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.