I beg to move,
That this House has considered air passenger duty throughout the UK.
Good morning, Sir David. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
Air passenger duty is a protracted issue that Parliament has had many opportunities to consider since its introduction more than 20 years ago. The fundamental premise of my party’s position on air passenger duty and the thrust of the debates throughout recent decades is the economic barrier and detriment that air passenger duty—it as an arbitrary charge on short-haul and long-haul flights—causes for our economy more generally, for our tourism industry and for connectivity within and outwith the United Kingdom. This is a timely opportunity for the House to consider the impacts of air passenger duty once again.
I am delighted to have an intervention so early and to have it from the hon. Gentleman. The answer is no—it has not worked to protect our environment at all. The Treasury call for evidence published as a result of the confidence and supply agreement states clearly:
“APD is a tax based on the number of chargeable passengers aboard an aircraft taking off from a UK airport, and is the only tax applied on air travel as the government does not apply VAT to airline tickets or levy a tax on fuel.”
Somebody who is interested in the environmental impacts of air travel would suspect that a tax might be attributed to fuel, given that the fuel causes the damage. When the Labour Government considered APD back in 2006, they felt they needed to strengthen the opportunity to protect the environment through air passenger duty. Department for Transport modelling indicated that, even if they were to proceed along the current path, there would not be a stabilisation of emissions until 2040. Does it work as an environmental protection? No, it does not. Does it work as an economic detriment to our country, our economy and our tourism industry? Yes, it does.
I pay tribute to those who have campaigned on this issue for much longer than I have. Northern Ireland has been enriched by the enthusiasm and passion of the campaign from Hospitality Ulster, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and the Northern Ireland airports. I have the privilege of representing George Best Belfast City airport in my constituency. We have Belfast International airport, some recreational spaces in Newtownards aerodrome and St Angelo, and the City of Derry airport in Londonderry. Airlines UK, a campaigning body that represents airlines across the United Kingdom, has provided much information. The House of Commons Library and the Tourism Alliance have also been very useful in providing information for this debate.
As I have mentioned, the confidence and supply agreement struck between my party and the Government last year specifically provided for a review of air passenger duty and of VAT on tourism and the hospitality sector. The issue crosses the entirety of our United Kingdom. Other Members here today will want to raise issues that are particular to Scotland and to the northern parts of England. Although this debate covers the whole United Kingdom, I will focus most of my remarks on the impacts of APD and VAT in Northern Ireland.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. As he has said, the issue affects other parts of the United Kingdom. A Fair Tax on Flying estimates that, since the measure was introduced, the residents of North Tyneside have paid more than £38 million in APD. Is that fair or commensurate with the economic problems that we face in the north-east when we need to increase our trade and let people go on hard-earned holidays?
The hon. Lady is entirely right. She indicates how APD acts as an economic barrier and a detriment. It curtails growth and success and stands in the way of business from the north of England to the south of England to other parts of the United Kingdom. It stands in the way of leisure pursuits and increases the costs on hard-working taxpayers and their money, whether it is for business or pleasure. She is entirely right. It is a barrier.
My hon. Friend knows that the UK has the highest flight taxes anywhere in the world. We surely need to look at that. Hopefully we are going to be in a post-Brexit situation, so we need to make sure we can attract businesses and more people into the country. Cutting the tax is one way we can do it.
The Minister does not need to be encouraged on the merits of leaving the European Union or indeed on the benefits, flexibility and freedoms that it will give us as a country to chart our own course and to set preferential tax rates that are beneficial and encourage growth, which I think must be a key factor for the Treasury.
I have mentioned the confidence and supply agreement and the call for evidence that was published. I understand that there has been extensive engagement, particularly from Northern Ireland industry, the airlines and all of those affected by this arbitrary tax. The consultation closed on 5 June and we look forward not only to the thoughtful engagement of the Treasury, but to its purposeful response. The issues that it took evidence on are the same issues that have applied to this debate for years. When the Treasury says that it wants to explore the economic impact of APD, it is exploring the same reports that were presented to it in 2011, 2013 and 2015—exactly the same reports carried out using exactly the same modelling—which indicate that scrapping air passenger duty would be a net gain to the UK Treasury. I do not say that superficially, but whenever we stand before a Treasury Minister or try to argue with the Treasury and say, “We want to have this cut for a boost,” they look at you and say, “This will cost us money. If we take from this pot, how will we supplement it in another way?” The call for evidence will show, as every economic forecast has shown, that there is a net economic benefit to the reduction of air passenger duty.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that the major competitor to all of Northern Ireland’s airports—International, City and Londonderry—is Dublin? Dublin Airport has now attracted tens of millions of passengers. It is one of the fastest growing airports in western Europe and the Irish Republic does not have APD. We need a very competitive industry. Cancelling APD would give our airports a magnificent advantage over Dublin.
My hon. Friend is right. I will come on to those Northern Ireland-specific issues, but first I will touch on the 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers report. PwC uses—this will mean something to the Minister, and probably a lot to the officials sitting behind him, although it does not mean much to a layman like me—a computable general equilibrium model: exactly the same model that the Treasury uses when considering economic impacts. PwC updated its report in 2015, but the 2013 report was clear: scrap air passenger duty, and the Treasury will gain—not lose and claw back, but gain.
As a country we have gone from getting £343 million per year from air passenger duty in 1999, to £3.9 billion last year, with £4 billion estimated by 2021. When PwC updated its model in 2015, it said that there would be a direct boost to this country’s GDP of 0.5% in the first year, not a loss. How many times do we see newspaper headlines with every political decision that is having a detrimental impact on our GDP? Yet here is a simple and clear way that the Treasury could make a positive and progressive move that would lead to an increase in GDP in the very first year.
PwC said in 2015 that if we had done it that year, by 2020 we would have had 1.7% economic growth. That would have meant 61,000 additional jobs in this country, stimulation of our tourism and hospitality sectors, growth in business, 61,000 more families benefiting from a good income, 61,000 more families not otherwise relying on the state, and more revenue raised in tax than would be lost in abolition. If we can push one message, whether through the consultation, the call for evidence or the plethora of modelling and economic data that has been provided to the Treasury, it must be this: more tax revenue will be raised with the abolition of APD than its retention—an extra £570 million per year, had the decision been taken in 2015. That is not the £4 billion we are hoping to get, but £2 billion on top of that by 2020. That is a 50% increase, and were I a Treasury Minister I would jump at the chance.
Northern Ireland is, of course, close to our hearts. We have to look at the competitive disadvantage in Northern Ireland compared with our near neighbours in the Republic. Travelling from Belfast to Dublin airport is no different from travelling from Manchester to Birmingham. It is only 100 miles, so when someone is considering where to fly from and how much it will cost, the economic attractiveness of flying from Dublin is incredibly strong.
I do not put those figures forward to suggest that the UK tourism industry is in a bad place; it is not—we rank fifth out of 136 nations in travel competitiveness overall. However, on ticket price competitiveness, the Treasury report says we are 135th out of 136 countries. When someone is faced with the attractive economic proposition of travelling 100 miles down the road to Dublin, that is a barrier to growth in Northern Ireland, to additional connectivity, and to greater opportunity for leisure travel. It is frustrating and constraining the economic stimulus that we in Northern Ireland desperately need, and that our businesses crave.
In Northern Ireland we have had an 11% increase in travel, with 17% more air passengers going through our airports over the last five years. That sounds good, as the UK average is 22%, but what are Dublin’s figures? In 2014, the Republic of Ireland scrapped air passenger duty. From 2014 to 2018, the number of air passengers going through Dublin’s airports rose by 47%. That is an additional 9 million travellers, 1.2 million of whom come from Northern Ireland. That starkly illustrates what we are attempting to highlight. On average, 25% of the cost of a one-way short-haul ticket in this country is air passenger duty. It is not small beer; it is a considerable consideration for anyone seeking to travel.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which I served on during the time of the inquiry, has considered both the reduction and the abolition of air passenger duty, as well as a reduction in VAT. The debate does not focus on VAT but on air passenger duty. However, in our view the two are intertwined, and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee agreed. The Republic of Ireland cut its VAT rate for tourism and hospitality, bringing it down to 9%. That means, again, that that industry has a competitive advantage. If somebody goes to visit the island of Ireland they will see our hospitality figures, hotel rates and so on with a significant uplift.
When the Republic of Ireland cut its hospitality and tourism VAT, there was a significant benefit to the economy again. For every percentage point dropped—and the rate went down to 9%—there was an increase of 1.7% in employment. That directly led to 4,800 new jobs in the Irish Republic, because it had the courage to cut the VAT associated with hospitality and tourism. The Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and Hospitality Ulster are clear that the economic benefit and growth created in the Northern Ireland economy through that simple reduction could result in 1,100 jobs.
I understand that we have two tax rates for VAT in this country—20% and 5%. We are constrained to those two at the moment, and even if we were not, we might not choose to have three, four or five because of the increase in burden. However, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was quite clear that the disparity makes a distinct difference when Tourism Ireland, which is charged with promoting tourism on the island of Ireland under the Good Friday agreement, is promoting Northern Ireland, as opposed to the Republic of Ireland.
I hope that the Minister will not only outline a timetable for considering the Treasury’s call for evidence, but show an earnest desire to take, once thoughtful consideration has been given to the mounting evidence that has been compiled over years, reasonable, beneficial, appropriate steps to stimulate the aviation sector across the United Kingdom, tourism and economic growth in Northern Ireland. I hope that we look at not only the specific calls of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the abolition of APD and the reduction of tourism VAT, but other models as well.
One such model could be a route development fund. We could charge no APD for a three-year window. That would be a good way to test whether or not it is an economic barrier or detriment. There would be no loss to the Treasury on any new route, because it would just not charge for such a route. A route development fund would encourage growth and stimulate the sector to get business destinations, which we crave in Northern Ireland, such as Frankfurt in Germany, France or even transatlantic flights to the United States. We could give a route development fund three years to see whether it makes sense, and whether air passenger duty has been a significant barrier. Allow a route to develop without the threat of air passenger duty, allow it to stabilise and grow, and we believe that fruit would be borne through that sensible policy.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. It is a timely opportunity to remind everyone of the important work that is under way in relation to the consultation on APD and VAT in Northern Ireland, which he referred to. He talked about the general issues, but there are two crucial issues that will result in a change for Northern Ireland: first, we are in competition with Dublin airport; and, secondly, Northern Ireland is cut off from the rest of the United Kingdom by the Irish sea, and therefore we are much more dependent on air links. When the Treasury looks at APD, it must conclude that, to make Northern Ireland competitive and to sustain our economy, it must take action to deal with those two issues.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the competition and the constraints put upon us as a region. I could not have put it better. We are set aside by the Irish sea, and we rely on air connectivity. We do not have the choice to search around for off-peak train travel, or to easily jump on a boat, only to find that the bus is not at Stranraer waiting for us. When we look at stimulating our economic growth, we have to recognise that we are at a distinct disadvantage because of the Irish border and the tax duty regime in the Republic of Ireland.
I know that other hon. Members will mention the other devolved regions, which have committed to remove air passenger duty. Whenever a devolved Administration gets into such a discussion with the Treasury, it will ask for the cost to be covered by the block grant. It has had such conversations with Northern Ireland and with the Scottish Government. If there is further devolution, it may have such conversations with the north of England.
The whole thrust of that approach is predicated on loss and on the Treasury not having something it otherwise would have had. If it is successful, Scotland, Northern Ireland or the north-east of England are not allowed to reap the rewards; they go back to the Treasury. We need confidence and optimism in this process. Evidence from across the United Kingdom shows that there are benefits. The Government must recognise our unique challenges and those of other parts of the United Kingdom.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I have a Valentine’s poem for him. It was written by Pubs of Ulster—the predecessor to Hospitality Ulster—to one George Osborne in February 2015. I hope it adds a bit of levity to a debate that can be turgid when we get down into the figures. I think pragmatists can see what the answer is.
“Labour is red
Tories are blue
Here’s something important
That you need to do
Our VAT rate is crippling
Our ability to grow
It’s putting off tourists
To other countries they go
Please cut the VAT rate
And help us create
A competitive market
For our beds and our plates
As you know my dear Chancellor
You’re close to our hearts
But elections are looming
And you may depart
So as your last action
Before the big day
Please cut the VAT rate
And you may get to stay!”
That is a little bit of fun, but it lays out the Northern Ireland tourism and hospitality industry’s calls about VAT.
Air passenger duty is clearly a barrier to growth. I trust that the Minister will thoughtfully consider all the calls for evidence. We look forward to hearing a suitable response today and in the weeks to come. I hope that, come the autumn statement, we will be in a position to make some sensible and serious proposals.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who made a detailed, informative presentation about air passenger duty. I commend him for his choice of tie colour. There is no better colour to wear as we approach 12 July than the one he is showing, not only to Westminster Hall but to the world. Well done to him. I hope he will be wearing the same tie—perhaps not exactly the same tie—in the run-up to the 12th.
I thank my hon. Friend for obtaining this debate and for his detailed presentation. The Democratic Unionist party has been trying to make progress on this issue for many years. He has outlined the facts. He is correct that the stats are sometimes a bit turgid, but they underline the importance of this issue. UK air passenger duty is currently the highest tax of its kind in the EU. That causes us some concern—not because it is about the EU, but because it gives us a comparison across the whole of Europe. The next-highest air passenger duty in the EU is Germany’s, which is half the UK’s. That indicates how far we have to go even to make a small difference. The Minister must respond to that. APD is the highest European aviation tax for short-haul and long-haul flights. For long-haul flights, APD is the highest rate of tax in the world. Again, that illustrates how important this issue is.
Most countries do not have a tax on air travel, and many countries that did have an equivalent tax abolished it due to the negative impact it had on competitiveness, connectivity and the wider economy. They recognised that change was needed. If we need an incentive, we should look at what other countries have done and do likewise.
APD harms UK connectivity, and we are losing out to our European neighbours, particularly in respect of the emerging markets with which the UK should be strengthening its trading relationships after Brexit. We have seen the new flight connections with China advertised in the tube stations; Chinese airlines are trying to build up such connections. That is another part of the world with which we can have connectivity through air flight connections, and we should be looking at that.
My hon. Friend and I were talking before the debate about the figures for our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. This year, Dublin airport had its highest ever number of passengers—29.6 million. Can we catch up with that? I am not sure we can, but we should at least try to respond in a way that enables us to get some of that passenger potential and retain it for ourselves.
My hon. Friend is outlining the numbers for Dublin airport—it will probably breach the 30 million mark this year—but is he aware that Dublin is constructing an additional runway to take advantage of the nil rate of APD? It is not only getting 30 million passengers; the number will go way up beyond that. Northern Ireland’s hospitality and tourism industry needs a competitive advantage to compete with that.
My hon. Friend always brings intelligent thought to his interventions. I confess that Dublin gives me easy access to the States every year. It is the airport that my family and I use whenever we go on holiday. One of the reasons why we do that is the customs connection. We do our customs clearance in Dublin, and when we get to the far side, we get off the plane, get our baggage, and we are away. With great respect, if we go from Heathrow to New York, we spend an hour in the long customs clearance line.
My hon. Friend points to an important factor, but it has been proved that the single biggest factor that causes people to travel through Dublin airport is price. One fifth of all visitors to Northern Ireland use Dublin airport. The trouble is that many people who arrive at Dublin airport from the States and elsewhere do not, unfortunately, leave the greater Dublin vicinity or southern Ireland. They do not come north; that is the reality. Price is the crucial point. My hon. Friend refers to another important aspect, but air passenger duty means that he and many of my constituents are being directed—almost shown the road—to Dublin airport.
My right hon. Friend clearly states the real issue, which is price. He is absolutely right. I was just saying that one of the other advantages is customs clearance, which probably suits many, but the thing that puts people there first is price. Customs clearance is an incentive but an extra which makes things a wee bit easier. My right hon. Friend is also right about Tourism Ireland needing to ask how better to connect passengers who come into Dublin airport so that they do not stay in Dublin but go north. To be fair, Tourism Ireland does things well when I go every year to the Milwaukee Irish Fest in Wisconsin, but we can and should be doing a lot more. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. First and foremost, people are attracted by price. That can be applied to many facets of life, such as shopping trends or changing shopping practices.
According to a report published by Airports Council International, this year the UK was the only European nation to see a decline in its direct connectivity. That is worrying. If that is happening and a trend shows that, we need to do something positive and constructive about it right away. The reason for our focus on APD is that we believe in Northern Ireland’s ability to compete with the rest of the UK, and any area, to attract and secure global business. Belfast has clearly become the cyber-security capital of the UK and has the potential to do even more than it has so far. Why is that? Look at the reasons to learn how important it is for us to have the APD issue addressed, which would be of advantage to other parts of the UK as well.
In Belfast and other cities in Northern Ireland, global tech names such as Citi or Allstate work in the sector with silicon valley firms such as BDNA, and they are all recognisable. Not only does our highly skilled workforce attract global investment, but our indigenous tech firms such as Kainos, Novosco and First Derivatives grow in size and are becoming global leaders, all in a region of Northern Ireland. We must pay tribute to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and to the Ministers—when the Assembly was working—for their hard work, which is still delivering today, even though the Assembly is not functioning as it once was—the seeds were sown and the dividends are being paid.
Much of our attraction is the skills base, supported by international-standard research facilities, with education and big business working together. We have the education, the big business, the opportunities, the quality of graduates and all those things together—Northern Ireland again leading the way for the UK to follow. That is how things happen and benefits are achieved.
Northern Ireland is consistently the top-performing region of the UK in national exams at age 16 to 18. The fact is that we have the graduates, and that encourages the investment, which is perhaps why we have done so well. Digital firms want to invest because the skills base is there in Northern Ireland, and still available, because we continue to produce graduates to build above and beyond where we are. We have the highest percentage of qualified IT professionals in the UK and Ireland, with more than 77% holding a degree-level qualification.
I say with respect to the Minister and all other regions, Northern Ireland is leading the way. From a small base of 1.8 million people—although the latest stats tell us we are nearly at 1.9 million—we are up there with London and other parts of the United Kingdom. Post Brexit, therefore, we are in a position to do great good for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is an opportunity that we should be taking advantage of. Some 77% of post-A-level high school graduates in Northern Ireland go on to further and higher education, compared with the UK average of 71%. Again, Northern Ireland is leading the way.
All such things make it attractive to come to Northern Ireland. Furthermore, labour and property costs for a 200-person software development centre in Belfast are 36% less than in Dublin, 44% less than in London and 58% less than in New York. We can see the benefits of coming to Belfast and Northern Ireland. Improved connectivity, which is central to this debate, will only enhance our global potential. How can we build on our base and our level of delivery in Northern Ireland and across the whole of the United Kingdom? The motion seeks to highlight the importance of the ability to hop on a plane and get anywhere in the world quickly—the need for competitive APD, to allow us to show the world that we are only a short, cost-effective flight away.
Only aviation can connect the United Kingdom with existing and emerging markets vital to our post-Brexit future, producing and maintaining thousands of jobs, and indeed the thousands more jobs to come. At the moment we have a competitive disadvantage that we cannot afford: we pay more than double the aviation tax of our nearest European trading rival, Germany. The tax on trade hits UK businesses as they seek to expand international trade essential to our post-Brexit future. It acts as a brake on airlines’ developing new routes to the very markets that UK businesses need to reach.
If the Government want to signal that Britain is truly open for business as Brexit approaches, what better way could there be than to cut this tax on trade by at least 50%, to bring us in line and give us an advantage? The high rate of APD is a brake on expanding links with the world, meaning that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland loses out on connectivity opportunities, and it is one of the main reasons why Germany is better connected to South Korea, Japan, China and Brazil than the UK. It should be the other way around and we should be doing something to address that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not only about Germany and further abroad? Under the Scotland Act 2016, Scotland is able to go ahead with its air departure tax proposal, which is a reduction of 50%, and that will affect the north-east, with a further bad effect on Northern Ireland in addition to the Dublin effect.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and her wise words. The Minister has heard what she said, and I agree with her, as others do. We need to have a strategy and policy that move us forward together, so that we can all take advantage of what happens, rather than efforts that are divisive—perhaps the wrong word—or different ways of trying to achieve the same goal. I therefore wholeheartedly support the A Fair Tax on Flying campaign and its call for at least a 50% reduction in air passenger duty. I urge all Members to support the AFTOF campaign.
My mother often urged me not to be penny wise and pound foolish. Many people would say that that is the Ulster Scot in her, and in me—every pound is a prisoner, and we were told to look after it and to look after it well. There is nothing wrong with that: thriftiness is good—my children comment on that to me, but that is by the way, and I hope that they learn the lessons that my mother taught me, and that I have tried to teach them. The point is this: we need to focus on the immediate penny, but sometimes we forget the value of the pound. That was what my mum was telling me. We need to look at how we spend better to grow our economy.
From the Minister’s response to various comments, I know that he is sympathetic to our point of view. It has been outlined to me that up to £175,000 can be generated through trade from a high-growth market per average flight added. That is a massive amount of money per flight added, and gives us an idea of our potential to grow.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those are all the arguments and the evidential base from places around us. We should be looking at how such places advance and how we can do so alongside them or do even better.
New daily flights to the eight largest high-growing economies could generate as much as £1 billion in additional trade per year for the economy—that figure multiplied up from the one flight to all the flights together. The economic value of new connections to five Chinese destinations, which I mentioned earlier, will add £16 million to GDP and 530 new jobs. That alone gives an idea of the advantage to be gained there.
I do not want to make a pun, but I urge the Government to consider a pilot scheme—for a methodology whereby we can move things forward. Research by PwC shows that more tax revenue would be raised from other taxes than would be lost from abolition of the APD, with a net £570 million in extra tax receipts in the first fiscal year. Positive benefits through to 2022 could add up to as much as £2 billion in tax receipts additional to the total in the status quo. These are not just enormous figures; they represent our potential growth and what we can do. APD abolition could boost UK GDP by almost 0.46% in the first year, with ongoing benefits up to 2022. The increased economic output associated with abolition could lead to the creation of 61,000 jobs by 2022, which is not very far away. At my age, the years seem to go by quicker, but the fact of the matter is that we would quickly see the advantages.
I join the calls to sincerely urge the Government to reduce APD by at least 50%, to ensure that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, better together, is more connected to the world, including emerging markets, so that there is increased choice for holidaymakers and to demonstrate that a truly global Britain is open for business. After Brexit, we should be even more open than we are now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on securing the debate, which is very important for the reasons he outlined. I also congratulate the Minister for being in his place this morning—I know how challenging that is at the moment, so well done.
It is very unusual to be in a debate with colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party and find that we agree furiously. In fact, it is a unique experience for me—I could recite many long disagreements—but today, the protracted issue, as the hon. Member for Belfast East rightly said, is the lack of action on APD and the economic barrier that it has put down. He further described it as an arbitrary charge that affects the economy, tourism and connectivity. Northern Ireland and Scotland, and particularly the highlands, which I represent, have something in common: air transport is not a luxury. We do not use it purely for holidays—it is part of the public transport mix and very important to us. The hon. Gentleman listed the number of airports affected, but that can be extended throughout the north of England and around the nations of the UK. Scotland is directly affected.
Within five months, I will have travelled to the US, Aberdeen, Israel, which I came back from yesterday, Lisbon and Nigeria. That is not unusual and is part of what being an MP is about. I am not unusual in the scheme of things in the UK, because that is what my business colleagues are doing. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point.
Other right hon. and hon. Members will have to make up their minds whether the hon. Gentleman is unusual, but I leave that with them.
As the hon. Member for Belfast East pointed out, the tax does not work as an environmental incentive. It is simply an economic disincentive. The money goes into the general tax pool every year and does not go to tackle the environmental issues other than in the way that any other tax might. There is no direct funnelling of that money into environmental initiatives—otherwise there would be significant differences. As he said, all studies show that a reduction in APD would produce a net benefit to the economy.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that PwC stated that if APD is scrapped, the Treasury will gain. He made the telling point that a Treasury report found that the UK is ranked 135 out of 136 countries in terms the cost to the traveller. That is damning of the cost of air travel through APD. He further pointed out that Ireland scrapped APD in 2014—an independent country making a decision for itself—and tourism shot up by 47%.
The hon. Member for Belfast East introduced a side issue, which I also thoroughly agree on, of cutting VAT rates for tourism. Combined with tackling APD, that would be of huge benefit to areas throughout the nations of the UK where tourism and visitor numbers are extremely important to the local economy. We support that strongly and we would commit to it if the power was with us. On the hon. Gentleman’s closing remarks, I cannot send a Valentine to the Tories because it certainly would not be sincere, but the comment about it being a humorous way to highlight a serious problem is valid.
Smaller airports suffer disproportionately from APD, such as airports in Scotland and my own airport in Londonderry, where we are trying to get route development money. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that double disadvantage—the difficulty of attracting new routes and APD—needs to be countered and that action should be taken to help?
I will come on to some specific issues in Scotland, because the picture is different, particularly in the highlands and islands, but the hon. Gentleman’s point is very well made for the rest of the Scotland, where there are direct APD effects.
The hon. Member for Strangford pointed out that it is the highest tax of its kind in the EU. It is worth repeating that the cost in Germany is half. The scandalous figure is that, for long haul, it is the highest tax in the world, which affects tourism. The revelation that the hon. Gentleman sneaks off to use Dublin airport will probably reverberate around his local community.
APD is a competitive disadvantage. ABTA calls it a “tax grab”. The hon. Member for Strangford pointed out that Northern Ireland is losing out on connectivity opportunities. Again, it has that in common with other parts of the nations of the UK. His feeling was that the UK Government should just get on and reduce or scrap APD. We are always grateful for some motherly advice in Parliament—there is nothing more true than penny wise and pound foolish. The UK Government could benefit from a net increase in income from other taxes. The hon. Gentleman pointed out the impact of 61,000 jobs—that is a significant benefit that raises the question of why APD has been allowed to continue to so long. Why has it not been addressed?
Air passenger duty is one of the most expensive taxes of its kind in the world, as we have heard. It hampers Scotland’s ability to secure new direct international routes and maintain existing ones. It is simply a regressive tax. Combined with the other unfair tax on our tourism sector—VAT—we face among the highest taxations in the world. An independent report found that reducing air departure tax, as it is called in Scotland, by 50% will boost Scotland’s air connectivity and economic competitiveness.
Encouraging the establishment of new routes, which would enhance business connectivity and inbound tourism, would help to generate sustainable growth. That is why the Scottish Government remain committed to a 50% reduction in ADT by the end of the Scottish Parliament in 2021. We want to get on and deliver it.
We want to abolish ADT entirely when resources allow, but that cannot be delivered until the UK Government and the Scottish Government can ensure that exemptions afforded to the highlands and islands remain. The Scottish Government understand the importance of the exemption. Therefore, the introduction of ADT in Scotland will be deferred until the issue of the highlands and islands exemption is resolved. As a highlands MP, I know only too well that air connectivity is critical for the highlands and islands, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s determination to deliver the best possible outcome for the area. I could not possibly countenance the withdrawal of support for the highlands and islands which, for the reasons I pointed out, would lead to substantial difficulties for people who rely on air transport as part of the public transport mix.
Highlands and islands airports have been exempt from air passenger duty since 2000 because of the area’s low population density and peripherality. The current APD exemption helps support the viability of commercial air services in the highlands and islands. Without it, we would face reduced flights and the withdrawal of important services to the region. Alternative surface journeys by road, rail or sea are long, particularly for those coming from the islands, whose journeys often include overnight stays or overnight ferry travel.
Recognising the social and economic importance of flights to the region, the Scottish Government have worked to reduce the cost of air travel, but residents of the highlands and islands still pay more than people who live in other regions of the UK. The Scottish Government have worked closely with Transport Scotland, VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and, crucially, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd to develop the network at Inverness airport and improve international air connectivity to the region. That has brought new routes, including a British Airways route to Heathrow and a KLM service to Amsterdam, and improved the frequency of existing routes. Similar work has led to the expansion of the air network serving smaller regional airports in the highlands and islands.
The introduction of those new flights has enabled our business and tourism sectors to flourish, but more could be done. We are all too well aware that those connections remain some of the most fragile across these isles. Since being elected in 2015—I served in the last Parliament as Transport spokesperson for the Scottish National party, and I am now its Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson—I have consistently made the point that they are crucial to Scotland and to the highlands and islands. That is why the case for the exemption remains, and why the UK Government must provide assurances about route protections and public service obligations in respect of the third runway at Heathrow.
The Minister knows that the Scottish Government cannot implement ADT unless a solution is found to the problem with the exemption. Will the UK Government look at why APD was handed over in a state that put that exemption at risk? The Scottish Government were effectively given responsibility for APD without the power to implement it. What assessment have the UK Government made of the state of APD? What is the Department doing to resolve the issue with the highlands and islands exemption while supporting the Scottish economy? The Minister will be aware that the Scottish Government have convened a new highlands and islands working group, which includes organisations with expert knowledge of the highlands and islands economy. Its first meeting was on 15 June. What support have the UK Government offered that working group?
The Scottish Government want to continue to work with the UK Government to find a solution. While the UK Government continue to set APD rates, they should take the impact on the Scottish economy seriously. As we heard, that impact is also felt by the economies of Northern Ireland and of the other nations of the UK. Since APD was transferred in the state it was, will the Minister review it for the rest of the nations of the UK?
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on securing the debate, which has been very inclusive and interesting, and on his illuminating speech.
Many of these issues have been discussed before, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. They were foreshadowed in our debates about recent Finance Bills, in which I spoke on behalf of the Opposition. Labour argued in those debates that the Government need to be clearer about their long-term plan for APD. There have been a number of reviews of APD’s efficacy, proportionality and impact on competitiveness since its introduction in 1994, and we need to situate this debate in that context. However, despite those reviews, a number of questions still have not been answered, so I hope the Minister provides some indication of the Government’s thinking.
As has been indicated in previous debates on this topic, the Government estimate that APD contributes about £3.1 billion to general taxation. I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman and others suggest that, if one takes a holistic view of its fiscal impact, APD may be fiscally positive on the ledger. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister whether the Treasury is conducting a 360° review of APD’s fiscal impact. I understand that PwC has carried out research, but it would help if the Treasury were focused on this issue, too.
In response to the comments by the hon. Member for Shannon, I cannot resist—
I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I am very sorry about that. He will perhaps be even more perplexed when I mention that, rather than pound pinching, my family talked about looking after the pennies and the pounds looking after themselves. Perhaps that reveals a psychological difference between lowland and Ulster Scots. Of course, we need to look after the pennies and the pounds—that is the whole point. We need to trace exactly the impact of APD.
Studies suggest that the evidence about APD’s impact on passenger numbers is mixed. As many Members said, such a duty is unusual in the international context, but the number of passengers using UK airports has increased by 15%—a substantial increase—in the past five years. Of course, APD needs to be considered in the context of there being no tax on aviation fuel and no VAT on domestic or international flights. There are also different levels of APD for different kinds of flights, and exemptions for children were introduced in 2015 and extended in March 2016.
I will focus on four issues: the long-term viability of APD, regional competitiveness, the unequal impact of APD on different groups of Britons, and environmental issues. From a revenue point of view, there are clearly significant concerns about APD’s long-term viability. The Government have moved to provide industry with earlier notice of APD changes. The rates for next year were announced last autumn. That is surely positive for industry but, as I mentioned, we have had no indication of the Government’s view of the long-term trajectory of the tax, particularly in the context of the race to the bottom occasioned by internal competition in the UK. The tenor of this debate demonstrates that the starting gun has been fired on that race—it has begun, and we need to know the Government’s response.
We must view increases or reductions in APD in the context of taxation generally across income levels. It is notable that, given the increasing popularity and accessibility of air travel, many more people pay APD. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) said, many more people enjoy hard-earned holidays abroad, and there are also people who need to travel abroad for family or work reasons.
Equally, APD is far less significant for household incomes than VAT, another transaction-based tax, which Members touched on. We would be in a different situation if the potentially regressive impacts of consumption taxes as a whole were cancelled out by progressive income taxes, for example, but of course the Government reduced the top rate of income tax. The latest Office for National Statistics figures suggest that overall, unusually in Britain’s history—at least in recent times—people in the least well-off decile pay a greater proportion of their income in tax than those in the most well-off decile. That is a peculiar situation.
Another concern we must note is about APD’s impact on regional competitiveness, which has been a focus of the debate and was perhaps its motivation. As we have discussed, APD levels were devolved to the Scottish Government in the Scotland Act 2016 and initial suggestions were that it would be halved and then potentially removed altogether.
We have discussed at length changes mooted in Northern Ireland, where there has been a call for evidence. We got useful detail about the operation of that from the hon. Member for Belfast East. As I understand it, the Government stated in February 2015 that they would also consider the case for devolving APD to the Welsh Assembly. We have therefore seen much change in relation to this duty.
All those changes naturally raise questions for airports contiguous to other airports not subject to the same APD levels, whether they are contiguous to Scotland or to the Republic of Ireland. We heard interesting thoughts on that from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) and the hon. Members for Upper Bann (David Simpson) and for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). Of course, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) —I have got it right this time—gave us a typically passionate and inclusive speech and a glimmer of his holiday plans. I hope they are more sedate and relaxing than those of the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), whose itinerary of recent movements sent my head into a bit of a spin.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside, who pointed out research suggesting that the duty has a significant impact on people living in her area. She is always a doughty supporter of their interests.
The Treasury published a discussion paper on options to support English regional airports in July 2015, but it is difficult to find out what concrete steps have occurred since then. Furthermore, the Government have said they will look at the matter once legislation concerning state aid changes is produced. An indication from the Minister of the Government’s thinking on that would be helpful; it is particularly important, given the points made by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) about the situation for the highlands and islands.
There is often confusion in this place, though certainly not on the hon. Gentleman’s part, about the impact of EU state aid provisions in general. Of course, they prevent the provision of arbitrary support, but, as he suggested, low levels of population could be a feasible basis for such an exemption.
The hon. Lady makes the point well. This is an exemption based on population density and the regional difficulties in the highlands and islands. Indeed, it should be possible—I hope it is—for the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to solve that problem.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say from a sedentary position that they are working on that. I hope the UK Government will do so with rather more application than they did on support for the steel sector, of which I had an inside view as a Member of the European Parliament: they made no attempt to secure clearance for the kind of support we saw applied in countries such as Romania, which had been okayed by the European Commission; they asked the Competition Commissioner for exemption only from environmental measures. There was not much application around steel, so I hope we will see a different approach to these matters.
Another concern is the impact of APD on Britons who have family living outside the British Isles. The previous four-banding system meant that such individuals could end up paying more APD than those travelling to the US, for example. None the less, the division in the calculation between short and long-haul travel continues to be criticised by some who feel that that disadvantages Brits with families in, for example, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, who need to fly long haul to visit them. One could argue that other, lower carbon alternatives are available to flying for short-haul journeys, which do not apply for travelling long distances. An indication of the Government’s thinking on that would be helpful.
Our final concern is about APD’s impact, or otherwise, on environmental outcomes. In response to a question posed by the hon. Member for Henley, the hon. Member for Belfast East maintained that APD does not have a positive environmental impact. However, we must look at it in the context of enormous public concern around climate change and the increasing significance of emissions from aviation. At APD’s introduction in 1994 and, following that, the Labour Government’s focus on it, there was an attempt to ensure that its design would have a green impact. For example, during the 2007 Budget process it was stated that APD
“plays a valuable role in ensuring that passengers understand and acknowledge the environmental costs of their actions. The resultant behaviour change can deliver significant climate change benefits”.
Those believed benefits were then detailed.
I hope that the hon. Lady does not misconstrue what I said as a suggestion that we are not interested in climate change. The Library briefing is helpful, talking about the Labour Government in 2006 and a Department for Transport recalibration of emissions, which were to increase and not decrease until 2030. I do not think consumers realise that the contribution is made for environmental benefit or that it is having any tangible impact. The growth of aviation technology will have a much bigger impact on environmental benefits than an APD charge.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. I acknowledge that there is not necessarily the awareness to ensure that it does have such an impact. Some of the matters he just raised have led to calls for a redesign of the duty, which some believe could lead to a greater environmental impact. One suggestion, which was examined in 1998, was whether it would be better to levy the duty on planes rather than passengers to reduce under-occupancy and lessen emissions. However, the then Government suggested that a restructuring of APD would be more appropriate and the four bands were introduced. Of course, since then we have gone down to two bands.
It is interesting to note that the highly interventionist right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)—he is not often described as that—argued that, on reducing under-occupancy through such a measure,
“there is a green case to be made there.”—[Official Report, 23 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 729.]
However, the practicalities of doing so are highly complex, which may be why that did not develop at that time. In particular, it is difficult to exempt transit and transfer passengers from the calculation, which led Alistair Darling away from initial moves in that direction.
The taxation of aircraft fuel has been mentioned as an alternative, but that is prevented by the network of bilateral air service agreements under the principles of the Chicago convention. It would be helpful to hear whether the Minister has been involved in attempts afoot internationally to alter that agreement to provide more flexibility.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way yet again. She is talking about alternatives for taxation. Does she agree that had APD been used directly for environmental measures, it would have had a huge impact? For example, it could have been involved in the creation of alternative biofuels and other incentives and operations to reduce dramatically the environmental impact, yet it has not been spent in that way at all.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that interesting point. Hypothecation of tax is relatively unusual in the UK. My party believes—he will expect me to say this—that there needs to be much more investment in those technologies. That would be positive for our country, whether funds are hypothecated from a particular area or found through other mechanisms.
One other aspect of the international context—this was mentioned to me by a Minister—is the ICAOs agreement on the carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation, which was introduced in October 2016. Members have referred to the EU’s emissions trading scheme in that context, but we have not yet heard from the Government about whether we will remain part of the ETS beyond 2020. If we follow existing patterns for APD, Parliament will set the rate for 2021 next autumn. It would be helpful to get a clearer idea about how the Government view international schemes such as that of the ICAO interacting with multilateral mechanisms such as the ETS. The general lack of clarity on environmental matters amplifies the fact that the UK Government seem to lack any long-term vision about what constitutes green taxation in the first place, let alone how it should develop in future. This is a bit of a cheesy point, but I contrast that with the shadow Treasury team, which includes a shadow Minister who is focused exactly on such matters, and on the link between environmental and Treasury issues.
In conclusion, I am afraid that I lack the poetic sensibilities and contacts of the hon. Member for Belfast East, but I congratulate him again on securing this debate. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the five issues I raised: whether there will be a 360° review of APD; whether there is a long-term plan for it; what the Government’s view is about the substitutability of short-term flights, and whether that should be taken into account; whether the Government are participating in international attempts to reform the Chicago convention; and what their view is of the interaction between the ICAO scheme and the ETS, and what the future will hold for carbon trading for the UK beyond 2020—that point is very germane to this debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) on securing this debate. I have known him since he and I were elected and have always been fond of him, but I was not expecting a belated Valentine’s day present. I vaguely remember that some time ago the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) presented a giant heart-shaped card to No. 11. I wonder whether the Chancellor’s predecessor regrets not taking the advice on it. Flattery will get you everywhere at the Treasury, so I am grateful for that.
We have had a productive debate and it has been interesting to hear from all sides. There is significant agreement across the House that we view the UK aviation sector as extremely important to our quality of life and for creating jobs, and particularly for connectivity within our United Kingdom and beyond. There is no more important time for us to consider both how we can bring the United Kingdom closer together, and how we can make ourselves more open to the outside world. This is therefore a timely debate. Let me say a few words about APD and aviation in general, and then I will turn to Northern Ireland and try to answer, assuming time allows, many of the reasonable and important points raised. If I cannot do so, I will write to the relevant Members.
The UK aviation sector is a strong performer and we are a world leader in that industry. We have the third largest aviation network in the world, and since 2010 passenger numbers at UK airports have grown by more than 20%. That strength extends across the entire UK, not just at major airports such as Heathrow. Regional airports are growing and handled approximately 113 million passengers last year. There is good news across the sector.
Regional airports have been the basis of this debate. They make a valuable contribution to the growth of local economies and support connectivity across the UK. We appreciate that and want it to continue. We must also appreciate that aviation plays its part—like all industries—in contributing to the Exchequer. We heard various epithets about looking after pennies and not being penny-wiser and pound-poorer, and we appreciate that. The Treasury wants to ensure that we meet our commitments to public services and to continue to address the deficit and the debt.
We also want to pursue policies that will increase economic growth, in which tax has a role. As the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) said, in line with our international treaty commitments, we do not tax commercial aviation fuel and no VAT is charged on airline tickets. It is important that that part of the economy plays its part in funding public services, which was why the Government introduced air passenger duty in 1994. Without that duty, commercial aviation would be relatively undertaxed compared with other industries.
Air passenger duty raises around £3.2 billion a year, which is a significant amount of money. It would be foolish of the Treasury not to take that seriously and to proceed without great caution. That is why we are proceeding with the introduction of a call for evidence, which I will discuss in a moment. We appreciate the arguments that were made eloquently by the hon. Member for Belfast East—those points were also made by Democratic Unionist Members who spoke after him and by many other Members across the House, including those from the north-east, the west country, Wales and Scotland. We are alive to those concerns and I hope I can provide further detail about the steps that we are taking.
We are conscious that APD is often passed on to passengers as part of their ticket fares. This is not a tax on passengers—it is a tax on airlines—but in many cases it feeds through to the cost of tickets. In recent years we have tried to minimise the impact of APD on hard-working families to ensure that those who can afford to pay more do so. Last year we announced that rates will stay frozen for the sixth year in a row for the 80% of passengers who fly short-haul. That will help to keep down the cost of holidays for the vast majority of travellers, including those who travel throughout the United Kingdom for business or other reasons. We have exempted children from APD, which could save a family of four £26 on a short-haul flight and £156 on long-haul flights. Together those actions reduced the burden of APD by about £300 million pounds in the last financial year alone.
We have increased APD on private jets to ensure that those with the deepest pockets pay their fair share, and we are using those proceeds to fund some of the savings for families and holiday travel. I hope Members agree that, alongside those reforms, the Government have demonstrated their strong commitment to the aviation sector more generally, which was exemplified most recently by decisive action to address capacity constraints in the south-east. The new Heathrow expansion will provide capacity for an additional 260,000 flights a year and deliver an extra 16 million long-haul seats for passengers travelling from UK airports by 2040. I hope and believe that it will also be beneficial for all regional airports in the UK, including those in Northern Ireland and Scotland. We heard the Secretary of State’s important commitments on Heathrow and want them delivered. Additional capacity at Heathrow is expected to bring a boost of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy over the next 60 years and we want that delivered at pace.
The Government are not blind to calls from the industry and over the years, including during my relatively brief time as a Minister, we have met a number of airports stakeholders. As a result of discussions with the DUP, we decided to create a call for evidence—I have received and read the representation from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) on behalf of his party. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has already visited Northern Ireland to meet stakeholders, including representatives from the airports, so that we can take seriously and listen directly to concerns about APD and VAT.
We are concerned to proceed with care in these matters, first because of the significant amounts of revenue for the Exchequer that are at stake, but also because, as we have heard during this nuanced debate, there are currently complexities regarding EU state aid guidelines. That situation may continue depending on the ultimate agreement that we reach with the European Union—in a moment I will come on to the position in Scotland, where those complexities have come out most vividly in recent months and years.
We keep the matter under review. The call for evidence has now closed. The Chancellor, Treasury officials and I will carefully consider the arguments submitted by many stakeholders in Northern Ireland. We expect to offer a response in the Budget in October or November. I hope we can continue conversations once we have carefully analysed the evidence submitted.
Clearly the tourism industry is important in Northern Ireland, as it is in all parts of the United Kingdom, and we appreciate that the Northern Ireland economy is still in recovery mode and that it requires our wholehearted support to continue to grow. Tourism in Northern Ireland has been growing significantly in recent years, as there is so much to offer there. We appreciate the unique position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom with respect to economic competitiveness. It is the only part of the Union that shares a land border with another state—the Republic—which poses a number of challenges, one of which relates to airports. Anyone who visits Northern Ireland and understands its economy will appreciate the impact on passenger numbers, business and other passenger choices of the fact that there are other airports within easy driving distance. We shall consider those points carefully in the coming months.
We have read the various reports hon. Members have quoted. We do not necessarily agree with all their findings, but the purpose of the call for evidence that has just closed is to build our own significant evidence base, to enable us to arrive at our own view. It may not be exactly the same view as the independent reports, but we intend to take a detailed, careful decision.
I will deal briefly with other points made in the debate. EU state aid rules, which are relevant to Scotland, have proved complex. As I said from a sedentary position—the hon. Member for Oxford East picked it up—we are working productively with the Scottish Government, which I should like to continue. I would be happy to discuss after the debate or on another occasion how we can step up those efforts. The Government passed the legislation recommended by the Smith commission in 2014 that devolved APD to Scotland. Implementation has been delayed, as the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) described, because it has proved difficult to square the circle as to how the measure would apply to the highlands and islands. I am sure the hon. Gentleman wishes for a settlement to be reached. We shall continue to work closely together and when it is eventually implemented we will bear in mind how it works in other parts of the United Kingdom, including for the airports closest to the Scottish border.
As the hon. Member for Oxford East mentioned, we have in the past looked into the impact of air passenger duty on regional airports in England. There was at that time no consensus about how to proceed. We analysed the various recommendations carefully. There were no easy answers and different airports came up with different and often competing proposals, but we remain open to further suggestions and are in constant conversation, as Members might expect, with airports, stakeholders and Members of Parliament who want to take the matter forward.
As was mentioned in the debate, we have had a discussion with the Welsh Government about the devolution of air passenger duty to Wales. Careful consideration led to the conclusion, which was respected by many if not all the stakeholders, that Cardiff airport was essentially within the same air economy as Bristol airport, and that it was necessary to proceed very carefully before changing the regime for Cardiff in view of the knock-on effect on Bristol. However, we shall continue to think carefully about whether there is a way around that situation. We should not want to harm Bristol inadvertently by creating a competitive advantage for Cardiff.
There are already powers for devolved Governments to take action on route development funds. I appreciate the current difficulties in Northern Ireland in taking that forward, but were the Executive there to resume, they would have the capacity to proceed and implement a route development fund for Northern Ireland. The Government in Wales also have powers to take action because they own Cardiff airport. They could act to develop it further from its current relatively small number of passengers—it is about 1.5 million a year, whereas there are 8 million at Bristol, its nearest competitor.
There is still no easy definition of long and short-haul flights. We have alighted on a definition of a short-haul flight as one where the capital—not necessarily the relevant airport—of the destination country is within 2,000 miles of the UK airport. The effect of that is to take in all European Union countries, plus most Mediterranean-facing countries, with one or two exceptions that are arguably anomalies, such as Israel and Egypt. The vast majority of countries bordering the Mediterranean fall within the definition, and it seems broadly logical. There is no perfect definition.
On the environmental points made, we are interested in treaty obligations. Perhaps there is an opportunity to take action on a multilateral basis. I do not think that that is being pursued today, but I am happy to look into the matter and revert to the hon. Member for Oxford East. As I said, we have taken action against private jets, which are less environmentally friendly and may at times be under-occupied. It has proved complex and difficult to take action on under-occupied flights. HMRC has done significant work on that and no simple solution has been found. Today the duty is paid by airlines, not passengers, so there would need to be significant change to the tax to implement that.
I hope I have answered some of the questions that hon. Members raised. If there are further points, I am happy to discuss them afterwards. I want to leave the hon. Member for Belfast East with my and the Chancellor’s reassurance that, in the months ahead, we will work carefully through the submissions in response to the call for evidence. We will listen to the arguments of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, which appear to have significant support from other parts of the House, and before the Budget we shall present our careful response. In the meantime I shall be happy to discuss the issue further should he or his colleagues want that.
This has been a productive debate. We may not be many in number, but we were ably assisted by the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell) and for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon), and by the Front-Bench contributors. I have enjoyed listening—the speeches were thoughtful and full of detail, which is how a debate should be.
I am grateful to the Minister for his commitment to engage in the interim and to present a response to the call for evidence in October. He is right that we have the power for a route development fund, but that misses the point that, if the Treasury were to permit the introduction of previously non-serviced routes where no APD is applied, not only would there be freedom to grow those routes, but it would be demonstrated to the Treasury that there is a benefit in not having APD associated with them. It is slightly different: if the Executive used their powers, APD would be charged for those routes.
We are one of a few European Union countries with APD. We have heard in the debate about the benefits for Ireland and the Netherlands from scrapping it. There has been exponential growth in their economies as a direct result. We are the only European Union country, out of 28 member states, where connectivity has declined. We need to think about the reasons for that and work productively to see what we can do to encourage growth in business, aviation and the country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered air passenger duty throughout the UK.