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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am surprised that the Minister did not turn his attention in any detail to the second part of the amendment; namely, the tourist tax. But perhaps we can assume that we shall receive an answer from some of his noble friends who made, it has to be said, the first outing of Back Bench Labour Members in the Committee stage--
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Certainly, it is so long since I heard them last and I did not hear any of them on the previous day. I was going to say that for that I am grateful for the catalystic effect of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell--he was a catalyst to bring everyone out of their lairs.
As regards the tourist tax, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, gave a neat spin to the proposals of Councillor Geddes, saying that it was hypothecated and would go to the tourist industry. My noble friend Lord Lyell made a good point when he asked whether it was extra tax.
The simple fact of the matter is knowing how government of all parties works and how treasuries work. The treasury of the Scottish parliament will be no different. It will say to itself, "Well, they are getting a bit more money from that hypothecated tax, so perhaps next year I can shave a bit off the budget I would normally give them out of other taxes, save it and put it somewhere else". That is what will happen and it will simply be a tax--
Lord Gordon of Strathblane: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. For the avoidance of doubt, I am opposed to a bed tax, but I believe that it is worth examining. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, pointed out that it works well in other areas. If there were to be a bed tax it would probably be levied by the Scottish Tourist Board as part of the membership scheme of the board rather than the local authority or the government. I repeat that I am opposed to such a tax, but it is worth examining. Some people in the tourist industry have advocated it.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am aware that some people in the tourist industry have advocated such a tax as a way of bringing more money into tourism. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, that it would probably cause more damage than good in the longer term.
I jotted down the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, because I thought that they summed up the Liberal Democrat party almost entirely. I am certain that it is an exact quotation, but it may be a word out. He said, "Without wishing to come down on one side of the argument or the other". I think that we can leave it at that; the Liberal Democrats' motto.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sorry to tell the noble Viscount that the amendment refers specifically to "local tourist industry tax", so we are talking about it. However, I notice that he is still sitting firmly on the fence as regards introducing it in this country.
That is not the main object of the amendment; the main object relates to the uniform business rate. All my noble friends who spoke underlined my point about the importance to business in Scotland of the uniform business rate and the fact that prior to its introduction businesses in many parts of Scotland were hugely disadvantaged as compared with business in England. I notice that no one from the government side addressed that problem.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that the rate took some years to introduce because it had to be introduced gradually and cost quite a lot of money. One must introduce such changes in taxation gradually if one is to do it sensibly. The fact is that we are at that point now and I am sure that businesses in Scotland will notice that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, speaking on behalf of his party, would be content for us to return to the situation in which the UBR did not exist.
I am asked by everyone from the Government Benches to the Liberal Democrat Benches why I lack confidence in this parliament. There is a short answer which probably I shall have to explain. I live in Glasgow and I pay Glasgow's council tax. I am in a small minority because few people pay Glasgow's council tax. Most of them then promptly vote for an authority which raises council taxes to a rate much higher than in any other part of Scotland. Therefore, if I appear to lack confidence when I see barrow-loads of councillors lining up to join this parliament it is from bitter experience. As regards good financial control, I return to the barrow-loads of councillors. In North Lanarkshire Council and East Ayrshire Council was there good financial control and concern about local businesses when they used their DLO to undercut all the local businesses which then had to pay the business rate and taxes in the area? No, I am sorry, that argument does not fill me with confidence; indeed, I am not hugely filled with confidence.
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, thinks that I occasionally appear to be falling in love with devolution but that my nerve then fails me and I back off. Well, my nerve does not fail me and, I suppose, regrettably for the Minister, neither do words fail me. However, they very nearly do when I think about the idea of councillors being translated from their brilliant running of local government in Scotland to running the Scottish parliament and what they might do to the uniform business rate if they keep it. I believe that they will do so. I really believe that they will
I shall not continue with the argument. I believe this to be a vitally important point. It seems to me that the business community in Scotland ought to see how people fall and that they should realise that people occasionally have to fall off the fence. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee on my amendment. Indeed, I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, will at least come down off the fence on one side or the other.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.