Clause 98 - Restriction of use of rebated diesel and biofuels

Finance (No.2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 27th April 2021.

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

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 20 be the Twentieth schedule to the Bill.

New clause 3—Review of impact of section 98—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made by section 98 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions on progress towards the Government’s climate emissions targets.

(3) In this section “parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”

This new clause would require a report on the effects of section 98 on progress towards the UK Government’s climate emissions targets.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Exchequer Secretary, Minister for Equalities

Clause 98 and schedule 20 reform the use of polluting diesel fuel by reducing the number of businesses that benefit from red diesel tax breaks from April 2022. Those changes will mean that most businesses across the UK will use diesel fuel taxed at the standard rate for diesel from April 2022, bringing them in line with ordinary motorists. That more fairly reflects the negative environmental impact of the emissions produced. It also ensures that the tax system incentivises users of polluting fuels such as diesel to improve the energy efficiency of their vehicles and machinery and to invest in cleaner alternatives, or just use less fuel.

Red diesel is a dye-marked diesel currently used mainly for off-road purposes, such as to power bulldozers and cranes in the construction industry. It accounts for around 15% of all diesel used in the UK and is responsible for the production of nearly 14 million tonnes of CO2 a year, as well as noxious gases such as nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. Red diesel is subject to a rebated rate of fuel duty of 11.14p per litre, which is 46.81p less than the tax due on standard diesel used by ordinary motorists. Businesses that use red diesel are therefore paying far less for the harmful emissions that they produce.

The Government have previously received feedback from developers of alternative fuels and technologies that they view the low cost of running a diesel engine as a barrier to entry for greener alternatives. Clause 98 and schedule 20 will amend the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979, to reform the entitlement to use red diesel in most sectors from April 2022. As announced at Budget 2020 and confirmed at Budget 2021, the Government will grant entitlements to use red diesel for the following purposes: for vehicles and machinery used in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and fish farming; to propel vehicles designed to run on rail tracks and for heating non-commercial premises, which includes the heating of homes and buildings such as places of worship, hospitals and town halls.

In addition, following consultation last year on these tax changes, for which the Government received more than 400 written responses, the Government decided at Budget 2021 to grant further entitlements to use red diesel after April 2022 for the following purposes: electricity generation in non-commercial premises; maintaining community amateur sports clubs and golf courses; as fuel for all commercial water vessels refuelling and operating in the UK, including fishing and water freight industries; for private pleasure craft in Great Britain; and powering machinery and caravans of travelling fairs and circuses. The Bill will also extend fuel duty to biodiesel, bioblends and fuel substitutes used in heating.

In response to concerns raised by red diesel users during the consultation about their ability to run down fuel stocks in back-up generators, the Bill provides for secondary legislation to give HMRC officers the power to disapply the liability to seize vehicles or machinery where they are satisfied that those who are no longer entitled to use red diesel are acting within the new law.

New clause 3, which was tabled by the hon. Members for Glasgow Central, for Glenrothes, for Gordon (Richard Thomson) and for Midlothian (Owen Thompson), would require the Government to publish a report on the effects of clause 98 on progress towards the UK Government’s climate emissions targets

“within six months of the passing of this Act.”

Clause 98 will make changes to remove the entitlement to use red diesel from most sectors from April 2022; such a report could not meaningfully assess the impact of the changes within six months.

As the Government set out in our summary of responses to the red diesel consultation:

“As these tax changes are introduced, the government will monitor fuel duty receipts of red and white diesel to evaluate the extent to which current users of red diesel that have lost their entitlement to use red diesel are switching to greener alternatives. The Treasury will also work closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to evaluate the extent to which these tax changes are accelerating the development of greener alternatives and how this interacts with the work of the government’s energy innovation programmes, like the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio.”

The Government continue to take our world-leading environmental commitment seriously and remain dedicated to meeting our climate change and wider environmental targets, including improving the UK’s air quality; that is why we are reforming the use of red diesel from April 2022. Reducing tax breaks on red diesel will mean that approximately 3.6 billion litres of diesel, equivalent to 9.5 million tonnes of CO2, will now be taxed at the standard diesel rate. I ask the Committee to agree that clause 98 and schedule 20 should stand part of the Bill and to reject new clause 3.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Angela. I thank the Minister for her explanation of clause 98, which restricts the entitlement to use red diesel and related biodiesel for most sectors from April 2022.

We support the Government’s intention behind the measure, which was first announced in the 2020 Budget. There is a clear need to ensure that fuel duty rebates are as limited as possible in order to meet our net-zero commitment. I note that several sectors retain their entitlement to use red diesel, including agriculture, rail transport and permanently moored houseboats. More recently, the Government have announced further exemptions, including generating power from non-commercial premises for amateur sports clubs and for travelling fairs and circuses.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister about the impact on individual sectors. I know that the waste sector made a representation to the Treasury arguing that removing its red diesel entitlements

“could increase the cost of recycling, which may result in waste being diverted to landfill instead and the cost of recycled goods increasing relative to virgin materials.”

Would the Exchequer Secretary assure us that that issue was looked at carefully and that the impact on recycling was considered? Would she also say a little about compliance in the industries where the entitlement is being removed? She mentioned that the Treasury had been working closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that compliance was followed, but what monitoring and enforcement will the Government use to ensure that red diesel is used only for approved purposes?

May I turn briefly to recreational boat owners in Northern Ireland? The Government have confirmed that private pleasure craft in Northern Ireland will have to use white diesel from June this year in order to implement a ruling of the European Court of Justice. The Royal Yachting Association, British Marine and the Cruising Association have raised concerns about the practical effects of the decision, including the limited supply of white diesel for private pleasure craft users in Northern Ireland. Would the Minister reassure us that HMRC and the Treasury will work closely with those organisations to minimise disruption? Would she give us more information on the steps that have been taken so far to ensure that? Finally, will the Government take any further action to encourage the growth of cleaner fuel alternatives in sectors such as the construction industry?

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I could repeat much of what I have to say about new clause 3 when we debate new clause 5, but in the interests of brevity I will not make the same comments again at that point.

We welcome the fact that the tax system is used to encourage individuals and businesses to operate in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable way, but it is important that when we make changes we are prepared to look at them afterwards to see whether they are having the expected impact. That can be quite difficult with Government changes to tax policy, because the policy aim is not always immediately obvious. How much of this change is an income-raising exercise for the Treasury, and how much is designed to reduce the use not only of severely environmentally damaging hydrocarbon fuels, but of other fuels which, although they may be less damaging, are damaging none the less?

Biofuels are not a guilt-free pass. Even though they may appear to be renewable, their use has an impact on the environment, for example where the resources of less well-off countries are used to grow biofuels for us to use instead of food to eat for the people who live there. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that simply by converting our excessive use of fuel to use of renewable fuels, we are somehow doing all we need to.

The second reason why regular reviews are needed is that as well as unintended consequences, there will be mistakes. One third of the Government amendments in Committee of the whole House were introduced to correct drafting mistakes, either in the Bill itself or in related legislation. People make mistakes—hon. Members may even have noticed the drafting mistake in the wording of our new clause 3, which the Exchequer Secretary so kindly pointed out. However, given that her objection to new clause 3 is that the timing does not work, I would appreciate a commitment from her that the Government will comply with the spirit of the new clause in a more appropriate timescale when the impact of the changes can be measured.

The Scottish National party supports the Government’s stated aim of encouraging a more environmentally sustainable and responsible approach to use of the earth’s resources; we just think that they should acknowledge that they might not always get it right the first time. They should build in a process by which we can review the policy after a reasonable time and make the changes that may be needed, sooner rather than later.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Exchequer Secretary, Minister for Equalities

I will take hon. Members’ questions in turn, starting with the question on private pleasure craft in Northern Ireland.

From later this year, private pleasure-craft users in Northern Ireland will no longer be able to use red diesel for propelling their craft, as the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead mentioned. This will achieve consistency with the 2018 judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union and ensure that the UK meets its international obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. That is the primary reason for it, but it will also align with the way in which fuel used by private pleasure craft in the Republic of Ireland is treated, which should make it simpler for craft users to access the fuel that they need if they sail between Northern Ireland and Ireland. On the hon. Lady’s point about easy access to white diesel, I think that it will work in the same way as in the Republic of Ireland. The Government also intend to introduce a new relief scheme in Northern Ireland to ensure that the average private pleasure-craft user will not pay a higher rate of duty on non-propulsion use than they do now.

On new clause 3, we fully understand the point that the hon. Member for Glenrothes makes, but it takes time for us to be able to analyse what is happening with changes to tax. That is why we want to monitor fuel-duty receipts for red and white diesel, which will enable us to evaluate the extent to which the users of red diesel who have lost their entitlement are switching to greener alternatives. It is really important that we allow time for the policy to bed in before we carry out reviews, but the Treasury always keeps all tax policy under review. We want to ensure that we encourage the transition to net zero as well as maximising revenue for the Exchequer. We do not want to lose money, nor do we want emissions. I reassure him that we are all on common ground and will work together to achieve those stated goals.

On the sectors that continue to have the red diesel entitlement, I can tell the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead that we looked very hard at the sectors that could not easily switch to alternatives, and at those in which the impact on the consumer would be quite high, as opposed to those within the supply chain. That is how we came to specific sectors such as travelling circuses and amateur sports clubs, which we feel would benefit from continued red diesel entitlement.

On the question of biofuels, to respond to the hon. Member for Glenrothes, all users of biofuels will be taxed at the same rate as ordinary diesel, to reflect the fact that biodiesel releases just as much carbon dioxide when burned. The Government recognise that renewable biofuels deliver greenhouse gas savings, as they are sourced from feedstocks that extract CO2 from the atmosphere. To incentivise the use of these low-carbon fuels and reduce emissions from fuel supplied for use in transport, the Government introduced the renewable transport fuel obligation in 2008, whereby all road transport fossil-fuel suppliers in the UK are required to show that a percentage of the total road and non-road mobile machinery fuels they supply come from sustainable and renewable energy sources. Again, I remind him that the Government keep all of these rates under review.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 20 agreed to.