Determining the appropriate percentage for a car: tax year 2020-21 onwards

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 4th June 2020.

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

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 8 and 9 stand part.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Exchequer Secretary

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. Clauses 7 to 9 make changes to set company car tax—CCT—appropriate percentages that favour zero and ultra-low emission cars until April 2023. As confirmed at Budget, these rates will be extended until April 2025. The clause also confirms that that the CO2 emissions figure for the purposes of the CCT will be based on the worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure—WLTP—for all new cars first registered on or after 6 April 2020.

CCT is a benefit in kind for employer-provided cars that are available for private use. Although part of the income system, the appropriate percentages that determine the rate of tax paid by individuals are based on CO2 emissions. There are currently around 900,000 company car drivers in the UK, and the benefit raises approximately £2.3 billion per annum. In July 2019, the Government announced that, for CCT, new cars first registered on or after 6 April 2020 will report CO2 emissions using the WLTP, which is an improved emissions testing regime that aims to reduce the 40% gap that exists between current emissions reporting and real world driving. The Government announced that to smooth the transition to the WLTP, for cars first registered on or after 6 April 2020, CCT rates will be reduced by 2 percentage points in 2020-21 before returning to planned rates over the following two years.

To support decarbonisation, the Government also announced that all zero-emission company cars would attract a reduced CCT rate of 0% in 2020-21 and 1% in 2021-22, before returning to the planned 2% rate in 2022-23. To give certainty to company car drivers, leasing companies and manufacturers, the recent Budget announced the extension of 2022-23 rates for an additional two years until April 2025.

The changes made by clauses 7 to 9 will confirm that all new cars provided to employees and available for private use that are first registered on or after 6 April 2020 will be taxed according to the CO2 emissions figure measured under the WLTP. It is also clarified that cars first registered before 6 April 2020 will continue to be taxed on the basis of the CO2 emissions figure measured under the new European driving cycle—NEDC—procedure.

The clauses also introduce reductions in the appropriate percentages for 2020-21 and 2021-22 for zero-emission cars and all cars registered on or after 6 April 2020. In addition, they make a number of minor technical amendments—for example, by clarifying that where the electric range figure is converted from kilometres to miles, the value should be rounded up to the nearest whole mile.

I urge that the clauses stand part of the Bill. The changes they introduce will aid decarbonisation by confirming the introduction of the WLTP and beneficial CCT rates for ultra-low and zero-emission cars. They will also provide welcome certainty to company car drivers, leasing companies and manufacturers on the future taxation of company cars until April 2025.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

As this is our first exchange across a chamber, may I say how much I look forward to working with the Exchequer Secretary—and occasionally giving her the runaround—during our time together in these roles?

Let me begin with an overall observation, which is that this Parliament has declared a climate emergency. The country understands the extent to which irreversible, catastrophic climate breakdown is an existential threat to life on Earth and means serious disruption to our way of life. Actually, given the disruption that the pandemic is inflicting on all of us at the moment, lots of people are reflecting on the serious longer term disruption were we to allow such a catastrophic climate breakdown to take place. But here we are with this Finance Bill, dealing with one of the few areas in which the Bill tries to make any progress at all towards tackling the climate emergency by talking about car tax percentages. This is entirely reasonable and entirely straightforward, but it falls way short of meeting the challenge facing our country.

When Greta Thunberg addressed parliamentarians here in our own Parliament, she said:

“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

I am pretty sure that when Greta Thunberg talked about foundational measures, she did not have car tax at the forefront of her mind. Yet here we are with a Bill that, as we have already heard from the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, falls way short of meeting the challenge.

It is disappointing because the Treasury has a crucial role to play in promoting efforts to tackle destructive climate change. This ought to be a national mission for our country. As one of the largest financial centres in the world economy, the UK has a clear responsibility to provide international leadership through the greening of our financial system. But we also know that the tentacles of the Treasury reach into every Department and can compel all sorts of behavioural change, can incentivise and disincentivise all sorts of policy change, right across the breadth of Government. I would like to see Her Majesty’s Treasury showing far stronger leadership in that regard.

It is also the case that through taxation, either tax incentives or disincentives, created through punitive tax measures, we can effect behavioural change across the country. I therefore hope that the scope and ambit and the ambition of future Finance Bills live up to the challenge.

If Ministers are not persuaded by the exhortations of Greta Thunberg, perhaps they will tune in to the interview given by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales just this morning. As someone who has been committed for decades to tackling climate change and to supporting biodiversity and the natural environment, he too makes a compelling case. I hope Ministers will take that on board.

The provision is straightforward and there is nothing here for us to oppose, but I will point out the concerns highlighted by the Chartered Institute of Taxation about the complexity of the rules set out in the Bill. For example, we heard about WLTP emissions testing for cars registered from 6 April. The percentage on which the benefit is calculated is based on both emissions and electric range and varies from 0% for zero-emission cars to 37%. NEDC emissions testing for cars registered between 1 October 1999 and 5 April 2020 also calculates the percentage based on emissions and electric range, but is slightly different from that for cars registered from 6 April 2020, at least for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 tax years.

There are also special rules for bi-fuel cars registered from 1 January 2000, and separate rules for cars registered between 1 January 1998 and 30 September 1999, depending on whether the car has a CO2 emissions figure. There are other, separate rules for cars registered before 1 January 1998. If Government Members have followed all that detail to the extent that I have outlined it, I am sure a bright future awaits them in a career at the Chartered Institute of Taxation after the next general election, when the results are flashed up as a Labour gain.

As I said, nothing here for us to oppose, but I hope that when the Minister replies, she addresses that point about complexity.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 12:30 pm, 4th June 2020

There is indeed not terribly much to oppose here, but this is about the ambition of the Government to make a change, to make something different out of this Bill and to do something different. I draw the attention of Government Members to what Norway has done to increase the use of electric vehicles, so that 42% of its cars are now electric vehicles. The Norwegians did that with incentives such as no annual road tax for electric vehicles, company car tax reduction to 40% on electric vehicles, changes to purchase and import taxes, and an exemption from 25% VAT on purchase. They had an ambitious programme, and they needed the infrastructure, but they took those actions and they saw a dramatic change in the number of electric vehicles as a result.

I encourage the Government to look at what can be done. If cars are to be around for some time to come, how can we make them better? In many parts of Scotland, for example, people need a car to get around In large parts of rural Scotland it would be impossible to do anything other than have a car, but if we can make those cars electric vehicles, providing the plug-in infrastructure for them and the tax incentives to reduce their cost, we could make that change achievable. I ask the Government to be more ambitious.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Exchequer Secretary

I thank both hon. Members for the points that they have made and the good questions they asked. I reiterate that tackling climate change and improving the environment are top priorities of the Government. The UK is a world leader on climate change. The reason why we are doing this is to address several things at once.

Let us remind ourselves what the WLTP is. It is designed to ensure that we are reflecting real world driving conditions more accurately by including a longer test time. The aim is to reduce the 40% gap between lab tests and real world driving. We have put many other levers in place to address the broader issue of climate change.

I accept the point about complexity—I recognise the need to ensure that this does not have an overall impact on the consumer. One of the reasons why we are phasing it in this way is to better protect the automotive sector. I thank both Members for the points they made.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.