HGV road user levy

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury) 12:15 pm, 6th December 2018

I beg to move amendment 115, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the revenue effects of the changes made to the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 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 59.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 116, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effects on levels of CO

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 59 on CO2 emissions and climate change targets.

Amendment 117, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on the volume of traffic on the roads of the changes made to the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 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 59 on road congestion and traffic levels.

Amendment 118, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on air quality standards of the changes made to the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 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 59 on air quality standards.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I begin by welcoming the long overdue change to the heavy goods vehicle road user levy. As the Minister will no doubt lay out, the clause will differentiate the rates paid by efficiency, rewarding freight operators for using less polluting trucks on the UK’s roads.

Department for Transport statistics show that HGV traffic has grown on average by 2.3% per year since 2008, making it the second fastest growing type of traffic in that period. That has resulted in HGV traffic increasing, on motorways and rural A roads in particular, to an overall 17.1 billion vehicle miles. Inevitably, that has had an enormous impact on greenhouse gas emission and climate change targets, road congestion and traffic levels, road safety, and air quality—the key issues on which our amendments are based.

Amendment 115 would require the Chancellor to review the revenue impact of the clause. We believe that there is an urgent need for a financial assessment of the measure, as the freight sector has been left in the dark about the overall impact of these tax reforms. The Department has failed to publish any conclusions from its call for evidence, which closed in January. We therefore argue that it is the Treasury’s responsibility either to produce the evidence and conclusions or to undertake any new research that is needed.

We believe the analysis should focus on the costs and benefits of remaining on a time-based charging system rather than one based on distance. Will the Minister tell us what comparative analysis has been undertaken to date by Government, and agree either to publish it or to commission the relevant work and publish it in due course?

The analysis should also assess how well the HGV road user levy reflects the costs imposed by road freight on other road users, the road network itself and society at large. Metropolitan Transport Research Unit research, issued in April 2017 and sponsored by the DFT, suggests

“that a very significant amount of the real marginal costs imposed by the largest HGVs is not being met.”

That has led to poor economic efficiency and a misallocation of scarce resources. Will the Minister undertake a review of the real marginal costs imposed by the latest HGVs so that we may assess their relative economic efficiency?

Similarly, when considering the overall revenue effect of differing levels of road user levy for different categories of heavy goods vehicles, we believe it is important to factor in the huge disparity between the costs of wear and tear on road surfaces caused by HGVs and those caused by cars and lighter vehicles. The Campaign for Better Transport estimates that the standard 44-tonne HGV does 100,000 times more damage to road surfaces than a Ford Focus.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Yes. An update of the DFT’s mode shift benefit values technical report in 2015 doubled previous estimates of the cost per HGV mile to road infrastructure. Campaign for Better Transport research suggests that HGVs are paying for only 11% of their UK road infrastructure costs, predicting a shortfall of about £6 billion.

Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have made their own such estimate during the development or passage of the Bill, or does our amendment give them the opportunity to assess it for the first time? Will he produce a fresh assessment of the cost shortfall that the new HGV road user levy rates will leave for other road users and taxpayers in general to pick up? In any case, will he give us the Government’s view of whether the total revenue raised will reflect a fair share of the total tax take from road users, as compared with that of those who drive smaller vehicles? In the Chamber, many MPs complain about potholes and funding for them. The statistics give a clue as to where in part the responsibility lies for so many potholes on our roads.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons)

As the driver of a Ford Focus, I want to clarify something. Does my hon. Friend agree that yes, a greater proportion of the money ought to go towards repairing potholes, because that will leave more money available for schools and other resources?

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point from his Ford Focus. The issue is that there is a massive externality that those HGVs are causing on our roads. No one wants to see HGV businesses go out of business, but everyone in Committee would agree that it is right for people to pay the appropriate level of tax for the damage that they cause to our road infrastructure. If they are to be subsidised, that subsidy ought to be transparent, so that we can appreciate and make a proper assessment of the value that HGV companies contribute to our economy, while taking into account the externalities that they create as well, because there are impacts on other tax areas where the Government would need to spend—he mentioned schools, and there are hospitals and so on and so forth.

Amendment 116 would require the Chancellor to review the impact of the clause on CO2 emissions and climate change targets. As I have described, the use of HGVs has increased hugely in recent years. Inevitably, that has had an adverse effect on the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Studies from the Government’s own 2017 freight carbon review proved that HGVs are also disproportionately responsible for pollution when compared with other road vehicles. In 2014, HGVs were estimated to account for about 17% of UK greenhouse gas emissions from road transport, and about 21% of road transport nitrogen oxide emissions, while making up only 5% of vehicle miles. Will the Minister confirm those figures?

Clearly, if we are to stay in line with EU emissions targets, which have themselves been agreed at the necessary level to ensure that we meet our Paris climate agreement targets, CO2 emissions from HGVs must drop by at least 15% by 2025, and be at least 30% lower by 2030. Will the Minister agree to conduct an analysis of just how far the changes in the clause go towards the country’s ability to meet our climate targets? Will he also consider addressing the generality of the need to meet those targets with either taxation of the sector, or other measures that the Government might put in place to meet our obligations and to safeguard our shared environment?

Amendment 117 would introduce a similar requirement to review the impact of clause 59 on the overall volume of traffic on roads, which is fairly self-evidently a major contributory factor to road traffic congestion. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that congestion will cost the economy as much as £307 billion by 2030. Similarly, the latest INRIX figures show that the UK currently ranks as the fourth most congested developed country, and the third most congested in Europe.

Will the Minister tell us what assessment the Government have made of the economic—not to mention environmental —impact of traffic congestion? I hope he will agree that it is undeniable that the increase in HGV traffic is contributing to the problem. Is he willing to undertake a formal assessment of the impact of HGVs on overall road congestion and traffic, which in turn clearly has a significant impact on the economy? If he intends to resist the amendment, perhaps he will tell us what assessment the Government have made to date and how it informed their choice of the relative levels of taxation that the clause sets for more or less polluting vehicles.

The amendment also addresses the important issue of road safety. The volume of traffic is clearly relevant to road safety outcomes. The Campaign for Better Transport’s analysis of Department for Transport road safety statistics shows that HGVs are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal collision on minor roads as they were 10 years ago. In 2016, HGVs were almost seven times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal collisions on minor roads, despite making up just 5% of overall traffic miles. There has been little or no improvement in recent years in the rates of fatal collisions involving HGVs either on motorways or on A-roads. In 2014, HGVs were involved in almost half of all fatal collisions on motorways, although they accounted for only 11.6% of the miles driven on them. Will the Minister tell us whether, in the course of considering the relative levels of taxation for different types of HGV, the Government have made any assessment of the impact on road safety of HGVs on motorways and A-roads across the UK? In developing the clause, did they consider whether the tax system for vehicles might in any way be used to improve the safety record of HGVs?

Amendment 118 would make equivalent provision in relation to air quality standards. In launching its call for evidence about the HGV road user levy, the DFT conceded the importance of working

“with industry to update the Levy so that it rewards hauliers that plan their routes efficiently, to incentivise the efficient use of roads and improve air quality.”

As the results of the consultation are yet to be published, I ask the Minister whether the Treasury is able to review whether the changes proposed in clause 59 will succeed in encouraging an improvement in air quality standards.

If the Minister does not intend to accept the amendment, perhaps he will tell the Committee whether, and when, the Government intend to publish the evidence they have gathered, and their formal response to it, for scrutiny by the House and the public. Perhaps he will also confirm that the evidence that they have gathered to date shows that, nationally, 20% of lorries are now driving around completely empty and only 36% are full by volume. Not only is that a highly inefficient use of scarce road space, but it exacerbates the existing problem that more than 40 towns and cities in the UK have already exceeded air pollution limits set by the World Health Organisation. Can he confirm that air quality standards will be assessed when looking at the important impacts of the HGV road user levy? Can he give us any timetable or detail?

The Committee will note that our amendments have a similar theme. Perhaps I can ask the Minister to outline in general terms what assessment or review of the success of these measures the Government have planned, what impacts they will consider, how they will measure them and how they will publish their results. I also reiterate my point about the Government’s various calls for evidence that relate to the measure in clause 59. Will he commit to publishing the evidence received and giving a formal response from the Government? We often hear about evidence-based policy making, but as legislators we, too, need to hear that evidence if we are to agree to the legislation that implements that policy.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to our amendments, but I want to make one final argument about the clause itself. While it is to be expected that the reforms in clause 59 will lead to improvements in fuel efficiency and reductions in pollution from HGVs on Britain’s roads, we believe that those reforms are incomplete and unsatisfactory because the HGV levy will continue to be charged according to time spent on UK road networks. It is widely acknowledged that the existing time-based charging system is inefficient and not cost-effective. As it stands, the current daily charge bears no direct relationship to the amount of use of the network and therefore the system does not incentivise efficient use of the network. To improve economic efficiencies, there should be a direct relationship between taxes per mile travelled and the marginal cost that a distance-based charging system can provide.

The DFT’s recent review offered the opportunity to move to distance-based charging in the UK, which would be the single most effective change that would achieve all the Government’s stated objectives of improving efficiency, reducing exposure to collisions and reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions. Replacing time-based lorry charging with a distance-based system could relate charges paid to the real impact that HGVs have on other road users, the road network and society at large. Of course, it could also reward those HGV operators who have the least such impacts, as the clause intends to do in relation to emission standards.

The most troubling thing about all the measures of cost and harm—from the environment, to road safety and congestion, to the revenue impact on the Exchequer—is that the sector is showing little or no improvement across them. That is a clear illustration that the current framework of incentives, including the HGV road user levy, is not working. While we welcome these much-needed changes, we urge the Government to look at the bigger picture and assess the wider impacts of the HGV road user levy, as our amendments propose.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 12:30 pm, 6th December 2018

Apart from paying the levy, the road haulage industry pays considerable sums of tax on fuel; it therefore pays quite a lot into the Exchequer for the provision of roads. I would make another important point: almost every good that we have in this country travels at some point on a road haulage vehicle. Almost all of what someone buys in a supermarket for Sunday lunch travels in such a vehicle. There is no such thing as a painless tax. If we raise the cost of vehicles delivering goods in this country, the costs are raised for supermarkets and businesses and that is passed on in the form of higher prices and inflation. There is a balance to be struck.

The other point is that the British economy has been growing since 2009-10. As it grows, there are more vehicles on the road, and that is a difficulty. The real way to deal with climate change is probably to crash the economy, so that unemployment shoots up and vehicles come off the roads. It is a problem that, if we have the economy growing, there are more vehicles on the road. On the whole, the solution is technological, both in the development of the levy—the hon. Member for Norwich South made one or two suggestions for that—and also in the engines and the information that people get this days. There has been a big improvement. The biggest incentive that there ought to be for the industry is to replace vehicles more regularly because, in the end, that will probably have more impact on climate change.

I do not think that the solution to this problem is to increase costs. There are technological solutions that I am sure will come to help with all of our concerns about climate change.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

If we are going to disincentivise people from using HGVs or charge them more for using HGVs, we need to make sure that we have a positive route with alternative methods of transport. There has been a massive increase in the number of light goods vehicles, which is negative if we end up with older diesel models.

We could develop the rail freight network. I understand that it is pretty difficult for those who are looking to increase rail freight to get time on the lines because of the number of passenger trains. Solutions to assist that would be very helpful in ensuring that freight is moved around the UK in the least carbon-emitting way possible.

Subsection (6)(b) relates to Euro 6. It describes the definition of Euro 6, saying that it is as in the EC directive. I am keen for the Government to lay out what would happen about the development of new standards after Brexit and any transition period. Is it their intention that we would have our own standards on vehicle emissions? If so, how much does the Minister believe it will cost to assess vehicles? What would be the cost of UK-EU regulatory divergence, which will result in issues for car manufacturers?

Alternatively, do the Government intend that we should not diverge from using the European Commission directive standards? Obviously technology is developing and there will be new standards to which we should peg our decisions on tax rates. If the UK Government plan not to have their own assessment centre, with regulatory divergence, do they plan to continue to follow EC directives? What preparation are the Government making in that case to scrutinise or comment on the directives, given that we will not be in the room after Brexit, and will therefore not be able to influence the standards, either to support our car manufacturers or secure the best standards for the British public and get improved air quality?

I understand that the Minister may not have the answer at his fingertips, but I hope he can say something.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I shall try to respond to the many points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole in part answered the challenge from the hon. Member for Norwich South as to whether hauliers pay their fair share. It is worth remembering that they pay a range of taxes, as my hon. Friend pointed out. They pay the levy that we are discussing and vehicle excise duties. They also pay tax on fuel. Taken as a package, hauliers pay a considerable amount of tax. British hauliers as an industry are highly taxed, going by European and international comparisons. The reforms mean that some hauliers will pay more. The VED system is based on both weight and axles, so to some extent it reflects wear and tear on the roads, although I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Norwich South that HGVs make a significant impact on the roads. I did not realise it was 100,000 times that of a Ford Focus, but that puts things in perspective.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the HGV levy was specifically hypothecated to tackle such issues as potholes and strategic roads. It is not. However, as I have described, the VED system will be, which will significantly increase the amount of investment that the country makes in roads at every level: £28.8 billion is the spending envelope for roads investment announced by the Chancellor in the Budget, and £25 billion of it will be spent on strategic roads in the road investment strategy that will be announced later next year. That will be about 170% of the first road investment strategy, so there is almost double the amount of investment going into roads to tackle congestion and improve strategic roads in all parts of the country.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North made a valid point about the European standards. It is our intention to remain closely aligned to those. That seems sensible and it is our intention in a number of respects, such as climate change, emissions and carbon budgets, as is indeed set out elsewhere in the Bill. For example, we have not yet made a final decision on carbon trading, but we shall monitor it and review the matter. If I can give the hon. Lady any further information I will write to her to set out the position of the Department for Transport.

On the broader question of why we are not using the VED system for HGVs to encourage greater take-up of zero-emission or ultra-low emission HGVs, it comes back to the point made by the hon. Lady: currently there are very few commercially available ultra-low emission alternatives for HGV drivers, which prevents the broad uptake of new vehicles. Clearly, we would like to do all we can to stimulate the market and see rapid progress, but we have to be mindful of that. Through the Road to Zero strategy that was published earlier this year, the Government have committed to working with the industry to reduce HGV greenhouse gas emissions significantly by 2025. The strategy sets out the Government’s plans to use a variety of different tools to meet that commitment.

The hon. Member for Norwich South made a number of important points about HGVs and road safety. I will write to him on that and find out what information I can about DFT’s work, because it is important that we take note and see what can be done to improve road safety, particularly as the number of vehicles going down smaller roads and country lanes as a result of online shopping is becoming more important. Through the Road to Zero strategy and other initiatives, DFT is paying attention to how we can improve the last mile of delivery to tackle air quality and reduce the number of vehicles on our roads.

The clause introduces a lower rate of HGV levy for vehicles that meet the latest emission standard, and a higher rate for vehicles that do not. As we have discussed, the change will incentivise hauliers to move to cleaner, less-polluting vehicles. It is only right that everyone plays their part in protecting our natural environment so that we leave a cleaner, greener Britain for our children. HGVs currently account for approximately 20% of harmful nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport but only 5% of total miles travelled, so they will play an important part in tackling the problem.

The changes made by the clause will reduce HGV levy rates by 10% for vehicles that meet the latest emission standards, reflecting the fact that they generate 80% less NOx emissions than the older HGVs. The clause will also increase rates by 20% for HGVs that do not meet those standards. Many hauliers will pay less as more companies move to cleaner lorries—we have introduced it to improve air quality and not to raise revenue.

On amendments 115 to 118, to which the hon. Member for Norwich South spoke, the Government have published a tax information impact note outlining the impact assessment of these reforms, including the forecasted revenue effects, which have been certified by the Office for Budget Responsibility. I believe those amount to £25 million over the scorecard period. These reforms to the HGV levy are part of wider action by the Government to tackle challenges in the areas highlighted by the amendments. Isolating the impact of the HGV levy reforms would be extremely challenging and, I suspect, of limited use, as they cannot be separated from other actions the Government is taking in these areas.

The Government’s draft clean air strategy sets out an annual reporting process for the monitoring of air pollution, which is the appropriate mechanism for assessing the effectiveness of those changes and others over time, rather than introducing a new method to review it, as proposed by the amendments. I therefore urge the Committee to reject the amendments. The changes outlined in the measure will ensure that both foreign and domestic HGVs play their part in meeting the Government’s air quality targets.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for his contribution. I note that he was unaware of the 100,000 figure between the damage caused by an HGV compared with the damage caused by a Ford Focus. Have the Government made any assessment of whether HGVs currently cover the cost of the impact they have on UK road infrastructure? It sounds like they have not, but the Treasury should be able to amend VED or the taxation system that it will use in order to better reflect that.

To pick up on some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Poole, we are talking about externalities. Everyone wants to see everybody pay their fair share, and I am aware that haulier companies pay not just the excise for HGVs, but road tax and fuel tax. So do drivers of Ford Focuses: they also pay their fair share of tax, including income tax and other taxes as well. We all pay our fair share of tax, but if HGVs are damaging the roads to that extent and having such an impact in terms of road traffic accidents, that calls into question whether they are paying excise duty appropriately, and whether that excise duty is a genuine reflection of the cost that those HGVs are exacting on society and on our road systems.

The hon. Member for Poole also talked about technological fixes—so-called technological decoupling. Unfortunately, that has been around for some decades now, and there is no evidence that technological decoupling will work quickly enough or in a manner that will stop us from heading off a cliff edge on most of the nine planetary boundaries that scientists say we should be aware of. David Attenborough has said that the horizon for the end of civilisation is before us. It is no longer acceptable for political parties and Members of this place to decouple political rhetoric from political reality and the reality of climate change. That has to end.

HGVs are significant contributors to pollution and to greenhouse gas emissions, so I argue that the Treasury needs to accept the amendments. It needs to take on board the impact that HGVs have on our road networks, greenhouse gas emissions and noxious fumes, and the fact that the system in place is inefficient. Sixty-four per cent. of HGVs on the road are either empty or partially full, so the Opposition have suggested basing excise duty not on time on the road, but on distance travelled by HGVs. That would incentivise road hauliers to increase efficiencies and invest in vehicles to ensure that they are as efficient as possible. It would also ensure that logistical runs are as efficient as possible, which they clearly are not currently. I look forward to the Minister writing to me on those issues, but we will be pressing both amendments to a vote.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary 12:45 pm, 6th December 2018

In my earlier remarks, I did not respond to the hon. Gentleman’s questions on the calls for evidence. We did a call for evidence before we introduced the levy in 2014 and, at that point, the time-based levy was the preferred method among those who responded. That was the reason why we alighted on that methodology. The call for evidence on the reforms, which he also asked me about, will be published next month—further information that he may wish to scrutinise when it is published. As I said earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole, we believe that HGV drivers pay their fair share through the levy, through VED and through fuel duty. However, we will of course keep the matter under review.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

If a road haulier sends a vehicle with a load to a city in the north, the profit it makes is on the load back. If that vehicle runs empty, the haulier has higher costs. Therefore, if that vehicle is empty, the road haulier’s manager is not doing his job properly—they have not been able to find a load—or the vehicle is going from one factory or depot to another to pick up a load. It is inevitable that there will be some empty vehicles, but that is not the fault of the road haulage industry. They would love their vehicles to be full.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Technology will improve that situation in time, as he said in his earlier remarks, but we will keep this matter under review. However, we respectfully ask that the amendments be rejected.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 28 Finance (No. 3) Bill — HGV road user levy

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 116, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effects on levels of CO

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 59 on CO2 emissions and climate change targets.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 29 Finance (No. 3) Bill — HGV road user levy

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 117, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on the volume of traffic on the roads of the changes made to the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 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 59 on road congestion and traffic levels.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 30 Finance (No. 3) Bill — HGV road user levy

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 118, in clause 59, page 44, line 9, at end insert—

“(11) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the expected effects on air quality standards of the changes made to the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 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 59 on air quality standards.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division number 31 Finance (No. 3) Bill — HGV road user levy

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Craig Whittaker.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.