Autumn Statement

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Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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My hon. Friend asks an important question. I want to assure him that I have had extensive discussions with the Communities Secretary to ensure that we implement these reforms in a way that does not lead to unintended consequences. The most important thing is that by allowing the biggest applications to have full cost recovery with respect to local councils, we can start to get more resources, which will mean that we can train up more planning officers and avoid delays not just for the bigger applications but for all of them.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Does the Chancellor agree that the Prime Minister was wrong last year to try to increase national insurance?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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What the Prime Minister wanted to do then is what he has delivered as Prime Minister, which was to find a way to deliver extra funding to the NHS. What we as Conservatives believe is that taxing the economy more lightly will lead to higher growth, meaning that we can fund our public services better.

Oral Answers to Questions

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Tuesday 5th September 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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This Tory Government effectively banned new onshore wind, which is vital for net zero, energy security and getting bills down. We now learn this could change because one fine group of Tory rebels is shouting louder than another group of Tory rebels. There is no leadership, just a Government led by their Back Benchers. Can we finally get an answer from the Government on whether they will dither and delay or join Labour in leading the way and acting on onshore wind?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Onshore wind has an important part to play, and we are already deploying 14 GW of energy from onshore wind. The cost of onshore wind has come down significantly. It is one of our cheapest energy sources. The hon. Lady does not have long to wait for the Energy Bill, which we are considering later today.

Draft Postal Packets (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023

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Monday 17th July 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

General Committees
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve on this Committee with you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. As we have seen, there has been a meaningful debate today. I welcome the opportunity to address the measures laid out in the draft statutory instrument on behalf of the Opposition.

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None Portrait The Chair
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Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat if he is not intervening on the shadow Minister. Unless she has accepted the intervention, he has to resume his seat. As I said at the beginning and in the proceedings after the votes, points of order that have previously been made will not be taken. I ask the hon. Gentleman again to please resume his seat.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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As the Minister knows, the Opposition support the Windsor framework, and, as the Leader of the Opposition said in response to the Prime Minister’s statement on the Northern Ireland protocol in February, the red and green lanes proposal is a good one. I just have a few questions for the Minister about the explanatory memorandum, which makes clear the introduction of new powers that will be important both to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and UK Border Force to manage the risks of circumvention of the UK’s new obligations. Given the staffing pressures at HMRC in recent years, will she confirm that analysis has been done as to whether there is sufficient capacity in HMRC and Border Force to implement the regulations effectively? I have a number of other questions but intend to make interventions on those points.

Draft Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Enforcement) (Amendment) Order 2023

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Wednesday 5th July 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

General Committees
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey, and to be with Committee members. As the Minister set out eloquently, this instrument amends the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to allow trading standards to exercise its powers fully under the Tobacco Products (Traceability and Security Features) (Amendment) Regulations 2023, statutory instrument 2023/606.

His Majesty’s official Opposition share the Government’s desire to crack down on the organised crime gangs that dominate the illegal market in tobacco products. This illicit trade is partly the product of the cost of living crisis, which is forcing people to seek out savings and driving them into the arms of counterfeiters, smugglers and pedlars of stolen goods. It is also partly a product of high duty rates on cigarettes and other tobacco products. However, those duties have had a positive impact by reducing the number of people who start smoking, and increasing the numbers seeking to cut down and quit. Alongside high-level policy such as the smoking ban introduced by Labour in the Health Act 2006, those duties play a part in reducing the harms caused by tobacco and can be a useful tool in the promotion of public health.

We want stiffer penalties for those who seek to avoid paying such duties, and commensurate powers for trading standards to tackle those who procure, supply, distribute illicit tobacco and profit from the illegal trade. We will not oppose the measure, but I have some helpful questions for the Minister to address, and perhaps take up with officials.

First, the measure has its genesis in the 2020 spring Budget, and a consultation was launched in December that year, so why has it taken until July 2023 for this instrument to come before the Committee? Either this measure is urgent and necessary, or it is not, so why the delay? The Minister may have further information about the background.

Secondly, the Minister refers to the £1 million made available in the 2020 Budget for trading standards’ anti-illicit tobacco projects. The Committee will forgive my cynicism, but I am always wary of Ministers brandishing suspiciously round figures. How was the figure of £1 million arrived at, and does the Minister believe it an adequate budget to tackle a vast, violent and invisible network of smugglers, robbers and street-level distributors?

I can help the Minister a little by sharing the view of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. It says that there are half as many trading standards officers in local government as there were a decade ago. I am sure the Minister is aware of that. It reports that 2,500 highly skilled trading standards professionals have been lost. Do we have the men and women to do the job?

Finally, what measures are in place to review and assess the efficiency of this policy—for example, the level of fines? The Minister knows that for organised crime, fines are often viewed as a business expense. Far from being punitive, they are priced in, as vast potential profits are to be made. It is often the small fry who get caught and fined, while the crime bosses get away with it. What processes are there to review and assess the instrument that the Committee is being asked to sign off?

We will not vote against the measures, but I hope that the Minister finds my questions helpful and that he will answer them in the same constructive spirit in which they were asked.

Approved Mileage Allowance Payment Rate

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Monday 3rd July 2023

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma. I thank everybody who has spoken in today’s debate; I found all their insights informative, and they spoke passionately on behalf of individuals and their constituencies about subjects that are important to millions of people up and down the country. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his contribution, which provided an overview of the issue.

The petition we are here to discuss was signed by over 40,000 members of the public. It asks the Government to increase the HMRC mileage rate from 45p a mile to 60p a mile. Approved mileage allowance payments are used by employers to reimburse employees’ expenses for business mileage in their private vehicles. The Government set the rate. The AMAP rate aims to reflect running costs, including fuel, servicing and depreciation. Ministers have previously stated:

“Depreciation is estimated to constitute the most significant proportion of the AMAPs.”

The HMRC mileage rate is essential for millions across the country. For those working hard for their families, businesses and communities, it is a vital measure to ensure that they are not out of pocket for the extra miles that they do in their private vehicles. That has been reflected in Members’ contributions today.

As a country, we are proud of our volunteers, who spend their spare time helping others and saving lives. The mileage rate is a critical support system that provides not only reimbursement for those actions but an incentive for volunteers to do more where and when they can, no matter their financial status. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington highlighted, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) echoed, it is important to feel valued. However, we are all aware of the cost of living crisis that British people are facing, which comes after 13 years of Tory Government. It is clear that families are struggling through no fault of their own, but as a result of the policies of this Government. In the last year, Britain has been rocked by the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. It has been driven particularly by spiralling energy bills, which have fuelled inflation, thrown 3 million people in England into fuel poverty and forced businesses to close.

This country needs a Government who can get a grip and show some leadership. We need a Government who focus on the things that really matter and provide hope and optimism about the future. The reality is that the mileage rates have not changed in over a decade—to be exact, the approved mileage rate for cars, which is set by the Treasury, has not changed since 2011-12. It stands at 45p for the first 10,000 miles and 25p for every additional mile in a tax year. As Members have already mentioned, the cost of petrol and oil rose by 45% last year. In addition, overall motoring costs, including petrol, oil and vehicle maintenance, have soared since 2011. Fuel prices have settled somewhat since last year, but this country is still burdened by a high rate of inflation—8.7%. That is higher than in European nations and America, and proves that the Government have left our economy exposed. With higher interest rates, we are now facing a Tory mortgage bombshell for millions of people across the country. The Government are failing across the spectrum. Labour wants to make the changes that will help to fix that. I am talking about energy security, creating good jobs across the country, and making, doing and selling more in Britain.

With the increases in motoring costs and the overall cost of living crisis, it is reasonable to ask the Minister what impact the current mileage rate is having on the living standards of those affected. I also want to share a survey that was conducted by Unison last year and whose findings have been echoed by a number of hon. Members. It highlights how staff in our NHS and the healthcare industry are deeply reliant on their own vehicles to do their jobs. As we all know, that means that if they are not reimbursed, our healthcare workers are out of pocket for the life-saving work they do day by day. Unison’s findings are based on 550 staff. They show that the vast majority—91%—of those who drive a car at work use their own vehicle. More than two in five—44%—of them travel more than 4,000 miles a year for work, including some who clock up more than 10,000 miles. An overwhelming number—95%—of staff who drive for work are required to do so as part of their contract. More than a fifth—24%—say that they are unable to use public transport to do their jobs, either because none is available or because it does not run at suitable times, and about one in six—18%—say that they need to carry heavy or dangerous equipment when they drive for work.

We all know and have heard personal stories from those in our constituencies who are struggling to put food on the table, pay their bills and keep their children warm over weekends and over the winter. Workers and volunteers across the country work long and hard hours, and they deserve a Government who listen and make fair and practical decisions in response. I therefore urge the Government to get around the table and listen on the issues affecting millions of drivers across the country. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that is taking place or whether the Government will be carrying out that work in due course.

That brings up another important issue—transport infrastructure across our country. I know personally how tough it is for families and communities who struggle without the necessary transport infrastructure to get to work. In my constituency, we have a large community in Thamesmead who have no station, which makes them one of the only communities in Greater London left off the public transport map. On a positive note, I was pleased to see Transport for London submit a proposal for a docklands light railway extension to Thamesmead. However, we know that this is not an isolated problem but one seen across the country, and that other places have seen a decline in the transportation system. I think that that is one reason why so many people have signed this petition: it shows that our local communities severely lack the real transport infrastructure that they need and deserve.

Labour has committed to giving our communities control over their own destiny by unlocking the pride, potential and purpose of our towns and cities and putting power directly in the hands of people, whether that is in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. We feel that the UK is the most centralised country in Europe and the most geographically unequal large country in the developed world. That is no coincidence. Too much power is hoarded in Westminster, and that is holding our country back. The Government need to listen to communities that rely on cars because there is no adequate public transportation, and explain the level of support they are providing.

I thank everyone who signed the petition. As other Members mentioned, those who did so do not want to earn more money or to be greedy; they just seek a fairer system for all.

I have some questions for the Minister about the issues that I have raised. First, does he expect there to be any change in the mileage rates in the near future? Can he confirm what thresholds he and the Treasury are looking at when deciding how to set the mileage rates? He has said that the economic outlook is one factor that they consider when assessing mileage rates. Given that things are really difficult for people at the moment, has the continuing failure to get bills down had an impact on the Government’s decision on mileage rates this year?

I thank the Minister for responding to the debate, but I echo that what is needed is for him to get around the table with working families and those representing all those affected, and provide full answers to their questions and a full explanation on this critical issue. The Government are facing this issue and many more because of an inability to deal with their failure to manage our economy over the last 13 years. We need urgent action to address the significant issues that many people face. Labour has a serious plan to get the economy growing. I urge him to reassure worried constituents who may be watching the debate, having signed the petition, that the Government are listening and will take action on this issue.

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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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As the Minister mentioned, the allowance offers relief whereby individuals can claim money back. Do the Government have figures on how many people are using the relief? It would helpful to know that.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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That is a very reasonable question. I do not have the figures to hand, but am happy to provide them if we are able to. I also point out that employees paid expenses above the AMAP rate may be taxed on the difference, depending on their personal circumstances—if they earn in excess of the personal allowance, for example.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Waveney (Peter Aldous), as well as several others across the Chamber, have outlined, volunteers are an important part of our communities and perform incredibly important services for all of us. It is right that they be highlighted and recognised in the debate today. The Government recognise the outstanding contribution that all volunteers and the charities that employ them make to our communities, including my community of Grantham and Stamford.

I should reassure hon. Members that, unlike employees, volunteers can receive payments in excess of the AMAP rate and do not have to pay tax if they can provide evidence that they have not made a profit. If they provide the receipts and evidence of their travel, they do not have to pay tax above the AMAP rate, unlike employees. That provides volunteers and voluntary organisations with additional flexibility, given how important they are. And they are important to the Government—that is why, for example, at the spring Budget the Chancellor set out an additional £100 million support package for charities and community organisations in England. That will be targeted at voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations at most risk at this difficult time. We will be setting out more about the eligibility criteria in due course, and hon. Members may wish to monitor that carefully.

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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way, and his time. Given that over 40,000 people signed the petition and many have raised the issue, will the Treasury look into it? Will the Minister indicate whether work is already being done behind the scenes? Has the Treasury been lobbied directly on changing the mileage scheme, because I know Unison and other stakeholders have done some work on the matter? I would be keen to know if any meetings or engagement have taken place.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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That is a fair question. I assure the hon. Lady that an extensive review is taking place, which takes into account a range of factors, but a big part of it is engagement. We have engaged extensively with various industries and unions, and we will continue to do that around the fiscal event cycle, as I have said. All taxes remain under review.

I have magically received an answer to the hon. Lady’s earlier question: between 1.8 million and 2.1 million people use their own vehicles for business travel, and 200,000 employees claim mileage allowance relief. That is 40% of all those entitled to it. I hope that answers her question.

I am coming to the end of my remarks, but I want to ensure that I address as many points raised as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made points about the importance of NHS staff, and I want to put on record my thanks to all NHS workers who use their own cars. I entirely agree with the emphasis he put on the importance of those workers to our society. I stress that paying the AMAP rate is voluntary. It is up to the NHS as an employer to determine expense rates. Travel cost reimbursement is covered by NHS terms and conditions, jointly agreed between trade unions and the employer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) pointed out, as of January 2023, the NHS increased its rate above the AMAP rate to 59p for cars up to 3,500 miles, in recognition of the fact that a number of NHS workers travel a shorter distance.

Oral Answers to Questions

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Tuesday 20th June 2023

(11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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The 2019 Conservative manifesto, some three Prime Ministers and four Chancellors ago, promised a fundamental reform of business rates. This is another broken Tory promise. Will the Minister admit that only a Labour Government will end the chaos, scrap business rates and replace them with a fairer system, so that our amazing hospitality sector can thrive and grow faster?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Lady, but I must point out to her gently that we have, in fact, conducted that review. In the autumn statement, we were able to announce a £13.6 billion package of help over the next five years, including a multiplier freeze for all ratepayers, large and small; a transitional relief cap funded by the Exchequer; retail, hospitality and leisure relief; and a small business support scheme, which will help to cap bill increases at £600 per year for any business losing eligibility for some or all small business rate relief or rural rate relief at the 2023 revaluation. We have done that review and are supporting businesses that need help.

Public Bodies and VAT

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Wednesday 17th May 2023

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) on securing the debate, and raising the issue of the important role that further education colleges play in training the workforce of the future, and upskilling the existing workforce.

I am happy to be here on behalf of the Opposition. I thank hon. Members for their contributions to today’s debate, particularly the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). We have heard today about the role that further education plays in the lives of constituents, and the challenges they face, such as the struggle to recruit staff. As the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth has explained, section 33 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 specifies that special provision is made for local authorities and specified bodies to recover VAT incurred on goods and services purchased in relation to non-business activities. The section sets out a list of public bodies eligible to recover VAT, which the Treasury can amend via secondary legislation. Guidance from HMRC says:

“Treasury will consider applications from bodies that meet both the following criteria—the body must undertake a function ordinarily carried on by local government and have the power to draw its funding directly from local taxation.”

I note that last October, the Office for National Statistics deemed that further education colleges should be public bodies. That is the basis of the right hon. Gentleman’s case that further education colleges should be added to the section 33 list. That will allow them to reclaim the VAT that they are charged in the same way that schools can.

This is a very topical debate, and real concerns have been raised about the financial stability of further education colleges. FE college funding fell by 27% in real terms between 2010 and 2019. In that same period, growth stalled, wages fell and prices rose. That has meant that the cost of everybody’s inputs, from energy to textbooks, have become more burdensome and unmanageable, and things have grown more difficult for colleges across the country.

One of Labour’s missions for government is to break down the barriers to opportunity for every young person. We are determined that every child and young person should have access to excellent education, so that the opportunities open up to help them thrive. Thirteen years of Conservative failure have weakened our education system, meaning that all too often young people are held back, unable to fulfil their potential. With our green prosperity plan, we will make Britain a world leader in the industries of the future and ensure that people have the skills to benefit from opportunities. Institutions such as FE colleges can play a vital role in that endeavour.

As the world’s economy changes, Britain needs to grasp opportunities to get ahead in the race, and we need to give British people the tools and skills they need to succeed. As I have laid out, the Labour party believes very strongly in the role of skills, and believes that FE colleges are key to getting Britain growing. We want the education system improved, and we want skills provision updated for a modern economy.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The hon. Lady is making a very strong speech about the importance and value of FE, but can she confirm that it is her party’s policy that further education colleges should be added to the list under section 33, so that they can reclaim VAT?

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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The right hon. Gentleman has raised important matters in this debate. The Labour party will evaluate the situation properly before putting any proposal forward. I look forward to the Minister’s response. It is really important to hear from the Government on this issue, and I hope she will address the points raised by the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth.

Finance (No. 2) Bill (Second sitting)

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms McVey. I wish you and Committee members a good afternoon. I take this opportunity to formally welcome the Minister to his new post. I am looking forward to this afternoon’s discussion, which I hope continues to be as productive as this morning’s was.

The clauses are in part 2 of the Bill, on alcohol duty. As the Minister said, clause 44 and schedule 6 introduce the term “alcoholic product” and set out what it means. The term is defined as spirits, beers, ciders, wines and any other fermented products if they have an alcoholic strength of more than 1.2%. Schedule 6 provides a definition for each of the categories I just listed.

The clauses introduce the new alcohol duty regime, which was touched on in the Committee of the whole House. In that debate, I made it clear that the Labour party agrees with the principles behind the alcohol duty review. Indeed, we want to see an alcohol duty system that is simpler and more consistent, while recognising that there is a balance to be struck between supporting businesses and consumers and protecting public health—as the Minister mentioned—and retaining a source of revenue for the Exchequer.

The clauses are administrative in detail so we will not oppose them, but let me lay out some of our underlying concerns about messaging and decision making, which will drive Labour’s scrutiny of the clauses. The Committee may remember that the Government announced a call of evidence on potential alcohol duty reform way back in October 2020. The aim of the review was to make the system

“simpler, more economically rational and less administratively burdensome on businesses and HMRC”.

But since then businesses have seen indecision, U-turns and delays.

The Government’s response to the alcohol duty consultation was published in September 2022, just before the chaotic Tory mini-Budget that crashed the British economy. In that mini-Budget, the then Chancellor announced a freeze on alcohol duty that was due to come into place in February 2023. The new Chancellor then scrapped the planned freeze in October’s autumn statement.

Businesses were scrambling to get their heads around the changes, and some scrapped product lines and slimmed back orders, losing out on the revenue they would expect to see in the run-up to Christmas. The situation has been reflected in many conversations that I have had with businesses up and down the country. I am sure it has caused real distress and difficulties for businesses involved in the supply chain—whether in manufacturing or hospitalities—in the constituencies of all Committee members.

Then, in December, the Government announced a screeching halt and another U-turn. They decided that the freeze was back in place and would last until August 2023. This caused a sigh of relief among businesses facing uncertainty, but it was too late to undo the damage inflicted on their balance sheets. We all know a pub that is facing closure as soaring inflation becomes unmanageable, or perhaps a small brewery that employs local people and has now had to reconsider its expansion plans. Such businesses desperately need certainty, so I hope that the Minister can confirm today that there will be no further U-turns or changes.

The new duty regime will see duty rates adjusted in line with inflation and moved to a system that links them to the ABV—alcohol by volume—of drinks. Clause 45 sets out how alcoholic strength is to be measured and understood, and provides for HMRC commissioners to make regulations on determining the strength of alcoholic products. Alcoholic strength, otherwise known as ABV, is what it says on the tin: the proportion of alcohol contained in a product’s total volume, expressed as a percentage. It is calculated while the product is at a temperature of 20°C.

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Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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It is a fair question. We are seeking to simplify the entire system of alcohol taxation, and in the round that is broadly what we are doing. However, we are conscious that certain sectors are under acute pressure—smaller cider makers may have particular vulnerabilities to some of these reforms, for example, and we are mindful of that.

However, we are still applying the principle that I have discussed: the higher the alcohol content, the more tax will be paid. As I mentioned, the wine easement is a reflection of the particular and unique circumstances that I heard about from the wine industry. That is a transitional arrangement, not a permanent reform; overall, we are seeking to simplify the system.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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I thank the Minister for his explanations so far. I want to get clarification on a few points. As I mentioned, clause 46 and schedule 6 have been drafted to allow the reclassification of categories. Is any guidance being drafted at the moment? Can the Minister give us more information about how the operation will be carried out to make sure that no issues are identified later? The legislation is not very clear.

To follow on from the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey, extra work will be given to HMRC as a result of this. I know that the Government have done work on the issue for some time, but I would like reassurance that adequate processes are in place. How much resource has been allocated to ensure that this is carried out? There will be extra work for HMRC to make sure that the alcoholic strength regulations are determined. It is important that we know whether there have been issues for HMRC in delivering because it has been under a lot of pressure. More information about that would be very helpful.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Let me answer the point about guidance. I assure the hon. Lady as well as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North that guidance will be issued very shortly. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead will be able to review that and it should answer a lot of the questions that she has just asked.

Let me repeat what I said about HMRC. The organisation has some incredibly hard-working staff who I have had the pleasure of meeting just in my first two weeks. As a Treasury, we have been preparing for this for quite some time. I have every confidence that our colleagues at HMRC are ready and waiting to implement the system. I have nothing further to add on this, so I urge that the clauses stand part of the Bill.

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Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Clauses 61 to 71 provide for transitional arrangements for small businesses that merge under the new small producer relief and provide definitions for terms used in the chapter.

The Government are committed to modernising and reforming alcohol duty. Part of the reform package is a new small producer relief for businesses that make alcoholic drinks of a strength less than 8.5% alcohol by volume. That will extend the benefit of progressive duty rates enjoyed by small brewers to the producers of other alcohol products. The provisions on mergers and acquisitions mean that small businesses that merge will not face a cliff-edge duty increase in the first year of the merger; instead, their duty rates will increase gradually over a three-year period. The clauses also include some general provisions around definitions for the purposes of the relief.

Clause 61 introduces the concept of a post-merger group, which is a company formed from the merging of two or more companies, and explains how each of the three years in the transitional period will be referred to. Clause 62 sets out the conditions which must be met for a newly merged business to qualify for the relief. Clause 63 explains what is meant by the “relevant production amount” during the transition period. Clause 64 explains what is meant by “post-merger amount”, which determines the level of relief available to newly merged businesses.

Clause 65 provides for termination of a transition period where the amount of alcohol produced by a post-merger group decreases. Clause 66 explains the treatment when another merger takes place during an ongoing transition period. Clause 67 explains the treatment of mergers involving more than two small producers at the same time. Clause 68 provides that that the transition period ends when businesses demerge. Clause 69 gives definitions of “production premises”, “production groups” and “connected premises” for the purposes of small producer relief. Clause 70 explains that the definition of “connected persons” for the purposes of the relief mirrors that in the Corporation Tax Act 2010. Clause 71 provides a table of expressions used throughout the small producer relief chapter.

Around 10,000 businesses in the UK produce alcohol, import alcohol or supply it wholesale. The clauses will help small businesses compete with larger businesses, such as multinationals, and support them as they grow. The entire alcohol reform package will cost £155 million in 2022-23 and £880 million across the scorecard period. These clauses and accompanying schedule form a key part of the Government’s ambitious alcohol duty reform and will support small alcohol producers to grow and thrive.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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The clauses under discussion in this group form part of chapter 3 on small producer relief, as the Minister mentioned. I thought it would be helpful to remind the Committee that Labour introduced the small brewers relief in 2002, and we are proud of the effect it has had in supporting small brewers, creating the vibrant UK beer scene, and supporting British business. We therefore support its extension to other producers.

In the context of small producer relief, clauses 61 to 68 specifically deal with the regulations and provisions for when mergers take place. Clause 61 sets out general provisions, determining that a merger of two small producers is to be called a post-merger production group, and is deemed to be in a transition phase for the three years following the merger. Clause 62 introduces modified conditions to determine whether the premises of two small producers that newly merge are small production premises for the purposes of small producer relief. A merged small producer will be eligible for small producer relief if the adjusted post-merger account does not exceed the small producer threshold of 4,500 hectolitres and if, for each set of premises in the group, fewer than half of the alcoholic products produced on those premises in the previous year were produced under licence.

Clause 63 sets out that, in calculating small producer relief for a post-merger group, the adjusted post-merger amount is used for the “relevant production amount” as set out in section 59. Subsection (3) sets out that the exclusion in clause 58(c) does not apply to the premises in a merger transition year. The Minister will not be surprised that I want to ask why that is the case. I cannot find anything about the purpose of the subsection in the explanatory notes, and it would be helpful to get the background as to why it exists.

Clause 64 provides a definition of the adjusted post-merger amount, which is used to determine eligibility and calculate the rate of small producer relief for companies transitioning post merger. Clause 65 sets out that a merger transition period will end early if the total amount of alcohol produced on all premises by a post-merger group in the preceding production year is less than the adjusted post-merger amount for the current year.

Clause 66 lays out provisions for subsequent mergers of alcohol producers. If a second merger takes place, the producer is no longer considered to be in its merger transition period for the first merger. The second merger could be considered a new merger transition period if the eligibility conditions are met. On the other hand, clause 67 lays out provisions for simultaneous mergers, setting out which producers will be considered the “larger producer” and the “smaller producer” for the purposes of determining the small producer relief. Clause 68 sets out what happens when a production group demerges and the regime to be applied for demerged businesses looking to receive small producer relief.

As we know, clauses 69 to 71 provide some guidance on the interpretation of chapter 3. Clause 69 lays out definitions of the terms producer, production premises, group premises and connected premises. Production premises are premises where alcoholic products are produced, including premises outside the UK. Group premises are all the premises on which the same person produces alcoholic products. A production group includes the group premises and all connected premises. A producer is a person who produces alcoholic products.

Clause 70 states that two people will be considered to be connected persons if they meet the test contained in section 1122 of the Corporation Tax Act 2010, although HMRC’s commissioners can overrule that if they think it necessary. Finally, clause 71 provides a table of expressions used in the small producer relief chapter. These clauses are all administrative in purpose, and we will not oppose them.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. Let me start by acknowledging the success of small brewers relief. We have seen the number of breweries increase six times since its introduction, and I think we should applaud a good policy, wherever it originates. In fact, we are seeking to build on it by expanding its principles to the new small producer relief and extending it to all alcohol products under the parameters that she has outlined. There was a very specific point of clarification, which I am afraid I do not have to hand at the moment, but I am happy to set out in writing the detailed answers that she seeks.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 61 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 62 to 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 72

Exemption: production for personal consumption

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

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In summary, the clauses are an administrative measure to ensure that current exemptions and reliefs from alcohol duty will continue in the newly reformed alcohol duty system.
Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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The group of clauses sets out circumstances in which producers will be exempt from alcohol duty. Clause 72 sets out that alcoholic products, except for spirits, produced by an individual for their own personal consumption are not subject to alcohol duty. Clauses 73, 74 and 75 provide for alcohol duty to be remitted or repaid when the alcohol is used for research or experiments, where the product is spoilt or unfit for use, and where alcohol was used in the production of qualifying food products or beverages, such as chocolate and vinegar.

The next part of the group of clauses concerns exemptions from alcohol duty for spirits. Clauses 76 and 77 set out that alcohol duty will not be charged on any spirits contained in imported medical products or in flavourings. Clause 78 sets out some circumstances in which a person may receive spirits without the payment of alcohol duty, including where spirits may be used for art or manufacture. Clause 79 provides for alcohol duty to be remitted on spirits contained in imported goods that are not for human consumption. Finally, clauses 80 and 81 set out a penalty regime for people who make unauthorised use of exemptions, such as by claiming the medical exemption for goods that are then not used for medical or scientific purposes.

We do not take issue with the exemptions, so will not oppose the clauses, but will the Minister lay out in more detail how clauses 80 and 81 will work in practice, and whether there will be a monitoring system to ensure that unauthorised exemptions are prevented?

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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Alcohol hand sanitiser is obviously not for human consumption, but is it considered to be a medical item and so exempt under clause 76(2), or to be not fit for human consumption and so exempt under clause 79? However it is considered, will the Minister clarify that it is exempt from alcohol duty? Many of us had not often used it prior to 2020, but these days it is a significant part of our lives. It would be a concern if it received an alcohol duty charge, because it is part and parcel of keeping us safe and ensuring that we stop any further spread of covid or anything else.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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As I set out at the beginning, the changes are largely administrative. To answer the question directly, there is no change whatsoever in terms of how the provisions are operationalised; they are carried over. The whole point is to consolidate the legislation in one place. I think our alcohol taxation system dates back to 1643, and the last change was in the 1990s. A lot of the changes are administrative, and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead should take assurance from that.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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I appreciate that a lot of these clauses are administrative. In that case, is the Minister able to tell me whether there has been any work done on unauthorised exemptions? Has that issue come up, does he have data on it and is he confident that unauthorised exemptions are being prevented? Could he give more information about what schemes or measures may be put in place? I appreciate that the clauses are administrative, but there is nothing in them about how to ensure that the system is not being abused.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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There are penalties already in place if a person uses products or carries out activities that are not approved. The hon. Lady should take my assurance that these are carry-over provisions that come with the protections that we already have in place. I really do not have anything more to add, other than the fact that what was in existence prior to this legislation is being carried over. To answer the specific question on hand sanitizer, it is exempt.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 72 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 73 to 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 82

Approval requirement: producers

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

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Clauses 82 to 89 make changes to the approval and registration requirements for alcohol producers, ensuring that they are harmonised across all products. The new alcohol duty rates and reliefs will take effect from 2023, but the commencement of changes to approvals will come into force at a later date. The Government are committed to simplifying the current alcohol duty system, which is complicated and outdated. The clauses repeal and replace the Alcohol Liquor Duties Act 1979, as well as sections 4 and 5 of the Finance Act 1995.

The changes made by the clauses will standardise the approval processes for all alcohol producers, regardless of which alcoholic product they produce. Clause 82 sets out the requirement for a person to be approved by HMRC in order to produce alcoholic products. Clause 83 stipulates that an approval may cover multiple premises and product types, and that HMRC may vary or revoke an approval at any time. Clause 84 provides an exemption from the requirement to be approved for those who make alcoholic products for their own consumption, although that does not apply to spirits.

Clause 85 provides an exemption from the requirement to be approved for those who produce alcohol only for research and experiments. Clause 86 restricts the mixing of multiple alcoholic products except in certain circumstances. Clause 87 reproduces a section of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 with minor changes to update terminology. Clause 88 gives HMRC the power to make regulations regarding the administration and collection of alcohol duty. Clause 89 details the penalties and forfeiture that may apply if a person does not comply with the approval requirements. Overall, the clauses simplify and standardise approval requirements for alcohol producers.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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We come to chapter 5 of the Bill and a group of clauses concerning regulated activities and approvals. Clauses 82 and 83 would require any person producing alcohol products to be approved by HMRC as a fit and proper person to do so, as determined by the HMRC commissioners. Clauses 84 and 85 provide exemptions from the approval process, so that a person may produce alcoholic products for their own consumption or for research into, and experiments in, the production of alcoholic products without needing approval from HMRC.

Clause 86 restricts the mixing of multiple alcoholic products, except in certain circumstances, such as if it is done in an excise warehouse and the mixing occurs before the duty point; the alcoholic products being mixed are all of the same type and strength; or the alcohol duty on each product has been paid and the resulting mixed product is to be consumed at the place where the mixing took place, such as a pub or bar. Clause 87 sets out that a person cannot mix water or any other substance with alcoholic products if the mixing is after the duty point, the mixed product is to be sold, and the resultant product would have attracted a higher amount of alcohol duty if the mixing were done prior to the duty point.

Clause 88 provides for HMRC to make regulations concerning the production, packaging, keeping and storing of alcoholic products; charging alcohol duty in reference to a strength that might reasonably be reached; relieving alcohol products from alcohol duty in certain circumstances; and regulating prohibition of the addition of substances and mixing. Before the Minister says that these are all largely administrative clauses, which I do not dispute, these seem like quite wide powers. I am interested to see that they will be subject to the negative procedure. Perhaps he can explain why that is the case?

Clause 89 sets out the penalties or forfeiture that can occur if a person fails to comply with clauses 82, 86 and 87, and any regulations made under clause 88, as we have just discussed. As we know, this is an administrative set of clauses laying out a reasonable approval and exemptions process, so we will not oppose it.

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Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Clauses 90 to 97 reproduce the existing exemption from excise duty on denatured alcohol. The exemption will continue to operate in the same way as it does now. As mentioned during the debate on clauses 72 to 81, we are legislating to ensure that all primary legislation relating to the production and use of alcoholic products is contained in one place.

No policy changes are made by these clauses. They reproduce an existing exemption from the charge of alcohol duty for denatured alcohol. In some clauses, changes to the structure and language have been made to modernise and simplify the legislation, but the operation of the exemption remains the same. The clauses reproduce the exemption for denatured alcohol, which is used for the manufacture of products that are not for human consumption, such as paint fillers, cosmetics and toiletries.

The clauses are an administrative measure to ensure that the current exemption for denatured alcohol will continue as now in the newly reformed alcohol duty system. I therefore urge that the clauses stand part of the Bill.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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We now come to chapter 6 of the Bill, which concerns denatured alcohol. Clause 90 states that the definition of “denatured alcohol” will be provided by the HMRC commissioners. Perhaps the Minister could give us an idea of what that definition might look like. The clause also sets out that alcohol duty will not be charged on denatured alcohol.

Clause 91 specifies that a person must be licensed as a denaturer to legally denature alcoholic products or be a wholesaler of denatured alcohol. Clause 92 provides the HMRC commissioners with a sweeping set of powers, such as allowing them to regulate the denaturing of alcoholic products and the supply, storage and sale of denatured products. Perhaps the Minister could outline the purpose of this wide set of delegated powers or give an example of where he would expect them to be used.

Clause 93 sets out that failure to comply with the regulatory regime for denatured alcohol, as set out in chapter 6, will attract a penalty under section 9 of the Finance Act 1994. Clauses 94 and 95 lay out the circumstances in which denatured alcohol is liable for forfeiture or penalty—for example, when a person produces or possesses more denatured alcohol than they are licensed to.

Clause 96 gives HMRC officers a power to inspect, at any reasonable time, premises being used to produce denatured alcohol, and to take samples. Finally, clause 97 lays out the circumstances in which it is an offence for a person to use denatured alcohol—for example, preparing denatured alcohol as a beverage or purifying denatured alcohol. Most of these clauses simply update and integrate into the Bill provisions already laid out in the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979, so we will not oppose them.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Let me again provide reassurance that we are not changing the definition of denatured alcohol, and we have no need to do so—this is a legislative update. However, the hon. Lady should know, for interest and further exploration, that the definition is found in the Denatured Alcohol Regulations 2005. In this measure, we are simply re-enacting existing powers. She should take reassurance from that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 90 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 91 to 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 98

Definitions

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Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Clauses 98 to 107 and schedule 10 simply reproduce existing provisions for excise controls on anyone making wholesale transactions in duty-paid alcoholic products.

As mentioned during the debate on clauses 72 to 81, and clauses 90 to 97, we are legislating to ensure that all primary legislation relating to the production and use of alcoholic products is located in one place. Clauses 98 to 107 and schedule 10 reproduce the requirements for the wholesaling of controlled alcoholic products. Those controls and requirements will continue to operate in the same way as they do now.

To conclude, these clauses and schedule 10 are an administrative measure to ensure that all primary legislation relating to the production and use of alcoholic products for duty purposes are contained in one place.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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We now come to chapter 7 of the Bill, which concerns the wholesaling of controlled alcoholic products. Clause 98 provides several definitions relevant to the chapter, and clause 99 allows HMRC commissioners to make specific definitions concerning whether goods are to be considered wholesale or retail sale. Clause 100 lays out an approval process to allow a person to carry out wholesale activity. Again, that simply reproduces, with updated terminology, sections of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979.

Clause 101 requires HMRC to keep a publicly available register of all approved wholesalers, and clause 102 provides HMRC with powers to regulate the wholesale system. I would be grateful if the Minister could humour me and give me more information on how the register will be made publicly available, what timescales have been given to HMRC and what publication dates will be required for that information.

Clause 103 turns the focus to purchasers of alcoholic products, specifying that a person may not buy controlled alcoholic products unless they are buying from an approved wholesaler. Clauses 104 and 105 and schedule 10 make it clear that a penalty could be incurred if a person knows, or reasonably suspects, that they have bought alcoholic products from someone who is not suitably approved.

Clause 106 defines a group for the purposes of the alcoholic product wholesaler provisions, and clause 107 provides definitions for some of the terms used in the chapter. We do not take issue with this set of clauses concerning wholesale transactions, and we will not oppose them.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the points that the hon. Lady has raised. I reassure her that these are technical updates to consolidate the legislation, so that, for simplification purposes, we have in one place all the legislation for alcohol duty and measures—isn’t that a wonderful thing that we are doing?

The hon. Lady made a good point on communication. We will ensure that all communication is as good as it can be, and we will come up with further details on that in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 99 to 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clauses 106 and 107 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 108

Reviews and appeals

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

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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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.]

None Portrait The Chair
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Order. I will suspend the sitting while we vote.

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On resuming
Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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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.

Cost of Living Increases

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Tuesday 25th April 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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After 13 years of Conservative Government, do the people of Britain feel better off? As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) put it, the answer is a resounding no. Across the country, families and individuals are seeing their bills rise while their pay packet falls, and they are faced with a Government who are only making the problem worse. We must remember that the shocking decisions made over the past year, be it the mini-Budget that crashed our economy or the pension reforms that cut taxes for the 1%, only further entrenched 13 years of failure and mismanagement.

That economic record and the Government’s failure have left the UK exposed to skyrocketing price increases. Working people are facing soaring bills, rising food prices and higher taxes. Meanwhile the Government have inflicted a Tory mortgage premium on first-time buyers that has increased costs by £500 a month for some households, forced a 5% rise in council tax this spring by reducing funding to councils, and introduced a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest 1% of pension savers by changing pension allowances. As my hon. Friends have powerfully illustrated, these decisions continue to have a devastating impact on people across the country.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bootle (Peter Dowd), for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) all talked about how people are worse off after 13 years of Tory Government. Even the hon. Member for Wantage (David Johnston) said that the cost of living crisis is the No. 1 issue on the doorstep. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) talked about how the cost of living crisis is affecting disabled people in such a cruel way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) talked about how the Welsh Government are moving heaven and earth to help constituents. This is what a difference a Labour Government make.

People who walk down a local high street today are likely to see pubs, independent shops or even bank branches shutting their doors as soaring inflation and energy bills make their businesses near impossible to run. They might go into a local supermarket and be shocked at the price tickets accompanying everyday items. The price of eggs is up by a third, the price of milk is up by a third and the price of sugar is up by 42%. And at the end of the street they might see a food bank where local people generously volunteer their time to help members of their community in need.

That is the reality of 13 years of Conservative Government. Hard-working families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet, are having to cut back to only essential spending, and are deciding whether they can afford to take their children on holiday this summer or go out for a meal with friends on their birthday. Businesses, suffering under the weight of price rises, are looking at their balance sheets and having to take incredibly difficult decisions. High streets are on the decline. The fabric of the community is breaking down. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that picture. The UK has lost 6,000 pubs, 4,000 local shops and more than 9,000 bank branches since 2010. The Government have presided over and led that managed decline, and now the UK is right at the bottom of the pack, with dismal growth forecasts and no plan to steady the ship. Instead, despite fast-rising prices, wages are stagnating while the tax burden reaches its highest point in 70 years, with 24 tax rises since 2019—I repeat: 24 tax rises since 2019.

For first-time buyers, the Tory mortgage premium has added up to £500 a month to their bills, as the Conservative mini-Budget wrecked the economy and saw interest rates rise and markets losing confidence. That first step up the ladder as people start a family and settle into the community has been put out of reach. What should be a time of excitement and joy has been reduced to one of anxiety and disappointment, and this is before we consider the impact of the many other tax rises coming down the path. Council tax bills have risen above £2,000 for the first time, with the Government forcing councils to put up rates by reducing their funding, seeing families hit with an average rise of 5.1%. Bills are landing on the doormat while parents hide their fear from their children upstairs.

That is the reality of 13 years of a Conservative Government and the time for change is now. But instead of focusing on the interests of working people, the Chancellor’s main offer has been a tax cut for some of the wealthiest pension savers. While he refuses to take action, it is clear that the British people deserve much better. What is needed is a change of direction. What is needed is a Labour Government—a Labour Government who will create good jobs across every part of the country. We will make Britain a world leader in the industries of the future and ensure that people have the skills to benefit from these opportunities. A Labour Government would today freeze council tax and cut business rates to ease the cost of living crisis, supporting businesses and consumers to thrive. That is the choice facing the country and that is why it is time for a Labour Government.

Finance (No. 2) Bill

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
James Cartlidge Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (James Cartlidge)
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It is always a pleasure to appear so early and unexpectedly. This grouping is about the electricity generator levy. Before I address the specific clauses, here is a reminder of why we are debating this ultimately exceptional new tax.

We have to remember that Putin’s weaponisation of gas supplies to Europe has pushed energy prices to record levels. In 2022, UK wholesale energy prices rose to eight times their historical level. Despite recent falls, gas prices, which currently drive the market price for electricity, remain at twice their pre-pandemic level, which means that the price achieved by some electricity generators has risen considerably, driven by natural gas prices.

The Government have absorbed a substantial portion of the price increase through our generous support for households and businesses, which is why we have chosen to capture the windfall profits of oil and gas extraction with the energy profits levy. The Government are now introducing an electricity generator levy. The EGL is designed to capture only the exceptional receipts that electricity generators make, by taxing only the amounts above their normal return while preserving the incentive to invest in the capacity we need.

Clauses 278 to 280 detail the calculation of the levy, which will be applied at a 45% rate on revenues above a benchmark price for UK generation activities. The benchmark price of £75 per megawatt-hour is set approximately 1.5 times higher than the pre-crisis average. The benchmark price will be indexed to inflation from April 2024. To ensure that the levy applies only to large commercial operations with the capacity to administer the tax, the EGL includes an annual generation output threshold of 50 GWh, which is equivalent to approximately 15,000 domestic rooftop solar panels. A £10 million allowance provides further protection for smaller businesses from undue administrative burden and reduces the impact of the levy for those in scope. The levy applies from 1 January 2023 and will end on 31 March 2028, although colleagues will appreciate that the design of the levy is such that, should prices return to normal, no tax will be due. To ensure that the tax does not have unintended consequences, clause 279 excludes certain technologies.

Clauses 281 to 285 provide definitions for in-scope generation and the calculation of exceptional receipts. As I have outlined, the benchmark price has been set so that the EGL applies only to revenues from the sale of electricity at prices higher than the pre-crisis expectations of generators and investors. The levy applies to receipts from power sold on to the grid from wind, solar, biomass, nuclear and energy-from-waste technology. It applies to revenues that generators actually receive, taking account of contracts which might involve selling power over a longer period for a stable price. Certain types of transaction are excluded, such as “private wire” not sold via the grid, as well as power sold under contracts for difference with the Low Carbon Contracts Company, which is the Government’s flagship scheme supporting investment in renewables. Clauses 283 to 285 set out provisions for the recognition of exceptional costs related to the acquisition of fuel and from revenue-sharing arrangements. These provisions reflect the fact that for some generators fuel acquisition costs will have increased as a result of the energy crisis.

Clauses 286 to 300 deal with detailed arrangements for various structures of business operating in electricity generation. Owing to the size and complexity of projects involved, there are a number of common structures for generation undertakings. Those often involve large group companies, sometimes with significant minority shareholders. Others involve a number of businesses forming a joint venture. For example, a company specialising in offshore wind might go into business with a finance provider to deliver a large and complex project, sharing the revenues and risk between them. There are rules to treat these so-called “joint ventures” as stand-alone generation undertakings for the purposes of the EGL. These clauses ensure that businesses with in-scope revenues pay an appropriate share of EGL liability.

Clauses 301 to 305 provide rules for the payment of EGL. The EGL is a temporary measure that has been carefully designed to minimise the administrative burden on businesses. Firms within scope of the levy will pay it as part of their corporation tax return, albeit that EGL is a separate and new tax. The provisions for paying corporation tax are therefore applied here, including in respect of the supply of information, the collection of tax due and the right of appeal.

I turn briefly to the final clauses on the EGL, clauses 306 to 312. Those provisions ensure that the EGL applies to in-scope revenues from generation activities regardless of company type. Appropriate anti-avoidance rules are also included. Clause 309 details the interaction between EGL and corporation tax for accounting purposes, including the fact that EGL is not deductible from profits for corporation tax purposes.

In conclusion, these provisions ensure that, where electricity generators are realising exceptional receipts as a result of the current crisis, they make a fair and proportionate contribution to the support that the Government have provided to households and businesses. Importantly, the levy is designed to apply only to the excess portion of those revenues, in order to maintain the incentive to produce low-carbon electricity. This is in addition to the Government’s extensive support for investment in UK electricity generation. I will of course respond to proposed amendments, assuming that we hear about them, in the debate. In the meantime, I ask that clauses 278 to 312 stand part of the Bill.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to speak for the Opposition on the clauses relating to the electricity generator levy, a policy that was first announced in the autumn statement of 2022. Clause 278 introduces a new 45% charge on businesses that generate electricity in the UK. Specifically, it will be charged on exceptional earnings related to soaring energy prices. Extraordinary profits are defined in the Bill as receipts from wholesale electricity sold at an average price in excess of a benchmark price of £75 per megawatt-hour over an accounting period. Clause 280 specifies that this benchmark will be adjusted in line with the consumer prices index from April 2024. Companies liable for the levy are those that produce more than 50 GWh annually, generate electricity in the UK from nuclear, renewable or biomass sources, and are connected to a local distribution network or to the national grid. The levy will apply only to exceptional receipts exceeding £10 million.

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Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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I fear that, if I was to talk about the names of all the distilleries in my constituency, the debate would be much shorter than if the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) were to do so. In fact, I have much more of a tendency to drink gin than whisky, although other spirits are available.

It was interesting to hear the words “economically fragile”. That is an incredibly good point. Rural depopulation is a real issue. The Scottish Government are doing what we can to ensure that it does not continue, but if the UK Government keep working against what we are doing to encourage people to live and stay in our rural communities, we will have a real problem. That is not a small thing.

We tabled our amendments because we specifically wanted the word “whisky” on the Order Paper and we wanted to make the case in relation to whisky. However, I will not be pushing our amendments to a vote, and will support that of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) because I concede that his is better. I am always happy to do that in such situations.

The reality is that Scotch whisky is 4.9% of the Scottish economy. Some £8.1 billion can be attributed to the sale of alcohol, around 60% of which comes from whisky exports. The numbers stated by the right hon. Member about how the differential rates work and how much people are taxed on those 14 units were incredibly interesting. The Government’s purpose is to make money from some of the alcohol measures, but there is also a population behaviour change intention behind what they do with tax on spirits and alcohol, particularly the allowance on draught beer. They have different taxes to encourage a change of behaviour, or differential behaviour in people. The Government may intend to use this tax to shift some of the population, but they are actually discouraging people from buying the very spirits that a huge amount of our livelihoods relies on. It is the case that 90% of spirits in the UK are produced in Scotland. The Government’s measures therefore have a massive negative impact on Scotland.

The average price of a bottle of Scotch whisky is £15.22 at a supermarket in Scotland. Following the new alcohol duty plus the VAT, £11.40 of that £15.22 will go to the Treasury. That is such a significant amount, and does not compare with other alcohol. I appreciate what the Government are trying to do on draught, and it is important that they have laid out their rationale for doing so—that was very helpful—but this is incredibly unfair and risks damaging those economically fragile areas, particularly in rural Scotland. Those areas have already suffered as a result of Brexit, with people’s reduced ability to freely move here.

I want to raise a small flag with the Minister in relation to the Public Bill Committee. When we come to that stage, I will be raising questions around clause 87, which is on post-duty point dilution of alcoholic products. I know there have already been problems in relation to that, so when we come to that stage of the Committee, I would appreciate Ministers being absolutely clear about their reasons for the changes in clause 87. If they are able to lay out those reasons clearly, that will reduce the number of questions I am likely to ask.

In summary, we support the amendment proposed by Liberal Democrat Members. We agree with the Scotch Whisky Association and think that the increase in duty is unfair and hits spirits, particularly Scotch whisky, unfairly. We want to stand up for our constituents, our constituencies, rural Scotland and Scotland as a whole in supporting the amendment.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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I rise to speak, on behalf of the Opposition, to the clauses that are related to the tax treatment of devolved social security benefits and the new alcohol duty regime.

I will address clause 27 briefly. Clause 27 introduces a new power to enable the tax treatment of new or new top-up welfare payments, introduced by devolved Administrations, to be confirmed as social security income through secondary legislation. That will allow the UK Government to confirm the tax treatment of new or new top-up payments within the new tax year rather than be subject to the UK parliamentary timetable.

I note that the income tax treatment of social security benefit is currently legislated for in part 10 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003, and that this clause will introduce a new power to add new benefits to the table of taxable benefits included in the Act. I can see that the clause is largely administrative. Therefore, the Opposition do not take issue with the clause and will support it.

I will now move on to the clauses concerning the new alcohol duty regime. The Bill contains 77 clauses establishing a new structure for alcohol duty, but we will discuss just some of those today, before moving to consider the remainder in Public Bill Committee.

Labour agreed with the principles behind the alcohol duty review. We want to see the alcohol duty system made simpler and more consistent. We recognise that there is a balance to be struck between supporting businesses and consumers, protecting public health, and maintaining a source of revenue for the Exchequer. We have consistently raised concerns about the Government’s rushed and confused messaging on this area.

Before I come to the clauses and schedules, I want to paint a brief picture of the context behind the changes. Back in October 2020, the Government announced a call for evidence, seeking views on how the alcohol duty system could be reformed. At the time, they said this would make the system

“simpler, more economically rational and less administratively burdensome on businesses and HMRC.”

However, what we have seen since then is indecision, U-turns and delays.

Businesses and consumers had to wait until September 2022 for the Government’s response to the alcohol duty consultation. What ensued was chaos. In the shambolic mini-Budget that crushed the British economy, the then Chancellor announced a freeze on alcohol duty that was due to come into force in February 2023, but then the new Chancellor scrapped the freeze in October’s autumn statement. Fast forward to December, and I was back standing at the Dispatch Box responding to another Government’s U-turn, that time deciding that the freeze was back in place until August 2023.

The Government have now confirmed that the freeze will end in August and a new system of alcohol duty will be put in place. Alcohol duty rates will be adjusted in line with inflation and moved to a system that links duty rates to alcohol by volume. Clause 47 sets out the new regime, while clause 48 and schedule 7 specify the new adjusted rates of alcohol duty for different drinks. I note that some sectors are concerned about these changes—particularly wine producers and Scottish whisky producers, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) highlighted.

The reason the Tories have hit people and businesses with stealth taxes is that they have failed to get the growth that our country needs and have failed to get a grip on inflation. That is what makes the boasts of halving inflation so hollow. Prices are already soaring, hitting industries with steep tax rises.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson
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Can the hon. Lady set out in detail the Opposition’s plans for alcohol duty and how they might differ from the Government’s plans?

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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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As I mentioned, we have consistently raised concerns about the Government’s U-turns on the issue. We have scrutinised them and put forward recommendations, which the hon. Member will hear us talk about in further detail in the Public Bill Committee.

It is important that today the Minister lays out what measures the Government will take to support the sectors most affected by the duty changes, as well as what consideration the Treasury has given to the potentially inflationary impact of the increases. The explanatory notes to the Bill state:

“The commencement of changes to approvals will be announced at a later date.”

Perhaps the Minister could give some certainty to businesses by fleshing out some further detail today.

Clause 50 and schedule 8 set out measures for a new draught relief that will provide a reduced rate of duty on qualifying draught products. Clause 51 sets out the requirement that qualifying draught products be under 8.5% ABV and be packaged in containers that hold at least 20 litres and are designed to connect to a dispensing system. Clause 52 sets out the rules on the repackaging of qualifying draught products. Decanting from 20-litre containers into smaller containers will be prohibited unless the products are to be consumed on the premises at which decanting takes place.

Labour supports these measures, which will support and protect the hospitality sector, but our analysis has found that more than 70,000 venues have had to reduce their opening hours because of energy bills. I have seen that in my constituency. These are businesses that enrich our communities and boost our high streets, but they are being let down by the Government and many of these changes will come far too late.

I note that the draught relief has been designed in a way that will exclude the wine sector. Can the Minister explain why? Will he let us know whether the Government will introduce any other measures to support British wine and spirit producers?

Clause 54 lays out measures to replace the small brewers relief with a small producer relief. Clause 55 specifies that eligible producers will be those whose products have an alcoholic strength of less than 8.5% ABV and who produce less than 4,500 hectolitres of alcohol per year. The remaining clauses and schedules lay out precise measures for calculating rates of relief.

Labour introduced the small brewers relief in 2002 and is proud of the effect that it has had by supporting small brewers and creating a vibrant UK beer scene. We therefore support the extension of relief to other producers, but I note that that may not occur under the new scheme, as British wine and spirit producers are largely excluded from these measures. Perhaps the Minister could lay out why the scheme has not been further extended.

In conclusion, Labour recognises the need to simplify the alcohol duty regime while striking a balance between supporting businesses and consumers, protecting public health and maintaining a source of revenue for the Exchequer.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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May I take up the point about small producers? Deerness distillery, in my constituency, is a family-owned business that is seeking to move into whisky production. Surely, as a small producer in a market dominated by big corporates, it should be given the same opportunity to grow as a brewer. Why, in principle, should there be any difference in their treatment?

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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We, too, are concerned about that, and I have met various stakeholders in the sector who have highlighted their concerns. I hope that the Minister will take the issue on board in his response.

We do not oppose the clauses and schedules, but we want answers to the questions that have been raised, and, most important, we want certainty for the businesses and consumers who have suffered over the past few months and years as a result of the constant chopping and changing that the country has seen from various Conservative Governments.