Finance No. 2 Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 18th May 2023.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 322 stand part.
Clause 321 introduces a new domestic air passenger duty band for flights within the UK to bolster connectivity within the Union and a new ultra-long-haul band to further align the tax with the Government’s environmental objectives. The clause also sets the 2023-24 rates for both the new bands and the two existing bands that are operated by the retail price index.
Clause 322 enables the Northern Ireland Assembly to set the rate for the new ultra-long-haul band for direct flights departing Northern Ireland. The primary purpose of air passenger duties is to ensure that the aviation sector contributes to public finances, since tickets are VAT-free and aviation fuel incurs no duty.
Following a consultation on aviation tax reform in 2021, the Government announced a package of APD reforms at the autumn Budget 2021. First, the reforms will bolster air connectivity within the Union through a 50% cut in domestic APD. Some of the nations and regions of the UK are separated by sea so aviation has a critical role to play in facilitating the necessary links across our Union.
Secondly, by adding a new ultra-long-haul distance band, the reforms further align APD with the Government’s environmental objectives, recognising that aviation is responsible for 8% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, emissions from international aviation have more than doubled since 1990, and we were responsible for 96% of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
The new ultra-long-haul band, which covers flights that are greater than 5,500 miles from London, will ensure that those who fly furthest and have the greatest impact on emissions incur the greatest duty. The annual uprating for APD rates in line with RPI to the nearest pound is routine and has occurred every year since 2012. To give airlines sufficient notice, the Government announce the rates at least one year in advance.
The changes made by clause 321 implement the APD reforms and the 2023-24 rates announced at autumn Budget 2021. APD for domestic flights, except private jets, will be reduced by 50%, from £13 to £6.50 for passengers flying economy class. Overall, the Government expect that more than 10 million passengers will benefit from the reform.
The new ultra-long-haul band will be set at £91 for passengers flying in economy—a £4 increase compared with the existing long-haul band. That is expected to affect less than 5% of passengers. For the remaining 2023-24 rates where the standard uprating applies, the clause increases the long-haul rate by a nominal increase of just £3 for economy class. The rounding of APD rates to the nearest pound means that short-haul rates will remain frozen in normal terms for the 10th year in a row. That benefits more than 70% of passengers.
Clause 322 enables the Northern Ireland Assembly to set the rates for the new ultra-long-haul band for direct flights departing Northern Ireland. The rates for direct long-haul flights from Northern Ireland are already devolved. The reforms to air passenger duty will bolster Union connectivity and further align the tax with our environmental objectives. These are a routine uprating of existing rates, which represents a real-terms freeze and ensures that airlines continue to make a fair contribution to our public finances. I therefore move that the clauses stand part of the Bill.
As we heard from the Minister, clause 321 will introduce a new domestic band for flights within the UK and a new ultra-long-haul band covering destinations with capitals located more than 5,500 miles from London. Until the end of March 2023, there were two destination rate bands for air passenger duty: band A included those countries whose capital city is less than 2,000 miles from London, with band B covering all other destinations. From
As the Minister explained, clause 322 makes consequential amendments to the provisions that devolve to the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to set the direct long-haul rates of APD. I understand that the changes in the clause do not impinge on the devolved powers, and the devolved rates are not affected. Rather, it updates the provisions to reflect the introduction of clause 321 and the ultra-long-haul band.
Before I address our concerns about this measure, I would be grateful if the Minister could help the Committee to understand what the situation would be if the clause passed by confirming what rates of air passenger duty would apply in a few specific instances. First, if someone were to travel by helicopter around the UK—for instance, from London to Southampton—would that be subject to air passenger duty? Secondly, if someone travelled on a private jet around the UK—say, from London to Blackpool—that was, for argument’s sake, a Dassault Falcon 900LX, what rate of air passenger duty would apply? Finally, if someone lives in the UK but was travelling to another home of theirs—say, in Santa Monica, California—what rate of air passenger duty would apply? I would be grateful if the Minister could answer those three questions.
I turn to our concerns about the clause. As the Minister might know, when this measure was first announced at autumn Budget 2021, we raised our concerns about it during the debates on the subsequent Finance Bill. We pointed out then—it is even truer today—that it could not be right for the Government to prioritise a tax cut that would be of greatest benefit to people who are able to be frequent flyers in the UK at a time when working people across the country have been hit again and again by tax rises.
As well as being the wrong priority for public money, the Chancellor announced the cut in air passenger duty just days before COP26. What is more, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out at the time, the cut in air passenger duty would in fact flow through the UK emissions trading scheme and push up electricity prices for people at home. The Government have pointed out that the introduction of a reduced domestic rate of air passenger duty has been accompanied by the introduction of an ultra-long-haul rate. However, when taken together, all the changes in the clause are still set to cost the taxpayer an additional £35 million a year. We cannot support this as a priority for spending public money, so we will oppose the clause.
Will the Minister tell us how clause 322(4), which devolves these issues to the Northern Ireland Assembly, will work, given that the Assembly is not sitting at the moment? Does it mean that this will be decided centrally at Westminster? What arrangements are made for that, since, if there was no change in these areas, in the absence of the Assembly sitting, there would be a divergence between air passenger duty in one place and the other? How has the Treasury modelled that divergence, given that air passenger duty is a devolved issue, even though the devolution settlement is not working at the moment because the Assembly is not sitting?
Will the Minister update the Committee on where we are with the aviation treaties that zero-rate aviation fuel? It is an ongoing issue, given the nature of the environmental damage that is done—particularly by aviation fuel—in the higher atmosphere when airplanes fly at higher levels, which they normally do on long-haul flights. How will private jets be treated and affected, if at all, by the reduction in domestic air passenger duty, since we have a Prime Minister who seems to think that public transport is chartering a private jet for short-haul flights?
May I declare a loose interest?
I have an elderly mother who lives in Australia. As she is elderly, I am spending more and more time going down there. That aside, has the Minister done any evaluation of air passenger duty and the economic competitiveness of the UK versus our European partners?
I ask that because I know from previous years travelling down to Australia that it has been much more viable for me to catch a flight to Amsterdam, Oslo or wherever and pick up a flight from there, because the cost of flights from the UK has been phenomenally more expensive than those from our European partners. From speaking to people, I know that more and more people are doing that. APD has the adverse effect of making us uneconomical and perhaps at some future point even taking a reduced rate because more and more people will be doing that. Has the Minister or anybody in the Treasury done any evaluation of our air passenger duty versus those of our European counterparts?
Let me try to answer those questions in order. Just to clarify for the Committee, there is no APD other than on fixed-wing aircraft. Private jets pay a higher rate than any other flight domestically, and they are not, to answer the hon. Member for Wallasey, subject to the 50% cut that we are talking about here. Any ultra-long-haul flights will face a new band, as I described in my opening remarks.
To answer the excellent and reasonable question from my right hon. Friend Craig Whittaker, I understand there was a review in 2021 of the economic impact of APD. As I said in my opening remarks, all factors are considered as part of that process, but I am happy to provide more detail in due course if that is warranted.
The point on Northern Ireland that the hon. Member for Wallasey raised is a good one. It is a devolved matter, as she points out, and Northern Ireland has the ability to set the rate for ultra-long-haul flights. Let me look into the matter of the arrangements we are putting in place, given the specific circumstances that we find ourselves in with the Executive. It is a fair question, and it deserves a fair answer, so I will come back to her.
I thank the Minister for undertaking to let us have that information, given the particular circumstances that prevail in Northern Ireland. Can he say a little bit about whether there is any progress with the aviation treaties? I know how difficult it is, but it is a complete anomaly that there is no taxation of aviation fuel simply because most flights pass through an international area, given the worse damage that use of aviation fuel does when aeroplanes are travelling at high altitude. Something that we aspired to do when I was in the Treasury was to get some kind of agreement in international treaties to bring that matter into tax. Has any progress been made in the ever-elongated period between when I was in the Treasury and the present day?
First, let me apologise to the hon. Lady. I had that in my notes to address, and I did not. She is referring to the Chicago convention, which basically is an international agreement whereby we have agreed not to tax aviation fuel. That was, as I understand, enacted in the 1940s. I was told in a briefing yesterday that it may have been updated some eight times since then, but she raises an interesting point. We are committed to all current international agreements, but it is certainly something that I will look into. I still regard myself as fairly new in this job, but I commit to look into it in due course.