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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Fire Alarm Standards, Local Government Funding, Education and the 2022 Examination Diet, Standards Commission for Scotland (Appointment of Member), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Asda Foundation


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motions S6M-02852 and S6M-02853, on approval of Scottish statutory instruments.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Licensing of Short-term Lets) Order 2022 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Town and Country Planning (Short-term Let Control Areas) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2022 [draft] be approved.—[George Adam]

17:55  

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Self-catering is an integral and hugely important part of the Scottish tourism sector, in terms of jobs, revenues and the world-class experience that Scotland offers to visiting guests. The sector generates £867 million annually for the Scottish economy. Throughout the passage of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Licensing of Short-term Lets) Order 2022, significant concerns have been raised by the sector and those whose livelihoods depend on the income that they receive.

Given the impact that the pandemic has had, we should be mindful of the unintended consequences and the potential negative impact that the new order will have on already fragile tourism businesses. Scottish National Party ministers clearly understood that the previous order was unfit when they withdrew it in February 2021. It has been largely unchanged, and the new draft was laid in January 2022, but the concerns of industry, experts and members have been dismissed by ministers.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Liberal Democrats support the introduction of control areas for problematic short-term let hotspots, but, like the member, we think that the licensing scheme is disproportionate and that a registration scheme would be a far more sensible way to proceed. Does the member recognise that the concern comes not just from the Liberal Democrat and Conservative benches, but from the wise Mr Fergus Ewing, who has expressed concern recently in committee? Does he think that the minister should pay attention to that concern and make changes?

Miles Briggs

I absolutely do. As the member outlined, the concerns are shared across the sector, including by the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, the Professional Association of Self Caterers UK, Scottish Agritourism, Scotland’s Best B&Bs, and the Scottish Bed & Breakfast Association, as well as Scottish Land & Estates. What is concerning is that, as Willie Rennie outlined, the views of the sector have not been taken on board, and the workable solution that has been put forward in the form of a registration scheme has been put to one side by SNP ministers. Indeed, the whole short-term lets sector is united in favouring a registration scheme. The sector also has support from the Federation of Small Businesses, NFU Scotland and all short-term lets organisations. It is worth reflecting that several of those bodies are so angry with the Scottish Government that they felt the need to leave the short-term lets stakeholder working group, because they felt that it was a “sham”, in their words, and that it was not addressing their concerns in any constructive way.

I also welcome the comments from my SNP colleague Fergus Ewing, who was mentioned by Willie Rennie. He discovered his independence on the back benches when he said at committee—and I fully agree with this—that

“the licensing scheme is too draconian and unfair”.

If you could please conclude, Mr Briggs.

Miles Briggs

I will.

He continued:

“There will now be a period of division, difficulty and anxiety among tens of thousands of law-abiding small businesses that have done nothing to deserve the threat that is now being held over them.”—[Official Report, Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, 21 December 2021; c 24.]

I ask that Parliament rejects the licensing order at decision time.

17:59  

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government (Shona Robison)

The legislation delivers on our commitment to effectively regulate short-term lets. We recognise the important role that short-term lets play as a source of flexible and responsive accommodation for tourists and workers, which brings many benefits to hosts, visitors and our economy. However, when this work started in 2018, it was in response to the significant concerns of residents and communities across Scotland—particularly in Miles Briggs’s area, I should add—about the impact that the increase in short-term lets was having on their areas, with regard to local housing supply, noise and antisocial behaviours.

The issue was not just an urban or rural one, as was shown in correspondence and throughout our consultations. We heard from residents across the country, from Ayr to Applecross, from the Trossachs to North Berwick and from Skye to St Andrews. Constituents regularly asked members of the Scottish Parliament what action the Government was taking to address the issue, while we were taking the time to gather the evidence and hear the views of people and stakeholders so that we could agree on the form that such action would take.

I am pleased that we have responded to those concerns with the clear action on which members will vote tonight.

Miles Briggs

I have been working on the matter with other members of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee. None of us is against the change, but the clear ask was that, given the impact of the pandemic, the Scottish Government consider a registration scheme, rather than a licensing scheme. Will the cabinet secretary say why that suggestion was so categorically rejected and why people had to leave the Government’s working group?

Shona Robison

If Miles Briggs and the Tories are not against the change, I presume that they will vote for it at decision time.

We have discussed registration versus licensing on many occasions. We considered registration as part of the 2019 consultation and we considered the proposals that the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers made last year.

However, we do not think that registration offers the same protections as licensing does to guests, neighbours and local communities. To be robust and effective, a registration scheme would have to do many of the things that a licensing scheme will do, and the fit-and-proper-person test, which is critical and will be in the licensing scheme, would not be in a registration scheme.

On the working group, I am pleased that many stakeholders have said that they will continue to work with the Government on the detail.

We have already introduced legislation that allows councils to establish short-term let control areas and manage the number of short-term lets. The introduction of a licensing scheme will protect the safety of guests by ensuring that all short-term lets in Scotland comply with mandatory safety standards and that the people who provide such lets are suitable. That will ensure that short-term lets are safe and can continue to make a positive impact on local economies, while balancing those issues with the needs of local communities.

The licensing order, which the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee approved last month, gives local authorities the autonomy to tailor the scheme to address particular local issues and needs. It will enable authorities to know what is happening in their areas and to be responsive and handle complaints effectively.

We have engaged with stakeholders. We have listened. We have made changes. We are committed to working with local authorities to review levels of short-term lets in hotspot areas in 2023.

I urge members to support the motions.

The Presiding Officer

The question on the motions will be put at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S6M-02854, on designation of a lead committee.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the Criminal Justice Committee be designated as the lead committee in consideration of the legislative consent memorandum in relation to the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill (UK Legislation).—[George Adam]

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.