Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]
Meeting date: Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Drug Law Reform, Decision Time, Council Tax (Consultation)
Council Tax (Consultation)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10348, in the name of Willie Rennie, on the consultation on proposed council tax rises. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government’s Fairer Council Tax consultation on the raising of council tax rates for those in properties in valuation bands E to H, which closes on 20 September 2023; understands that, should these rises go ahead, 715,312 houses in places like North East Fife and across the rest of Scotland will be affected; further understands that this will mean more than a quarter of homes in Scotland will be impacted by this proposed rise on top of any yearly increase that is decided by local authorities; considers that this proposal may cause concern to many people living in band E to H properties, who, during a cost of living crisis, it believes are already faced with expensive energy bills, high levels of inflation and rising mortgage rates; notes the belief that these proposals do not go as far as previous commitments by the Scottish Government to scrap Council Tax in its entirety, and further notes the calls for MSPs to commit to scrutinising any proposals that result from the consultation fully and robustly.17:11
I do not think that I have ever seen Scottish National Party members vacate the chamber as quickly as they have done today. Perhaps that is because it is 16 years since the solemn manifesto promise was made—16 years of full control over local government taxation; 16 years of talk about reform; 16 years of consultations, working groups, cross-party talks, think tanks and rhetoric—and 16 years of waiting for the abolition of council tax.
Will the member give way?
I will not, just now.
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond told us repeatedly that council tax was unfair and discredited and that they would certainly abolish it, but the SNP Government has morphed from reformers to defenders—defenders of the unfair, discredited council tax.
Will the member give way?
I will not, just now.
First, the SNP promised to abolish council tax and then froze it. Now, it is hiking council tax with the biggest rises ever. The SNP Government plans to increase charges in band E by 7.5 per cent, in band F by 12.5 per cent, in band G by 17.5 per cent and in band H by 22.5 per cent. On the basis of current council tax rates, that would mean average annual increases of about £139, £288, £485 and £781 per dwelling, which would be in addition to any inflation increase. That would mean the biggest hikes ever, during a cost of living crisis.
Now, after years of waiting, the SNP is suddenly in a rush—it wants the changes in by April. I encourage anyone who has not yet responded to the consultation to make their views known through the Scottish Government’s website by the consultation deadline, which is tomorrow.
One person who has responded emailed me today. He said:
“My wife and I both work in nursing and emergency services and have three children.
We work hard and are currently in band F.
Already, we’ve had several increases to council tax ... we already pay more tax compared to those in England and quite simply with the cost of living crisis we cannot afford another increase ... The proposal penalises families who have worked hard to buy a family home and those with several children.”
If the minister is not going to listen to me, he should certainly listen to my constituent.
Higher-income households are more likely to live in properties that are in bands E to H, but a sizeable share of lower-income households also live in such homes. That means that some people on lower incomes pay some of the highest council tax rates. In contrast, more than a third of the homes that are occupied by the richest 10 per cent of people are in bands A to D; people with some of the highest incomes in Scotland are paying the lowest levels of council tax.
What also makes the system unfair is that it is based on property valuations that were undertaken in 1991. A system that relies on three-decades-old property valuations can no longer be accepted. I will finish this point and then bring in Mr Macpherson, because he is relevant to my next section.
A constituent told me yesterday that it seems crazy that people can carry out major work on their property that increases the house size, but until they sell, they are charged at the old rateable value. With the outdated valuations and its crude targeting of wealth and income, the system continues to be as unfair as it was in 2007.
I recall previous discussions that we have had on the system. The member has talked about the revaluation that many people aspire to. Does he agree that it is important for us as a Parliament to get to a shared position before the 2026 election, so that we can get a mandate from the people of Scotland for a revaluation and for change? That is what is required; otherwise, the issue will be just a political football.
Willie Rennie, I can give you the time back.
That is a timely intervention, because the next part of my speech is about exactly that issue. I have wasted so many hours of my life sitting in cross-party talks about reform. Mr Macpherson was one of the ministers, so he will know part of the story, which would go like this: the minister would say earnestly that the Government was serious about change and would tell us that their ears were wide open, and that they were listening to all the other parties and their ideas; we would set out our plans; the minister, as Mr Macpherson will remember, would thank us profusely, saying that they would take away our ideas for analysis and discussion at a future meeting; then there would be a reshuffle and a new minister would arrive, who would tell us very earnestly—in fact, more earnestly than the previous minister—that they would listen, too, and the whole exercise would start all over again, just in time for the next minister to arrive. And so on. Not once did one of those ministers set out their plans for abolition of the council tax.
Next, the SNP Government’s latest wheeze arrived—the citizens assembly, which was promised by the grandly titled Bute house agreement. Two years on from that agreement, there is still no sign of the assembly. The citizens have been ignored before they have even taken their seats in the assembly. The SNP has not broken its abolition promise from 16 years ago, but with these proposals it has undermined the Bute house agreement that it reached with the Greens.
So much for the grand talk from the Greens of a participative democracy—I am surprised that they are not here. They should be standing up to the SNP to defend democracy, not meekly following in its footsteps. From the various working groups, consultations, talks and now the assembly, it is almost as if the SNP never had any intention of doing something serious about proper reform.
We have been clear about what we want to see, and Mr Macpherson has heard that. For some years we have made the case for land value taxation—a new tax on the value of land rather than the infrastructure on it. That is what we propose. The Scottish Land Commission says that land is the most valuable asset in the UK. Oxfam says that taxing it could address rising inequalities while reducing the role of land assets in the accumulation of wealth.
However, that is not what the debate is about. It is about the reforms that the SNP proposes, which are well short of abolition and instead entrench the current system. We want the SNP to stop footering around, scrap the tax hikes and deliver the promise that was made 16 years ago.
We move to the open debate.17:19
I thank Willie Rennie for bringing the debate to the chamber.
My starting point is that this country, be that Scotland or the United Kingdom, is not raising enough in taxation for the public services that we want and need. Other major European countries have a higher ratio of tax to gross domestic product, of about 7 per cent, so I argue that we should be looking more to the European model of realistic tax levels rather than the UK model of low taxes and poorer public services.
The next question is how to raise more tax. It might take six years or so to set up and introduce new taxes—as we heard at the Finance and Public Administration Committee this morning—and we would probably need Westminster’s agreement, so our options for raising tax and protecting public expenditure are limited. Tweaking existing taxes is, therefore, the obvious thing to do in the short term. We have done that with income tax, to a fair extent, so council tax has to be another option.
Would the member agree, in reflecting on the evidence that we heard at this morning’s committee, that the Fraser of Allander Institute has made it clear that, essentially, it does not want to see more such proposals until this Government can actually bring itself to reform the council tax, as a property-based tax on a form of wealth? The Fraser of Allander Institute, in its submission to the committee, essentially said, “Do that first, and show us that you have the ability and the political will to make it happen.”
I can give you the time back, Mr Mason.
I will touch on that, but I note that one of the reasons that the council tax has not been changed so far is that there has not been agreement in the Parliament. Ideally, most, if not all, of the parties would agree that we should use either LVT, as Mr Rennie suggested, a local income tax or a property tax. It would not be a very wise route to go down for the minority SNP Government to try to impose its view.
As has been said, council tax replaced the community charge or, as it was known, the poll tax, which did not even pretend to be progressive. However, council tax is not progressive by most definitions. In the area where I live, most properties are in band B, being valued at around £75,000, whereas a property that costs 10 times as much, at £750,000, would be in band H. Even with the proposed change, if it were to go right up to band H, the latter household would pay less than four times as much council tax as the former for a property that was worth 10 times as much. Even with the changes, therefore, council tax would remain regressive. I therefore very much support the proposal to change the top bands and make the system a bit fairer and a bit better.
Willie Rennie suggested that during the cost of living crisis is not the right time to do that. However, it is because of the cost of living crisis that we need to do something like it now. We face a fairly stark choice: either we raise more in revenues, or we have to make serious cuts to local government and other funding and expenditure.
Willie Rennie probably understands that, but it is disappointing that he did not mention that if these proposals do not go ahead, there will be cuts to local services.
Would John Mason agree that it would perhaps be a good idea for the Scottish Government to look at efficiency savings? Does he agree that efficiency savings might have a place in the Scottish Government’s financial planning?
If the member had been watching the Finance and Public Administration Committee this morning, he would know—Liz Smith will be able to update him—that we have been looking at public service reform. We absolutely should look at that, and there is a whole range of suggestions in that regard. However, we will have to do something for the 2024-25 budget, and we are probably not going to make much out of efficiency savings by changing the public sector before then.
Moving on to council tax more generally, the fact that we are still using 1991 valuations is clearly a major disadvantage. As Willie Rennie said, people do not understand the current system and it is inherently unfair. Again, we heard at the Finance and Public Administration Committee this morning that it is reckoned that 50 per cent of properties in England are in the wrong band—some are rated too low and some are rated too high.
I do not think that we have the equivalent figures for Scotland, but it is clear that some properties in Scotland have risen in value much more than others since 1991, so a revaluation would at least make things fairer. I realise that such a revaluation could, and will, be unpopular with those who would pay more, but we cannot put it off forever. Either we need a revaluation, or we need a new tax.
As the motion notes, we all wanted to replace council tax some time ago; the problem is that we have not got any agreement as to what a replacement tax should be. The SNP’s previous intention of having a local income tax is probably not practicable and would not be operated by HM Revenue and Customs.
Land valuation tax is not well understood, and there are potential major drawbacks with regard to properties such as former council housing with very large gardens. My personal preference is probably for a property tax based on current value. If someone has limited income but lives in a high-value property, it should be possible to roll over the tax liability until the property is disposed of.
The motion is a bit inconsistent. It suggests that the proposals go too far, and at the same time it says that it wants changes to go further by replacing council tax. The Liberal Democrats need to decide what they want. Do they want a more progressive system or do they not? Do they want to protect public services or do they not?
All in all, therefore, I do not support Willie Rennie’s motion. I look forward to the results of the consultation and what will come from that.17:25
I greatly welcome the debate. Willie Rennie was absolutely spot on in what he said, and I enjoyed his humour in relation to the U-turns on council tax and other policies that the SNP has undertaken in recent years.
However, the reason why I am pleased to take part in the debate is that there is no doubt whatsoever that the proposed council tax rises are a huge issue, certainly in the constituency of Mid Scotland and Fife that I represent, but also across Scotland. The proposals come at a time when people in Scotland are already being asked to pay higher income tax, and when more people, because of fiscal drag, are being taken into higher rates. The SNP-Greens have also been talking about a wealth tax that they would try to levy on a local basis. The proposals could not be anything but the worst possible news for so many people across Scotland.
Willie Rennie is absolutely right to set out the statistics on the difficulties that the rises will place on so many people. I think that when the consultation finishes tomorrow, and we see the results, the Scottish Government is going to get a big shock when it finds out just how deeply unpopular the whole thing is.
Mr Mason mentioned the Finance and Public Administration Committee. He is absolutely right about some of the warnings that we have been getting in committee about raising more tax while avoiding the burden of that tax having serious implications on behaviour.
The Scottish Government seems to be suggesting that it will try to exempt some of the low-income properties in the higher bands from the proposed increase. However, that does not fit with the facts on the ground. In fact, there are something like 108,000 households among the poorest 30 per cent of Scots who live in properties in band E or above, and just 23,000 of those households currently receive a council tax reduction. That leaves between 80,000 and 85,000 households that are vulnerable to the proposed increase, which is a huge number of people.
As I said, that comes at a time when the SNP-Greens are talking about very considerable increases to the tax burden in Scotland. Not only does that have considerable implications for the households that are being asked to pay the tax; but the whole prospect is just so complex that it will turn out to be unworkable. As both Willie Rennie and John Mason rightly said, it is simply inconceivable that we could be going ahead with these proposals based on property ratings from 1991. That does not make any sense whatsoever.
As we know, both the National Audit Office and Reform Scotland have called on the Scottish Government to finalise a new deal for local government. There is some good in the idea of setting up a new partnership agreement with councils that supports collaboration alongside a fiscal framework for local government. I have a lot of sympathy with that ambition, but it would have to be on a three-year, or perhaps five-year, basis to ensure that there is sustainable funding and greater financial flexibility and transparency. There is no doubt whatsoever that local authorities across Scotland have been suffering really badly because of the consistent cuts that they have had to put up with for a long period of time, and they feel so vulnerable in the face of all the proposed changes.
In conclusion, we have here yet another SNP proposal that is ill thought through. I really do not think that the Scottish Government has thought about the ramifications of the policy; it has certainly not thought carefully about who is actually going to end up paying. I think that when the consultation results come out, the Scottish Government will have to have a major rethink.17:29
I thank Willie Rennie for securing the debate. Scottish Labour shares his frustration at 16 years of SNP failed promises on council tax. People in the Parliament with longer stripes than me have been over the issue on many occasions, and the Government has been found wanting, so a level of cynicism has been brought to the conversation. That is perhaps slightly unfair on the current minister and even on his predecessor, but it has been a hard conversation.
As colleagues have mentioned, a panel of academics appeared before the Finance and Public Administration Committee this morning. They were candid in their assessment of the glacial pace at which any changes on council tax have taken place. They used the word “ludicrous” in relation to the fact that the proposals are being put forward using 1991 valuations.
Will the member give way?
I will make some progress then perhaps bring Mr Macpherson back in.
In its response to the consultation, Reform Scotland described the proposals as
“little more than tinkering round the edges”—
rightly so, because the consultation has, frankly, proposed a mere rehash of 2017 increases. That comes from a Government that is not, and never has been, genuinely interested in the hard work of reform, whether it be of our taxes or our public services.
This is, predictably, a mess of the SNP’s own making. Its council tax freeze starved local government of resource for a decade, leaving councils hobbled and services in decline, workers underpaid and citizens increasingly at risk. Of course, the policy worked well for its election prospects, but let us not pretend that it was progressive. A further freeze was dangled as an incentive in early 2021, only to be abandoned later that year. It is pretty clear that nationalist populism as pursued by the SNP has real consequences.
In the worst cost of living crisis in decades, the SNP is now asking ordinary households to pick up the bill, which beggars belief. During the Finance and Public Administration Committee’s recent visit to Largs for an evidence-gathering session as part of our pre-budget scrutiny, I chaired a group of community activists, and they were apoplectic at the very thought of paying more council tax at this time.
Scottish Labour’s analysis estimates that up to 85,000 low-income households could be hit by the SNP’s proposals. Liz Smith and Willie Rennie have set out quite clearly the inequity of the proposals, and those 85,000 low-income households will feel the brunt of them. We need a Government that is honest about the mess that it has made and what it will do about it.
The amount of money that might be raised by those council tax variations is £175 million, I believe. That is before—again, this was set out at the Finance and Public Administration Committee’s meeting this morning—any adjustments are made regarding lower fixed-income households or councils that might lose out disproportionately on the budget as a result of the banding of households in their areas. I remind the chamber that the black hole is £1.9 billion.
Of late, the SNP has made much noise about a range of new taxes, including a wealth tax. The witnesses at the finance committee all agreed that introducing a new tax is a long and complex process. The example was given of a social security benefit taking up to six years to establish, but we should reflect on the fact that that is a benefit rather than a tax, and the willing participation of citizens in providing the information that is required is more likely for the former rather than the latter.
However, given that the SNP has already taken 16 years to not reform council tax—a tax that already exists—the Fraser of Allander Institute has been very clear that it is deeply sceptical about this Government’s capacity to introduce and successfully administer an entirely new tax timeously enough to address the £1.9 billion black hole that the SNP has created in our public finances.
Whether it be council tax, income tax or the distant prospect of a wealth tax, the SNP cannot tax its way out of the mess that it has made, and the people of Scotland will not bail it out this time.17:34
Michael Marra is right, of course: the nationalist populism that we have been exposed to for the past 16 years has now well and truly hit the buffers.
I was a little surprised by my friend Willie Rennie being so surprised that the only thing that the SNP has left in the locker is higher taxes, because that is the SNP Government’s characteristic—it reaches for higher taxes. Its approach is not to talk about efficiencies or savings that can be made in Government; it is there to be seen. The public know that this Government reaches for more taxes, higher taxes and different taxes.
There are incredible tax burdens on the people of Scotland, and then the Government wonders why, when net migration in this country for the past two years will be greater than 1.2 million, people with skills who can make a contribution to our country do not come. Perhaps we need to look at ourselves. The Scottish Government and its ministers have completely run out of ideas now. The Government is not even running on fumes any more when it comes to ideas.
Does the member agree with my point that the UK, including Scotland, is paying proportionately less of its gross domestic product in tax than other European countries?
As a Conservative, I am embarrassed to say that this country has the highest tax burden in 80 years. That is not a recipe for economic growth and prosperity. It is a recipe for the very opposite of what I think we all want to see in our country, which is economic growth, prosperity and shared prosperity.
The council tax provides 19 per cent of council funding. It raises £2.6 billion to pay for services at the local level. However, it should be emphasised that councils right across Scotland are now having to deal with the toughest set of budget decisions that they have ever had to make. That rests on the back of the failure of the SNP Scottish Government, which has been in government for 16 years, and which has centralised and ring fenced to its heart’s content. That is all coming home to roost, because the councils that the Government has deliberately and by design underfunded and defunded for the past decade are now struggling to cover the cost of basic services.
Falkirk, in my constituency, has seen dramatic reductions in the number of vital bus services, the closure of swimming pools and charges for the removal of garden waste going up. Many local authorities in Scotland are at risk of bankruptcy. Indeed, many of them have already started to spend their reserves on current expenditure, which means that they are approaching insolvency. Let us be clear: there will be no section 114 order, as there is in Birmingham. There will be no appointment of commissioners, because the legislation in Scotland does not allow for that. Let us therefore hear no self-congratulation or back slapping about the health of local government that is born from ignorance of Scotland’s legislation. The starving of local government of resources has been a feature and principal plank of the Government’s approach to local democracy.
The Government has so many allegedly bright ideas for which it provides no funding. It expects them all to be carried out without any idea of how much they will cost or who will pay for them. Whether it be a bairns’ hoose or 1,000 extra childminders, these national commitments made by nationalist ministers are plonked on the doorsteps of local councils with no money to pay for anything.
And so to the reform—as it is laughingly called—of council tax. Trying to squeeze ever higher amounts of money out of people who already pay more than their fair share has no justification. It is tinkering—
Will the member take an intervention?
Yes, if I am allowed.
Ben Macpherson may come in briefly.
I hope that I have come in at the right juncture in Mr Kerr’s speech. I have a question that is similar to the one that I asked of Mr Rennie. The Conservative Party did not participate in consideration of reform of the council tax previously. Will it be open minded about that ahead of the 2026 election so that we can take a shared position across the parties?
The Conservative Party is continuously reviewing our policies on how we raise money to fund local government. We will, of course, be willing participants in any discussions in the Parliament and in any cross-party setting to that end. However, although I have a lot of respect for Ben Macpherson, I would not want him to think that what has not happened in the past 16 years under his Government will suddenly happen in the lead up to the deadline that he suggests we all work towards.
I am getting the signal from the Presiding Officer that I have gone over my time. I make a plea to the minister to start the process of real local government reform at root and branch. Let us face the reality that local government in our country is in decline, local democracy is struggling and services are at breaking point. The system needs reform, not another tinkering attempt at making thinly disguised tax increases.
Thank you, Mr Kerr; I was trying to be as discreet as possible in telling you that your time was up. I call Tom Arthur to respond to the debate.17:40
I thank Willie Rennie and congratulate him on securing the debate. I also thank all members for their contributions.
The debate has been very useful in giving people the opportunity to air their views. I reiterate Willie Rennie’s point and encourage anyone who has not yet responded to the consultation to do so tomorrow. I express my thanks and sincere gratitude to all who have responded to the consultation to date, and I thank those members who have written to me expressing views that have been shared with them by their constituents. That is the purpose of the consultation; it is an opportunity to seek views. I stress that it is a joint consultation with local government—it has a mandate from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities as well as the Scottish Government.
It is the second consultation that we have undertaken that looks at aspects of reform of the existing system of council tax. Previously, we had a consultation on the premiums that could be charged for second properties, and we have announced in the programme for government that we will be taking forward that power to allow local authorities discretion to charge a premium of up to 100 per cent on second homes. That reflects the nature of the origin of this work, which is the joint working group on sources of local government funding—
Will the minister take an intervention?
One moment, please; I will just make this point. That reflects the origin of the consultation, which is the joint working group on sources of local government funding and council tax reform. To provide some context, there are two aspects to the work. The first is to look at what meaningful changes we can make to the existing system of council tax through things that can be achieved in the short term. The second aspect, which includes the element of working with deliberative processes to engage more of the public, will involve looking at, potentially, more fundamental reform or replacement of the council tax.
Before I give way to Ms Baillie, I want to be clear that the consultation that is being undertaken at the moment is, for the next 24 hours or so, a live consultation. I assure anyone who has responded to or taken an interest in the consultation, and all members in the chamber, that no decisions have been taken. We will carefully reflect on the responses and the third-party analysis that is undertaken.
The benefit of being around for a long time is that I remember things. I remember that Marco Biagi, who was local government minister between 2014 and 2016, set up a commission on local government finance. It was cross-party—indeed, I served on it. We came up with solutions that the Scottish Government then published in a glossy report. Why did the SNP bottle it and fail to deliver change?
As Jackie Baillie has a long memory, I am sure that she will recall the commission and the review of council tax that was undertaken in the dying days of the Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration, the report of which was rejected prior to its publication.
On the specific point about the local government commission, it did not settle on a specific replacement for council tax. We had an election in 2016, and I recall that, in March 2016, a press release from the Labour Party, in Jackie Baillie’s name, said exactly what Jackie Baillie said a few moments ago. There was an election, manifestos were set out and the people of Scotland made their views clear in that election, and we delivered on what we set out that we would do with regard to council tax in the previous session of Parliament. My predecessor as public finance minister, Ben Macpherson, had been engaged in cross-party talks and engagement, which were interrupted by the pandemic. That is the history of how we got to this particular set of circumstances.
In looking to the future, we are taking a joint approach with local government. That is important because, in looking at local sources of funding and local taxation, we have to come to a shared position with local government—what we do needs to be done with local government. That is why it is so important that we go through the process of the joint working group.
It is also important not to see this in isolation—the consultation is part of a wider series of work that has been undertaken by the joint working group. There is also the introduction of the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill, which would represent probably the greatest fiscal empowerment of local government since devolution, and we are committed to engaging deliberatively with the wider public as we take that work forward. As I have said on previous occasions, my door is always open to engaging with any member on local taxation matters or any other matter that falls within my portfolio of responsibilities.
Mr Kerr touched on local governance and the reform of local government. I was very pleased to launch, along with my colleague Mr FitzPatrick, the second stage of the local governance review with COSLA last month, and that work is now being undertaken across Scotland.
We are also continuing our review of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015; we will be publishing our analysis of the responses to the community wealth building consultation later in the autumn; and, of course, we are working to deliver the new deal through the Verity house agreement that we have agreed with local government and which includes the fiscal framework. A broad range of work is going on.
That said, what I think has been reflected in some of the contributions that we have heard in the chamber in the past hour or so is that there is no consensus on what significant reform or replacement of the council tax might look like. Members might offer various ideas, but we have not arrived at a consensus; indeed, Mr Macpherson made a very important point in that respect. I am committed to working in partnership with local government to identify a way forward and see whether we can build consensus through a recognition of the various views, challenges and opportunities as well as by fundamentally recognising the significant contribution that council tax makes towards vital public services.
There are really two issues here: first, how the money that the minister claims is necessary is raised; and secondly, reforming the council tax to ensure that it is more efficient in the future. I have to say that I am very glad to hear that nothing has been decided, because I think that, when the results come in, there will be quite a considerable amount of criticism about the proposals. With hindsight, does the minister accept that it was not a sensible idea to freeze council tax for such a long period? Did it not take away councils’ ability to pull in the money that they needed at an earlier stage, which would have avoided some of the difficulties that we have just now?
I can give you the time back, minister.
There has to be a recognition of the prospectus on which the Government was elected in 2011. Indeed, it was also the Labour Party position in the 2011 election, which it was thought it was in contention to win until quite late on; it, too, set out a proposal for a council tax freeze. Ultimately, such proposals reflected a time of recession and significant economic hardship as we came out of the great financial crash. One of the few powers that we had at our disposal through the taxation system to support communities and individual households was the ability to freeze council tax, and that was what was implemented. Of course, councils have been able to vary the council tax rate since 2016 and have had full discretion in that respect since the most recent budget.
I am at the end of my time, but I reiterate that the consultation is still live and that no decisions have been taken. I am grateful to those who have responded already, and I encourage anyone with an interest in this subject who has not yet responded to do so.
That concludes the debate.Meeting closed at 17:48.