Speech on the Landfill Tax Bill

Sadly we ran out of time in the Chamber this afternoon and I wasn’t able to speak in the debate on the third and final stage of the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill. I’ve been part of scrutinising this Bill all the way through, as a member of the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee.

Landfill Tax may not seem like the most exciting topic, but it is exciting that from 2015, for the first time, Scotland will set and collect two of its own national taxes (the other being the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax) instead of relying on London. Ideally we would have responsibility for all taxation in Scotland, so we can have taxes that fit Scotland’s economy and our progressive values – that’s one of the reasons I’m campaigning for a Yes vote in the referendum.

Here is the speech I would have given, if we’d had time:

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

It gives me great pleasure to speak at this stage 3 debate. I am extremely proud to have the opportunity to be a part of this important Bill, and have enjoyed scrutinising it as a member of the Finance Committee. I’d like to add my thanks to the Bill team and the Finance committee.

Presiding Officer, members will be aware that the Landfill Tax Bill will directly replace the UK Landfill Tax regime. In terms of what constitutes a taxable disposal according to the UK Landfill Tax arrangements, the Scottish Bill will start with an identical set of exemptions. This is a useful starting point, as it will give Revenue Scotland and SEPA the opportunity to get their bearings so to speak. However, the Bill gives the Scottish Government the opportunity to add or remove exempted material through subordinate legislation, which I think is important. That gives the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people the chance to influence taxation and I believe that is something that most, if not all across the chamber would welcome.

As the Law Society of Scotland has said, a Scottish Landfill Tax makes sense. It enables the Scottish Government to deliver a more joined-up approach in relation to its zero waste aims. It allows the Scottish Government to deliver a tax system that is tailor-made to Scotland’s environmental landscape, the scale of production and consumption, and the businesses that operate within the environmental landscape. The Scottish Landfill Tax will play an important role in maintaining the economic stimulus required to harness waste management opportunities and direct the Scottish economy toward a prosperous future with secure access to resources. Additionally, there will be new opportunities for the Scottish Government to directly raise local revenues from Scottish businesses for local use. I believe that all members would be interested to see the Scottish Landfill Tax be successful in its aims, and will work together in order to adjust critical aspects of the tax to bring it into line with shifts in policy and external circumstances, for example.

Presiding Officer, I believe that the Landfill Tax Bill, alongside the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill – introduced to Parliament by Finance Secretary John Swinney last Thursday – represents a critical juncture in tax collection and management in Scotland. Like the Cabinet Secretary and the Scottish Government, I believe that the Scottish Parliament should have legislative responsibility for the full range of taxes levied in Scotland.

I believe that would be the best and only way for the Scottish economy to flourish and reach its potential. I believe that Scottish control over all taxation in Scotland is the only route to a fairer, redistributive tax system. I believe that a fully independent Scottish tax system will be a key means to maintain our public services. A Yes vote in September next year would allow the Scottish Government to design a simpler, yet fairer tax system for Scotland with those goals in mind.

Of course the Scottish Landfill Tax won’t be perfect initially. There may be skills gaps to be addressed moving forward. For example, SEPA is an environmental regulator rather than a tax assessor, and we should allow SEPA time to adjust. The Finance Committee has a key role to play here, as Revenue Scotland and SEPA will report to the Committee on a 6 monthly basis in order to ensure an affective monitoring process. However, the salient point is that the Scottish Government has been presented with the opportunity to show that it can be relied upon to effectively design and manage important areas of taxation. I have the utmost confidence that the Scottish Government has the experience, the knowhow and the ability to carry out the provisions of the Landfill Tax Bill effectively, and thus make a success of the new devolved Scottish Landfill Tax. That goes for the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and any other devolved taxes in the future.

Presiding Officer, I see the Landfill Tax Bill as a worthy 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. However, it also does much more. It provides the Scottish Government with real power to take important decisions on a crucial area of taxation, makes use of the experience and expertise of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and is conducive to the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Agenda as we look to Greener energy alternatives. I hope to see everyone involved in implementing and monitoring the Scottish Landfill Tax coming together to grasp this fantastic opportunity with both hands. Together, we can display the benefits of devolved taxation to the public and to business, and make a real difference to both the environment and to business in Scotland.

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The Week Ahead: 16th-20th December

This week concludes the current Parliamentary session.  On  Monday, I took a flight to Edinburgh and spent most of the day working in my office at Holyrood. Later, I took part in an independence debate at the University of Strathclyde, where some interesting views were heard.

On Tuesday, I will begin with an invitational event at the Scottish Poetry Library. Later, I have my staff meeting and grouping meeting. In the afternoon, I’ll be speaking in the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 debate.  I’ve taken great interest in the Bill, as I sit on the Finance Committee which scrutinised it.  In the evening, I’ll be chairing the Cross-Party Group on Culture.

I’ll be meeting with the Scottish Council on Archives on Wednesday, and I am attending the Cross-Party on Crofting in the evening.

I have various meetings and engagements on Thursday morning, and I’ll be attending the Finance Secretary’s budget statement in the afternoon. I’ll be bidding to speak in the ensuing debate.

Friday will be an office day, and then another year at Holyrood will be over!

Motion: S4M-08581: Charity Shops Giving Something Back

Here is the motion that I lodged on Wednesday 11th December:

That the Parliament welcomes Giving Something Back, an independent report published by the think tank, Demos, on the economic and social value of charity shops; understands that there are 900 charity shops in Scotland, which collectively raise over £26 million every year as well as provide 1,500 jobs and 19,200 volunteering opportunities in Scotland; notes that 61% of volunteers asked in Giving Something Back said that volunteering in charity shops had a positive impact on their physical and mental health and over 80% said volunteering improved their self-esteem and confidence; agrees with Demos that charity shops improve community relations and are economically beneficial by helping maintain footfall on Scottish high streets and by offering cheaper goods as the cost of living increases, and agrees that charity shops provide both older and young people in Scotland with invaluable opportunities to learn new skills, improve their confidence, have a new sense of purpose, socialise and meet new people and to ultimately gain experience that can help those seeking a job to find employment.

 

Jean backs Amnesty ‘Write for Rights’ Campaign

The following is a press release on Jean’s support for the Amnesty International ‘Write for Rights’ Campaign:

“MEDIA RELEASE – Jean Urquhart MSP

For immediate use, Wednesday 11th December 2013

NORTH MSP BACKS AMNESTY ‘WRITE FOR RIGHTS’ CAMPAIGN

On international Human Rights Day (10th December), Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands Jean Urquhart has given her backing to Amnesty International’s Write For Rights Campaign 2013. Taking part in the campaign, Ms Urquhart has written in support of the people of the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, who are routinely fired on by the Israeli military during their weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation.

Amnesty’s annual global campaign runs from 1 November to 31 December and highlights human rights abuses taking place around the world while others are celebrating the holiday season. Ordinary people everywhere are asked to send a message of solidarity and hope, or to appeal directly to the relevant government in the country where the abuse is taking place.

Amnesty are asking Scots to write in support of one of 13 priority cases of human rights abuse around the world. Jean, who is Co-Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Palestine, has written to Israeli Minster of Defence Moshe Ya’alon to urge him to stop the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in the Palestinan village of Nabi Saleh.

Much of the agricultural land and water supplies of Nabi Saleh have been seized for for use by the illegal Israeli occupation settlement of Halamish. The armed forces of Israel have responded to these demonstrations by firing tear gas canisters, stun grenades, rubber-covered steel bullets and live ammunition. The security forces’ violence has wounded hundreds including women and children, and killed two young men, Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi.

Speaking in support of the Write For Rights campaign, Jean Urquhart said:

“I am proud to back Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign to help them highlight these appalling human rights violations.

“On the day we commemorate Neslon Mandela’s successful fight against apartheid in South Africa, it feels right to be joining Amnesty International in speaking out against another human rights abuse on a grand scale – the violent subjugation of Palestine.

“The people of Nabi Saleh have been denied their livelihood, their land and water stolen by the occupying Israeli forces. But when they try to protest, exercise their human rights to assembly and expression, they are shot at by one of the most heavily-armed militaries in the world.

“Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was killed by a tear gas canister shot from a grenade launcher into his face at close range. Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot in the back after a commander ordered his unit to fire live ammunition just because they’d run out of tear gas.

“Even though the Clearances were 200 years ago, we in the Highlands still carry a deep and painful understanding of what it means when land and livelihood is ripped away from the people. In Palestine, far worse human rights abuses still happen every day. I would encourage everyone to join me in opposing the violence against Nabi Saleh, or any one of the other 12 equally appalling cases of human rights violations that are highlighted by the Write For Rights campaign.

“This is a time of year for friendship and solidarity around the world, when we should all take a little time to help others – together we have the potential to make a huge difference.”

Amnesty International Scotland’s Programme Director Richard Hamer said:

“I would like to thank Jean for taking part in our Write for Rights Campaign and helping raise awareness of the cases we have chosen of ordinary men and women who are having their human rights taken from them in the most appalling ways.

“It is a sad fact that the thirteen cases we have chosen to highlight this year, are only a very small sample of some of the individual cases that Amnesty International is dealing with. However, we know the power people have when they come together to make a stand and put pressure on governments involved to help those we have identified.”

Readers can take part in the Amnesty International Write For Rights campaign 2013 by visiting https://www.amnesty.org.uk/write-rights-2013.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1.Jean Urquhart’s letter to Minster of Defence Moshe Ya’alon can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1f6oP3z (PDF).

2. Amnesty International video on Nabi Saleh: http://vimeo.com/78341120

3. Jean Urquhart has signed a motion by colleague John Finnie, the Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, backing the Write For Rights campaign:

Motion S4M-08130: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 31/10/2013 R

Write for Rights Campaign

That the Parliament notes that 1 November 2013 marks the start of Amnesty International’s annual worldwide greetings card and letter-writing campaign, Write for Rights; commends the campaign, which aims to send messages of hope and solidarity to people who experience human rights abuses; believes that the campaign can have a positive impact on their circumstances, especially when authorities see that people worldwide are watching their actions, and encourages elected representatives and people from across Scotland to take part and exercise their freedom of expression in defence of human rights across the world.

4.  Amnesty International has selected thirteen instances of human rights abuses around the world that people can choose to support:

1. Eskinder Nega – being held in prison by the Ethiopian authorities for speaking out about the Ethiopian Government’s use of anti-terror laws and speculating the Arab Spring could extend to Ethiopia

2. Yorm Bopha – a Cambodian activist, wife and mother, who peacefully but vocally challenged local authorities and developers who were tearing her community apart.  She is now imprisoned, convicted on false charges

3. Jabeur Mejri – imprisoned in Algeria for seven and a half years for posting a picture of Mohammed on his own Facebook page.

4. Afghan Women’s Skills Development Centre – This group of pioneering women’s rights activists set up the first ever shelter in Afghanistan for women escaping violence. Today there are around 20 shelters, a network that has helped 1389 women, girls and dependents.

5. The Bolotnaya Three – Vladimir Akimenkov, Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko were detained during protests against Vladimir Putin’s rule in Moscow, in May 2012. Initially released, the trio were arrested again the following month and charged with participating in a ‘mass riot’.  Since then the men have been held in custody, which is taking a toll on their health.  All three firmly deny the charges and video footage supports their claims.

6. COFADEH – one of the Honduras’ main human rights organisations, seeking justice for human rights abuses by security forces and ‘disappearances’ in the 1980s.  Since 2011 the number and severity of incidents against CPOFADEH staff has intensified, with death threats, harassment and attacks. Female members have also been threatened with sexual violence.

7. Ihar Tsikhanyuk – a LGBTI rights activist, who unsuccessfully attempted to register Human Rights Centre Lambda, with the Belarus authorities. He was subsequently questioned by police, who subjected him to physical and verbal abuse because of his sexuality.

8. Kalpana Chakma – the organising secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation, which campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. On 12 June 1996, she was abducted from her home by plain-clothed security officers. Aged 23 at the time of her abduction, she has never been found since.

9. Laísa Santos Sampaio – a member of a group that promotes sustainable development in Nova Ipixuna municipality in Pará state, Brazil, she has been the target of persistent death threats since 2011.

10. Miriam López – Abducted after dropping her children off at school in February 201, Miriam was raped and tortured for a week until she signed a statement falsely implicating herself in drug offences. She was imprisoned and released seven months later. No-one has been brought to justice for the torture and sexual violence she suffered.

11. Dr Tun Aung – a community leader in Burma who has been sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment after an unfair trial, in which he was accused of inciting riots in 2012 despite independent eyewitnesses confirming that he actively tried to calm the crowds and played no part in the violence.

12. Nabi Saleh – a village in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whose 550 residents face frequent violent repression from the Israeli army for holding weekly peaceful protests against the Israeli’s military occupation and illegal settlement of Halamish, which has taken over most of their farmland.

13. WOZA – Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) stands up for the social, economic and human rights of women in Zimbabwe, but since their formation in 2003 their members have been arrested, harassed and severely beaten by the police simply for exercising their right to peaceful protest.”

The Week Ahead: 9th-13th December

On Monday, I attended the WILPF Chrystal Macmillan Fundraising Dinner in Leith, Edinburgh.

On Tuesday morning, I have office time and my staff meeting.  I’ll then be greeting a group of young people from Newbattle Abbey College, followed by my grouping meeting.  In the afternoon, there is a chamber debate on Human Rights, which I’ll attend.  To finish the day, I am attending the Cross-Party Group on Rural Policy.

Wednesday morning takes me to the Finance Committee, where we’ll discussing a variety of issues, and taking evidence from an expert on Fiscal Policy.  I’ll also be attending a Member’s Debate during the day, and will finish by attending the Cross-Party Group on Poland, of which I am Deputy Convener.

Thursday is less busy for me, so I’ll have time for administrative work.  At 12PM, I’ll attend First Minister’s Questions, and then take a train to Inverness later.  I’ll be spending most of my weekend in Shetland.

MSPs ‘PAWS FOR THOUGHT’ THIS CHRISTMAS TO MARK 35TH ANNIVERSARY OF ICONIC DOGS TRUST SLOGAN

Dogs Trust Xmas

On Thursday 5th December, Members of the Scottish Parliament attended an event in Holyrood organised by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, to raise awareness of its annual Christmas campaign.

 

The event, sponsored by Kenneth Gibson MSP, celebrated the 35th anniversary of the iconic Dogs Trust slogan; “A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas”. The phrase was coined in 1978 by the charity’s CEO, Clarissa Baldwin OBE, in a bid to highlight the issue of dogs being given as Christmas gifts and later abandoned when the novelty wears off.

 

MSPs were given the opportunity to take a festive Dogs Trust sleigh ride and meet a large number of furry friends. These pooches, however, were all stuffed toys – the only suitable kind of dog to give as a gift! Attendees also learned more about the charity’s annual campaign, which encourages people to pause and think carefully before taking on a dog, especially during the festive season.

 

Jean Urquhart MSP for Highlands and Islands said:

 

“I am delighted to support Dogs Trust and help the charity mark the 35th anniversary of its famous slogan, which is as important now as it ever has been. A dog is a lifetime commitment and should never be bought on impulse as if it were a new television or a pair of shoes. This message is particularly poignant during the festive season, when people are buying all sorts of gifts on a whim without necessarily considering the consequences. I would urge anyone thinking of buying a dog or puppy as a Christmas present to ‘paws’ before doing so, and remember that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

 

Laura Vallance, Head of Public Affairs at Dogs Trust said:

 

“We are delighted that so many MSPs are supporting us once again in raising awareness for our annual Christmas campaign. Although our iconic slogan is known throughout Scotland, we still see dogs and puppies all too frequently purchased as inappropriate Christmas gifts. It is clear that our message is as poignant now as it was in 1978, which is why it so encouraging to see MSPs get behind our message that a dog really is for life”.

 

Every year since 1978, Dogs Trust has campaigned to highlight the problems surrounding dogs being given as gifts at Christmas. The charity aims to curb this problem by educating people about responsible dog ownership and about the potential risks of buying pets on an impulse, be it in pet shops, directly through breeders, or online.

 

Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity and cares for over 16,000 abandoned and unwanted dogs a year through its nationwide network of 18 rehoming centres, including Glasgow and West Calder. For more information about Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk.

The Week Ahead (2nd-7th December)

This week began with a trip to Glasgow on Monday in order to attend a ‘Postcards from Scotland’ event.  In the afternoon, I attended an event at Holyrood where University and secondary school students debated at the annual St. Andrew’s Day debate.

Tuesday is filled with office time, which will give me the opportunity to reply to emails and fulfil various administrative tasks.  I have my team meeting today, so I’ll get a chance to catch up with the team and prepare for the final few weeks before the Christmas break.  I’ll also be in the chamber today for a ministerial statement on the Clutha pub tragedy.  I will end the day with the Imagine Scotland Cafe Conversation in Glasgow.

On Wednesday morning, I have the Finance Committee, followed by a quick lunch and a question and answer session with students from Inverness Royal Academy, who’ll be visiting Holyrood.  In the evening, I will be attending a Lloyds Group charity reception as well as the Cross Party Group on Human Trafficking.

Thursday morning will begin with a Dogs Trust breakfast reception, followed by a question and answer session with young people from Barra & Uist Youth Council, who’ll be at Holyrood for a visit.  Before First Minister’s Questions, I’ll be asking a general question in the debating chamber.  In the evening, I’ll travel to Ullapool and get a ferry to Stornoway.

I’ll spend Friday and Saturday on Stornoway, before getting a ferry back to the mainland on Sunday.  Whilst on Stornoway, I’ll be engaged in various meetings with a member of the local council, Stornoway Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Community Land Scotland, and others.  I’ll also be holding a surgery on Friday evening from 6pm at Bridge Community Centre, where members of the public can come and speak to me about any issues they may have.