Speech: Members’ Business Debate- Scottish Woodlot Association (October 30th)

I, too, congratulate Aileen McLeod on bringing the debate to the chamber. I am pleased to speak about woodlot licences and family forestry in Scotland, both of which I support because of their potential value to Scotland’s rural economy through job creation and forest management. As a member with a keen interest in woodland crofting, I understand the need for woodlot licensing and support it fully. Like Alex Fergusson, I wish that I had thought of the idea myself. I believe that a diverse forestry sector could come as a result of the licences and family forestry, and we should recognise the merits of both.

I will speak generally about the potential benefits of the licences but, before I do so, I express my delight at the awarding of Scotland’s first woodlot licence in August for land on the Corsewall estate, near Stranraer. I am delighted by all that I have read about Mark Rowe and Angus Carrick-Buchanan and their agreement to have a fantastic management plan for 37 hectares on that estate. The plan allows Mr Rowe to engage in the felling and abstraction of timber, which he will then be allowed to process and sell as firewood and sawn timber. In return, Mr Rowe will pay an annual rental for the woodlot to Mr Carrick-Buchanan.

That is a good method of managing land and, as Mr Carrick-Buchanan said,

“This pilot project with the Scottish Woodlot Association sets out to prove that the woodlot licence holder, the woodland owner, the environment and the local economy can all win.”

Woodlot licences will be important because they will potentially link local people, land management professionals, forest owners, timber processors and buyers in a co-operative working arrangement, which will provide benefits to existing forest owners and rural communities alike. Woodlot licences could provide the means to create many new jobs in the rural economy and could encourage people to live and work in rural areas.

In British Columbia, where woodlot licensing was pioneered, 12,000 people make all or part of their living from woodlot licences. I am sure that members will agree that that is an impressive statistic. It is rightly acknowledged that woodlot licences will bring undermanaged woodland into production, which will lead to more forest management activity than at present. That will involve the input of new machinery and existing and new contractors and will open up new supply chains. Woodlot licences also have the potential to produce thousands of tonnes of wood that could be used locally as firewood or for small-scale log processing or fed into supply chains for large-scale timber processors and renewable energy generators.

Family forestry is another aspect of any debate about woodlot licences. Woodlot licences can connect many more young families to the resourceful land that we have. Families have been squeezed out of land leasing because most land use is dominated by large-scale industrial agriculture and industrial forestry and because the price of land and forest has been rising. For example, it can cost more than £10,000 for the purchase of just one hectare of forest. Until now, forestry has not had any prospect of a mechanism for leasing land through farm rental as is the case in agriculture but, with woodlot licences, that can change. They will allow small-scale, decentralised forestry to thrive, and will act as an important stepping stone in the creation of a new woodland culture for Scotland in the 21st century.

Speech: Stage 1 Landfill Tax Bill (29th October)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill and I welcome its stage 1 completion. I thank fellow members of the Finance Committee for their commitment, interest and dedication in scrutinising the general principles of this important bill. I also thank the Government for its feedback on the committee’s report, which has made the Government’s position clear on a number of the committee’s concerns.

As a result of the bill, the Scottish ministers will become the tax authority for the purposes of the Scottish landfill tax. That is a great step forward. I have confidence in the ability of the Scottish ministers and their staff to take responsibility for the Scottish landfill tax as well as for other important taxes such as the Scottish rate of income tax. The bill enables ministers to make an order to designate another tax authority, and I welcome the move by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth to set up a new body, revenue Scotland, as Scotland’s tax authority for devolved taxation. Revenue Scotland already exists as an administrative function within the Government, and the Government has been consulting on provisions to establish it on a statutory footing.

The Government has indicated that it intends that the administration and collection of the Scottish landfill tax should be undertaken by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency on behalf of revenue Scotland. Landfill tax administration and collection would become a new function for SEPA, which already visits and inspects landfill sites as part of its environmental regulation duties. That would offer significant advantages for the Government. The existing knowledge and considerable expertise in SEPA will create opportunities for significant efficiencies and other operational benefits in relation to the administration and collection of the Scottish landfill tax. I therefore support the Scottish Government’s intention to have SEPA in charge of the administration and collection of the tax.

Although I give full support to the general principles of the bill, I draw the Parliament’s attention to two areas of concern. First, I believe that one further waste exemption could be considered. Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 states:

“If no person has, after reasonable inquiry, been found who is by virtue of subsection (2) above an appropriate person to bear responsibility for the things which are to be done by way of remediation, the owner or occupier for the time being of the contaminated land in question is an appropriate person.”

That means—I think—that individual property owners might end up footing the bill for contaminated land remediation through no fault of their own. There are live examples of individual householders who have been charged vast sums for the remediation of contaminated land.

In the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth’s statement to Parliament on 7 June 2012, he described four principles that underlie the Government’s approach to taxation and he reiterated them today. They are certainty, convenience, efficiency and that the tax is proportionate to the ability to pay. It is that final principle that I believe is relevant here. My suggestion is that consideration should be given to including in the bill a measure to allow for the costs of contaminated land remediation to be waived if an individual property owner is found to be on contaminated land, has in no way caused the contamination but yet has been unfortunately designated the status of appropriate person because of the lack of someone being found who actually caused the contamination. By putting such a measure in place, the Scottish Government would ensure that its principle of taxation being proportionate to the ability to pay is adhered to.

The second concern relates to the committee’s suggestion that there should be a lower rate of tax on island waste, for materials for which there are never likely to be viable recycling or recovery routes. Although the Government has made its position clear on that, I still believe that a review of the issue could be carried out. In Shetland, Enviroglass provides a local solution for Shetland’s waste glass by recycling all the glass that is collected by the local authority through its bottle banks. That has been essential in minimising the financial and environmental costs that shipping glass to mainland UK for recycling would incur. However, not all island communities are fortunate enough to benefit from such a scheme and a review could help to find alternatives for the islands that lack the means to cheaply recycle waste materials.

A final aspect of the bill that I will speak about relates to the Scottish Government’s zero waste agenda, which is an ambitious programme of change that aims to create an environment in which we make the most of resources and minimise Scotland’s demand on primary resources. That is to be achieved by maximising the reuse, recycling and recovery of resources rather than treating them as waste. The Scottish landfill tax will play an important role in maintaining the economic stimulus that is required to harness those waste management opportunities and in directing the Scottish economy towards a prosperous future with secure access to resources. By doing so, Scotland could follow the great example of its Nordic neighbour Sweden and make productive use of waste that would otherwise build up at landfill sites.

We must ensure that environmental organisations continue to be supported by the landfill communities fund. The Scottish Wildlife Trust, for example, has received £3.6 million to date, which has helped it to develop and manage essential environmental and community projects.

The Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill is a good and valuable piece of legislation. It does what it is supposed to do: it provides legislative provisions for a Scottish landfill tax to replace the UK landfill tax regime. It provides the Scottish Government with real power to take important decisions on a crucial area of taxation and makes use of the experience and expertise of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. It is conducive to the Scottish Government’s zero waste agenda as we look to greener energy alternatives. Therefore, I support the general principles of the bill.