Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

– in the Scottish Parliament am 2:20 pm ar 28 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 2:20, 28 Mai 2024

The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with amendments, members should refer to the bill as amended at stage 2—that is, Scottish Parliament bill 28A—the revised marshalled list and the groupings of amendments.

The division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for around five minutes for the first division of stage 3. The period of voting for the first division will be 45 seconds. Thereafter, I will allow a voting period of one minute for the first division after a debate. Members who wish to speak in the debate on any group of amendments should press their request-to-speak buttons or enter RTS in the chat. Members should now refer to the marshalled list of amendments.

Section 3—Levy to be charged on purchase of overnight accommodation

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Group 1 is on the payment of the levy. Amendment 21, in the name of Miles Briggs, is grouped with amendment 33.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

Amendment 21 and amendment 33 are probing amendments about how and when the levy will be paid and how small businesses that will be tasked with the administration of its collection and recording will best be able to undertake the duties that are outlined in the bill.

It is important that the Government has a consistent approach to the collection of the levy. We need to ensure that visitors do not pay the levy twice and, importantly, that businesses that will now be tasked with becoming tax collectors have the simplest way of recording and receiving the levy payments for which they have to account.

We know that there has been a significant shift towards online booking platforms, and many businesses now operate mixed booking systems and, indeed, mixed check-in models. Therefore, I hope that the amendments will ensure that the Government provides clarification on the collection of the levy and any flexibilities that could be provided for, to be set out in statutory guidance that ministers would develop.

I move amendment 21.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Llafur

Given the fact that Miles Briggs states that amendment 21 is a probing amendment, my point is moot. I fully accept his point about ensuring that the providers are at the heart of the bill and, critically, ensuring that we do not drive money into the hands of third parties. However, I am concerned about whether the amendment would get in the way of how business is done, particularly if people use credit cards and other online payment methods, which are a core part of the way that the tourism business works.

We will hear what the minister has to say. I understand the sentiment behind amendment 21 but have concerns about the practicality.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

The amendments in this group relate to the arrangements for paying a visitor levy if the local authority chooses to introduce one. Under the bill, the overnight accommodation provider is responsible for collecting and remitting the visitor levy to the relevant authority. However, the liability falls on the accommodation provider, as that is a more practical and sensible approach than it falling on individual visitors, as compliance action against individuals who live in other countries would be impractical and uneconomic to collect.

Miles Briggs’s amendments relate to the practical arrangements for the payment of the levy and, in the Government’s view, make it more difficult for businesses to collect and remit it.

Amendment 21 would require a visitor to pay a visitor levy only at the overnight accommodation. That would severely limit the options that an accommodation provider had to collect a levy, as it would mean that a visitor could pay it only at that overnight accommodation. For example, it would prevent the levy from being collected online when a booking was made if the accommodation was paid for in advance. It is also unclear how it would work for a self-catering property that uses a key box or similar arrangement for check-in.

Amendment 33 would also limit the flexibility that accommodation providers have to make administrative arrangements around a visitor levy. It would remove the ability for an accommodation provider to make an arrangement with a third party to collect a visitor levy. That would, for example, prevent an online travel agent from collecting a visitor levy on behalf of an accommodation provider for the bookings that were made through that platform. Under the bill as drafted, such arrangements can be made if an accommodation provider wants to do that.

The Government wants to give accommodation providers the flexibility to enter into such arrangements if they want to and to enable them to collect and remit a visitor levy in the way that works best for that business. That is why the Government does not support amendment 33.

I very much appreciate the points that Mr Briggs has raised in lodging the amendments and for affording us the opportunity to consider the issues. I assure Mr Briggs that I think that flexibility to ensure the most effective administration is absolutely critical for the success of any visitor levy that a local authority introduces. I also assure Mr Briggs that it is my expectation that those matters will be engaged through the statutory guidance. I am, of course, happy to discuss the matter further with any member, should Parliament pass the bill.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

I have listened to what the minister has had to say. This will be in the detail when the bill is operational, but it is important that businesses know how and when they will get that data from the online booking platforms and how they will be able to be report it back without facing any penalties. We need more clarification on that, which is why I lodged the amendments.

Having listened to what the minister has said, I am happy enough not to press amendment 21 and I will not move amendment 33.

Amendment 21, by agreement, withdrawn.

Section 4—Meaning of overnight accommodation

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Group 2 is on the meaning of overnight accommodation. Amendment 22, in the name of Miles Briggs, is grouped with amendments 23 to 25, 1, 2, 26 to 29 and 3. If amendment 23 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 24, due to a pre-emption.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

This set of amendments seeks to remove camping sites, hostels and caravans from places that are considered to be overnight accommodation in the bill. During the passage of the bill, the argument that a fixed rate would see minimal additional costs to visitors has now been superseded by the percentage rate, which is now included in the bill and which the Government supports. We have therefore seen the £1 or £2 levy becoming a charge of at least up to 10 per cent on all accommodation.

During the cost of living crisis, many people have looked to have a cheaper holiday. Indeed, during the pandemic restrictions, many Scots discovered just how wonderful our country is for holidaying. The bill could add significant costs to family holidays and for families in Scotland who are holidaying at home. For example, I looked online yesterday at a campsite near Fort William, which the Deputy First Minister might know. For a week’s family holiday, for two adults and two children in a large tent pitch, it would cost £224 next week. The tourist levy could add £22 to that cost.

Significant concerns have also been expressed about many hostels and how they are administered. I know that the minister is alive to those issues. For Scots seeking a more affordable holiday, the choice is often to book a campsite, hostel or caravan accommodation. Adding a potential 10 per cent to what is fundamentally a self-catering holiday will directly hit the pockets of Scots who are trying to enjoy an affordable staycation in their own country.

In recent years, the Scottish Government has also promoted the diversification of agribusinesses. For many, that has seen the development of the provision of camping and caravan pitches, even though that is not their main business interest or source of income. That is also important for many of those businesses that provide additional accommodation for agricultural shows or local concerts and art festivals, which might just be one-off events.

There are significant cross-party concerns regarding the on-going issue of wild camping and the damage that it often causes to our natural environments, as well as the limited but often unacceptable cases of antisocial behaviour that we have seen. Above all, for people on a fixed budget, trying to save money and not having to pay an accommodation tax is important and, in booking a campsite or caravan park, that is often what people intend to be able to achieve.

The additional costs that a visitor levy will bring could result in significant behavioural changes and increase the amount of wild camping and overnight parking of caravans in lay-bys and passing places. I do not think that any of us has necessarily understood—the Government certainly has not—the unintended consequences that the bill might have. I therefore believe that the amendments are proportionate, and I hope that members across the Parliament will support them.

I move amendment 22.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

The underlying principle of the bill is to empower local authorities to be able to raise revenues to invest in the services and infrastructure on which the tourism sector and local communities rely. The minister has already referred, in relation to earlier amendments, to the importance of flexibility for local authorities to meet local needs and circumstances, recognising that the tourism sector differs in different parts of the country and at different points in the year.

It is important that we do not land local authorities with a poisoned chalice. Fundamental to that is ensuring a degree of fairness, so that the legislation that we apply and the way in which local authorities can use it does not appear to single out one section of the tourism sector while excluding others.

Over recent years, in my Orkney constituency and across the Highlands and Islands, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of motorhomes making up a part of the tourism sector; that is even more the case with cruise traffic. I am not trying to make an argument about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing—that is for another debate—but what is beyond doubt is the fact that the increased volumes are putting additional pressure on services and infrastructure in Orkney and other parts of the country. If the bill is to command public confidence as well as the confidence of the sector, recognition of that fact is required.

In addition, there is the question of the administrative costs for operating any scheme that a council brings forward. Excluding cruise traffic, motorhomes and other sections of the sector, while including hotels, bed and breakfasts and self-catering, runs the risk of local authority schemes costing more to operate than they are likely to be able to recoup through revenue—I know that that would be the case for Orkney Islands Council.

I understand from the exchanges that I had with the minister at stage 2 that there are complications in trying to incorporate these provisions in the bill, and I thank the minister for his constructive engagement ahead of stages 2 and 3. I understand that there have been on-going discussions with local authorities and that the minister is committed to continuing those discussions to find a way forward in relation to both cruise traffic and motorhomes. Identifying ways of applying the bill in an island setting, where the requirement is to travel into the islands and within the islands by ferry, opens up opportunities that are not available in operating schemes on the Scottish mainland.

I recognise that the process will take some time in order to get the detail right. However, in the choreography of what local authorities are able to do in the introduction of a visitor levy that applies to those businesses that are captured by the bill, allowing local authorities to apply it with a degree of fairness to cruise traffic and other elements of the tourism sector, it is important that the work is taken forward with good speed and that the legislation that is required to introduce it is brought forward in this parliamentary session.

Again, I thank the minister for his engagement on the issue. Despite having rushed to introduce my amendments, which secured them numbers 1 and 2 in the list, I can confirm that, as at stage 2, I do not intend to press them to a vote; rather, I intend to use them as a means to allow the minister to put on the record the Scottish Government’s commitment to take forward the consultation and legislation in due course.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party 3:00, 28 Mai 2024

These amendments all deal with the types of overnight accommodation on which the levy would be payable and I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to them. Liam McArthur has explained amendments 1 and 2, which allows me to set out the Government’s position regarding a cruise ship levy and a levy on motorhomes. I am grateful to Mr McArthur for his constructive engagement ahead of stage 3.

The Government is open to introducing a cruise ship levy and to exploring the detailed mechanisms that would be required to operate it. We will therefore engage with local authorities, the cruise ship industry and other stakeholders in the coming months to explore the issue further and to develop more detailed proposals. I thank the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities for its work on the matter, which will be a useful starting point for those discussions. I can confirm that we intend to launch a public consultation later this year, so that we can formally hear the views of those who would be affected by such a levy and to further consider the impacts on businesses, local government and others. That will build on the constructive engagement that we have had during the development of the visitor levy, and ministers will be happy to engage with members who have an interest in a proposed cruise ship levy.

Motorhomes are also an important part of the visitor economy and are used by many people to explore the more rural parts of Scotland and our many islands. Recent research by VisitScotland has shown the benefits that motorhomes can bring to the visitor economy. However, I know that they can also place particular pressure on smaller communities, so there is an understandable view that they should be subject to some kind of levy.

The Government is open to discussion with stakeholders about the issue and will consider developing proposals that will work to support the visitor economy. Discussions with councils and land management stakeholders have highlighted significant practical issues with any levy on motorhomes, including potential difficulties with application, administration and compliance, but the Government’s door remains open to discussion of the issue and to any workable proposals that can be brought forward. I note Liam McArthur’s suggestion about the opportunities for the potential application of such a levy in island settings.

I reaffirm the Government’s commitment in these areas and make clear that I am committed to engaging on these matters, as are my ministerial colleagues. I intend to engage during the summer on the issue of a cruise ship levy and to further explore measures regarding motorhomes.

Having outlined that and made those commitments, I ask Liam McArthur not to move amendments 1 and 2.

I turn to Miles Briggs’s amendments 22, 23 and 25, which would remove campsites, hostels and caravan parks from the scope of a visitor levy and would make it impossible for a local authority to include them in its visitor levy scheme.

Where there is a strong consensus between, and among, local government and the tourism sector that a type of accommodation should be removed from the scope of the visitor levy, the Government is open to removing that accommodation type. Members may recall that that happened with boat moorings and berths earlier in the passage of the bill. However, there is no such consensus on the issues of campsites, caravan sites and hostels. Such accommodation is an important part of Scotland’s tourism sector, offering lower-cost accommodation and a different type of experience. The Government’s approach to the visitor levy takes that into account, with the percentage charged for the levy reflecting the generally lower cost of such accommodation.

Such accommodation is much more prevalent in some parts of Scotland than in others and removal would therefore disproportionately affect some local authorities more than others. Clearly, removal would also reduce the level of income that a local authority would receive from the visitor levy, which would, in turn, affect the level of funding available for investment in the visitor economy.

The Government therefore does not support amendments 22, 23 and 25 and I ask Miles Briggs not to press them.

Amendment 24 seeks to include campsites only

“where the provision of camping pitches is the primary income of the business”.

I appreciate where Miles Briggs is coming from with his amendment, but it is not one that the Government can support. Businesses may have a variety of income streams and those may fluctuate over time depending on conditions in the wider economy. How would the exclusion operate given that the amendment is unclear on how “primary income” would be defined and over what timeframe? Again, this amendment would affect some local authorities disproportionately. In the absence of a national consensus, I do not want to remove the flexibility for local authorities to determine accommodation providers for their individual schemes. I therefore ask Miles Briggs not to press amendment 24.

Similarly, Miles Briggs’s amendments 26 and 27 seek to reflect situations where income from caravan and camping pitches is not the main focus of a business. In this case, again, the Government believes that it is best left to local authorities to decide on what is a local tax. In the absence of any consensus between local government and the tourism industry, flexibility would be needed to define what was ancillary and what would happen if that changed over time. The Government therefore does not support amendments 26 and 27.

Amendments 28 and 29 seek to exempt the provision of caravan and camping pitches for a festival or event. I understand the thinking behind the amendments but, in the absence of a consensus, the Government does not support them. There are also problems with the amendments at a practical level. For example, how would they apply to a general-purpose campsite where some of the people who were staying were taking part in a particular event and others are not? I therefore ask Miles Briggs not to move amendments 28 and 29.

My amendment 3 is largely technical and I ask members to support it. It will make the consultation requirements for regulations under section 4 consistent with consultation requirements elsewhere in the bill.

I will make a final point in respect of the points that are raised by many of the amendments in the group. Under the bill, a local authority that seeks to introduce a scheme will be required to consult before it is introduced, and it will be able to exclude certain types of accommodation. In the absence of a national consensus, that decision is best made at a local level. I am very willing to continue the discussion with MSPs from all parties if there are types of accommodation that they believe should be excluded from use of the powers in section 4. At present, however, the Government does not believe that it is right to take that step without a clear consensus among local government and the tourism industry. The bill seeks to introduce a local tax and, as part of empowering local government, to give local authorities the powers and responsibilities to make decisions that are right for their areas.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

Given the pressures on coastal and island communities that cruise ships bring, I will speak to Liam McArthur’s amendments in the group. Last year, while we were in government, Scottish Greens secured a commitment from the Scottish Government to introduce a cruise ship levy. Our island and coastal communities deserve a properly considered piece of legislation, and it is good to hear the minister’s assurances that work is on-going in this complex area. The practicalities of a cruise ship levy need to be worked out and we need to find the appropriate legal mechanism. Scottish Greens will continue to work constructively with the Scottish Government, communities and stakeholders to deliver a levy that works for ports, harbours, islands and our coastal communities.

Questions have been asked about the approach to motorhomes and the trigger point for those since the bill was introduced. Liam McArthur’s proposal for a trigger point when a motorhome makes a journey to an island would work for islands, but not for the mainland.

I wonder whether the minister has seen the work that has been done recently in Venice, where an app and a QR code have been introduced and visitors are required to pay a daily fee. That approach might be worth considering in on-going work on both of the measures that I have mentioned.

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party

Regarding amendments 23 and 24, I share the concern of constituents and business owners in my region that the implementation of a charge at caravan or holiday parks could displace motorhomes and caravans to lay-bys, farms or people’s gardens. However, as the minister mentioned, local authorities will be able to decide what to cover, and the situation may well be different in different areas of Scotland. Those local authorities will know that better than I do. I look forward to Highland Council’s consultation on that, and I am sure that my constituents who made strong representations to me will be able to do so in that process, too.

In light of that, instead of throwing out motorhomes and camping sites altogether, as the amendments seek to do, we should explore how to catch all non-resident and non-Gypsy Traveller motorhomes that use our roads—often to unsustainable levels, as happens every year on Skye and across the north coast 500 route. Such motorhomes could be charged, either physically or through a licence plate recognition system, at entry points such as the Skye bridge or a point on the north coast 500, or when disembarking from ferries.

Those vehicles damage our roads. They present costs to the local authority without always paying back, either to the council’s budget or to the local economy in any way. Anyone who lives by the north coast 500 route will tell of the personal costs that they have incurred, whether that is in removing rubbish, repairing damage or claiming on their car insurance because of the state that the roads have been left in. Although increasing the number of rangers could help with that, that would also be a cost to the local authority. Money for that has to come from somewhere, and I would much rather that there be a minimal charge on those who use the council’s roads than that my constituents’ council tax bills go up to cover the cost. I hope that the minister will be happy to consider how we can charge those vehicles fairly and effectively without promoting displacement and irresponsible tourism, and I would be very interested in taking part in the summer engagement that he mentioned.

I also have great sympathy with Liam McArthur’s amendment 1. Although I understand why it may not be suitable for the bill, I am glad that he lodged it, as it has allowed the debate, and I am keen to support his and others’ calls for a levy on cruise ships at a suitable opportunity.

Across the Highlands and Islands, cruise ships arrive with more people on board than the populations of the towns that they visit. That is a lot for any local authority to deal with, even if some businesses manage to take advantage of it—while many do not. Whether or not a local person supports those ship visits, it is hard to argue that there is no impact—the impact often costs the public purse, even if it pays into private interests in other ways. I am therefore glad to hear from the minister that the door is open. He can expect me to knock on it soon.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

The debate sums up the difficulties and problems that members across parties have with the framework bills that the Government is introducing. Everything is to be detailed another day. The argument that the minister has put forward does not stack up. The Government has agreed to take out from the bill boat moorings and berthings, but it has provided no clarification on whether the visitor levy should be collected from other sources of holiday lets, such as caravans when they are used as static holiday accommodation by the individuals who own them. The bill has no detail.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

Miles Briggs was at the meeting of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee at stage 2 at which I proposed an amendment to have boat moorings removed from the bill. I am sure that he will agree that people do not stay on their boats when those are moored.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

I am not sure that that is 100 per cent the case, to be honest. Sometimes, if people are travelling around the country on their boats, they stay on their boats. I am not sure what evidence Stuart McMillan can present on that.

That sums up the debate on the impact. What the minister has outlined means that in future, people who go to a national park could find that different parts of that park have different rules on camping, on where they can park their caravan and on whether they will be charged. That is ridiculous.

In addition, as I have outlined, the levy will be an unwanted additional charge on people who are trying to have a more affordable holiday.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I assure Miles Briggs that there has been extensive consultation and engagement, by officials and by me personally, with representatives of the boating and marine tourism sector and with both our national parks. We have ensured that the legislation reflects the need for engagement with national parks.

I also highlight that the chargeable event is the transaction whereby one pays for overnight accommodation. That is where the levy would bite, should a local authority introduce one.

There is flexibility in the legislation that allows local authorities to work together to develop a joint visitor levy scheme. It would be for individual local authorities to decide whether to partner up, but it could be applied in a situation in which local authorities overlap a national park. That would allow for a co-ordinated approach, which would not risk the potential issues that Mr Briggs highlighted.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr 3:15, 28 Mai 2024

Businesses and people who are trying to navigate the levy saw the complex nature of the short-term lets legislation, and this bill will be the same, if not worse. All the businesses that have been copying me into their concerned emails to ministers hoped that there would be a more constructive business reset—which was offered to them—but that does not seem to be forthcoming from the Government.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Ceidwadwyr

I am slightly confused because, across the Highlands, caravans use not only caravan parks but local government-approved car parks, where they are allowed to park overnight. It appears that there would be some confusion in that area. In a lot of cases, because legislation was removed, caravans just park in lay-bys, so it appears that some people would be caught by the bill and others—who are perhaps not following the rules as diligently as they should be—would avoid being caught by it. Does the member agree that that seems a mess?

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

I absolutely do. We have reached stage 3 without the Government being able to work with parties across the chamber—and only recently has the Government had to do that. This is not an acceptable situation. There will be more cases of wild camping and of people not going to organised campsites and caravan sites. I do not think that anyone in the chamber necessarily wants that to happen, but that will be the only way for people not to face a charge of up to 10 per cent or more. When people travel around our country, having to realise where they are, which local authority they are in and whether they are being charged will become the norm. That is ridiculous, and ministers should have fixed it before stage 3. I will press amendment 22.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 22 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

There will be a division. As this is the first division of stage 3, I will suspend for about five minutes to allow members to access the digital voting system.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

We move to the division on amendment 22. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I could not connect via the app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Robertson. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I could not connect to the app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you Ms McKelvie. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app would not connect. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Whittle. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app would not connect. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Douglas Lumsden Douglas Lumsden Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app is saying that it did not connect. I, too, would have voted yes.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Lumsden. Your vote will be recorded.

Rhif adran 2 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 25 MSPs

Na: 84 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 3:23, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 25, Against 84, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 22 disagreed to.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I call amendment 23, in the name of Miles Briggs, already debated with amendment 22. I remind members that, if amendment 23 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 24 because of pre-emption.

Amendment 23 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 23 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

There will be a division. Members should cast their vote now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My apologies: I am still unable to use my app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am still unable to connect. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Whittle. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am unable to connect at all to the app. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Golden. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I have the same issue. I would have voted yes.

Rhif adran 3 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 27 MSPs

Na: 83 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 3:23, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 27, Against 83, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 23 disagreed to.

Amendment 24 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Members::

No.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

There will be a division. Members should cast their vote now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Unfortunately, I am still unable to connect to the app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am still unable to connect to the app. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Whittle. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I could not connect to the voting app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Llafur

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I could not connect to the app. I would have voted no.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Ms Lennon. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Llafur

On a point of order, Deputy Presiding Officer. My app is failing to reconnect to confirm how I voted, but I would have voted no.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Whitfield. Your vote will be recorded.

Rhif adran 4 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 27 MSPs

Na: 83 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 3:30, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 27, Against 83, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 24 disagreed to.

Amendment 25 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 25 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

There will be a division. Members should cast their vote now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Despite valiant attempts by information technology staff to log into the app, I am still unable to do so, unfortunately. I would have voted no.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I could not connect. I would have voted no.

Rhif adran 5 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 27 MSPs

Na: 84 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 3:30, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 27, Against 84, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 25 disagreed to.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

At this point, I am going to have a short suspension of five minutes to allow us to investigate the connectivity issues. Thank you for your patience.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

We will move swiftly back to where we were. [ Interruption .] Members, I ask for some quiet, please. Amendment 1, in the name of Liam McArthur, has already been debated with amendment 22. I invite Liam McArthur to move or not move the amendment.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I have had a long time to think about it, Presiding Officer, but I am still inclined not to move it.

Amendment 1 not moved.

Amendment 2 not moved.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Amendment 26, in the name of Miles Briggs, has already been debated with amendment 22. I invite Miles Briggs to move or not move the amendment.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

So that we can test our app, I will move it.

Amendment 26 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 26 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Apparently, my app is still trying to connect. I would have voted no.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you, Mr Kidd. Your vote will be recorded.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Likewise, I would have voted no.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Thank you. Your vote will be recorded.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, who is online, has a point of order.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I could not connect. I would have voted no.

Rhif adran 6 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 27 MSPs

Na: 84 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 3:56, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 27, Against 84, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 26 disagreed to.

Amendments 27 to 29 not moved.

Amendment 3 moved—[Tom Arthur]—and agreed to.

Section 5—Calculation of levy

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 4:00, 28 Mai 2024

Group 3 is on calculation of the levy. Amendment 30, in the name of the minister, is grouped with amendment 31.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

Amendments 30 and 31 seek to change the way that a visitor levy is calculated. Together, they will remove from the bill the provision in section 5(1)(b), which extracts any amount paid as commission to a travel booking agent before the amount of visitor levy to be paid on a transaction is calculated. That provision was included in the bill to avoid a visitor levy being applied to an amount that included such commission. However, since stage 2, VisitScotland, the national tourism agency, has expressed concerns that that provision could allow someone to deduct the amount of commission that an accommodation provider is paying to a travel booking agent.

The levels of commission paid can vary considerably depending on individual contracts, and such information is commercially sensitive. Therefore, the Government has explored the issue with business organisations, which are supportive of removing the provision on commission from the bill. Local government also supports the change, which has the added advantage of making the visitor levy calculation even simpler to understand and apply.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Llafur

The minister’s point about simplicity is important and well made, and it was often made in the lead-up to the bill. Much of the detail will be contained in the statutory guidance. Will the minister elaborate on that? Given the controversies around whether the levy should be a flat fee or a percentage rate, what consideration will the guidance give to the simplicity of the calculation for local authorities that devise levy schemes?

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

Daniel Johnson makes an important point. As he highlights, a central area of contention was about whether the levy should be a flat fee or a percentage rate. In earlier consideration of the bill, a potential hybrid model was mooted. We have opted for the percentage model as was introduced, recognising that a consensus was not achieved on moving to a flat-rate model.

I absolutely agree on the imperative of ensuring that administration is as straightforward as possible. To achieve that, significant consultation requirements precede the introduction of any visitor levy, as we will touch on in relation to further amendments to the bill. I have lodged other amendments to introduce a visitor levy forum to ensure continuing consultation and engagement with business. Statutory guidance will be provided, and the expert group, which is led by VisitScotland, brings together experts from business and local government to ensure that those issues are addressed.

As I have highlighted, we put the guidance on to a statutory footing at stage 2. In further stage 3 amendments, we will specify matters that will have to be included in that guidance, and we will allow for that list to be amended.

Through collaborative working at a local level where a visitor levy has been implemented and through the requirements relating to the statutory guidance, there are a number of ways in which we can ensure that guidance and support are in place to ensure that the administration of the levy is as effective and straightforward as possible. A key priority for me throughout our work on developing the proposal has been to ensure that there is as much administrative consistency and simplicity as possible for businesses across Scotland that are subject to a visitor levy, while allowing local flexibility to ensure that a visitor levy policy and the revenues raised can respond most appropriately to the assets and needs in order to help to grow, develop and sustain the local visitor economy.

I hope that that provides Daniel Johnson with some reassurance.

We lodged amendments 30 and 31 in response to concerns that were raised by industry. As I suggested, they will lead to a simpler approach, and they have the support of local government and industry. I encourage members to support them.

I move amendment 30.

Amendment 30 agreed to.

Amendment 31 moved—[Tom Arthur]—and agreed to.

After section 6

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Group 4 is on circumstances in which the levy is not to be payable or may be reimbursed. Amendment 32, in the name of Ross Greer, is grouped with amendments 4, 5, 8, 35 to 46, 51, 52 and 68.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I start by thanking the minister for his excellent outreach and engagement on the bill, and I thank the legislation team for bearing with me as I drafted the amendments.

I offer amendment 32 as an alternative to amendment 4, in the minister’s name. Both amendments concern capping the number of nights that the visitor levy would apply to. I offer the amendment as an alternative, but it is worth emphasising that both amendments could be agreed by Parliament and that they are compatible.

I offer amendment 32 as an alternative because the principle of the bill is that we are empowering local government. Therefore, any power that we add to the bill—capping the number of nights in this case—should be a decision that sits with local government. For that reason, the Greens will oppose amendment 4.

We recognise and appreciate the minister’s comments that the Scottish Government would not be inclined to implement a cap as it stands, but we cannot guarantee that of any future Government. It is simply not a power that we think should sit at the national level. It is entirely reasonable to have the power to cap the number of nights, but it should sit at the local level, as there could be significant variation across the country. For example, one area may have a significant infrastructure project that requires some people to stay there for a prolonged period in overnight accommodation, and that requirement would not apply elsewhere. That is exactly the kind of reason why the decision should sit with local authorities, and that is why I offer amendment 32 as an alternative to amendment 4. Again, I emphasise that if both amendments were passed, they would be compatible.

We support amendment 5, in the minister’s name, and Jeremy Balfour’s amendment 8.

Amendments 35 to 46, 51 and 52, in the names of Miles Briggs and Pam Gosal, will not be supported by the Green group. To go back to the principle that the bill is about empowering local government, those amendments go a step too far in creating new national requirements in the bill. Decisions should be made by local authorities, and we talk a lot in the Parliament about empowering local government. The bill does that and I do not want to start rolling back on that by adding more complications and setting more rules at the national level.

I move amendment 32.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I will speak to all the amendments in the group, including my amendments 4, 5 and 68.

As we have just heard, amendment 32 will make it explicit that a local authority can place a cap on the maximum number of nights to which a visitor levy can apply in relation to a period of consecutive nights in one place of overnight accommodation. Our view is that local discretion is already possible under the bill, but the Government is happy to make it explicit, so we will support amendment 32.

On the same issue, amendment 4 would give ministers the power to create a national cap on the maximum number of nights to which a visitor levy could apply. That reflects discussions that I have had in the light of an amendment that was lodged by Daniel Johnson at stage 2. Amendment 4 would create a tool that could be used in the future, if necessary, to set a national cap, after consultation with local government and businesses and with the approval of Parliament.

Amendment 5 is intended to add to the bill the reassurance that, as part of the initial process that it must follow when introducing a scheme, a local authority will be required to make a statement about any potential exemptions to the scheme. The amendment would mean that any proposed exemptions would have to be explicitly highlighted at that early stage.

Miles Briggs’s amendments 35 to 45 and 51 seek to put in place 10 exemptions that would apply in every single visitor levy scheme. I have sympathy for some of the scenarios that Miles Briggs has highlighted, but the sheer volume is a concern. Business has consistently told me that the more exemptions there are to a visitor levy scheme, the more complexity there is and the greater the administrative cost.

There are also exemptions in the list that lack a robust definition or that are irrelevant in many local authorities. To take one example, amendment 42 seeks to exempt those who are

“on work or business travel”.

However, what would happen if a visitor travelled with her family, held one business meeting at the start of the visit and one at the end? Would that be a family holiday or a business trip? Amending the bill in that way would leave so many holes in a visitor levy scheme that it would be easier to say who would pay it.

Amendment 51 supplies some definitions but still leaves other terms, such as “technician”, undefined.

In another example, amendment 39 seeks to create an exemption for those who are stranded due to a ferry cancellation. I appreciate that that might be relevant in some local authorities but, as members will understand, it is of no relevance in others.

The amendments would require every local authority to include the exemptions and set out practical arrangements for their administration whether or not they were relevant to local circumstances. Given that a local authority has the power to create local exemptions, it is not necessary for the amendments to impose exemptions at the national level for every single scheme. An island authority or those with direct ferry links to the islands could already create such exemptions under the bill if they believed that to be necessary.

Although the list of proposed exemptions is long, there might be other circumstances that are relevant to local circumstances that we have not considered. The bill already contains a power in section 10 for ministers to create national exemptions, should there be a need to do so, in addition to local exemptions created by local authorities. I am open to using that power in the future if there is consensus among local government, the Parliament and businesses that a specific exemption at national level is required.

Nevertheless, I believe that a strong case for a national exemption has been made in relation to amendment 8, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, and the Government is able to support it. The amendment is specific about the people whom it will cover, clearly identifying those who are in receipt of disability benefits, and it allows local authorities to make the practical arrangements for the exemption. It also reflects existing arrangements. I will, of course, let Mr Balfour set out his amendment in more detail.

Amendment 46, in the name of Pam Gosal, seeks to ensure that a visitor levy scheme

“must specify whether the levy is not payable in relation to ... an annual turnover below the VAT threshold.”

I know that the interaction of VAT and the visitor levy has been a concern of Pam Gosal during the passage of the bill, and I thank her for lodging the amendment.

The Government’s long-standing position is that any local authority thinking about introducing a visitor levy will need to consider the potential VAT implications that it would have for relevant businesses in their area. A local authority could, if it chose, create an exemption from a visitor levy for businesses that are near the VAT threshold. Accordingly, the Government will support amendment 46, which makes it clear that the authority’s decision on that must be clearly stated.

I note that the supplementary amendment 52, which would add a definition of “VAT threshold” to the bill, does not add the correct reference to the current VAT threshold. Therefore, the Government has lodged amendment 68, which references the correct legislative position. I ask Pam Gosal not to move amendment 52, which the Government does not support, and to support amendment 68 instead.

I am conscious of time, so I will conclude my remarks there.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Ceidwadwyr

I declare an interest in being in receipt of the personal independence payment. I thank the minister for his constructive engagement on the issue.

As most members in the chamber are aware, those with a disability are often the poorest in our society. They have financial restraints due to lack of employment opportunities, perhaps, and costs that relate to the disability. A holiday—a trip away—often has to be planned months in advance, and anything that would prevent those people from being able to take a break should not be allowed to get in their way.

The system that will be introduced will be up to each local authority to decide, but, through amendment 8, we are laying down the principle and the types of benefits that somebody would have to be on to get the exemption.

The good news is that it is a simple system that is already in use, and it would work well for local authorities and those who would have to administer it locally. If, for example, someone went up to the Festival theatre here in Edinburgh, or if they were lucky enough to go to Euro Disney, Legoland, Blackpool or other places where I go on holiday, they would find that the scheme is already working. The Department for Work and Pensions issues an annual letter—as Social Security Scotland will do, in due course—telling someone that they are entitled to a benefit and at what rate that benefit is set. They take that letter to the appropriate venue, show the person there the letter and get the exemption that they offer.

There will be no cost to the taxpayer, because those letters already have to be issued and are in common use. That will also mean that the person who owns the hotel or bed and breakfast will not have to make a judgment about whether someone is disabled, because only those who are in the categories named in the amendment will receive a letter, which they will have to show.

The exemption will apply to all accommodation, which means that those coming to B and Bs, caravan sites and so on will also benefit. I am pleased to know that charities such as Euan’s Guide can provide training for accommodation providers, which again means that there should be no charge for local authorities.

I know that the measure will make a small difference, but it will make a big difference for many disabled people and their families.

I again thank the minister for his engagement and hope that everyone here will support amendment 8.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr 4:15, 28 Mai 2024

I am beginning to take personally the amendments that have been accepted.

From the outset of the bill process, I have argued for the development of a national set of exemptions. When the bill was first published, it included a voucher scheme for exemptions although, sadly, there was little or no detail about how such a scheme would work in practice.

I have attempted to work with the minister and the Government on these important amendments. I welcome the fact that the Government has accepted the cases I have previously put forward for exempting children and young people under 18 from the bill, and I welcome the fact that the Government has made progress regarding amendment 8, from my colleague Jeremy Balfour, and my colleague Pam Gosal’s amendment 46, on VAT exemption thresholds.

I have significant concerns that the short-term let legislation that we have seen, which was poorly drafted, has resulted in a postcode lottery, with different councils taking forward different schemes. That is a damaging development.

My amendments 35 and 38, which I drafted in the way that the Government suggested, would provide national exemptions that I think should be part of the bill, including for Scots who are visiting family members in hospitals, hospices or care homes. Many Scots who support the establishment of a visitor levy think that it is for tourists who come to our country, but the reality of the bill is very different. As I have said from the outset, this is not a visitor levy—it is an accommodation tax. In the future, everyone who books accommodation in Scotland will face an additional tax on top of the cost of that booking. That will affect, for example, someone looking to book into a local B and B while work is being done to help their home to achieve net zero—which the Greens say they want to see—or those who have been impacted by flooding, which we have seen across communities in Angus. They will pay a tax to stay in a B and B or a guest house.

My amendment 44 would therefore introduce an exemption for people living in a local authority area where the levy is in place, and amendment 45 would also exempt those whose permanent residence is in Scotland. Given the fact that the ferry fleet is vulnerable to cancellations, which are increasingly seen in many of our island communities, amendment 39 would also provide an exemption to prevent visitors having to pay the levy again after a ferry cancellation.

Looking at them as a collection of amendments, I believe that having those exemptions in the bill would provide a set of safeguards to protect people in Scotland from having to pay the tax when they stay away from home for reasons that I believe none of us would want to see used to require payment that is meant to relate to tourist activity. I believe that that should be set out in the bill, and I will therefore move the amendments in my name.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Ceidwadwyr

I place on record my thanks to the clerks of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee for their work on our consideration of the bill. I also thank the organisations that have sent briefings to members, because I know how much time and effort those take to write.

At stage 2, I lodged an amendment that sought to exempt from the levy accommodation providers that are operating below the VAT threshold. The minister rejected the amendment on the basis that local authorities could choose to exempt businesses that operate under the VAT threshold if they wished to do so. Today, my amendments 46 and 52 seek to ensure that a visitor levy scheme must specify

“whether the levy is not payable in relation to accommodation which has an annual turnover below the VAT threshold.”

I have made it clear throughout the bill’s passage through Parliament that the levy is the last thing that the tourism sector needs right now. It will add cost and complexity for those who are running on tight margins. The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers put it best in saying that the industry feels that it is

“being shrunk by regulation while also being taxed on top.”

Operating a small business in Scotland is exceptionally costly and the challenge is intensified by business rates, VAT and stringent regulations on short-term lets. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 small accommodation providers are not VAT registered. A significant concern for many of those operators is the risk of exceeding the VAT threshold due to the levy. Instead of paying VAT from actual profits, small businesses would, in effect, be paying VAT because of their new role as an unpaid tax collector for councils.

The Scottish Conservatives want to see a workable solution embedded in the bill, which is why I have watered down my previous amendment. Although my amendment 46 falls short of requiring those who operate under the VAT threshold to be exempt, it seeks to introduce an exemption for businesses that have an annual turnover that is below the VAT threshold.

In COSLA’s briefing, its second request is that exemptions be kept local. My amendment does not contradict that, and I hope that it also helps to address my colleague Ross Greer’s concern. My amendment has been supported by the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers and Scottish Land & Estates.

I am happy to not move amendment 52 and to support the minister’s amendment 68. It is good to hear that the minister supports my amendment 46, and I ask members across the chamber to support it, too.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Llafur

The amendments would introduce a range of exemptions. We support Jeremy Balfour’s amendment 8 for the reasons that he gave but also because of the detail that he has set out on how the exemption would be evidenced, which is clear and easy for accommodation providers to understand.

We also support the principles of a number of other amendments in the group. We are sympathetic to those who are receiving respite, visiting family in hospital or visiting those in prison. We support many of the individual amendments, but, like the minister, we are concerned about the cumulative impact of all the amendments and about how accommodation providers will obtain proof of exemption. We have a great deal of sympathy for a number of the amendments, but we would like some reassurance as to how they would operate cumulatively and how we would expect accommodation providers to receive evidence of exemption.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Llafur

There are amendments in the group that relate to the VAT threshold and the number of nights stayed. Those are both areas on which I lodged amendments at stage 2, and I am very pleased to see the amendments at stage 3.

The point about having a maximum number of nights is important. What is proposed is a transient visitor levy. There comes a point at which a stay is no longer a visit and the person is, to a degree, permanently resident, particularly if they are working here. My view and my concern stem from the nature of the Edinburgh festivals and the fact that many people stay in Edinburgh for quite a prolonged period of time during the summer. They are no longer visitors at that point; they are working and contributing to the local economy. I would have preferred to see a threshold set for that, but I recognise that the bill represents a balance between setting stipulations nationally and providing local discretion. My concern is that local authorities will be incentivised to maximise the number of opportunities that they have for the amount to be levied. Nonetheless, I recognise that balance.

Likewise, I echo Pam Gosal’s comments. A great number of accommodation providers in Scotland are very small and run their businesses from a petty cash tin and an exercise book. It is important not to unduly burden them. Having a provision on a VAT threshold is sensible and proportionate. I therefore support the amendments on the VAT threshold.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I call Ross Greer to wind up and to press or withdraw amendment 32.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I will be brief. I appreciate the Government’s support for amendment 32, and I recognise Daniel Johnson’s work to advance the argument for a cap on the number of nights for which the levy can be applied. In my opening speech, I outlined why Green Party members believe that the decision on that should sit with local authorities. As Mr Johnson outlined, there are a range of reasons why it would be entirely reasonable for a local authority to set a cap, given particular circumstances in its area, whether that be in Edinburgh during the festival or in the Highlands if, for example, a significant infrastructure project required a large number of people to stay in overnight accommodation for a period. However, we fundamentally believe that such a decision should be taken at a local level, given that we are creating a new local tax.

I was quite taken by the minister’s point about the potential confusion that is created if we create too many exemptions and too many national rules and requirements, particularly when, in some cases, there is not necessarily any clear distinction. The example was given of a family holiday, to either side of which a business meeting or a couple of days of work is tacked on. I have definitely made myself unpopular on family holidays by putting a day of work or a couple of meetings at either end, so I can absolutely see how that would be possible.

Fundamentally, given that we are trying to empower our colleagues in local government to make decisions that suit their areas, we should give them the greatest possible level of discretion, as was outlined in the COSLA briefing.

I press amendment 32.

Amendment 32 agreed to.

Section 8—Third party arrangements

Amendment 33 not moved.

Section 10—Exemptions and rebates

Amendment 4 moved—[Tom Arthur].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 4 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My phone did not connect. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Mr Balfour. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Ceidwadwyr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app did not connect. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Mr Findlay. We will ensure that your vote is recorded.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Llafur

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I would have voted yes.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Mr Johnson. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Rhif adran 7 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 99 MSPs

Na: 12 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 4:15, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the vote on amendment 4, in the name of Tom Arthur, is: For 99, Against 12, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 4 agreed to.

Section 12—Prior consultation on scheme

Amendment 5 moved—[Tom Arthur]—and agreed to.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 4:30, 28 Mai 2024

Group 5 is on visitor levy forums. Amendment 6, in the name of the minister, is grouped with amendments 13 to 15.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

During my meetings with accommodation providers and business organisations, I heard genuine concern. Although the bill put in place measures for consultation before a visitor levy scheme is introduced, businesses wanted a means of ensuring that there are also measures once a scheme has been introduced. The Government listened to those views and has therefore lodged the amendments in group 5. Together, the amendments will require the creation of visitor levy forums and put in place suitable measures to ensure that they have the opportunity and information to contribute their views effectively.

Amendment 13 will require a local authority that establishes a visitor levy scheme to set up a visitor levy forum. That will have to be done within six months of the decision to introduce a scheme—that is, during the implementation period for a scheme, which is currently in the bill. Thereafter, the forum will have to meet regularly, at least twice a year, and discuss and advise the local authority on the scheme. The forum’s membership will be drawn from communities, businesses that are engaged in tourism and tourism organisations in the area. Councillors can be part of the forum so that they can directly hear the views of its members, but they cannot be a majority. The exact membership of each forum will therefore reflect the local area.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

Although forums are welcome, I seek the minister’s assurance that they will be balanced, that they are for consultation and that decisions will still be made by local elected members who are democratically accountable.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I confirm that the forum is a consultative body but final decisions would be taken by democratically elected local members who are accountable to their electorate. I am happy to provide that reassurance.

Amendments 6 and 14 will require a local authority to consult the forum when it is considering modifying a visitor levy scheme or consulting, under section 17, on how funding is used. Amendments 15 and 16 will require a local authority to provide the forum with the local authority’s annual report on the visitor levy scheme and the more substantial three-yearly review that must be carried out. Together, the amendments give business and communities a robust mechanism for on-going and meaningful engagement on a visitor levy scheme. I ask members to support them.

I move amendment 6.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Ceidwadwyr

I welcome the amendments in this group; they are in line with the amendments that I lodged at stage 2.

It is important to put on the record the fact that the Government has said from the outset that the bill is about improving investment in tourism. Significantly, that will be from income from the accommodation sector, which is not necessarily directly linked to the tourism facilities on which the money might end up being spent. Having an opportunity to input into that is important.

What this looks like on the tin when it is implemented will also be key. As an Edinburgh MSP, I have specific concerns that the Government might want to withdraw from spending on our cultural sector and that it might point councils to the levy if they are seeking money to spend on the cultural sector. I hope that that is not the case, but we will see once the policy is in place.

I very much welcome that my amendments on reporting have been accepted by the Government.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I thank Mr Briggs for his constructive engagement with other members, businesses and business representative organisations in developing his proposal. Again, I encourage all members to support the relevant amendments.

Amendment 6 agreed to.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Group 6 is on visitor levy scheme objectives, coming into force and modifications. Amendment 34, in the name of Ross Greer, is grouped with amendments 7, 9, 47, 48, 10, 49, 50, 11 and 12. I remind members that amendments 47 and 48 are direct alternatives—that is, they can both be moved and decided on, and the text of whichever is the last to be agreed to is what will appear in the bill.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

Amendment 34 replicates the language that is used in the workplace parking levy provision in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. It follows the principle for which I argued in relation to group 4: the levy is a local tax, and it should be down to the judgment of a local authority and local elected members, as my colleague Ariane Burgess just mentioned, to decide whether spending is within scope.

Amendment 34 seeks to provide clarity over the authority that local councils have to make these decisions. I believe that, if it is passed and the provision is included in the bill, it will reduce the risk of legal challenge by those who believe that councils have taken decisions that are outwith scope.

Amendments 47 and 48 replicate the comments that COSLA made in its briefing for the debate, under a heading that was something along the lines of “Let councils get on with it”. They reflect the fact that some local authorities have already put a substantial amount of work into developing potential visitor levy schemes—Edinburgh, Highland and Glasgow are the most obvious examples—and the 18-month lead-in time is, therefore, simply too long. Some local authorities have already done months or even years of engagement and development work on the levy.

As the Presiding Officer mentioned, amendments 47 and 48 are alternatives. The Green group’s preference is for an introductory period of six months, rather than 18 months, but we have offered a 12-month alternative as a compromise if Parliament is not inclined to agree to six months but agrees that 18 months is perhaps too long.

Green members oppose amendments 9 and 10 because they delay the point at which that time period, which is currently 18 months, can start to the point of publication of the final version of a local authority’s scheme. We believe that the lead-in time should be able to run in parallel with the development process, so that the countdown can start earlier in the process than the point at which the final version of the scheme is published. Amendment 9 also introduces an 18-month requirement for “significant modification” of a scheme, which we do not believe is necessary.

Amendments 49 and 50 would clarify that local authorities—in particular those that I mentioned, such as Edinburgh, Highland and Glasgow, which have already done the work—can essentially count backwards, whether the period is 18 months or whatever Parliament is about to agree to, to begin that timescale, in order to reflect the work that has already been done. Amendment 49 would specify that the 18-month period can be counted as beginning on the date on which the bill was introduced to Parliament, if local authorities had started doing the work then. Alternatively, amendment 50 would specify that that point would be the date on which the bill is given royal assent and becomes an act, so that the period could start before the secondary legislation that will be required to implement much of the bill is brought forward.

Clearly, local levies will not be able to come in until the secondary legislation is passed by Parliament. The purpose of amendments 49 and 50 is to allow local authorities to—as COSLA expressed—get on with it. Some local authorities are champing at the bit to introduce the schemes, and the revenue from them would be of huge value to the local community, the visitor economy and visitors themselves. We want to see as few barriers as possible in their way, and we want to recognise the work that some local authorities—including, as I mentioned, Edinburgh, Highland and Glasgow—have already done to engage with their local communities and with local businesses, and to ensure that they are in a position to introduce these schemes as soon as possible.

I move amendment 34.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

This is a fairly large group of amendments, many of which are interrelated, so I will cover them in the most logical order that I can.

The objectives and the use of funding that is raised by a visitor levy scheme have been a consistent focus throughout the bill process. The objectives of a visitor levy scheme must relate to developing, supporting or sustaining facilities or services that are substantially for, or used by, people who are visiting an area for leisure or business purposes, or both. Amendment 34 from Ross Greer seeks to make that a subjective test that would effectively be decided by a local authority. Although I respect and appreciate the arguments that Mr Greer makes, in my view, that would cut across the point of having a clear test in the bill, and the Government, therefore, does not support the amendment.

Turning to the issue of modifying a scheme, amendments 9 and 10 reflect the discussions that I have had with stakeholders about when the 18-month implementation period should apply. The Government’s position is that the 18-month implementation period should apply when a visitor levy scheme is introduced or undergoes a significant modification. Amendment 9 clarifies that in the bill, and amendment 10 sets out the changes that would be classed as significant modifications. They include increasing the percentage rate of a levy and expanding the geographical area in which a levy applies.

Amendments 11 and 12 allow ministers to make regulations to change the list of significant modifications in the future. That would be possible only after consultation with local authorities and tourism and business stakeholders, and subject to the approval of Parliament, and that power is there to be used in future if necessary.

Amendment 7 adds a visitor levy scheme’s objectives to the required content of a visitor levy scheme. That means that modifying a scheme’s objectives will require the same consultation as any other modification to a scheme.

Ross Greer has lodged a number of amendments relating to when a visitor levy comes into force. The Government continues to believe that there is a strong case for the 18-month implementation period. Eighteen months provides adequate time for both local authorities and businesses to put in place systems and to train staff to effectively collect and administer a levy. Some 82 per cent of respondents to our public consultation supported a timeframe of at least one financial year following the conclusion of consultation and engagement activities. That was also supported by 16 out of the 18 local authorities that responded to the question. A period of 18 months is the recommended time as suggested by the European Tourism Association.

The Parliament is legislating for all 32 local authorities and is seeking to put in place a robust bill that will be in place for many years to come. With that perspective, I do not believe that it is right to be driven by the current views of any one particular local authority. The Government therefore does not support amendments 47 or 48, which seek to reduce the 18-month period.

Amendments 49 and 50 both seek to redefine the point at which a local authority can make a decision to introduce a visitor levy scheme. In my view, both those amendments contradict the clear, measured process that the bill would put in place. In the case of amendment 49, that could potentially mean a visitor levy being put in place before the end of this year, which would cause substantial concern and problems for accommodation providers and the tourism industry in general. The Government does not support either of those amendments. I can assure Ross Greer, however, that the Government’s intention is to follow the usual timescales in commencing the bill and bringing it into force. We want local government to have the powers, hence our introducing the bill and guiding it through Parliament. I am not prepared, however, to shortcut a thorough process of consultation and implementation, which will make time for all voices to be heard and will allow businesses and local authorities to implement a visitor levy efficiently.

For those reasons, I ask members to support the Government amendments in this group.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Llafur

It is undoubtedly true that there are local authorities that are, as Ross Greer put it, champing at the bit: those local authorities that experience the highest volumes of tourism, and which, in turn, experience some of the highest costs. The visitor levy will undoubtedly make a big difference in that regard. It is because of that desire that my colleague Sarah Boyack lodged amendments at stage 2.

However, we need to consider the time that is required by businesses, especially some small businesses, to prepare for the change. As someone who has had to implement changes that have been imposed by Government, particularly VAT changes at till-point systems, I know that doing so is not always easy or straightforward. I do not mean to make a difficult point here, because I am trying to be constructive, but we have had recent experience of controversy being caused when changes to regulations or requirements have been introduced, perhaps without adequate timelines. It is only right that, for such a measure, we take our time and strike a balance between the needs of local authorities and those of local businesses.

The other observation that I would make, as a former retailer—it is not exactly the same thing as running accommodation, but it has its parallels—is that, as much as consideration should be given to the time that is taken, consideration should also be given to the point in the year at which such a levy is introduced by any local authority. We do not want local authorities to introduce a levy at peak season. I argue that it would be folly to introduce one in April, May or June, just as businesses are hitting peak periods. I urge local authorities that are considering such levies to introduce them in low season—in January, February or March. I wonder whether the minister might reflect on those sorts of issues that local authorities might want to consider.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party 4:45, 28 Mai 2024

On that point, it is important that local authorities take into account such issues in order to ensure confidence among businesses and, ultimately, to realise the potential of the visitor levy as a force for good that can generate significant revenues for local visitor economies. The processes of administration and the way in which local government takes forward such proposals must be built on the most solid foundations of consultation and engagement with businesses, in order to bring their lived experience and expertise to bear. We are seeking to capture that through our work on the national guidance, and I reassure Daniel Johnson and the Parliament that such issues relating to implementation and administration will be reflected in that guidance.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Llafur

I thank the minister for that intervention. The approach that the Government is taking—using statutory guidance as the vehicle and undertaking a consultation with the industry—strikes the balance that I alluded to earlier. In relation to the previous group of amendments, the visitor levy forum will also enable that dialogue to take place at a local level.

We need to strike the right balance. I hear the calls from local authorities, and I understand their needs, but I also have concerns about businesses being given adequate time to prepare to implement a levy, given that they are the ones that will have to administer it.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Llafur

As the minister will be aware from our consideration of the bill, I am keen for the City of Edinburgh Council to be able to get on and implement a levy as quickly as possible. As Daniel Johnson mentioned, I lodged probing amendments at stage 2—they were very similar to a couple of those that Ross Greer referenced—in relation to delivering the potential benefits of a visitor levy in a timely manner.

I listened carefully to and have reflected on the discussion at stage 2, as well as the views that we received from the industry. At the end of the day, I want the levy to work. A key part of that involves ensuring that accommodation providers have the time that they need to be ready to introduce the levy from day 1. At the same time, it is key that the benefits of the visitor levy are not delayed for too long.

The City of Edinburgh Council can move more quickly than other local authorities, because it has been working with local stakeholders on a transient visitor levy for years. Some of us have been involved in discussions about the need for a tourist or visitor levy for almost a decade. I know that the local authority has been following the legislative process in the Parliament very closely and that it has already carried out a number of consultations in Edinburgh to get the discussion going on the implementation side of our ambition.

Will the minister commit to working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that the work that it needs to do to meet the consultation requirements that are set out in section 12 of the bill is kept to a minimum, as is reasonable, so that lessons can be learned from our experience in Edinburgh and that we can get on with joining cities and localities across Europe in introducing a levy? I would be delighted to take an intervention from the minister.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I am happy to commit to continuing to engage with individual local authorities and COSLA. I recognise the level of ambition in Edinburgh and, indeed, in the Highlands and Glasgow, as Ross Greer referenced. I very much appreciate the desire to just get on with it, as COSLA put it. As I touched on, it is important to remember that we are legislating for all 32 local authorities and for a scheme that will be in force for many years to come. I remain committed to having constructive engagement with the industry and local government to ensure that we move forward with implementation in as efficient and effective a way as possible. In that spirit, my door always remains open if members wish to discuss such matters further.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Llafur

I will definitely take up that offer. The meetings with the minister and representatives from the council have already been useful.

I will sum up. In some ways, Edinburgh is almost a pilot area, because the work has been going on for so long. It is crucial for our cultural sector and the key services that a tourist visitor levy would enable us to deliver that we are able to get on with it.

I welcome the minister’s constructive comments. I hope that we can get the bill through and get it implemented in a timely manner, and that we do not have to wait for too long. As others have said, there are local authorities that are champing at the bit, and an awful lot of hard work has already been done in preparation. I hope that we can be constructive and get moving on the matter.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I have found the debate on these amendments to be extremely useful. I very much recognise Sarah Boyack’s explanation not just of what Ross Greer talked about in respect of certain local authorities chomping at the bit, but in detailing the preparatory work that has been on-going for some time, not just in the City of Edinburgh Council but in Glasgow City Council and Highland Council.

Daniel Johnson made a valid point about the need to strike a balance. Even in areas where a lot of preparatory work has been undertaken, second-guessing what Parliament might do in terms of any amendments to the legislation, even if it is expected to pass, would be dangerous. In the interests of ensuring successful implementation of the bill not just in the three council areas that have been mentioned but in, potentially, the other 29 authorities around the country, taking additional time is, as Daniel Johnson was right to point out, the best way to move forward. That will be reflected in the way that we address the amendments in the group.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I will press amendment 34.

I very much associate myself with Sarah Boyack’s remarks. I have nothing more to add other than that, to help the clerks, I will not press amendment 48 if amendment 47 falls, and I will not press amendment 49 if amendment 10 is agreed to.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 34 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My phone would not connect. I would have voted no.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Ms Grahame. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Rhif adran 8 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 25 MSPs

Na: 86 MSPs

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 4:45, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 25, Against 86, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 34 disagreed to.

Section 13—Required content of a scheme

Amendment 7 moved—[Tom Arthur]—and agreed to.

Amendment 8 moved—[Jeremy Balfour]—and agreed to.

Amendment 35 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 35 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.

The vote is closed.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I would have voted no, but my app was not working.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Thank you, Ms Martin. We will ensure that that is recorded.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My app has not refreshed, so I am not sure whether my vote was cast. I would have voted no.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I can confirm that your vote was recorded, Ms Haughey.

Rhif adran 9 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 49 MSPs

Na: 63 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 4:45, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the vote on amendment 35, in the name of Miles Briggs, is: For 49, Against 63, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 35 disagreed to.

Amendment 36 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 36 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.

Rhif adran 10 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 49 MSPs

Na: 62 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 4:45, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the vote on amendment 36, in the name of Miles Briggs, is: For 49, Against 62, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 36 disagreed to.

Amendments 37 and 38 not moved.

Amendment 39 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 39 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.

Rhif adran 11 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 48 MSPs

Na: 63 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 4:45, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the vote on amendment 39, in the name of Miles Briggs, is: For 48, Against 63, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 39 disagreed to.

Amendments 40 to 42 not moved.

Amendment 43 moved—[Miles Briggs].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 5:00, 28 Mai 2024

The question is, that amendment 43 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

There will be a division. Members should cast their votes now.

Rhif adran 12 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 48 MSPs

Na: 63 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 5:00, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the vote on amendment 43, in the name of Miles Briggs, is: For 48, Against 63, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 43 disagreed to.

Amendments 44 and 45 not moved.

Amendment 46 moved—[Pam Gosal].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 46 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I would be grateful if members could ensure that they are calling out clearly enough. There will be a division.

Rhif adran 13 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 104 MSPs

Na: 8 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 5:00, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the vote on amendment 46, in the name of Pam Gosal, is: For 104, Against 8, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 46 agreed to.

Amendment 9 moved—[Tom Arthur].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 9 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Rhif adran 14 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 104 MSPs

Na: 7 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 5:00, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 104, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 9 agreed to.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I remind members that amendments 47 and 48 are direct alternatives.

Amendment 47 moved—[Ross Greer].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 47 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Rhif adran 15 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 7 MSPs

Na: 87 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Wedi ymatal: 18 MSPs

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 5:00, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 7, Against 87, Abstentions 18.

Amendment 47 disagreed to.

Amendment 48 not moved.

Amendment 10 moved—[Tom Arthur].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 10 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Rhif adran 16 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 104 MSPs

Na: 7 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green 5:00, 28 Mai 2024

The result of the division is: For 104, Against 7, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 10 agreed to.

Amendment 49 not moved.

Amendment 50 moved—[Ross Greer].

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

The question is, that amendment 50 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members::

No.

Rhif adran 17 Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Ie: 7 MSPs

Na: 87 MSPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Wedi ymatal: 18 MSPs