Rebated fuel: private pleasure craft

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 16th 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 the following:

That schedule 10 be the Tenth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is lovely to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I apologise to hon. Members who have had the pain of seeing me do the urgent question in between our two Public Bill Committee sittings; I can only admire their strength and resilience.

Clause 86 introduces schedule 10, which enables changes to be made to the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979 to require white diesel to be used for filling private pleasure craft such as yachts and canal barges, to meet our international obligations under the EU withdrawal agreement. It is an enabling power, and it follows consultation with private pleasure craft users and fuel suppliers in 2019.

There is no current timetable for commencement of these changes. Details of implementation via future secondary legislation will be set out in due course, after the consultation that the Government are planning this summer on wider changes to red diesel that were announced at Budget 2020. Once commenced, the changes will affect only the type of fuel that private pleasure craft can use and not the amount of fuel duty users pay. They already pay the standard white diesel rate for propelling their craft, and they are entitled to use rebated red diesel for other, non-propulsion purposes, such as heating and cooking. The changes will not affect that. Where craft have a shared tank for propulsion and non-propulsion purposes, such as heating, the Government will explore options that prevent users from paying more duty for their non-propulsion use than they would otherwise have to pay.

In 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the use of red diesel to propel private pleasure craft breached the fuel marker directive, which is designed to ensure, given the variation in duty treatment in member states, that any misuse of diesel crossing EU internal borders can be detected. Over the summer of 2019, the Government consulted on how they intended to implement the Court judgment by requiring private pleasure craft to use white diesel for propulsion. More than 1,600 replies were received. At the present time, private pleasure craft use the lower-duty red diesel for both propulsion and non-propulsion, but pay a top-up to the white diesel rate on the proportion of fuel that they use to propel their craft.

Last year’s consultation saw evidence on the impact that requiring private pleasure craft to use white diesel propulsion would have on users of diesel-propelled craft operating in UK inland waterways and along the coast, and on the companies that supply diesel to them. The responses are informing implementation issues for suppliers, known as registered dealers in controlled oils, or RDCOs, and users of diesel fuel.

The changes made by schedule 10, once commenced by secondary legislation, will amend sections 12 and 14E of the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979, to disallow the rebates that apply to diesel, biodiesel and bioblend not used for road vehicles on the fuel used for propelling private pleasure craft. In practice, such craft have not been benefiting from the rebated rate on fuel use for propulsion, as they have been paying the additional duty to ensure that they pay the full rate as required while we are in the transition period.

Schedule 10 creates new penalties for using marked fuel for propelling a private pleasure craft, similar to those that exist when marked fuel is used in road vehicles, and also gives Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs powers to take samples. It also provides for secondary legislation to mitigate the impact of the measure on houseboats and permanently moored residential craft; as they do not use fuel to propel their houseboat, they should be entitled to continue to use red diesel.

Finally, the schedule amends schedule 7A to the Value Added Tax Act 1994, to provide for the removal, if necessary, of the reference to marked fuel used in private pleasure craft in respect of which a declaration has been received. It provides that the changes will be brought into force on the days and in the areas appointed in secondary legislation at a future date.

This clause and schedule will ensure that we respect our international commitments, by enabling us to make changes to legislation covering fuel use by a private pleasure craft to the extent required to meet those commitments. I therefore commend the clause and the schedule to the Committee.

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

I should have said this morning that, although those on the Government Front Bench are doing a joint effort today to give each other a break, this is my penance for the shadow Chief Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, handling the digital service tax single-handedly last week, so I am afraid that Members will be getting even more tired of my voice than the Financial Secretary’s voice.

I want to raise a few points on clause 86. First, as the Minister said, this clause and schedule are intended to enact the judgment of the European Court of Justice and to make sure we abide by our obligations under the withdrawal agreement. The challenge for various industry bodies is that this proposal effectively means that we are going to have to go through a number of changes, unless the Government intend this to be a permanent change in approach.

It is a significant disruption for the industry. British Marine, the main leisure boating industry body, said the change would present

“severe problems for boat users and the industry”,

and that was the position of all representative bodies. Given the issues raised by industry bodies and the strength of objections, why has the Minister sought to implement the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union when we will have left the European Union and, at some point in the not too distant future, these sorts of judgments will not have to be abided by?

Suppliers and industry bodies have deemed the switch as not viable due to its being uneconomical and impractical to change waterside fuelling locations from red to white diesel. What will the Minister do to support suppliers in this transition and to ensure that commercial users, such as fishing boats, are not negatively impacted by the switch?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. We fully appreciate the degree of concern that has been shown by the industry. As he will be aware, we are under an obligation to abide by EU judgments while we remain under the withdrawal agreement. The proposal underlines how seriously we take legal obligations that have been incurred in the EU withdrawal agreement, and that includes implementing the result of the European Court of Justice judgment.

It should be made clear that, during the transition period, if the Commission were not convinced that necessary steps had been taken to implement the judgement, it could, in principle, refer the case back to the European Court and ask it to levy fines for non-compliance. Those fines can be pretty substantial—up to €792,000 a day plus a potential one-off fine of at least €10 million—so we are very focused on communicating the seriousness of our intent in passing this enabling legislation. We do not believe that paying fines to the EU, especially as we have now left the EU, would be an effective or good use of taxpayers’ money, not least when we are making broader changes to reduce the entitlement to use red diesel more widely.

It is worth pointing out one other thing: we have not set an implementation date. The reason is that we recognise that it is important for Government to continue to work with users of private pleasure craft and with fuel suppliers to understand how they can implement the changes, precisely to make sure that those changes are as little onerous and as easy to enact as they can be. It is only once we have seen that consultation, gone through that process, reflected further on it and had a chance to consider how the legislation could be framed that we will be able to return to this issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 86 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10 agreed to.