerable distances to work or to the other appointments and engagements of daily life, particularly in rural areas.

I am pleased to report that the Government’s most recent projections on climate change, for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, suggest that we could deliver 97% and 95% respectively of our required performance against 1990 levels. Of course there is always more that we would like to do, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree. However, the VED system continues to incentivise motorists to choose cars with low CO2 emissions to help in meeting our legally binding targets. On first registration, zero emission cars pay no VED, while the most polluting models pay more than £2,000, so we are taking action in that regard.

On improving air quality, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the Government announced in the Budget an additional £20 million to help more local authorities meet their air quality obligations. That is in addition to the £255 million implementation fund and the £220 million clean air fund announced last year. Those were introduced alongside the diesel supplement, which incentivises manufacturers to bring cleaner diesels to the market. Many are doing so, but we appreciate that important British manufacturers have not yet done so, and we are in regular consultation and engagement with them. They are clearly all working on this, and we want to support them to get to the point that they can bring such vehicles to the market and improve their position accordingly. Those measures are unaffected by the changes made by the clause.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will shortly publish the clean air strategy, which I hope will answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s perfectly legitimate questions about the long-term scale of our ambition to support communities. All of us who live part of the time in cities or bring up our children in cities want a significant improvement in air quality, and that strategy will be ambitious.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy) 11:45 am, 6th December 2018

I appreciate that the Minister is providing all this information in answer to issues raised by the amendments. Given that he has all the information, it would be great if he just put it into a review, as the amendments would require, so that we could see it written down in six months’ time.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I take the hon. Lady’s point, but the information is mostly already in the public domain. It is not clear to me what information is not available. With respect to air quality, the Government will very shortly publish our ambitious clean air strategy. I encourage her and other hon. Members who, perfectly understandably, want to scrutinise our clean air commitments to pay attention to that document and scrutinise the Environment Secretary at that point. No doubt he will come to the House to make an announcement on the strategy.

The hon. Member for Norwich South also mentioned London. London already has a separate comprehensive funding settlement from the Department for Transport, which includes measures to deliver compliance with legal air quality limits. The Mayor has significant powers to take additional measures. Londoners also receive further funding for ultra low emission vehicles such as taxis. Indeed, measures in the Bill support the uptake of ultra low emission taxis. We took those measures a year early, as we will discuss later, and they have had a significant impact on the number of taxis on the streets of London. There are now between 500 and 600 electric or ultra low emission taxis that did not exist at the beginning of the year, incentivised by the measures taken by the Treasury. We are also supporting low emission buses and charging infrastructure. The Committee has already discussed the £200 million public investment in charging infrastructure, which we hope will spur at least a further £200 million of private investment. That will support charging infrastructure in all parts of the United Kingdom.

I hope hon. Members respect the fact that we consider the funding settlement for London’s roads as separate from that for the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a long-standing convention. We occasionally provide additional money. For instance, in the Budget the Chancellor provided more than £400 million for potholes. He included London in that, so London boroughs are able to take advantage of that money, but in general the funding settlement for London’s roads is separate from the negotiation with respect to Highways England.

I urge the Committee to reject the amendments, as I believe the reports they would require are unnecessary. The changes outlined in the clause will ensure that the Government continue to support motorists with the cost of living while ensuring that they continue to make a fair contribution to the public finances. As a result of our decision to hypothecate VED revenues, we will see a major increase in investment in our strategic roads, which I hope will benefit everyone in all parts of the United Kingdom. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for trying to answer some of our questions, but I still find myself with questions. It seems that there is a basic issue of transparency here. If, as he is saying, the Department for Transport has given certain funding to London—I am sure that is true—it would do no harm to make transparent what other funding is going to other parts of the country, so that the figures can be compared and contrasted to ensure that London is getting its fair share. The Mayor of London clearly does not believe that it is getting its fair share. It is the capital city—it has a large population, many vehicles on the road and a high population density—and all that is being asked for here is transparency.

On the issue of there being no assessment of the impact of the clause on road congestion on traffic levels, the Minister said that VED has a limited impact on that, but that is quite an arbitrary statement. Taxes have two effects: they can raise revenue and they can change behaviour. It is normally one or the other, but there are variations and it is sometimes a bit of both. I do not think it is beyond the ken of the Government to assess the potential impact of the VED increases on congestion levels, given that we have all agreed that air quality in this country is in a pretty poor state. Tens of thousands of people are dying prematurely or are adversely affected every single year.

To echo the sentiment of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, it would not be too much trouble to write a report along the lines that we have asked for and make it available to Parliament. So go on, please.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

The hon. Gentleman tempts me, but on this occasion I will resist his request. On the two issues he raises, the clause is not increasing VED; it is simply allowing it to rise with RPI, so the clause has no revenue impact; the public finances assume that VED and many other duties will rise with RPI, so its impact will be negligible. This is not a substantial or material increase in VED. I really do not think there would be any value in having a review.

On the wider question of roads funding, all this information is in the public domain. The settlement with respect to roads for London is in the public domain, as is the settlement for the roads fund. Which roads will then be funded through the roads investment strategy, which will be set out in the middle of next year, will be in the public domain. All these investments are highly transparent, as one would expect. That information is available to all hon. Members, should they wish to view it.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

My observation is that an awful lot of money is spent in London, compared with the regions of this country, whether the north-west or south-west. There may be a very good reason for that—London is a very important city for our nation—but I would not be inclined to vote even more money to London, bearing in mind that it has the biggest infrastructure project in Crossrail, to which the Government have already given £300 million extra. If there is any special pleading, it really ought to be for the shires and counties of this country, which probably need a bit more money for potholes, rather than clean air.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is certainly important to me, as a midlands and northern MP. The Government have made a significant effort both to increase the levels of public investment in infrastructure over the course of this Parliament to the highest levels in my lifetime—the highest level since the 1970s—and to redress the regional imbalance. Over the course of this Parliament, for example, investment in transport will be highest in the north-west of England, and London and the south-west will be among the lowest. There is a great deal more to do, not least because London has the ability to raise significant amounts of money from local government, which has co-funded projects such as Crossrail. My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 57 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 58