Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 18th May 2023.
With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 21 be the Twenty-first schedule to the Bill.
Clause 320 and schedule 21 legislate to amend part 2 of the Finance Act 2017 to bring into scope the soft drinks industry levy on liquid flavour concentrates used in fountains, also known as dispensing machines, which combine added sugar with the concentrate when the soft drink is dispensed to produce a soft drink with at least 5 grams of sugar per 100 ml. The change takes effect from
The Government launched a consultation on the design and implementation of the soft drinks industry levy in August 2016 and set out a response confirming the broad policy approach. The soft drinks industry levy came into effect in April 2018 and supports the Government’s strategy to tackle obesity by encouraging reformulation at manufacturer level. The soft drinks industry levy applies to packaged soft drinks containing at least 5 grams per 100 ml of added sugar. Producers, manufacturers and importers of liable soft drinks must register a report and pay the soft drinks industrial levy on the volume of liable soft drinks packaged in and imported into the UK.
The soft drinks industry levy has driven substantial reformulation, resulting in a sugar reduction in soft drinks of 46% between 2015 and 2020 and the reformulation of more than 50% of sugary soft drinks in response to the levy. The changes made by clause 320 and schedule 21 will close a minor technical loophole within the soft drinks industry industrial levy, improving the consistency of its application. The changes are in line with the intent of the original legislation. The measures extend the definition of a soft drink liable to the soft drink industry levy to include packaged concentrates that are mixed with sugar when dispensed from a soft drink fountain machine. Other fountain machines used in the restaurant, retail and leisure industry that use a packaged syrup or concentrate containing added sugar are already in scope of the soft drinks industry levy.
The change will bring consistency across the soft drinks industry by ensuring that all packaged concentrates used in fountain machines, regardless of the stage when the sugar is added, are captured by the soft drinks industry levy. Existing soft drinks industry levy rules, including registration, rates, accounting and payment will apply to manufacturers and importers of flavour concentrates manufactured to be mixed with sugar in a dispensing machine. The change takes effect from
I will speak briefly to clause 320 and schedule 21, which relate to the scope of the soft drinks industry levy. As the Exchequer Secretary set out, the result of these measures is that the levy will now apply to liquid flavour concentrates that are manufactured in, or imported into, the UK. The concentrates are products that are mixed with added sugar in a dispensing machine to dispense a soft drink for the final consumer.
The soft drinks industry levy was announced at Budget 2016 and came into force in April 2018. It has been targeted at producers, manufacturers and importers of soft drinks containing added sugar by encouraging the reformulation of drinks to reduce levels of added sugar and portion sizes, and the marketing of low-sugar alternatives and so on. We recognise that this technical change will bring liquid flavour concentrates within scope of the levy, and we will not oppose the clause.
Out of an abundance of caution, I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my ministerial interests. I am recused from this subject matter in a ministerial capacity.
I wonder which sugary drinks the Minister is addicted to—perhaps she will tell us when we are not sitting in public.
We are dealing here with a technical change to the successful sugar tax, if we can call it that. Again, when we are dealing with Ministers whose job is to get money into the Exchequer, it is strange to have to congratulate them for the declining level of soft drinks industry levy receipts. The tax has successfully delivered on the intention behind the policy, and receipts are down by £21 million for April 2022 to March 2023. That is an awful lot of ruined teeth and extra weight avoided, often for children, whose life chances can be negatively impacted by becoming addicted to sugar.
The consensus among public health officials is that the sugar tax has caused a decline in sugary drink sales, and the total amount of sugar in soft drinks sold by retailers and manufacturers decreased by 35.4% between 2015 and 2019, from 135,500 tonnes to a mere 87,600. That is a success as far as things go, but perhaps the Minister might assure the Committee that the Government will take credit for the success and that they intend to continue to push for lowering even further the 87,600 tonnes of sugar that are currently put in drinks, because there is uncertainty about the Government’s direction.
Two previous Prime Ministers have challenged the existence of sugar taxes. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip said that, on the current evidence, it is ambiguous whether they work, but I have just raised some evidence that shows unambiguously that they do. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s immediate and very short-lived predecessor, Elizabeth Truss, said that
“taxes on treats hit those on the lowest incomes.”
If I may say so, they might also account for the development of a trend that is quite shocking when one thinks about it. There is now a positive correlation being between poor and being obese. As a society, we ought to tackle that, partially by using such methods, so that we can ensure that the correlation does not survive. We could bring to bear a range of other measures to ensure that happy outcome, but they would be completely outwith the scope of the Bill, so I will not talk about them.
We must, however, congratulate the Government on their introduction of sugar taxes. Since the current Prime Minister’s position is unclear, because he has both supported and rejected furthering a sugar tax, will the Exchequer Secretary tell us what the Government’s position is? Is he willing to stand up and take unambiguous credit for the success of the sugar tax and confirm to us that the Government’s intention is to continue making progress in this area in an appropriate way, with more than just technical changes for drinks fountains?
I am always grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments. I can answer her quickly. We are committed to the SDIL—the soft drinks industry levy—and we share her positive recognition of the sugar decline. With any tax considerations, however, we have to achieve a balance; we have to balance tax against cost of living concerns, as she pointed out, so all taxes remain under review.