Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 16th May 2023.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
That schedule 11 be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 109 to 112 stand part.
That schedule 12 be the Twelfth schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 113 and 114 stand part.
That schedule 13 be the Thirteenth schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 115 to 120 stand part.
Clauses 108 to 111 and schedule 11 make supplementary changes for the reformed alcohol duty system. The provisions are necessary consequential amendments as a result of changes made elsewhere in the Bill. Clause 112 and schedule 12 reproduce the requirements for duty stamps on alcoholic products. Those controls and requirements continue to operate in exactly the same way as they do now. Clauses 113 to 116 make changes to repeal outdated legislation and provide transitional arrangements for wine businesses and small cider makers as they move to the new duty system. Clauses 117 to 120 allow for regulations to be made to supplement the provisions in primary law.
The Government are committed to simplifying the current system for alcohol duty, which is complicated and outdated. As mentioned in debate on previous alcohol duty clauses, we are legislating to ensure that all primary legislation relating to the production and use of alcoholic products is contained in one place. Clauses 113 to 116 and schedule 13 repeal some parts of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 that are no longer needed, and they ensure that all primary legislation relating to alcohol duty is now contained in one place. They also include specific transitional provisions for cider and wine products, which face the biggest challenges as we move to the new strength-based system. Clauses 117 to 120 allow the Government to commence different parts of the primary legislation at different times by appointed day order.
Clause 108 and schedule 11 provide a right to reviews and appeals for decisions that HMRC makes. Clause 109 ensures that the forfeiture provisions across the reformed alcohol duty system are consistent. Clause 110 updates legislation relating to certain movements of alcohol products from a warehouse so that it applies equally to alcohol products removed from premises that have the new alcohol approval. Clause 111 extends brewers’ existing ability to offset a claim for refunds of excise duty against liability on their monthly return. Clause 112 and schedule 12 reproduce the requirements for duty stamps on alcoholic products. Those controls and requirements will continue to operate in the same way as they do now.
Clause 113 provides a list of repealed legislation. Clause 114 makes consequential amendments to other legislation, which is required as a result of the policy changes. Clause 115 is a temporary provision for producers and importers of certain wine products, to help them to manage the transition to a strength-based system. That will be in place for 18 months, and it will ease the administrative burdens of moving to calculating the duty on wine based on strength. Clause 116 is a temporary provision for small cider producers to maintain the effect of the exemption from registration and paying alcohol duty that they currently hold until the approvals provisions are given effect next year.
Clause 117 provides an index of terms used in this part of the Bill and references to where further detail can be found regarding each. Clause 118 provides a power to make regulations in relation to this part of the Bill and how the power may be used. Clause 119 explains the parliamentary procedure that must be used to make regulations using the various powers included in this part. Clause 120 concerns commencement and states that, other than these clauses and other regulation-making powers, none of the provisions in the Bill concerning alcohol duty takes effect until an appointed day order is laid.
These clauses and accompanying schedules are administrative measures that ensure that the Government’s ambitious alcohol reform is underpinned by modern legislation, and that the transition to the new system is smooth. The clauses conclude the part covering alcohol duty reform, and I commend them to the Committee.
With this group of clauses, we turn to chapters 8, 9 and 10 of the Bill concerning supplementary items, repeals, further amendments, transitional provisions and final provisions. Clause 108 and schedule 11 make relevant amendments to the Finance Act 1994. They appear to be purely administrative, but perhaps the Minister could clarify that? Clause 109 specifies that HMRC may destroy, break up, or spill anything seized as liable to forfeiture. Clause 110 inserts new subsections into the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. As this is quite technical, perhaps the Minister could explain precisely what the clause achieves, because I found that the explanatory notes did not cover it in depth. [Interruption.]
Clause 111 provides that producers of alcoholic products can offset amounts of alcohol duty that are owed to them against other amounts of alcohol duty that they have been charged. Clause 112 and schedule 12 make provisions about duty stamps.
The next measures in the group cover repeals, further amendments and transitional provisions. Clause 113 provides a list of legislation repealed as a consequence of this Bill, including the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 and sections 4 and 5 of the Finance Act 1995. I can see that that is because the Bill will replace those pieces of legislation. Clause 114 and schedule 13 make minor and consequential amendments to other legislation.
The next clauses within the group concern transitional provisions included in the Bill. Clause 115 provides for a temporary period for treating wine of between 11.5% and 14.5% ABV as if the strength were 12.5% ABV, lasting for eighteen months after the new system comes into force. Clause 116 provides a temporary exemption from the new alcohol duty regime for cider that is produced before the new approvals system comes into force, as long as the cider is produced by a cider maker producing less than 70 hectolitres a year. I know that many affected businesses will be grateful that transitional arrangements are being put in place, but they will want to know precisely how those arrangements will be implemented and any tapering, and they will want confirmation of the time periods involved.
We are now at the final set of clauses within this group, concerning final provisions. Clause 117 provides an index of terms defined in this part of the Bill, with a reference to where further detail can be found for each term. That includes terms that we have already discussed, such as “alcoholic strength”, “excise duty point” and “qualifying draught product”.
Clauses 118 and 119 provide broad delegated powers to the HMRC commissioners to provide supplementary provisions to the alcohol duty regime. Will the Minister outline examples of what those supplementary provisions might be, why the negative procedure has been thought appropriate and how affected groups will be consulted prior to any further changes?
Finally, clause 120 concerns the commencement of the new alcohol duty regime. At this stage, perhaps the Minister could confirm—he did not when I asked him previously—when the new alcohol duty regime is expected to come into force, and that there will be no further U-turns or delays.
As has been the trend, we will not be opposing these measures. I look forward to continuing our discussion of the new alcohol duty regime on Report, where I hope to be able to extract the detail and certainty that businesses so desperately need from this Government.
I will follow up with several similar questions about dates, so that people have a level of certainty about when they will be expected to comply and when transitional provision will run out. On the temporary provision for wine in clause 115, I understand what the Minister said about how the strength of wine fluctuates depending on the time of the season when the grapes were grown or picked. After the 18 months, what does he expect to happen with this fluctuation? Does he think that wine producers will somehow regularise the alcohol percentage of the wine that they produce? I am not sure how they could do that; they cannot do it by dilution. How exactly might they do that, or does he expect that they will pay different rates depending on the percentage of each bottle? I am not hugely fussed about which he thinks will happen, but it would be interesting to know what the Government expect those wine producers to do.
The case that the Minister has laid out around transitional provision for wine makes sense. I understand that the measure will be brought in fairly shortly and does not give wine producers the time to make seasonal adjustments at this point, but this will give them time to make such adjustments before the end of the 18-month period.
In relation to the temporary provision on cider, my understanding from clause 116 is that the current relief is being extended until the new approvals process comes into place, so those who currently qualify to benefit from relief will continue to do so. The date that has been chosen is the date on which the approvals process comes into force, rather than the date on which the new rates come in. I understand from what was said earlier that the approvals process will come into place later than the rest of the Bill, and I wonder whether there is clarity on how much later. Do we have a date on which the process will kick in? If not, do we have a date for when we will know? That would at least mean that people knew that from September, for example, they would have a level of certainty about when the transitional relief will end and the new approvals process will begin.
Two different sets of dates have been chosen. Clause 120 is about commencement, and there is a level of flexibility built in. Can the Minister confirm when the majority of this part of the Bill will commence, and whether only the approvals process will lag behind? Given the dramatic change from one regime to another and the fact that there might be a significant change in rates—as he has made clear, however, there will not be a significant change in exemptions; only the calculation of rates will be changed—does he expect the new rates to be charged from day one? Let us say he picks
To prevent any fiddling of the rate, is there clarity about when people will pay it? Is there a risk that they might, for example, stop putting caps on bottles for a period of time to ensure that they are subject to the new rate rather than the old one? If so, is HMRC aware of that, and will it ensure that people pay the appropriate rate and can prove they are eligible for that rate?
There is quite a cliff-edge change. The rates will go up dramatically for some people; they will go down dramatically for other people; and for some people they will stay the same. For an awful lot of people, there will be a change. When the new regime comes in, we need to ensure that it is fair and is applied fairly, so that those who go out of their way to try to swizz the system are not allowed to benefit at the expense of those who are being sensible and paying the correct rates when and where they should be.
Let me first address the request from the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead for me to further explain certain clauses. Clause 108 ensures that the legislation works, basically, and detail is provided in the explanatory notes. If she requires more detail, I am happy for her to write to me. Clause 110 ensures that this measure works with amended legislation, because it is about the movement of alcohol from excise warehouses to authorised people. Clause 115 basically sets out the period of 18 months that I am about to address. Clause 116 relates to when the period ends and approvals come into force.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen North makes some good points, and she asked a good question about the 18-month period for the wine easement. It has been determined, through consultation and engagement with the wine industry, that 18 months is sufficient time for it to put in place the operational requirements, such as labelling, for it to be able to meet the alcohol reforms that we are making. As I set out at the beginning, some types of wine will see a reduction in duty. Simplification is driving these reforms, and we are moving to the principle that the more alcohol a product contains, the more tax it attracts, so there will be increases and decreases as part of all this.
Written evidence reported to the House
FB01 J Chandler and Co (Buckfast) Ltd
FB02 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) - on Low Income Trusts and Estates – clause 29 and schedule 2 of the Bill
FB03 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) - on clauses 36 and 41 of the Bill
FB04 Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) - on clause 346 of the Bill, the abolition of the Office of Tax Simplification
FB05 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) - on clause 332 of the Bill
FB06 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) - on clause 346 of the Bill, the abolition of the Office of Tax Simplification