I recently spoke in the Stage 3 debate of the Air Departure Tax Bill. Scottish Labour are adamant that the SNP proposal to cut Air Passenger Duty – a tax currently paid on taking flights – is not progressive, fair, or environmentally friendly.
It is not progressive – 2015 UK passenger data shows that 15% of the population take 70% of flights, and ONS analysis suggests a 50% tax cut would benefit top earners significantly more.
It is not necessary – Scottish airports are enjoying record passenger numbers, and overseas trips to Scotland are up 6% in 2016, supporting our thriving tourism sector.
It is not clear – Once again this Parliament is expected to scrutinise effectively without a full picture from the Government. I echo the concerns raised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation Scotland, “In the absence of information such as this, it is very difficult to say with any degree of certainty what benefits – if any – this change will make.” The Scottish Government should consider this repeated concern very seriously.
It is unjustified – Scotland faces a time of financial constraint, and this is a valuable source of revenue. APD delivered over £270 million 2015-2016, and depriving the public purse of this income seems irrational when coupled with cuts to public services.
Our local services are being squeezed and our communities are suffering for it. Cheaper business class flights won’t make Scotland any fairer.
Not only is this a question of social justice – cutting APD would have implications of climate justice too.
Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing every country in the world. It underscores our interdependence.
This Stage 3 debate arrives the week after the Scottish Government proudly revealed their success in reducing emissions targets, and this Chamber was filled with warm words and talk of ambition. The bad news, of course, was that the transport sector has now risen to be the heaviest greenhouse gas emitter. Our transport sector including international aviation and shipping has only dropped emissions by 1.1% in 27 years. International aviation has increased by 9% from 2014 to 2015, and from 1990 – 2015 it has risen dramatically by approximately 144%.
Today, the SNP’s talk of climate change ambition could not seem more hollow. In 2015 the UK promised to be a part of that collective action at the Paris Agreement. That means this Government needs to ensure every policy is stress tested to advance Scotland to our eventual goal to moving to a zero emission society. By the Scottish Government’s own analysis – this policy fails that test. 60,000 more tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year.
Given the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for 2015, it is clear as day that we need proper commitment to sustainable travel. Our transport sector – excluding international aviation and shipping – is now more damaging to our climate than it was in 1990.
We need a focus on a modal shift – improving public transport and infrastructure for more environmentally sustainable modes – to make it an easy choice for passengers. Incentivising people to fly, particularly domestically, is backwards. It threatens our rail services, which is not afforded the same tax breaks, and goes against the Scottish Government’s own key objective of bolstering rail services between England and Scotland.
I cannot hold much hope for behaviour change towards sustainability with proposals like this one.
Scottish Labour supported the introduction of this Bill – but the tax cut proposals were the wrong priority at the wrong time.
The result of the vote was very disappointing.