Clause 103 - Rates of air passenger duty from 1 April 2022

Finance (No.2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 27th April 2021.

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

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

The clause makes changes to ensure that the long-haul rates of air passenger duty for the tax year 2022-23 increase in line with the retail price index. The change will ensure that the aviation sector continues to play its part in contributing towards the funding of vital public services.

Aviation plays a crucial role in keeping Britain open for business, and the Government are keen to support its long-term success. The Government recognise the challenging circumstances facing the aviation industry as a result of covid-19. Firms experiencing difficulties can draw upon the unprecedented package of measures announced by the Chancellor, including schemes to raise capital and flexibility with tax bills.

As APD is a per passenger tax, airlines’ liabilities have considerably reduced following the decline in passenger demand caused by the pandemic between April and September 2020, by 87% when compared with the previous year. Aviation fuel incurs no duty and tickets are VAT-free, so APD ensures that the aviation sector makes a fair contribution to the public finances. Uprating APD rates in line with inflation is routine and has occurred every year since 2012. The Government announce the rates one year in advance, in order to give airlines sufficient notice of any changes.

The changes to be made by the clause will increase the long-haul APD tax rates for 2022-23 by RPI. The clause increases the long-haul reduced rate for economy class nominally, by just £2; and the standard rate for all classes above economy by £5—a real-terms freeze. The rates for long-haul travel by private jets will increase by £13. The rounding of APD rates to the nearest £1 means that short-haul rates will remain frozen in nominal terms for the 10th year in a row. That benefits more than 75% of all airline passengers.

APD is a fair and efficient tax, with the amount paid corresponding to the distance and class of travel of the passenger, and it is only due when airlines are flying passengers. The changes made by the clause ensure that the aviation sector continues to play its part in contributing towards funding our vital public services.

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

As the Minister said, the clause will increase, from April 2022, the rates of long-haul air passenger duty in line with inflation while leaving the short-haul duty at its current rate.

As we all know, the aviation sector has struggled enormously during the pandemic, as international travel has in effect shut down. The industry is important to the UK economy and supports 250,000 jobs across the country. The sector’s recovery will be prolonged. Any restructuring must be supported with a transitional strategy for workers and our regional economies that capitalises on the opportunities to grow industry into green technology.

We believe that part of any aviation support must include a clear commitment to tackling climate change and leading the industry to use cleaner fuel and other cutting-edge low or zero emission technologies. Government support should be contingent on airlines retiring old and inefficient aircraft, so that they meet the new industry standards in accordance with the framework of the Paris agreement and the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008.

Several smaller airports, including Teesside and Newquay, were forced to shut their doors at the height of the pandemic. This is an uneven playing field between small and large airports, as staff wages and business rates make up a bigger proportion of costs for regional airports. Without further specific support, regional airports may no longer be viable. The sector has made clear its disappointment with the recent Budget, which failed to set out either the support or the vision for future aviation needs. Will the Minister update us on the aviation support package that the Government promised but which has yet to materialise?

Finally, we know that the Government are currently consulting on a new low band for domestic air passenger duty, and we will watch the outcome of that consultation closely. Will the Minister tell us how that will fit in with our environmental commitments?

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

The clause seeks to set APD rates for April 2022, so it will not take immediate effect. It will increase long-haul air passenger duty rates only in nominal terms, while short-haul rates will remain frozen at current rates, benefiting more than 75% of passengers.

With regard to the issues affecting the aviation industry, air passenger duty is marginal—a £2 increase on economy flights is not what will make or break the industry. We recognise the challenging circumstances faced by the industry as a result of covid-19, and all the firms experiencing difficulties can and have drawn upon the unprecedented package of measures announced by the Chancellor, as I mentioned earlier, including schemes to raise capital and flexibility with their tax bills. We have also provided bespoke support to the sector via the airport and ground operator support scheme. The majority of beneficiaries have been the smaller airports that the hon. Lady mentioned. At the end of the day, APD is a per-passenger tax. Airlines’ liabilities have reduced significantly since the start of covid, with receipts between April and September 2020 down 87% compared with the same period in 2019, so suspending APD would not be appropriate.

On the wider issues that the hon. Lady mentioned on the transition to net zero, we have introduced a wide range of scheme to support the decarbonisation of the aviation sector, including a £15 million competition to support the UK production of sustainable aviation fuel, and the inclusion of aviation in the UK’s emissions trading scheme, which we discussed in the last sitting. The Government will also consult on the overall strategy for the sector’s transition to net zero later this year.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 103 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.