Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

– in the Scottish Parliament on 31st October 2012.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Section 1—Rating of unoccupied lands and heritages

The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc.) (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have the bill as amended at stage 2, which is paper SP bill 12A, the marshalled list, which is SP bill 12A-ML, and the groupings, which is SP bill 12A-G. The division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for five minutes for the first division of the afternoon. The period of voting for the first division will be 30 seconds. Thereafter, I will allow one minute for the first division after a debate.

Members should refer to the marshalled list of amendments. We come to group 1. Amendment 8, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, is grouped with amendments 9, 10, 15 and 17.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Amendment 8 would ensure that the bill would actually do what the Minister for Local Government and Planning has constantly asserted is intended. The amendment specifically seeks to ensure that the non-domestic rate increase applies only to the small but significant number of commercial properties throughout Scotland that are wilfully left unoccupied. A list of safeguards—including on how often the property has been advertised, how often offers to buy or let have been received, the state of repair and any other steps that have been taken to encourage occupation—to test for wilful inoccupation are included in the consideration when a decision is being made.

I lodged a similar amendment at stage 2 and have taken into account the minister’s and other members’ comments at that stage. Amendment 8 differs from my previous amendment in the following respects. First, the period of time after which an empty property will be deemed to be wilfully unoccupied has been lowered from 10 years to seven years. That change is made in response to concerns about the 10-year timescale being too long. Furthermore, the amendment now contains a specific reference to the price at which properties have been offered for sale or let as one of the factors to be considered.

Crucially, amendment 8 would now ensure that the burden of proof that a property is not wilfully unoccupied rests with the owner rather than with the local authority. That addresses concerns that were expressed at stage 2 to the effect that my amendment then presented an unacceptable extra burden on local authorities in terms of determining whether properties are wilfully unoccupied.

Without amendment 8, the additional tax burden that will be imposed by the bill will fall heavily on businesses and commercial property owners who are desperate to sell or lease their properties but who have unoccupied properties not through choice, but due to a fundamental lack of demand and the current economic climate.

Amendments 15 and 17 relate to domestic properties and again seek to target the small number of domestic properties that are deliberately being left empty and allowed to deteriorate. The arguments that have already been outlined on amendment 8 and the list of factors to be taken into account are applicable here in determining whether a domestic property is wilfully occupied.

Amendment 9 relates to existing commercial properties that have a number of different businesses located within the premises. It seeks to ensure that if one tenant were to vacate a business unit within a property, the owner of the building would not become liable for the increase in rates that the bill will impose. Amendment 9 is vitally important in protecting other business that are located within a multiple-occupancy commercial property, given that in these dire economic times even a small increase in overheads could be sufficient to put the owner of a property business into administration, which would result in uncertainty for other businesses located there, and potential job losses.

I move amendment 8.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I am an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Mitchell’s amendments—especially amendment 8. However, in case amendment 8 does not find favour with Parliament, I want to speak to amendment 10, which would give a fair exemption to businesses that are making a big effort to let or sell their properties.

I tried very hard to reflect the language that is used by the Government in its policy memorandum on the bill. Paragraph 38 of the policy memorandum clearly states that it would be

“unfair to penalise owners who may be attempting to bring their home back into use, but are unable to”.

Of course, that is in reference to council tax, as opposed to non-domestic rates. The approach to council tax appeared to be backed up at the committee stage, when Keith Brown stated:

“If it was clear that a sincere effort had been made to sell or let a property, for example, we would not want to punish somebody for a genuine attempt to bring an empty home into productive use.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Regeneration Committee, 30 May 2012; c 1077.]

If the principle holds for the Government in relation to council tax, why does it not hold in relation to non-domestic rates? Surely it would be equally unfair to penalise businesses that are working round the clock to bring their properties back into use.

Those sentiments came through in the consultation on the council tax element of the bill, but such sentiments were unable to come through in the consultation on non-domestic rates because there was no such consultation.

The policy referendum also argues at paragraph 41 for

“a mandatory exemption from the tax increase for up to twelve months for owners who are proactively trying to sell their home at a reasonable price.”

At paragraph 42, it states that there ought to be a “discretionary exemption” where

“the owner is actively trying to let their empty home.”

We believe that both those exemptions should be mandatory and applicable in the case of non-domestic rates, and that that ought to appear in the bill—hence, amendment 10. If it is to vote against amendment 10, the Scottish Government must explain why hard-pressed businesses are not entitled to the same rights as hard-pressed house owners.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

At an earlier stage, Ms Mitchell proposed that empty properties should not be subject to tax increases until they had been wilfully unoccupied for 10 years or more. I appreciate that in amendments 8, 15 and 17 she has made attempts to change that proposal, which was rejected at stage 2. However, I am unconvinced of the difference in intention between seven and 10 years—a difference of three years. Margaret Mitchell’s attempt to improve on her original amendment fails to address the significant problems that we identified at stage 2. Seven years would still be far too long to leave owners without encouraging them to do something about bringing their properties back into use. Fundamentally, if one believes—as we do—that the change to rates relief will incentivise properties back into use, why wait seven years? As I said at stage 2, the Scottish Government believes that it would be extremely difficult for a council to verify that a property had been wilfully unoccupied throughout a seven-year period.

The creation of a bureaucratic system to include a requirement for the owner to satisfy the local authority that they have been trying to occupy the property over a seven-year period would be difficult for business as well as local authorities. Even the detail of the amendments gives us an insight into how problematic it could be.

Amendment 10, in the name of Gavin Brown, seeks to allow properties that are being actively marketed a grace period of up to 15 months. An obvious weakness is that nothing in the amendment would require that the marketing price be realistic. Again, the amendment misses the point that, right now, the level of non-domestic rates means that it is cheaper to keep properties closed than it is to have them open for business, unless they are eligible for one of our many other generous reliefs.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

Why is it fair to give the exemption to home owners but not to businesses? That is in the Government’s own policy memorandum on the bill.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

As has been explained before, there is a world of difference between domestic properties and non-domestic properties in terms of how such a system could be administered. I remind members that we have the most generous package of rates relief in the United Kingdom.

I understand that Mrs Mitchell was, in lodging amendment 9, attempting to protect serviced office or business-park accommodation. However, in reality, the amendment would simply create scope for tax avoidance, because any owner could—often cheaply and temporarily—subdivide a property in order to avoid rates increases.

The Government cannot support any of the amendments in the group, but will continue to listen to stakeholders and adapt policy to fit what they tell us would assist their particular needs. The new fresh start relief scheme, which I announced at stage 2, will create a new incentive to encourage our entrepreneurs to occupy long-term empty retail and office property. That relief will also encourage use of long-term empty new-build property as offices and shops. So, high streets and new developments will benefit.

Mrs Mitchell may also be interested to learn that, in the rates consultation that we will publish shortly, we intend to ask whether local authorities should be given wide powers to offer local relief. That approach could address concerns that were raised during my extensive engagement. Currently, no such flexibility exists.

I urge members not to support any of the amendments.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

The minister still fails to accept and to realise that businesses are left empty not through choice and to save money, but due to lack of demand in this economic crisis. The fact that generous packages for rates relief are available to certain businesses is due, particularly, to the Scottish Conservatives having supported the SNP Government to make that a priority. However, the bill will ensure that businesses that do not benefit from those generous packages will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to businesses elsewhere in the UK. I say to anyone who is minded to support the SNP’s and the minister’s stance today that they should be prepared to go out into their constituency and justify why they voted for a measure that will increase the rates burden on all the empty properties in our town centres for businesses that simply cannot rent or sell them.

I press amendment 8.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 8 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division. I suspend the proceedings for five minutes to allow the division bell to be rung and members to return to the chamber.

14:53 Meeting suspended.

14:58 On resuming—

We move to the division on amendment 8.

Division number 1

For: Brown, Gavin, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McArthur, Liam, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Pentland, John, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 1 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 2

For: Brown, Gavin, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McArthur, Liam, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Pentland, John, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 2 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 3

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Gavin, Chisholm, Malcolm, Davidson, Ruth, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Findlay, Neil, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Park, John, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Liz, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 3 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Amendments 11 and 12 seek to address the concerns that were expressed in evidence to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee about the detrimental effects that the proposed cuts in empty property non-domestic rates relief could have on commercial speculative development.

If the Scottish National Party Government is serious about economic recovery—a vital part of which is the boosting of the construction industry—speculative development and inward investment must be encouraged and supported. There is a wealth of evidence that confirms that the bill, as it stands, will do precisely the opposite. The Business Centre Association noted that many such developments and refurbishments “are being shelved” already, while the Scottish Chambers of Commerce expressed the concern that

“the reduction of Empty Property Relief could also stifle speculative development”.

That view was echoed by the Scottish Retail Consortium, the Scottish Property Federation and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

If we were to exempt speculative developments from the cuts in empty property non-domestic rates relief, new developments and refurbishments of existing properties would not be affected. Therefore, amendment 11 seeks to ensure that the bill will, if not actively encourage speculative development, at least refrain from approving a barrier and deterrent to such developments.

Amendment 12, which provides for repeal of schedule 3, is intended to give effect to amendment 11.

I move amendment 11.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government does not support amendments 11 and 12. Although I understand that the intention behind them is well-meaning, speculative development is more greatly affected by the general downturn and issues of bank lending.

Many new eligible developments without a pre-let would benefit from the fresh start initiative after 12 months on bringing their property into use on occupation.

I believe that the unintended consequences are that amendment 11 could create an incentive for people to make their properties unsuitable for occupation and thereby avoid paying tax, even with regard to new builds that are nearing completion. For those reasons, the Government cannot support the amendments, so I urge Mrs Mitchell not to press them. Non-domestic rates are not a profit tax or an operational tax; they are a property tax and our duty should be to deploy policies that incentivise their use, not policies that create loopholes.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

The Scottish Government is constantly arguing that it should have more powers and that if only it did have more powers, our economic prospects would be so much more rosy. [Interruption.] The SNP back benchers are cheering, but today they will be voting against an amendment that seeks to encourage speculative development. We may as well put up the sign, “Inward investment not welcome in Scotland under this SNP Government”.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 11 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division.

Division number 4

For: Brown, Gavin, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McArthur, Liam, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Pentland, John, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 4 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

Amendment 3 is designed to address the democratic deficit that has been created by the bill. The arguments for this amendment also apply to amendment 4, which deals with the corresponding legislation for partially occupied properties. The progress of the bill has raised serious concerns about the ability of this Parliament to ensure that there is effective scrutiny of legislation.

The first reason for that is that the main effect of the bill is to remove limitations and to give additional powers to ministers. The impact of the bill is thus hugely dependent on how those powers are used through secondary legislation.

The second reason is that getting a clearer picture of the Scottish Government’s intentions for the regulations—and the evidence to support them, which is important—has been tortuous. Time and again, information has been produced at the last minute or after the relevant discussions have taken place. Although the minister has now issued draft regulations to give a more favourable discount to properties that are reoccupied after being empty, they were made available only recently and there has not been an opportunity to scrutinise the evidence on that measure.

That leads to the third reason: information has not been gathered about the impact of the bill in the form of a business and regulatory impact assessment. I therefore want to ensure that secondary legislation receives the parliamentary scrutiny that has so far been denied or at least diminished by how the bill has been treated to date. Only by the Parliament supporting my amendments can that be guaranteed. The alternative leaves the decision to the discretion of a small handful of MSPs.

Without such scrutiny, we are being asked to put our faith in the minister and to trust him to do the right thing. I do not believe that that is why our constituents put us in this place. They expect us to be sceptical and to scrutinise the Scottish Government’s actions. It is our responsibility to examine and question legislation that gives powers to ministers and to examine and question how they are used. To do so, the Parliament needs the opportunity to assess and debate secondary legislation. That is particularly the case when much of the impact of a bill will be determined by the regulations that are issued by ministers.

My amendments are designed to ensure that regulations will come back to the Parliament so that we can make a careful and considered judgment on them. Ministers are not infallible; I am sure that many will agree—even the odd minister—that they are far from infallible. If the Scottish National Party wants a mature democracy, it must overcome its fear of scrutiny—in this instance by supporting the affirmative procedure.

I move amendment 3.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Sarah Boyack to speak to amendment 5 and the other amendments in the group.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I am concerned that the non-domestic rates proposals in the bill will create problems for many businesses and will not deliver on the SNP Government’s aspirations.

Throughout the process of discussion on the bill, the most worrying aspect has been the lack of financial rigour in relation to the non-domestic rates proposals. Those proposals were announced in last year’s budget, and the Government declined to carry out a business and regulatory impact assessment on the basis that it would not be proportionate.

Ministers see the amount of money involved as small in the context of the Scottish Government’s overall budget. I understand that, but the point is that the proposals will create major problems for businesses and representatives of business and retail interests as they struggle through these tough economic times. Given the potentially disastrous impact on businesses, it is simply unacceptable that the Parliament has not seen a proper impact assessment of the proposals.

That is government by assertion. We know the problems that have been experienced in England on the back of similar legislation. There have been demolitions and a stalling of speculative investment in town centres. For some businesses, it has simply been the last straw. Many commercial and retail properties are empty because of the recession and the lack of demand in the economy. That is why we have consistently argued for a proper assessment of the proposals since the Finance Committee and the Local Government and Regeneration Committee took evidence on the bill.

We know that the minister inherited the proposals when he was appointed and that he has argued that he needs to claw back £18 million to fix a hole in his budget. However, the hole in his budget was created by a decision by his own Government. It allocated 83 per cent of the cuts to the local government budget.

That is why we proposed at stage 2 and propose again today that the changes to non-domestic rates should not come into effect without proper financial assessment, as opposed to a set of estimates, produced in-house by civil servants, that bear no relation to reality. Even the minister is not prepared to hazard a guess about how many properties will be brought back into use as a result of the bill. Every time that he has presented us with a reworking of the figures, the credibility of the proposals has been further shot to pieces. The point of a business and regulatory impact assessment is that not only will the minister and his officials have to treat it seriously, but the figures would be open to assessment, criticism and consultation for stakeholders and the Parliament.

The concerns that committees, local authorities, business organisations and the Scottish Retail Consortium have raised need to be addressed. In relation to the public sector, the proposals will simply rob Peter to pay Paul. One arm of the public sector will pay money through extra non-domestic rates to the Scottish Government.

The absence of a BRIA is unacceptable. I was deeply disappointed that the minister failed to take the opportunity to remedy the matter at stage 2, but I hope that he will do so today and that amendment 5 will be supported.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I support amendment 5, in the name of Sarah Boyack.

Consultation is extremely important, and amendment 5 would prevent the Scottish Government from simply sidestepping difficult issues associated with non-domestic rates. It would ensure that the Scottish Government has to consult and that it must lay a report before the Parliament.

Sarah Boyack is right. There is a credibility issue with the Government in relation to non-domestic rates. We were told initially that only 12 public sector properties in Scotland would be hit, but it turns out to be several hundred. We were told initially that there would be minimal costs to the public sector, but they turn out to be at least £3.5 million, almost £1 million more than the final revised estimate that the Scottish Government came up with. There was no formal consultation on non-domestic rates; that was specifically excluded for reasons that are simply inexplicable. The Government consulted on the council tax elements of the bill and on the housing support grant element, but it specifically excluded consultation on non-domestic rates.

The Government also failed to do business and regulatory impact assessments. The reasons given for that are equally weak. Scottish statutory instruments and legislation that has far less impact on business than is proposed by this bill regularly have impact assessments, but this bill, which will affect almost every public sector organisation, thousands of properties across the country and millions of pounds of revenue, does not get an impact assessment. That cannot be allowed to happen again, and that is why amendment 5 is most certainly required.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I will respond briefly to Mr Pentland’s remarks on the affirmative and negative procedures and the argument about not giving ministers powers to make decisions without coming back to the Parliament. I wonder whether Mr Pentland is aware of some of the legislation that was passed during the first two sessions of the Parliament. For example, under the planning legislation the then Scottish Executive took enormous powers that can be exercised by order without coming back to the Parliament for decisions. I wonder whether in his closing remarks on this group of amendments Mr Pentland might tell us when his conversion took place. Was it perhaps around May 2007? Or am I wide of the mark?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

It is extremely worrying and very revealing that the Scottish Government did not fully consult in advance of the bill on its measures and has steadfastly refused to listen to calls for a full business and regulatory impact assessment. That is despite forceful and convincing evidence that the bill will not have the effect to which it lays claim: it will not bring unoccupied business properties back into productive use.

When similar measures were introduced in England and Wales, the argument was made then that some businesses were sitting on empty properties, knowing that their price was rising in a thriving property market. That is certainly no longer the case, and has not been the case for the past four years, which is why the measure has not worked in England and Wales.

In towns like Paisley, which the minister knows very well, up to a quarter of retail properties now lie empty because of lack of demand, but the Scottish Government is in effect now going to punish business failure. We are also unsure of the impact that the measures will have on public revenue. One of the unintended consequences of the measures in England and Wales has been an increase in the number of charity shops. A very interesting briefing from the Scottish Property Federation points out that as the income from business rates relief has dropped in England, the amount given out in charity relief has risen. I am sure that that is not the picture that the minister and the Scottish Government wish to support in Scotland.

There is also an unintended or unknown impact on the public sector, because we know that the measures will cost local authorities a lot of money for their properties, and it will even cost Government agencies such as Scottish Enterprise money. I urge members to support amendments 3, 4 and 5.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Mr Pentland’s amendments 3 and 4 seek to require the first regulations made to be subject to affirmative procedure. However, the Subordinate Legislation Committee had no concerns about the continued use of negative procedure for regulations. That should not come as a surprise, because the norm in that regard is the negative procedure, which was good enough for the previous Scottish Executive. Negative procedure is common for most rates matters, and amendments 3 and 4 would create a more onerous procedure than can be justified.

Mr Pentland will be aware that regulation changes will go to committee. In the case of empty property rates relief, the appropriate subject committee will be the Local Government and Regeneration Committee. Ministers are not removing parliamentary scrutiny but applying consistency.

Sarah Boyack’s amendment 5 seeks consultation before the bill comes into force. I welcome her intention, but the Scottish Government has undertaken extensive stakeholder engagement and will continue to do so. The engagement has led to the refinement of our proposals—for example, the fresh start initiative—and informed the wider rates consultation that we are about to launch.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

The minister seems to say, “We did consult in terms of the debate,” but does he think that important sections of primary legislation should be excluded from formal consultations?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

We will make regulations that mean that if we want to vary rates relief we will return to the Parliament. That is consistent with most other rates matters. I do not see what issue Mr Brown has with that approach. The engagement has involved those who do not support our direction of travel, and it has informed the approach that we are taking, as well as future proposals, and will inform the consultation that I referred to earlier.

Although a BRIA was not conducted, there has been a level of engagement that goes beyond a traditional BRIA, as I understand it. That will feature more fully in the debate later on. I have said before that the impact of the policy will remain under review. As such, I can confirm today that the Scottish Government will undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the empty property rates reform. A similar process was undertaken by the United Kingdom Government in command paper 8411, “Memorandum – Post Legislative Scrutiny Rating (Empty Properties) Act 2007”. The Scottish Government’s scrutiny will take place in early to mid-2015, once sufficient time has elapsed to collate data on the impact. I will ensure that the convener of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee is kept informed.

To assist members, last week I provided an early draft of the regulations that I intend to lay under the new powers created by the bill if it is passed today. The bill is an enabling bill, but the Scottish Government has made its intentions on the use of the powers known. To consult further now, giving the impression that we may not proceed as proposed, would cause unnecessary short-term delay and uncertainty as we approach the new financial year. Generous reliefs will still be available. I want to get on with promoting those proposed reliefs, including industrial and listed building exemptions and the fresh start initiative. I hope that sight of the draft regulations, the consistency and the intention to undertake scrutiny provide enough reassurance to allow Ms Boyack and Mr Pentland to withdraw their amendments and support the bill.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

Neither the minister nor Mr Harvie have convinced me that I should withdraw my amendments. I will also support Sarah Boyack’s amendment, which complements mine.

We need a proper assessment of the business and regulatory impact of the bill, not just a consultation before the bill, followed by the minister’s ad hoc promise of further consultation before regulations are issued. Without parliamentary consideration of proposals for regulations based on a proper assessment of their impact there is a significant danger that this part of the bill will do more harm than good, which is a risk that we should not take.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 3 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division.

Division number 5

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Davidson, Ruth, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Findlay, Neil, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Liz, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McDonald, Mark, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 5 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 6

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Davidson, Ruth, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Liz, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McDonald, Mark, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 6 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 7

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Davidson, Ruth, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Findlay, Neil, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Liz, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McDonald, Mark, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 7 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

As the amendments that we have previously discussed have not been agreed to by the Government, I remain concerned about the serious and—to give Mr Mackay the benefit of the doubt—perhaps unintended consequences of increasing property rates on empty commercial properties.

At stage 2, I lodged an amendment to leave out section 1. Unfortunately, due procedure at the committee did not allow me a vote on the amendment and, of course, the vote was lost by only one.

I have made clear my concerns. Increasing rates on empty properties when we need to encourage business at a time of recession is a burden too far. There is no evidence that the Government’s bill will have any effect other than a negative one. It is in the interests of businesses to let out their properties. That is how they make money and recoup the costs of electricity, security and so on.

It is not only me who has concerns. The Confederation of British Industry Scotland’s director, Iain McMillan, said:

“This increase in taxation will make it more expensive for firms to create jobs ... this proposal remains a tax on distress.”

David Melhuish, the director of the Scottish Property Federation, said that the proposal would be a “major blow to businesses” and

“a dangerous tax rise at exactly the wrong time in the economic cycle.”

Garry Clark, of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said:

“This proposal ... runs contrary to common sense and to the Government’s stated policy objective.”

He continued, saying that we all want the issue of vacant premises to be addressed, but that

“this is not the way to go about it.”

The director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, Fiona Moriarty, said:

“This is the wrong measure at the wrong time and will act as an additional barrier to investment, especially in our ailing town centres.”

Jennifer Brooke, the executive director of the Business Centre Association said that, if the Government presses ahead with its plans,

“there will be a critical shortage of usable flexible space in Scotland within the next two to three years.”

She also said that the proposal would stifle and suppress growth at a time when the economy is at its most fragile and will put jobs at risk.

Garrie Renucci, chairman of the British Council of Shopping Centres Scotland, said:

“We strongly urge the Scottish Government to reconsider this ill-conceived Bill, which was introduced with minimal consultation, without a Business Impact Regulatory Assessment.”

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I concur with Mr Hume and dearly hope that amendment 1 is agreed to; in case it is not, I will speak to amendment 13, which could play an important role if the bill is passed.

Amendment 13 has two broad aims, the first of which is to provide a classic sunset clause, so that the damaging—or, at least, the most damaging—provisions are automatically extinguished after three years unless positive action is taken to retain them. The second aim is to ensure that there is vigilant and consistent monitoring of their impact on the economy following the passage of the bill.

I acknowledge Derek Mackay’s earlier comments, which I hope I have noted down correctly, that the Government will undertake post-legislative scrutiny from mid-2015. However, I fear a near-term impact on the economy, particularly from demolitions and companies potentially going into administration. That appeared to be the case in other jurisdictions, such as when a similar proposal was introduced south of the border back in 2008. The often-quoted Lambert Smith Hampton report, which was conducted jointly with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, was produced in April 2009 or a mere 12 months after the implementation of the Rating (Empty Properties) Act 2007. That report found that economic harm had taken place at that point, particularly from demolitions but also from companies going into administration.

Amendment 13 seeks to ensure that a report is published within 12 months of the passage of the bill, as opposed to two years, as well as every 12 months thereafter. The sunset clause would extinguish the provisions within three years unless positive action is taken. That is why I commend amendment 13.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

We supported Jim Hume’s amendment at stage 2 because there had been no proper consultation on and assessment of the Government’s proposals. When the SNP Government came to power, it claimed that it would govern as if it were a minority Government, but I think that this bill truly demolishes that claim. There is no sign of the Government listening or being prepared to listen to what is being said, however critical, by people either within or outside the Parliament. Jim Hume’s amendment 1 would enable the bill to go forward and allow local authorities to pick up on the provisions on getting empty houses back into use. The amendment would give the Government the time to do the right work and bring forward a credible set of proposals.

However, I suspect that the minister will not accept amendment 1 today, and that is why Gavin Brown’s amendment 13 is welcome. I do not normally support sunset clauses, but given the huge uncertainty, the lack of credibility and the lack of financial justification that the Government has put forward, I think that it would be appropriate to require Parliament to come back and affirm whether it wants to continue with the provisions. It would also be entirely appropriate to put ministers through the discipline of justifying the proposals again.

Another reason why I support amendment 13 is its provisions on post-legislative scrutiny. The minister has offered, very kindly, to do his own post-legislative scrutiny. That is a useful contribution, but the problem is that, if that work is done to the same standard as was evident in the preparation for the bill, it will not properly test the impact of the provisions. That is why the requirement for post-legislative scrutiny should be stated in the bill. We should have a proper assessment of what happens from the beginning of financial year 2013 and from the beginning of financial year 2014. We need scrutiny not by and for the Government, but scrutiny by the Parliament that is reported to us and done to the strictures set out—

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I must ask you to finish.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The number of buildings that have been demolished and the actual amount of non-domestic rates that has been collected for unoccupied properties should be assessed. There should be a proper consultation and a proper report to the Parliament.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you. Members must try to be brief.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I support amendment 1, which is in Jim Hume’s name. I had hoped that Jim Hume would not have to move or press the amendment and that the Scottish Government, even at this late stage, would have been prepared to alter the bill’s provisions on empty commercial properties to ensure that only those properties that are deliberately left unoccupied would be subject to the cut in non-domestic rates relief. However, the Scottish Government has not been prepared to do that. Instead, it has confirmed that the measures provide no incentive to bring empty commercial properties back into use; rather, they represent a tax grab on businesses that cannot rent or sell their properties.

I therefore support amendment 1, in Jim Hume’s name, which would remove section 1. When the SNP inevitably uses its parliamentary majority to vote down the amendment, I will support amendment 13, in Gavin Brown’s name.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I support amendment 13 and particularly Jim Hume’s amendment 1. My colleague Sarah Boyack has accurately described the debate about section 1 as the politics of assertion over argument. Evidence to the Parliament on the section has not simply opposed the measures as a policy but convincingly and credibly argued that they will not work in practice. Few businesses or property owners are not desperate to find paying tenants to cover their overheads and costs. The minister is unconvincing in his evidence-light assertions to the contrary.

Perhaps even more worrying is the proposal’s overall context. It is one month since the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth introduced what he called a budget for jobs and growth, but it is difficult to see how the new tax on businesses boosts the economy. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce highlighted today that the business rates burden is expected to rise from £2.18 billion in 2011-12 to £2.66 billion in 2014-15, which is an increase of 22 per cent in just three years. That is not the action of a Government that is trying to support growth or jobs.

Section 1 will not return properties to productive use and will hurt the Scottish economy. We should listen to the evidence and reject the section entirely.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I will put on the record a response to Sarah Boyack’s comments. She argued that the Government has not listened to voices inside Parliament on the matter, but I am afraid that that is not true. Nearly two years ago, the Green Party proposed actions such as the bill proposes. I am pleased that the Government eventually listened to that and has legislated.

I commend Jim Hume for his powers of persuasion. I have no idea how on earth he managed to persuade so many representatives of business interests to say publicly that they would rather pay less tax. That is a revelation. However, I will not vote for his amendment 1.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Mr Hume and Mr Brown oppose the action that we are taking but offer no credible alternatives to address the problem of empty properties. By opposing the enabling powers, Mr Hume would even deny the Government the ability to deliver the fresh start initiative.

The Local Government and Regeneration Committee rejected an amendment from Jim Hume on 26 September. He complained that he did not have a vote, but that was because he is not a member of that committee.

The enabling powers to which I referred give us the flexibility to vary the percentage of unoccupied property relief that is given and the classes of property to which the percentage will apply. Surely Parliament wants ministers to be in a position to respond quickly to changing circumstances, while maintaining parliamentary scrutiny. The status quo would mean a Government bill every time that we sought to amend the relief that was to be awarded. That would be inconsistent with other reliefs.

Mr Brown and the Conservative Party oppose the variation of empty property rates relief. Their opposition is at least consistent—except where they are in power, of course. However, such opposition is no reason to try to create a bureaucratic and overregulated regime for the Government to take decisions, which must be proportionate to the sums that are involved. Mr Brown is renowned for his sense of proportionality, but he would have us create an unprecedented legal framework for an £18 million variation of a £2.4 billion rates budget.

Throughout the policy’s development, I have emphasised that I will listen. If Mr Hume and Mr Brown had constructive alternatives, I would gladly have considered and responded to them, but the members have presented no alternatives. Others have been more constructive. That is why I proposed a new subsection at stage 2 to allow the creation of the fresh start initiative, which Mark McDonald originally suggested.

Mr Hume’s amendment would scrap that new incentive despite the widespread support that it has received. The enabling powers that are created by the bill are only one of the multiple strands that we are taking forward to encourage economic regeneration. Other streams will follow in the community empowerment and renewal bill and the town centre review. They will identify key issues that affect the viability of Scottish towns and explore other measures to bring vacant commercial and residential town centre property back into use.

The Government retains the most competitive business rates system in the UK, with the small business bonus scheme now at record levels. New statistics that have just been published show that, through the scheme, the Government has removed or reduced taxation for more than 89,000 premises. That figure is up by almost 4,000 from last year.

I think that every member in the chamber agrees that the empty premises that blight many high streets are a problem. Neither Mr Hume’s amendment nor Mr Brown’s provides any constructive ideas to tackle that problem. I therefore urge members to reject them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask Jim Hume to wind up briefly, please, and to say whether he wishes to press or withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

Today, we are witnessing a bulldozing Government. Sarah Boyack is correct. If the SNP had listened to what people not just in the Parliament but outside it have said, I would not have to press my amendment. However, it did not do that, so I will press it.

The bill will discourage the provision of new commercial properties. We will possibly see properties being converted to residential use or even being taken down. That has been witnessed. I will give the minister a credible alternative. We need measures that focus on regenerating our town centres and creating jobs, not measures that will hammer our economy and jobs at a time when we can least afford it.

I press amendment 1.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 1 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division.

Division number 8

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Davidson, Ruth, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Findlay, Neil, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Kenneth, Goldie, Annabel, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Liz, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McDonald, Mark, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 8 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 9

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Chisholm, Malcolm, Davidson, Ruth, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Findlay, Neil, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Hume, Jim, Johnstone, Alex, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Lamont, John, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Smith, Liz, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McDonald, Mark, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 9 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Amendments 14 and 18 seek to require Scottish ministers to prescribe by way of regulation a minimum state of repair for unoccupied lands or heritages to be in to be included on the assessor’s valuation roll and therefore fall within the terms of the bill.

The amendments, which deal respectively with non-domestic and residential properties, are intended to remedy the concern raised by Scottish Land & Estates in evidence to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee about long-term properties that are classified as dwellings but are not suitable for habitation or use as modern homes. Scottish Land & Estates called on assessors

“to be ... more realistic about removing properties from the ... register.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Regeneration Committee, 16 May 2012; c 983.]

Having listened carefully to the minister’s response to similar amendments at stage 2, I have altered these amendments to take into account his three main objections. First, the minister suggested:

“To issue guidance to” assessors

“would be to undermine their autonomy in determining whether a property should be included in the valuation roll.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Regeneration Committee, 26 September 2012; c 1200.]

However, assessors already interpret Scottish Government regulations that lay out assumptions they should follow when valuing properties without their autonomy being undermined. If assessors are not interpreting those regulations sufficiently, it is entirely appropriate for ministers to give direction on how they should be interpreted.

Secondly, the minister objected to the amendment on the basis that it risked

“confusing, rather than clarifying, assessors’ work” and that it was

“not clear what place guidance would have” given that the amendment did not propose to make assessors legally required to have regard to it. The point was well made and I have taken the minister’s constructive criticism on board. Consequently, amendment 14 now provides for binding regulations to be made.

Finally, the minister said that the amendment was tantamount to

“a manual on how to vandalise one’s property in order to avoid paying tax.”

I do not believe that that is a serious argument against bringing much needed clarity to the law in this area.

I move amendment 14.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government does not support amendments 14 and 18. As Mr Mackay indicated in the discussion on a similar stage 2 amendment—and as Mrs Mitchell has made clear just now—practice and case law already play their part in determining whether a property should be included in the valuation roll. Although Mrs Mitchell now proposes that that be done through regulations rather than guidance, as was proposed at stage 2, these amendments still risk confusing rather than clarifying assessors’ work. In any case, regulations cannot contradict the definitions in the relevant primary legislation about the properties that should be included in either the valuation roll for non-domestic rates or the council tax register. If they did, they would be ultra vires; as a result, they would need to be restricted in the detail they provided.

The Scottish Government considers that the existing definitions in the primary legislation remain appropriate. We want neither to reward those who have allowed their properties to fall into disrepair by potentially allowing them to be exempt from local taxation nor to encourage others to let their properties to get into a poor state of repair or even to vandalise them just to avoid paying council tax or non-domestic rates.

As these amendments do nothing to tackle empty properties and could, in fact, create a perverse incentive that would contradict the bill’s very intentions, I encourage Mrs Mitchell to withdraw amendment 14 and not to move amendment 18.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Despite all my efforts to meet the concerns of the Minister for Local Government and Planning and now the concerns of the new Minister for Housing and Welfare, I regret to say that the Scottish Government is determined to remain intransigent on this matter. Another opportunity has been lost to ensure that the bill has some provisions relating to empty and unoccupied properties that might give it some validity.

I will press amendment 14.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 14 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division.

Division number 10

For: Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDonald, Mark, McDougall, Margaret, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Murray, Elaine, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 10 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 11

For: Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDonald, Mark, McDougall, Margaret, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Murray, Elaine, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 11 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

I believe that the proposed 90 per cent rate for unoccupied properties should be reduced to 50 per cent for public bodies such as local authorities and health boards. The restriction on the level of increase is necessary to protect taxpayers and the quality of services provided by the public sector. I am sure that the Scottish Government is well aware that all public bodies are struggling to meet the increasing demands of those whom they work to support at a time of shrinking budgets and scarce resources. Asking public bodies to fund such a substantial jump in rates is clearly detrimental to our public services and it obstructs the long-term planning for currently unoccupied estates.

Simply because buildings are not in current use does not mean that they will always be unoccupied, nor that they should be sold to private developers or demolished to avoid a serious increase in rates payable.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could you check that you are speaking to the amendments on the restriction on the level of increase in council tax that is permitted for unoccupied priorities, which are amendments 6 and 7?

Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

Yes.

Amendment 7 objects to the doubling in the council tax that is payable on unoccupied residential property. Many families find themselves in such a situation as a result of unforeseen inheritances or because they cannot sell their home in an increasingly difficult property market. To ask people in that situation to pay twice the amount of council tax that they may have expected to pay is not only irresponsible but plainly wrong. The Scottish Government will potentially force Scottish families into negative equity as a result of these measures and the subsequent pressure to sell property to avoid the increased council tax charges.

I move amendment 6.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government does not support amendments 6 and 7, which relate to the level of council tax being charged on empty properties. As Mr Mackay indicated during stage 2, we intend to give councils the flexibility that they need to set the council tax increase at a high enough level to encourage owners to bring their empty homes back into use as a house for people who need it. In some cases, that may mean an increase of 50 per cent or less, but in others the council may feel that a higher increase of up to 100 per cent is appropriate in its area to provide sufficient incentive to owners.

The Local Government and Regeneration Committee broadly welcomed the proposal in its stage 1 report. Our proposal has always been to give councils discretion to impose a maximum increase of 100 per cent of the standard rate of council tax. We received strong support for a 100 per cent increase in the consultation on our proposals and Shelter yesterday confirmed its support for the proposal in a news release. I therefore urge the Parliament to reject amendments 6 and 7.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask Anne McTaggart to wind up and indicate whether she intends to press or withdraw amendment 6.

Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

I refer to my previous speech on the proposals and conclude that, as it stands, the bill penalises families in difficult situations and weakens the ability of many public bodies to make their own decisions about financial planning and property reallocation. I therefore press amendment 6.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 6 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division.

Division number 12

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Chisholm, Malcolm, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Milne, Nanette, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McArthur, Liam, McDonald, Mark, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza
Abstentions: Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Davidson, Ruth, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Liz

Division number 12 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Amendments 16 and 19 are based on the assumption that council tax is payable in respect of empty social housing as well as domestic dwellings in private ownership. The amendments therefore ensure that the provisions made for the increases or discounts cannot result in social housing being treated more favourably than other properties merely because it is in public ownership.

If ministers or local authorities increase the council tax applicable to empty privately owned housing to encourage it back into use, the same rationale and provisions should apply to empty publicly owned housing.

Amendments 16 and 19 ensure that the principles of fair and equal treatment are upheld and that local authorities cannot give themselves preferential treatment and allow vacant and void stock to further deteriorate.

At stage 2, the Minister for Local Government and Planning said:

“it is not currently the Scottish Government’s intention to exempt social landlords”—[Official Report, Local Government and Regeneration Committee, 26 September 2012; c 1204.]

from the bill’s provision. Amendments 16 and 19 would make that clear and give a firm statutory footing to that stated intention.

Finally, confusion remains over how the application of these provisions will work in practice, as it appears that local authorities will merely be moving figures from one column to another. I would therefore welcome an explanation of how the mechanics of that will work in terms of a local authority collecting the increase in council tax from properties that it owns and deems to be wilfully unoccupied.

I move amendment 16.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is willing to support amendment 16, although we do not support amendment 19. As was said at stage 2, we agree with Margaret Mitchell that social landlords should not generally be exempt from paying council tax or a council tax increase. It was never our intention to give more favourable treatment to social landlords than to private home owners. Both councils and housing associations should seek to minimise void periods in order to help to reduce waiting lists. We are willing to accept amendment 16, as it would prevent councils and social landlords from using the broad discretion given to them by the regulations to treat social rented housing more favourably.

However, as is clear from our recent consultation on the draft council tax regulations, there are no plans to exempt social landlords from council tax, so we believe that amendment 19 is unnecessary. We also believe that there could be difficulties in specifying a reasonable period of time for properties to be left empty before they are demolished.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

I am not sure whether I am hearing this correctly. Are we going to encourage social landlords to get their properties quickly back into circulation by punishing them even further? Is that what the minister is saying? It is not a very good start for the minister.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

I am saying that we are making no exemption for social landlords. We are treating social landlords and private residential property owners in the same way. The discretion will still apply, but we are not differentiating between them. That was also said at stage 2.

I will finish by saying that the issue can vary from case to case, particularly for large tower blocks, given the need to place existing tenants in a new block of homes. Sometimes, for example, there is a need for the compulsory purchase of homes that owners occupy in the same block. Therefore, we cannot accept amendment 19.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I welcome the minister’s support for amendment 16. The amendment could result in a maximum increase in council tax due to double the amount that is being charged in empty properties. However, the minister is rejecting amendment 19, so I fear that the absolute reassurance that I sought has not been given to private owners of empty properties that they will be treated equitably with landlords of social and publicly owned housing.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The question is, that amendment 16 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

There will be a division.

Division number 13

For: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Gavin, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Carlaw, Jackson, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Ruth, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Fraser, Murdo, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Goldie, Annabel, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, John, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McArthur, Liam, McDonald, Mark, McGrigor, Jamie, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Liz, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Chisholm, Malcolm, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Stewart, David

Division number 13 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 14

For: Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Chisholm, Malcolm, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Henry, Hugh, Kelly, James, Lamont, Johann, Macintosh, Ken, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, McCulloch, Margaret, McDougall, Margaret, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Murray, Elaine, Park, John, Pentland, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Stewart, David
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Harvie, Patrick, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kidd, Bill, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McArthur, Liam, McDonald, Mark, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMillan, Stuart, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Gil, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza
Abstentions: Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Liz

Division number 14 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 15

For: Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Drew, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, MacDonald, Gordon, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDonald, Mark, McDougall, Margaret, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Murray, Elaine, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Pentland, John, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 15 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 16 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 17 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Division number 18

For: Brown, Gavin, Carlaw, Jackson, Davidson, Ruth, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Goldie, Annabel, Johnstone, Alex, Lamont, John, McGrigor, Jamie, Milne, Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Smith, Liz
Against: Adam, Brian, Adam, George, Adamson, Clare, Allan, Dr Alasdair, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Claire, Baker, Richard, Beamish, Claudia, Beattie, Colin, Biagi, Marco, Bibby, Neil, Boyack, Sarah, Brodie, Chic, Brown, Keith, Burgess, Margaret, Campbell, Aileen, Campbell, Roderick, Chisholm, Malcolm, Coffey, Willie, Constance, Angela, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Dey, Graeme, Don, Nigel, Doris, Bob, Dornan, James, Dugdale, Kezia, Eadie, Helen, Eadie, Jim, Ewing, Annabelle, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fee, Mary, Ferguson, Patricia, Findlay, Neil, Finnie, John, FitzPatrick, Joe, Gibson, Kenneth, Gibson, Rob, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Griffin, Mark, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Hepburn, Jamie, Hume, Jim, Ingram, Adam, Johnstone, Alison, Keir, Colin, Kelly, James, Kidd, Bill, Lamont, Johann, Lochhead, Richard, Lyle, Richard, MacAskill, Kenny, MacDonald, Angus, Macintosh, Ken, Mackay, Derek, MacKenzie, Mike, Malik, Hanzala, Martin, Paul, Mason, John, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Stewart, McAlpine, Joan, McArthur, Liam, McCulloch, Margaret, McDonald, Mark, McDougall, Margaret, McInnes, Alison, McKelvie, Christina, McLeod, Aileen, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Michael, McMahon, Siobhan, McMillan, Stuart, McNeil, Duncan, McTaggart, Anne, Murray, Elaine, Neil, Alex, Park, John, Paterson, Gil, Rennie, Willie, Robertson, Dennis, Robison, Shona, Salmond, Alex, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Drew, Stevenson, Stewart, Stewart, David, Stewart, Kevin, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, John, Urquhart, Jean, Watt, Maureen, Wheelhouse, Paul, White, Sandra, Wilson, John, Yousaf, Humza

Division number 18 Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The Government has accepted only one of 18 amendments; let me give it the opportunity to turn that record into two.

Amendment 2 seeks to extend a transitional agreement between the Scottish Government and the Shetland Islands Council—the only local authority in Scotland that receives housing support grant—before the grant is abolished, which is what the bill intends.

I accept—the minister will no doubt remind me of this—that a similar amendment was not supported at the Local Government and Regeneration Committee. However, to a large extent, the committee’s decision was based on a ministerial assurance to the committee that negotiations with the council about the housing debt incurred in the 1970s would continue.

Every Scottish Government up until 2007 retained a budget to write off that debt—Shetland Islands Council’s past and present finance directors have confirmed that to me. At committee, I asked the minister to work on a transitional scheme to help the 1,800 tenants who otherwise face a rent increase of £8 a week. I did not ask the minister—nor should I—to specify what that transitional agreement would be. I did not, and nor does amendment 2, lay down the conditions of that agreement. Those issues are very much for the Government to negotiate with the council.

Sadly, I must report to members that no such effective negotiations on a transitional scheme have taken place. The Government appears to have decided that it is a matter for the council to resolve without any assistance whatsoever.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

No—I want to make my argument.

Today, I ask the minister to reflect on the impact that the rent increase will have on housing tenants and the problems that will be incurred if there is no support for the amendment and if the bill is passed in its current form. Housing support grant paid to Shetland Islands Council—I stress that it is the only local authority in Scotland to receive the grant—is £800,000. That money is transferred from the Treasury to the council; the Scottish Government is merely the middleman, as it has been for a long time.

The convener of Shetland Islands Council has written the most polite and reasoned letter—if I may say so—to Highlands and Islands list MSPs of all political parties in support of the amendment. The council always welcomes discussion of housing support grant and other matters with members of the Scottish Parliament who represent the area. Today, Shetland will wonder what those members will do on a measure that directly affects the lives and livelihoods of 1,800 SIC tenants.

I particularly commend the amendment to Highlands and Islands members and to our two new independent members, who are now free from the nationalist shackle. Let us hope that they will be brave today.

I move amendment 2.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I ask the minister to say what progress has been made with negotiations. Reassurances were given at the committee. We understand that a change is being proposed, but what is key is how that affects the ordinary tenants mentioned by Tavish Scott—tenants on whom there could be an impact, through no fault of their own. Our concern is to ensure that the Scottish Government addresses the issue.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

At stage 2, the Minister for Local Government and Planning said that negotiations with Shetland Islands Council would take place; those negotiations have been on-going.

We cannot accept amendment 2, in the name of Tavish Scott, because it would effectively hold the Scottish Government to ransom on the abolition of housing support grant. However, I confirm that we have talked to the leader of Shetland Islands Council and, before we came to the chamber, an offer was made to, and accepted by, the council leader. We will write to the council shortly with confirmation of the payment details. Given those developments, I hope that Tavish Scott will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

You never know the power of an amendment when it comes in front of a Parliament.

I commend and thank the minister for making that phone call; perhaps it was Mr Mackay who made it. Ministers will forgive me if I wait to hear the details of what the Government’s offer will mean for tenants, but—believe me—if the leader of Shetland Islands Council has accepted it, that is good enough for me. I seek to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2, by agreement, withdrawn.