A NEW visitor levy in Scotland could be a “force for good” for the country’s tourism industry, a minister has said.

Public finance minister Tom Arthur spoke out as MSPs approved by 86 votes to 30 the general principles of a Bill which would empower councils to introduce such a levy, also known as a tourist tax.

If fully approved by Holyrood, the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill would allow local authorities to introduce a charge on overnight visitor stays, with the cash raised to be used to benefit tourists.

Edinburgh council has said it wants to be the first city in the UK to introduce the fee.

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And Arthur told MSPs the legislation will give councils a “significant” new power.

He said: “Twenty-one out of 27 EU countries already have some kind of visitor levy, and they are commonplace in other locations throughout the world.

“I strongly believe a visitor levy can be a force for good, supporting the visitor economy, and bringing benefits to residents and businesses.”

Mr Arthur said the Government will consider calls from industry for the levy to be a flat rate fee rather than a percentage of the accommodation cost.

It will apply to those staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, self-catering accommodation, campsites and caravan parks.

Wild campers and people in motorhomes and camper vans who pitch elsewhere will not be liable to pay it.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser asked if the Bill could be amended to include camper vans, but Arthur said there would be “significant issues” with collecting this levy.

Exemptions from the levy include homeless accommodation or those fleeing domestic abuse, the minister said.

Tory Miles Briggs said his party will bring forward amendments at stage two to bring national exemptions into the scheme.

He referred to legislation on short-term lets and said Parliament is developing a reputation for “poorly drafted legislation”.

He said: “We’re opposed to the SNP/Green Government’s plans to introduce this Visitor Levy Bill.

“We believe this can have a real negative impact on industry which has suffered, especially during the time of the pandemic.”

The Scottish Government agreed to bring forward the legislation as part of a budget deal agreed with the Greens in 2019, but the Bill was delayed by the Covid pandemic.

Speaking during the debate, Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Tourism brings money into local economies but councils see very little benefit from that.

“It’s an entirely reasonable principle that the body providing public toilets, bin collections, leisure facilities and all sorts of other services which tourists make use of is able to recoup those costs.

“It’s only fair that local residents aren’t left picking up the bill.”