29 October 2013

S4M-08040 Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08040, in the name of John Swinney, on the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will certainly not be the only member in the chamber who is grateful to the landfill tax for paying for some community facilities. In particular, within the boundaries of my previous constituency, the proceeds of the tax built a new hall at Longhaven. The boundaries have changed and a certain Mr Salmond now has that hall within his constituency; I no longer do.

It is also interesting to hear that we are talking about something like 600,000 tonnes of CO2 being emitted. That is a substantial figure indeed.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about whether we might have waste tourism. I thought about that before coming to the chamber and looked at a paper that was produced in 2012 for the European Environment Agency by the European topic centre on sustainable consumption and production. It is a big paper—96 pages—and, in essence, considers how the landfill tax in all its multifarious forms works in the countries of the European economic area. There is a wide variation, but the one thing in the paper that is interesting is that there is little suggestion that small differences could promote big tourism, notwithstanding the fact that, as Gavin Brown reminded us, the committee was told that they might. Therefore, we must avoid coming to an early conclusion on that.

In the UK, landfill has gone down to less than half of what it was over the 12 years from 1998 and we expect it to go down further.

Hanzala Malik: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Briefly, please.

Hanzala Malik: My interventions are usually brief. Stewart Stevenson has talked a lot about the past, which is helpful, but I will take him to the future, in which landfill will be used less and less. I draw his attention to the landfill communities fund. Where will such funding for community groups come from as the proceeds of the landfill tax reduce?

Stewart Stevenson: That is a perfectly fair and good question. Arguing from the constitutional position that I do, I find it unfortunate that we are being given a tax that is declining—which we want to decline—without having the full range of taxation powers to do something about that within the overall tax system. I hope that even those who do not travel as far as I do constitutionally might support the idea that the Parliament should be responsible for all the taxes that are applied in Scotland, whatever the future constitutional arrangements might be. Therein lies some of the answer.

I will touch on a few disconnected things. I will go again to the European Council directive 1999/31/EC and, in particular, consider what we charge for landfill. Article 10 of that directive is about the requirement to ensure that landfill site operators charge enough to ensure that they are able to look after the site for 30 years after they have taken waste material. We have recent experience of difficulties in remediation in coal fields, where there have been business failures. I wonder whether, looking to the longer term, it might not be appropriate for Governments to take in that money from operators so that it is certainly around. There appears to be less and less opportunity to get insurance cover. I do not think that we should be looking at that now; it is for the future.

The bottom line is that this is, above all, about recycling. Recycling is not new. During the second world war there was a huge amount of recycling and the world into which I was born immediately after the war was recycling focused: paper, aluminium, jam jars and lots of other things were recycled. The focus on recycling that there was in the 1940s, 50s and perhaps early 60s vanished and I am delighted that we are getting back to it. I hope that we do more of it. In that world, we also used our resources more effectively and our eating habits were much better.

Jenny Marra: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I do not have time now.

One of the interesting things is that under rationing in the war infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased, even after taking account of war casualties.

I will talk briefly about a couple of wee things. I commend the use of provisional negative instruments so that ministers can act rapidly—immediately, in fact—but, nonetheless, the Parliament can review what is going on, which is good.

I have a genuine question about taxable disposals. We are going to tax disposals of taxable disposals that are made illegally, but if it is not a taxable disposal, can we tax it? There are things disposed of that are not taxable disposals.

I have a tiny point about pet cemeteries, for which Jim Murphy legislated in 2005. The bill currently says that the disposal material has to be entirely of the remains of dead domestic pets. I hope that we might slacken that slightly to allow a container in which the dead domestic pet can be disposed of.

A week ago today Christiana Figueres, who is the executive secretary of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, was moved to tears when she came out to speak to the BBC after a Chatham House event that she attended. She said, in respect of climate change, that we are condemning future generations before they are even born. Landfill is part of an extremely important agenda. If I agree with anybody in the recent past, it is Christiana Figueres.


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