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18 December 2008

S3M-3125 Drink Driving

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 18 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Drink Driving

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business this morning is a debate on motion S3M-3125, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on drink driving.
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11:30

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





In the light of Margaret Smith's reference to the Institute of Advanced Motorists, I draw Parliament's attention to my entry in the register of members' interests, in which I have declared my membership of that organisation.

I am glad that we have had this opportunity to discuss this important issue and am heartened by the broad consensus on the view that the current levels of death and injury through drink driving are unacceptable. That thread has run through all the speeches. The casualty figures are moving in the right direction—the number of deaths and serious injuries in 2007 is 45 per cent lower than it was in the mid-1990s, but there is much more to do. One death is one too many.

I will respond to various points that have been made in the debate. Richard Simpson is one of many members on the Labour benches who support a change from the 80mg blood alcohol level, although there are varying opinions on what it should be reduced to. The key issue is that having alcohol in one's system leads to a reduction in appropriate decision-making powers and a diminution of motor skills. Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and multiplies a range of other effects. At 9.40, Richard Baker said that he thinks it would be better if there were a lower limit.

Labour members have got the message; it is just not set out in their amendment.

Bill Aitken made a number of excellent points on drug driving. I note that no one disagreed in any material sense with his comments and I hope that there will be very substantial support for his amendment, even though in supporting it we will be left with a Labour Party amendment that still misses the point. In 1998, the Department for Transport at Westminster made it quite clear that reducing the blood alcohol limit to 50mg would prevent 50 deaths. It is time for us to express that view and to ensure, in a spirit of partnership, that Westminster takes account of it, given that the rest of Great Britain will benefit as a result.

Richard Baker: In a spirit of partnership, we, of course, welcome that limit. However, does the minister accept that members on the Government benches have argued not for a 50mg level alone but for three different limits? I believe that that makes the case for having a full consultation and taking the evidence-based approach that I am calling for. Surely the Department for Transport is looking for constructive engagement from the Scottish Government on this matter.

Stewart Stevenson: On three previous occasions, the policy at Westminster has been to reduce the limit to 50mg. The 11th question in the consultation documents asks,

"What evidence are you able to offer"

to support a change in the limit. The document is not seeking a real change; it is simply asking for more evidence, even though the Labour Administration at Westminster has suggested on three occasions that the limit be reduced to 50mg.

Bill Aitken also referred to Romberg's test, in which people have to estimate how long 30 seconds is. A few members—not, I hope, all the Liberals—should consider that point.

Ross Finnie highlighted certain points that the BMA raised in its briefing note, including slow reaction times, late braking and overconfidence. In an intervention on Mr Finnie, Bill Butler referred to the considerable body of evidence on the subject and Dave Thompson, who has been working on this matter for a long time, made a great deal of sense when he talked about crash risks.

Richard Simpson spoke about three groups of people who are at risk. He focused on the borderline group—the people who drink but try to stay under the limit—and suggested that particular difficulties arise with them. If we were to reduce the limit, there is little doubt that we would make those people think much more carefully about the implications of drinking at all. We would also see a reduction in people's drinking, as has been seen right across Europe.

Richard Simpson also mentioned interesting evidence from Australia and New Zealand and spoke about technical measures, although such measures alone cannot solve the problem. For example, a person who wants to continue to drive can get someone else to breathe into an in-car breathalyser.

Alasdair Allan talked about rural difficulties. He said that we are not against drink and we are not against driving, but we are against conjoining the two. He referred to the effect that drink driving can have on families.

Cathie Craigie said that a small minority of people offend. That is certainly true, but those people have a disproportionate effect on families and safety across Scotland. Cathie Craigie would go for a zero limit, as would one or two others including my colleague Brian Adam, and she called for more efforts from the Scottish and UK Governments. We are prepared to step up to that challenge: I hope that the UK Government is too.

Margaret Smith referred to EU recommendations of eight years ago and said that most EU countries have responded to those recommendations. Aileen Campbell gave more examples of personal experience. Bill Butler welcomed the debate and said that the numbers of deaths related to drink driving had been broadly the same for about 10 years. If that is not an argument for doing something now, what is? He also said that there would be 65 fewer deaths if the limit were 50mg. That is pretty strong evidence.

Rob Gibson raised cultural issues that relate especially to the Highlands, but which also relate to other places. Robert Brown and John Lamont gave closing speeches, although John Lamont missed the target altogether and said that we should work with Westminster—of course we shall—but said also that there is no evidence that lowering the limit will make a difference. I am afraid that we simply see things differently. John Lamont is in a tiny minority, probably even among members of his party.

Paul Martin suggested that we could legislate our way out of the issue. Absolutely not. We have to change our culture and we have to set appropriate limits for what happens on our roads. A limit of 50mg is working right across Europe, and 50mg is the limit that we want here. It will be a missed opportunity if we do not accept Mr McAskill's motion today. It refers clearly to the existing 80mg limit.

We have to remember that the issue that we are debating is about people. Few people who have reached my sort of age will not have been exposed to the consequences of drink-driving. In the past 10 years, I have witnessed two specific instances. They did not involve personal friends; they were incidents that I came across. In France, someone came out of a side road and knocked a motorcyclist over. I was on the scene within two minutes. The necks of two people were broken. They were young people, and they were both dead—I had to go forward and check that they were dead. The drink from the driver's breath could be smelt from a great distance away.

In Edinburgh, I witnessed another incident at a junction, at which a man in a van drove into the side of another vehicle. I had to hold that man's scalp back on to his head. He could not see—not just because of his injuries, but because of the drink. He was not wearing a seat belt, and he had taken drink.

Those are the sorts of incident that drive home to anyone who is exposed to them the absolute need to engage in this issue. I urge members to support the motion that Kenny MacAskill has moved today.

11:40

11 December 2008

S3M-3075 ScotRail Franchise

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 11 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

ScotRail Franchise

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3075, in the name of Des McNulty, on the ScotRail franchise.

09:15

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09:22

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





Good franchise management is critical to the success of Scotland's rail services. I very much welcome Audit Scotland's finding that Transport Scotland manages the core aspects of the franchise contract well. Audit Scotland also states that the franchise is performing well—there are more trains running on time, passenger numbers are well ahead of expectations and passenger satisfaction is up. That performance, together with Transport Scotland's comprehensive recommendations, helped us to make the informed decision to extend the contract.

The rigorous appraisal process, as described by Audit Scotland, delivered value for money—more than £70 million—and, for the first time, a cap on the profits that FirstGroup may take from the franchise. It has delivered for passengers, taxpayers and ScotRail staff.

In raising an issue about a bus company, Mr McNulty said that he did not know the details. In a debate of such seriousness, will he please not raise such matters when he does not know the details? I do know the details, and he would be wise to be careful.

The negotiated position, which external views from the experts Ernst & Young aided us in arriving at, followed consideration of the full range of options, from doing nothing through to granting the extension. We also tightened the contract, requiring more from First for the same subsidy and tying it into the delivery of new services, while creating, for the first time, a profit cap.

Much has been made of Audit Scotland's comments that governance of the extension could have been better. The fact that we do not agree with all of Audit Scotland's analysis could no doubt be explored in more detail by the Public Audit Committee, but Transport Scotland will act on the report's recommendations when that is appropriate.

I turn to the role of individual directors. The management commentary of Transport Scotland's annual accounts for 2007-08 notes, as it did in 2006-07, that it records board members' interests in a register that is publicly available. The interests that have been referred to were documented there in 2007.

Transport Scotland's directors gave assurances that no conflicts of interest arose in the exercise of their duties. I have received assurances that processes—which were signed off by Audit Scotland—were adhered to throughout the extension discussion. The agency's processes, established under the previous Administration, are not only rigorous, but ensure that no conflicts of interest impact on decision making.

This is not the first time that the extension of the franchise has been used to try to make political capital. When we announced it in April, some opposition MSPs suggested that it represented a policy shift without consultation. That is entirely wrong. The extension was always contemplated by the original contract, which was consulted upon and then let in 2004.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): The minister refers to an issue that is addressed in part by the Conservative amendment, which refers to the fact that

"the original contract, negotiated by the previous Labour-led Scottish administration, 'did not specify the conditions under which an extension should be considered'".

In other parts of the United Kingdom, if the original contract did not specify the conditions, extensions have been consulted on. Did the minister make the decision not to consult, or was it some other part of the Government?

Stewart Stevenson: Ministers, in considering this option, were aware of the provisions that were described in a letter from the then-transport minister, Iain Gray, to the Transport and the Environment Committee on 2 December 2002, that the franchise would be a seven-year contract with a possible three-year extension. We exercise the powers and the ability given to us by the contract that Iain Gray put in place when he was the minister.

The Executive of the day said that it favoured a 15-year franchise, but upheavals in the industry at the time, such as the replacement of Railtrack with Network Rail, meant that that was not advisable. Instead, when a Strategic Rail Authority review in 2003 moved to shorter franchises, ministers followed suit, but with the extension there to provide for the necessary flexibility.

That move also fitted the assumptions at the time about the implementation of major investment projects. The Government of the day effectively put in place a contract that envisaged that those services would be in place by the 2011 termination date, as it was then. The extension that we secured delivers what could not be guaranteed in 2004—a contract that will see the major projects and now the Commonwealth games services delivered reliably and safely.

The extension also grants us an opportunity that a refranchise in 2011 would not: to explore the option of moving the next franchise to a not-for-profit model. I have had encouraging discussions with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and union representatives, who are pleased to explore the opportunities that we have created. We will carry out a full consultation and give all stakeholders the chance to comment and input during 2009. This is an exciting development—one that would not have been possible without the extension.

We are committed to delivering real improvements to our rail network, in recognition of the important role that it plays in supporting sustainable economic growth. This is the right deal at the right time. It benefits passengers and businesses and supports sustainable economic growth. I welcome members' support for that commitment.

I move amendment S3M-3075.3, to leave out from "expresses" to first "Transport Scotland".

09:29

10 December 2008

Statement & Subject Debate: Strategic Transport Projects Review [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

… … ...

Strategic Transport Projects Review [Closing Speech]

… … …

16:46

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The debate has been illuminating. Unsurprisingly, members have focused on local interests. I congratulate Patrick Harvie on being the only member who spoke in the debate who was able to quote from some, at least, of the 3,800 pages of documentation. Good for Patrick.

I will try, in the time available, to pick up as many of the points that members made as I can. Des McNulty asked whether the existing bridge will take the public transport loading. The answer is yes. As we take private cars and HGVs off the existing bridge, we will reduce the loading on it quite significantly. The deterioration of the existing bridge is driven largely by the weight that it carries. In addition, the flow of bus traffic across the bridge is relatively predictable, so the public transport loading on it at any particular time is relatively predictable. That does not eliminate every uncertainty, but the fact that the bridge will not deteriorate as quickly as was previously thought, together with the fact that there will be a change in the quantity and character of the transport that can go on the bridge, means that we have every prospect of having a very real asset for the creation of probably the single most important public transport intervention that we could create.

We are not talking just about the separation of public transport. The two bridges will have different approach and leaving roads, so the benefits could be substantial. This is an example of extremely imaginative thinking by the project team, on which we should congratulate it.

Jeremy Purvis: I am sure that the minister will come on to the financing of the Forth replacement crossing, but he said in his statement that the Scottish Government had approached the Treasury on mechanisms to secure budgetary cover. Has the Treasury provided the necessary consent? Has the Scottish Government secured agreement for the project to be funded through such mechanisms?

Stewart Stevenson: We will fund the construction of the bridge with public money from our budget—that is clear. It would clearly be of benefit if we could draw forward some of the funding from future years, as that would enable an acceleration of projects across Scotland. That is entirely consistent with what the UK Government is seeking to do. We wish to help the UK Government to bring forward projects—in giving it a way of helping us, we can help it. That is a proper way to proceed, and we will move forward on that basis.

Alex Johnstone talked about a streamlined bridge—as the slimmer of the year in the Scottish Parliament, he is an expert on slimming. The new bridge, with a more restricted design, is not only cheaper but narrower and it still has a lane beside the main lanes that can be used in future for trams, a guided busway or dedicated buses without guiding. However, the transport operation provided on the existing bridge is substantially in excess of what we would have provided in the dedicated lane.

John Park: I recognise that there will be an increase in lanes when the second crossing is built, but can the minister clarify that capacity has been removed from the proposed new crossing?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct, but that is more than overtaken by the utilisation of capacity of the existing bridge. In aggregate, the available capacity for public transport has risen dramatically, and the reliability that the public transport option can offer is dramatically better. We should congratulate those in the project team who came up with the intervention.

Alex Johnstone also mentioned high-speed rail. I have talked to Lord Adonis, the new Minister of State for Transport in the Westminster Government, and I expect to meet him in January to talk about high-speed rail, among other things. As he asked me about the matter, I encouraged him to contact the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into the benefits of high-speed rail services, and I assure members that he is watching that committee's work with interest.

I also met the Opposition transport spokesperson at Westminster, Theresa Villiers, to discuss high-speed rail, albeit that, as yet, the Tories seem to see only as far as Leeds. Perhaps her discussion with me has enhanced her view of what we should do.

Brian Adam made a point about the Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen. That project is not in the STPR, but not because it is not being done. I remind members that I made a commitment that, before we passed to Aberdeen responsibility for that part of what is at present the A90, an appropriate intervention would be made there. Of course, it has to be made in the context of the form that emerges for the Aberdeen western peripheral route after the public inquiry and in the context of what the Haudagain roundabout will be used for.

Lewis Macdonald: Will the minister explain in more detail what that means? Is there a commitment for the Scottish Government to invest funding in upgrading the Haudagain? If so, is it part of the STPR programme or not?

Stewart Stevenson: As I said, it is not part of that programme, but I adhere to my previous commitment on it. Today, we are discussing strategic transport projects. The Haudagain is an example of a local project. Projects that will proceed over the years are not confined to what is strategic for the whole of Scotland. The nature of the local intervention at the Haudagain will be informed by whether there is a third crossing of the river, which people in Aberdeen continue to pursue. The form of the intervention is yet to be determined, but the commitment that I made previously stands.

Bill Butler was well informed, as ever, on the Glasgow crossrail project. By coincidence, I will meet the cross-party group on Glasgow crossrail tonight—that is convenient. The thing that we have to focus on in Glasgow is the lack of capacity at Queen Street upper station and Central station. That is why we need to focus on the provision of new rail station capacity using the existing tunnels, which Mr Butler mentioned, and the existing infrastructure. I spoke to SPT briefly before I came down to the chamber and there was real enthusiasm for engaging on the matter. We will work closely with the people at SPT.

Aberdeen crossrail was mentioned as well. We are making early progress on dramatically increasing provision from three peak morning train services from Inverurie to Aberdeen to a raft of services that go all the way to the south. We are starting to deliver on that, and we will continue to opportunistically enhance the services. We will also, in early course, consider whether we can proceed with a station at Kintore, in a rapidly developing part of the north-east.

Mike Rumbles: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have time, minister, if you want to take an intervention.

Stewart Stevenson: Unfortunately, I have run out of time if I am to cover points that have been raised. I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention.

Peter Peacock talked about timescales and priorities. Today's announcement informs a series of future comprehensive spending review periods. If members can tell me how much money will be available to the Scottish Government in—for the sake of argument—2014 to 2017, or 2017 to 2020, I will of course be able to give them some of the certainty that they are asking for.

As usual, Charlie Gordon's comments were well informed. However, unusually, he got something absolutely wrong. If he looks at the left-hand side of the page of the document, and turns it through 90° , he will find that the pages are numbered rather than unnumbered. Unusual for Charlie. Must do better.

In relation to paragraph 31 of my statement, Patrick Harvie asked whether the existing bridge would be dedicated to public transport. I am happy to confirm that—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Far too many conversations are going on in the chamber.

Stewart Stevenson: Thank you, Presiding Officer.

If I did not make it clear in the wording of paragraph 31, I now make it absolutely clear that the existing bridge will be dedicated to public transport.

Jamie Hepburn asked why we were supporting park-and-choose initiatives. Park-and-ride initiatives were started by the previous Administration, and have been supported and continued by this Administration. Building on the success of those initiatives, we now look to have more modes and more variety in the ways in which people can change modes. Park and choose is probably the thing for the future.

I think that Cathy Peattie said that she was a Portonian.

Cathy Peattie indicated agreement.

Stewart Stevenson: Cathy Peattie is nodding, so it must be correct; the word was new to me and many of us. I thought that her tone was constructive and helpful. She focused on issues for her constituents, and on the opportunities in Grangemouth for supporting the economy of Scotland. It is important that we are at last bridging the gap at the Avon gorge between the M9 and the M8.

Margaret Smith talked reasonably about the costs of the existing bridge. The cost of maintaining the existing bridge is relatively modest, and we have published information on that already.

On the issue of roads leading away from Queensferry, we heard conflicting messages from members about a lack of consultation. However, the whole point is that we want to engage meaningfully with the people of Queensferry.

Mike Rumbles: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: I really do not have any time at all now.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You have time to take the intervention if you wish.

Stewart Stevenson: Okay, but if you do not mind, Presiding Officer, I have another four pages of notes on points that members have raised.

Mike Rumbles: I—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: It is for the minister to decide. He is not taking the intervention, Mr Rumbles.

Stewart Stevenson: Jim Tolson asked who else had been involved in work on the STPR. I am happy to confirm that COSLA has been involved since Easter this year. We have also engaged directly with the regional transport partnerships.

Gavin Brown talked about the economic importance of transport. Few of us would disagree with that importance. Transport has to be transport for a purpose; it is not an end in itself. The costs that are given in the document that we have distributed are range costs. The actual costs are known only when one manages to buy a project.

Gavin Brown said that we were relying on the trams. Yes, we are. If nothing else, we want to get value for the £500 million that you guys and gals asked us to spend, so we are going to get value for that £500 million. My difficulty is not with trams as such but with the fact that the excellent number 22 bus route is simply being replicated by the trams. I use the number 22 all the time and I know how effective it is. Trams are absolutely a good idea, but maybe not in that case. However, that is history, and we are now moving forward.

John Park, as ever, made a useful contribution. However, on procurement issues, we have to use the Official Journal of the European Union and accept bids on an unbiased basis.

There will be no tolls. John Park asked me about shadow tolling. There is some shadow tolling in Scotland, on the M74, but that is not our responsibility. We will not be doing it.

I thank members for their time. This has been an informative debate and I look forward to progressing with this bold and challenging programme, which is hugely important for everyone in Scotland.

17:00

Statement & Subject Debate: Strategic Transport Projects Review

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 December 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

… … ...

Strategic Transport Projects Review

14:23

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I am pleased to announce today the conclusions of the strategic transport projects review, which sets out the future investment programme for transport in Scotland over the next 20 years—the most structured and ambitious Scottish transport plan ever published.

I bring this nationwide programme to Parliament at a time when we are seeing turbulence affecting major economies and global markets. Scotland is not immune to that. The Government's central purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth is well articulated in "The Government Economic Strategy" and we are absolutely clear about the importance of infrastructure in delivering that growth.

I am, nonetheless, clear that vision and ambition are not enough. It is good government to construct a clear and sustainable pathway to the future, it is good government to make that journey as smooth as possible, and it is good government to ensure that we take everyone with us. That is what we are doing through sound and efficient governance and a prudent approach to investment of finite resources to ensure that we get the optimum return for every pound that is invested.

This Government continues to invest in transport, with announcements just last week of additional capital spending in the current year to deliver projects including the A96 Fochabers bypass and key interventions on the A9, including improvements at Moy, Carrbridge and Bankfoot. Further funding will be brought forward in 2009-10 to ensure that those projects are carried through. However, as John Swinney made clear, there will be a corresponding reduction in the budget for 2010-11. Our current capital plans support record levels of investment in our railways, which includes work on the delivery of the Borders railway and the Glasgow airport rail link. The plans that I will set out today clearly identify where we as a Government see the priorities for investment against the background of increasing pressure on our budget.

Our continuing investment in major transport projects is helping our hard-pressed construction industry now by creating hundreds of much-needed construction jobs. After decades of waiting and years of uncertainty, it is this Administration that is delivering completion of the M74. After generations of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative government in Scotland, the difference is clear: they talked, we are delivering. [Applause.]

The Government already has an ambitious programme of transport projects, including the Airdrie to Bathgate rail improvements, the recently opened Clackmannanshire bridge, M74 completion, the Glasgow airport rail link and our continuing support for the Borders railway. We are also making progress on other projects, including the Aberdeen western peripheral route, and we will shortly announce the second national planning framework, which will set out the national schemes that will contribute to our purpose.

Transport Scotland's current investment programme is delivering more than 40 major projects to enhance and improve the national strategic road network serving our cities, communities and centres of economic activity throughout Scotland. In addition to those that I have already set out, the programme includes projects such as Pulpit Rock on the A82, the Raith interchange on the M74 and dualling of the A90 from Balmedie to Tipperty.

The strategic transport projects review is the first nationwide multimodal evidence-based appraisal of Scotland's transport system as it stands and as it is forecast to develop over the next 20 years. It is at the leading edge of transport planning at national level and undertakes an orderly assessment of the strategic transport corridors that cover Scotland. It considers predicted changes in areas such as land-use, population, economic performance and emissions in order to address our objectives of improving journey times and journey reliability and quality, and of reducing carbon emissions in line with our climate change objectives. The challenge that faces Scotland's strategic transport networks over the coming years is to adapt to those competing pressures within a finite budget, while improving the levels of service that we expect of a dynamic and modern country that is focused on growth.

The STPR has considered many options to address those nationally significant issues, including many projects that are promoted by stakeholders across Scotland. On proposals that will contribute to our objectives at regional or local level, the STPR has identified those that should be owned and promoted by the Government, and has made it clear where other delivery partners such as local authorities and regional transport partnerships are best placed to lead. In some cases, we will work with local partners to deliver the schemes.

The programme complements the Scottish Government's current and continuing investment in maintaining the trunk road network and in ensuring that train services are further developed by means of the high-level output specification.

The package of schemes that are recommended by the STPR covers all Scotland, from improvements on the A75 and A77 to the Loch Ryan ports, via railway enhancements across the network and safety improvements in the north of Scotland. The schemes include significant projects such as the Forth replacement crossing and railway improvements between Edinburgh and Glasgow, on the Highland main line and for Aberdeen and Inverness.

In total, 29 schemes are recommended within a hierarchy of, firstly, maintaining and safely operating our transport network; secondly, optimising the use of those networks; and, finally, where there are identified gaps, considering targeted infrastructure improvements. The hierarchy emerges from the national transport strategy that was put in place by our predecessors in 2006.

Our high-level modelling suggests that, taken together, the overall package of schemes could—compared with business as usual—cut between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which would help us to meet our climate change commitments. By focusing on the hierarchy for delivery, and with the emphasis on public transport, we are leading the way in making sustainable transport more attractive.

The financial climate in which we are working has materially changed. External factors that are outwith the Government's control will have an impact on how and when we can deliver on the infrastructure investment that the country needs. There is continuing uncertainty in the financial markets, and the cost of borrowing and the availability of funds are fluctuating daily.

We now have to deal with the practical implications for budgeting of changes in United Kingdom Government accounting practices, which will have a significant impact on the capital cover that is available for our major transport investments. Our investments will all be undertaken in an environment in which the Government accounts will conform to the international financial reporting standards. That will mean that almost all infrastructure projects—including private finance initiative and public-private partnership schemes—will come on balance sheet.

Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pre-budget report on 24 November, there are projected cuts in future budgets—approximately £1 billion of cuts to Scotland's budget in 2010-11 and 2011-12. For the sake of the people and public services of Scotland, all members in the chamber should unite in resisting those Westminster cuts.

Given the urgency of timing and its central importance to the economic wellbeing of the whole nation, the Forth replacement crossing will, until it is open in 2016, dominate our investment programme. We have approached the Treasury about mechanisms to secure budgetary cover for the unique investment of the Forth replacement crossing by reprofiling our capital budget over the next 20 years. Such cover would not mean that the Treasury would pay for the new crossing, but that there would be an increased capital budget during the years in which we will be paying for the crossing so that other important investments can proceed at the same time. Capital budgets in later years would be correspondingly reduced.

In circumstances in which capital investment is at a premium, it becomes even more important that we secure maximum value for the public purse from the resources that are available. That underlines the importance of the Scottish Futures Trust as a centre of expertise and project collaboration in helping the Government to maximise the value and effectiveness of our infrastructure spending by releasing every year up to £150 million of extra investment in the fabric of Scotland's public services.

The STPR is about providing a robust framework of schemes, the delivery of which will be prioritised in each spending review. I will, of course, keep Parliament updated on progress. Members might wish to reflect on how much more satisfactory it would be if this Parliament had full financial and borrowing powers so that we could make these decisions for ourselves, in the best interests of Scotland.

Improving rail connections between Edinburgh and Glasgow will provide more and faster services that will run more frequently and will have increased capacity. By 2016, services will have increased from five or six per hour to 13 per hour. In addition, a new suite of services will be defined by significantly quicker journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow; the journey time between the two cities will be reduced by about 30 per cent to around 35 minutes. Transport Scotland is progressing the programme through working with Network Rail and First ScotRail. Feasibility studies are complete and contracts to take the project through to design development are on schedule to be in place by the end of this month.

In addition to service improvements, the project will involve the construction of a new railway station that will be designed to integrate with the Edinburgh tram network, which will provide onward connection for passengers who use Edinburgh airport. That facility will provide a much-needed improvement in public transport access to the airport and the surrounding areas. The station will be situated on the Fife railway line to the north of the A8 Gyle roundabout. Outline design is under way, and it is planned that the station will be completed in time for the opening of the Edinburgh tram network in 2011. Transport Scotland is working closely with the tram project team to produce the best possible link for passengers between the railway and the tram network, which will provide an easy and effective interchange for passengers.

However, our investment in rail is not limited to the central belt—we are committed to improving connections across Scotland for business, commuters and leisure travellers alike. Feasibility work for the Highland main line is under way, with the aim of providing a faster and more frequent service between Inverness and Glasgow and Edinburgh, via Perth, by reducing existing journey times by up to 30 minutes.

Transport Scotland continues to invest in our rail network through the high-level output specification. Work is already under way to develop the HLOS for the next period—2014 to 2019—and the STPR's recommendations will play an important role in that.

When there is investment in rail projects, not only are we moving on our climate change commitments, but the use of the regulated asset base allows us to keep that investment within the overall scope of our payment to Network Rail and off the Government's balance sheet.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth announced last year our plans for securing the future of cross-Forth travel and undertook to set out during 2008 how we would promote and fund the new crossing. The condition of the existing bridge continues to deteriorate. Inspections continue on the cables and although the existing bridge, which opened in 1964, may be deteriorating less rapidly than was previously thought, it is clearly not certain that it will provide a reliable and resilient crossing for the current weight of traffic. Safeguarding that vital connection in Scotland's transport network remains absolutely essential to the nation's economy, so providing alternatives to car use for travellers across the Forth has been central to our strategy for the replacement crossing.

Updated findings from the Forth Estuary Transport Authority have allowed us to consider the future of the existing bridge. We have concluded that it can be retained, alongside the new bridge, as a dedicated public-transport crossing as part of a managed crossing strategy. Sustainable public transport will be given priority on a dedicated public transport corridor across the existing bridge, with the option in the future to convert the existing bridge for light rapid transit, trams or guided buses. The existing bridge will continue to provide access for pedestrians and cyclists.

A narrower design for the replacement crossing is therefore possible, which will help to reduce the carbon footprint of its construction. Implementation of that strategy will provide an immediate boost to public transport infrastructure, but with less environmental impact and at significantly less cost. It will protect and enhance the economies of Fife, Edinburgh and the east coast of Scotland as it will create new opportunities for sustainable economic growth.

The Government set the project team a challenging and demanding target of designing a scheme that will provide value for money, realise savings wherever possible and make the most efficient use of existing resources. The strategy that I have set out today delivers against each of those elements. I am delighted to announce a saving of around £1.7 billion in the project cost estimate, which is now between £1.72 billion and £2.34 billion. Of course, included in that cost is £100 million to £200 million that will be handed over to the UK Exchequer as VAT.

Work throughout 2008 to assess possible financial and procurement routes to deliver this huge project has been thorough and comprehensive, and has been set against the reality of the new international financial reporting standards, which bring infrastructure contracts on balance sheet. Officials have worked with experienced advisors on contract strategies, and that work has pointed us to the best form of contract for the project. To explore the opportunity for off-balance-sheet treatment, we have examined contract strategies ranging from conventional design and build contracts, through non-profit-distributing design, build, finance and operate concessions, to innovative long-term leasing options. As a consequence of that work and that reality, the Forth replacement crossing will be publicly funded and will be procured through a conventional design and build contract. That will deliver best value for money and the certainty of delivering the replacement crossing by 2016.

The Forth replacement crossing will be promoted through a parliamentary bill that will be introduced to Parliament late next year. I can also announce to Parliament that, under an SNP Government, the new Forth bridge will be toll-free.

I understand the keen interest in the design of the replacement crossing, and my officials continue to work closely with Architecture and Design Scotland to develop a bridge that will not only improve operational flexibility and provide greater reliability for all, but will enhance what is an iconic vista. Continuing our commitment to engage with local communities, we have arranged a full programme of supporting public information exhibitions for the new year.

The project is of a scale that is unprecedented in recent times in Scotland and will form a massive part of our infrastructure programme. Our strategy, which is economically sound and provides value for money, meets every requirement and maximises use of our existing assets. We remain on target both to achieve the 2016 opening date that we are committed to, and to deliver the substantial cost savings that I have reported today.

I have set out our immediate priorities for transport, which balance investment between road and rail. The whole of Scotland will benefit from nationwide packages that will enhance the road and rail networks for all travellers and users. Schemes include reconfiguration of our national rail timetable and measures to improve the attractiveness of public transport by, for example, introducing a strategy of park-and-choose sites serving the following: Aberdeen at Dyce and Charleston; Dundee; Edinburgh at Pitreavie and Halbeath; and Glasgow at Bargeddie, Fullarton and Bannockburn.

We have made clear our belief that providing quality public transport alternatives to the private car encourages responsible modal choice. To further that aim, we will bring forward schemes to build on the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvements, including detailed signalling changes to manage the network better and changes to junctions in order to improve capacity. Rail services between Edinburgh and West Calder, Newcraighall, Dunbar, Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy will be improved, the Haymarket interchange will be upgraded, and a national integrated ticketing scheme will be introduced to support services.

In the west of Scotland, there will be a step change in strategic rail enhancements not only to meet predicted future demand and capacity constraints within Glasgow, but to increase public transport access to areas of economic activity and key public services such as the new Southern general hospital. Those enhancements, which include the possible development of a metro or light rapid transit network across Glasgow, will also allow improved rail connections with Ayrshire and Inverclyde through additional platform capacity in Glasgow and additional parking at stations including Ayr, Prestwick, Troon, Glengarnock and Kilwinning. Links to the Loch Ryan ports will continue to attract investment along the A75 and the A77 and, for key freight routes across Scotland, there will be specific measures on the west coast main line to lengthen passing loops, improve the loading gauge and increase freight terminal capacity.

In the central belt, the continued growth and success of the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee will be supported by intelligent transport systems on the M8, the M90, the A720 and the motorway approaches to Glasgow, and by active traffic management to manage pressures on the links between these cities. Improved access to the port of Grangemouth will include the upgrade of the A801 between the M9 and M8.

Allied to all that is the ability to make significant economic progress by reducing journey times between all of our cities. Although for Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, work towards that aim will be led by investment in the rail network, it will be complemented by road safety improvements in targeted locations.

Moreover, after years of talk and no action under previous Administrations, and for the first time in any Scottish transport strategy, we have included in the STPR our intention to improve the A9 to dual-carriageway standard between Perth and Inverness. Improvements to the A96 will include upgrading the road to dual carriageway between the A9 and Nairn, with a new connection between the A9 and the A96 to provide relief for the Raigmore interchange. Other improvements to the A96 will include a long-overdue new Inveramsay bridge.

Promotion of solidarity and cohesion—key roles within our economic strategy—will be delivered by route improvements and safety measures, where required, across the west and north of the country on strategic routes including the A82, A835, A9, A90, A96 and A830. Targeted road congestion-relief measures will also be introduced, including upgrading the A77 to dual carriageway around Ayr, introducing bypasses at communities such as Dalry and Nairn, and junction improvements at key points such as Sheriffhall. Together, those schemes will make a major contribution to the principle of providing "sustainable, integrated and cost effective public transport alternatives to the private car, connecting people, places and work, across Scotland".

Since coming to power last year, we have applied the greatest possible impetus to progressing the Forth replacement crossing. Even with that effort, building on planning that commenced in 2005, construction will start only in 2011, which illustrates the time that is needed to deliver major transport projects from inception to construction.

The STPR has been developed in close consultation between officials, recognising the key links between transport, planning and climate change. That has ensured that a common strategic agenda has been found across the national planning framework and the STPR, and that the recommendations that have been made are mindful of our commitment to reducing emissions. I anticipate that, after consideration by Parliament, the national planning framework will be approved by Scottish ministers and published in spring 2009. To ensure effective delivery, the STPR and NPF teams will take forward an action programme with key delivery bodies in the new year.

We are keenly aware of the challenge that is posed by climate change and of the need to reduce emissions from Scotland. Our ambition to play a leading role internationally is reflected in our Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament last week. The bill represents the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world. The targets that it sets will drive new thinking, new solutions and new technologies, and will put Scotland at the forefront of international action to move the world along the path to a sustainable low-carbon economy.

The imperative of reducing emissions has featured large in the consideration that has been given to the options for crossing the Forth, and to the package of interventions that have arisen from the STPR. The carbon emissions that will be associated with construction of the Forth crossing strategy are now significantly less than those for the earlier option.

In the case of the STPR, the majority of the interventions involve improvements to the public transport infrastructure, thereby facilitating the shift from car-based travel to bus and rail. Although those outcomes are welcome—with the potential to reduce emissions by more than 100,000 tonnes—we acknowledge that much more needs to be done. In particular, we shall continue to give early priority to interventions that improve safety.

We are on track with the delivery of the Forth replacement crossing and, in addition to the investment that we are making in transport in the current programme, the STPR provides the robust evidence base to plan for the future of Scotland.

In the current financial climate, we, as a Government that is committed to delivering for the people of Scotland, must ensure that our approach is ambitious, yet accountable and achievable. As we deliver this ambitious programme, we will take the right decisions for the future of all Scotland.

14:49

… … …

3 December 2008

S3M-1975 South Edinburgh Suburban Railway

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 December 2008

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

South Edinburgh Suburban Railway

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-1975, in the name of Gavin Brown, on the south Edinburgh suburban railway. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the wide public and cross-party political support that the campaign for the reopening of the South Sub railway has gathered; acknowledges the importance of the work carried out by groups such as Capital Rail Action Group (CRAG), E-Rail and TRANSform Scotland; observes that the most recent report on the reopening of the South Sub did not contain a benefit-cost ratio, which was positive in previous reports; believes that the reopening of the South Sub would ease the impact of traffic on the main routes into the city as well as playing an important role in the reduction of fuel emissions in the south of Edinburgh, and believes that there is a case for the reopening of passenger services on the South Edinburgh Suburban Railway.

17:02

... ... ...

17:29

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):





I begin by congratulating Gavin Brown on securing the debate. My personal experience as transport minister is that between 17 May 2007, when I came into office, and 5 November 2008—I do my counting monthly—I have made 436 ministerial rail journeys and 116 ministerial bus journeys, so I speak not from the position of the abstract theoretician but as an engaged user of Scotland's public transport network.

The Government's economic strategy makes it clear that the aims of our focus on transport are to make better connections across Scotland, to improve reliability, to reduce journey times, and to maximise opportunities for employment, business, leisure and tourism. Members will hear a great deal more about transport in the statement that I will make to the Parliament next week on the strategic transport projects review.

I acknowledge the clear support for the proposal that exists in many parts of Edinburgh. Gavin Brown named eight groups, and I recognise the commitment and sincerity of those people. He also made a point about the impact on road traffic, and that point is certainly made in the report. He mentioned a seven-minute journey time from Morningside, and clearly there are advantages to such provision for passengers.

Gavin Brown also highlighted the fact that, at present, 50 freight trains use the railway each day. That is not an inconsiderable issue in thinking about what can be done. He mentioned that the station locations are already known. That is true, although, as Christopher Harvie said, there might be issues about bringing the stations back into use. In particular, as much of the route is elevated, there are issues in relation to disability legislation that would substantially increase the cost from what one might imagine and what might previously have been thought. The option is not as cheap as it would appear to be, given that it involves a working, fully signalled railway that is joined to the network.

Why does the most recent report not provide a cost benefit ratio? The report was produced using the Scottish transport appraisal guidance, which is primarily about identifying what transport problem exists and, from that, seeking to identify the appropriate solution. It is not about evaluating whether we should have a railway through south suburban Edinburgh. The study has not yet developed to the point at which it would be reasonable or appropriate to update the cost benefit ratio. Having said that, I am not going to pick at or criticise the previous figures that have been produced.

I turn to the issue of resources and where they can best be deployed. Chris Harvie said that, in a sense, the big issue is the switches that join the south suburban loop to the main line. There are substantial costs in upgrading such switches.

Recently, we went through an upgrade in connecting the Bathgate line to the main line, taking a dual line and merging it into a single connection to the main network to be a fully doubled connection. That closed the line for a week last Christmas and cost a substantial amount of money. We would certainly need to do such work for the project that we are discussing tonight. Furthermore, the Bathgate line has a much lower level of use than the one that is talked about in relation to the south suburban line.

More fundamentally, the big problem is capacity at the two main stations in Edinburgh and the use to which we should put that scarce capacity. I will return to that shortly.

Robin Harper is obviously a former pupil of the Royal high school. I am not sure where David McLetchie went but, given his remarks I suspect it that was a rival school in Edinburgh. He suggested that I should sit down and talk to the City of Edinburgh Council. As an enthusiast for public transport, I am always happy to do that sort of thing. If that is helpful, I will do so.

Robin Harper latched on to the key issue of the carbon contribution—and quite properly so. There would be a carbon benefit in getting more people off the roads and on to the south suburban line. However, we have to compare that with the carbon benefit of using the slots at Haymarket and Waverley for longer distances, which is likely to be greater.

Robin Harper highlighted the issue of signalling. We in the British isles are looking at the European signalling system, which is essentially a moving-block system that improves the utilisation of rail lines. However, the new timetable for Kirkcaldy has about 12 trains an hour, proving that we can do quite well in the existing system. The European system will be piloted on the Cambrian network quite soon, and we would expect to see the system here. We need investment in rail signalling if we are going to improve services.

Ian McKee suggested that

"Little extra in the way of signalling would be needed",

and he asked a number of questions, some of which I can answer. One of the reasons why the estimates of potential users are variable is because the routes that were being considered were somewhat different. Further, we must take into account that if we get people on to rail, we get them out of the bus. Considering the system as a whole, I think that the situation is not as clear cut as some might suggest. With six or seven rail stations, the cost might be quite high.

Margo MacDonald said that the problems can be overcome by engineering. Engineering can solve almost every problem but, as she suggests, that approach may be constrained by the fact that this transport minister is deaved.

The key difficulty is that the Halcrow study has not identified a transport problem that requires to be solved. There are already significant changes to our network: the adjacent corridors, supported by the development of Edinburgh Park services through to Newcraighall; and the Edinburgh tram link—there was not huge enthusiasm for that on the part of the Scottish National Party, but nonetheless it will be part of Edinburgh's transport infrastructure. Joining tram and train—those are all things we are doing. Other developments include the Waverley line to the Borders and recent improvements to Edinburgh to Glasgow connections, with increased frequency and speed.

For the moment, the bottom line for the Government is that, on the basis of the information available, opening the Edinburgh south suburban line would not be the most cost-effective use of our scarce resources. However, as an enthusiast for expanding the rail network, I hold out an olive leaf. If there are issues that the City of Edinburgh Council wishes to discuss with me, I am very happy to sit down and discuss them. However, I do not want to raise expectations to the point where they simply cannot be filled. With scarce resources, we have to make choices.

Meeting closed at 17:37.

26 November 2008

S3M-2691 Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1 [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 26 November 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2691, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill.

14:50

... ... ...

16:41

Stewart Stevenson: The debate started with exactly the right tone. Jackie Baillie related her bill to the interests not of parliamentarians, but of disabled constituents, who led her to intervene by introducing the bill. She referred provocatively to big flash cars. If only big flash cars alone committed the offence that we wish to eliminate, we would be on our way. We could just persuade our colleagues at Westminster—the consensus among the parties on my left and my right is clear about seeking support there—and ban all big flash cars. As the minister with responsibility for climate change, I might have something to say about that another time.

That homes in on the point that the bill is not dry. It is about the lives of people—as we heard, 4.5 per cent of people in our population have a blue badge. I guess that, as our population is likely to age, that proportion will increase rather than decrease. The bill raises an important matter for Parliament and for legislation.

Every member who participated said something relevant and interesting. One or two comments might have stretched the debate's boundaries, but that will not prevent me and the Government from noting them in other places and considering appropriate responses beyond what the bill requires.

Hugh Henry did not receive universal support for what he said, but we might think about the number of disabled parking places that should be available as a proportion of places at an appropriate time.

Various members quoted the statement in the committee's report that politeness needs to be replaced by enforcement. It is a great sorrow to wrinklies such as me that politeness has been replaced by ill manners and unpreparedness among too many people in our society to acknowledge others' needs.

Johann Lamont was correct to challenge the minister but, in reality, she challenged us all to say that we are determined to deal with disability issues. All levels of government of all political persuasions are committed to engaging on such matters and to addressing the needs of people with disabilities.

David McLetchie made the familiar point—it is familiar to me because I, too, have made it from time to time—that legislation ain't always the answer. It is more important to make changes in the operation of society and less the case that changing laws in itself delivers such changes. The two aspects must go hand in hand when appropriate, but the test is whether we change the experience of the relevant people.

The ever-festive Michael Matheson made an interesting point, which was timely and relevant in the context of the upcoming Christmas season, when he talked about the six-day bays in Falkirk. He drew well on the experience of his constituents. I think that Mary Mulligan talked about inconsistency throughout Scotland; the example from Falkirk Council perhaps demonstrates an incoherent rather than an inconsistent approach. Perhaps I have not heard the whole story; there might be more to it than we heard in the debate.

Charlie Gordon made an interesting point about youngsters with particular needs who have able-bodied parents. There is something quite important in what he said; I cannot pretend to understand fully how the blue badge scheme works in that regard, but I will take the matter away and think about it.

A number of members said that people who abuse disabled parking bays are more likely to be criminals. In that context, I was particularly interested in Alex Johnstone's speech and I hope that his sister is not of that character—if I understood him correctly, he was talking about his mother's daughter—

Alex Johnstone: No, my daughter.

Stewart Stevenson: In any event, Alex Johnstone will be answerable for his remarks to a higher authority—a woman.

I reiterate the Government's warm welcome for the initiative, and to all members who spoke in the debate I give thanks. Some technical issues remain to be considered. For example, under section 4, disabled parking places in, for example, shopping streets that are not necessarily adjacent to a blue badge holder's location might have to be removed. If that would be an effect of the bill, we should perhaps consider the issue. Of course, regardless of the bill, local authorities will continue to have powers under section 45 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to designate parking places. However, I hope that the review of existing discretionary parking spaces would not lead to local authorities failing to promote orders for such places. One or two wee questions need to be considered at stages 2 and 3—I have given one example.

We heard that there is a high cost per bay in Glasgow, which seemed counterintuitive, because we would expect that in an area where there was greater density of bays the amount of walking—to put it crudely—that the man or woman who inspected the bays needed to do would be less than would be the case in, for example, Aberdeenshire, where I live, which is one of the most rural areas of Scotland. However, sometimes intuition does not work. It might be that the estimated costs are high because it is thought that it will be necessary to make a single order for every space. That will probably not be the case. I hope that there will be a good exchange of best practice between councils, to ensure that we secure not only a more robust understanding of the costs but costs that are much more acceptable to us.

Hugh O'Donnell made me think about the word "disability". The debate is not about disability. Rather than focusing on that rather negative word, we are talking about enabling people and restoring abilities through positive action; given the opportunity to do that, it would be grotesque and unfair if we were to deny an ability to someone who is capable of benefiting from our making access to it possible. I wish the member good speed.

16:49

S3M-2691 Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1 [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 26 November 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2691, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill.

14:50

... ... ...

15:14

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I congratulate Jackie Baillie on the progress that she has made with the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill to date. I am grateful for the opportunity to put forward the Government's position on the bill.

We welcome the bill, because we, like everyone who has spoken so far—and, I expect, everyone who will speak—in the debate take the issue of the abuse of disabled parking bays extremely seriously. We share Ms Baillie's commitment to helping disabled people throughout Scotland to have access to parking.

Following a request from Ms Baillie, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has lodged a financial resolution, which, if agreed to, will allow the bill to progress to stage 2.

Although the bill does not affect blue badge regulations, it does affect blue badge holders. It should make it easier for them to park in disabled parking spaces, as it will ensure that on-road disabled parking spaces are enforceable, which should discourage abuse of them.

Hugh Henry: I share the concerns that Jackie Baillie and Duncan McNeil raised about the abuse of the blue badge scheme. We need to take action to identify the abuse, to confiscate badges where there is abuse and to publicise the disabled parking strategy. I do not want that to be left to a UK initiative. Will the minister specify what the Government will do to tackle abuse of the blue badge scheme in Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: At this stage, it might be helpful if I say that, although the blue badge scheme is a UK scheme, we have the powers to create the regulations that apply in Scotland. It is not our immediate intention to have a radically different regime in Scotland, but I hope that, as the bill progresses through Parliament, Hugh Henry will see that we are committed to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

To that end, we are working closely with the Department for Transport. Officials, along with colleagues from the Welsh Assembly and key stakeholders, will be taking part in a steering committee set up by the DFT on the comprehensive blue badge reform strategy. I hope that that gives some early earnest of our sincerity on the matter. My officials will also ask that a representative of the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland be invited on to the group. We hope to learn from the review, and we will co-operate to ensure that the arrangements on both sides of the border are complementary.

I note from the committee's report several references to possible minor amendments. One of those relates to the timetable for reviewing advisory spaces within each local authority. Although the committee feels that the timetable is reasonable, it suggests that, in exceptional circumstances, ministers could approve an extension. Should Ms Baillie wish to lodge an enabling amendment, it is likely to receive Government support.

I note, too, that the report clarifies that the proposed changes to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (SI 2002/3113) are reserved and, therefore, do not fall strictly within our legislative competence. However, I think that there are issues there that we can examine further.

The report comments:

"The Committee agrees that it is reasonable to expect that local authorities will be able to identify owners of private car parks".

I would be astonished if the overwhelming majority of owners of such car parks did not wish to co-operate. In any event, they have duties to discharge under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. A regime in which there is clarity about who may use disabled parking spaces in privately owned car parks and about the steps that may be taken to ensure that those spaces are used by entitled people is in the interests of car park owners as well as disabled people.

The bill would require authorities to produce annual reports. I believe that that introduces necessary transparency.

As the financial memorandum makes clear, information is not currently being collated or is not widely publicised in a number of areas. As I have said, I share the Finance Committee's concerns about the degree of uncertainty in the financial memorandum, to which others have referred. I understand why Ms Baillie has robustly defended her estimate of £1.7 million. I recently passed on to her a copy of a paper by the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, which also argues that that figure is very uncertain.

Several references have been made to the discrepancy in the figures. We cannot ignore that,but the Government will provide all possible and reasonable support to the bill's promoter, who has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that Parliament has an adequate and much firmer understanding of the cost of implementing the bill before we complete stage 3. If Ms Baillie wants specific help—we have thoughts about how we can help—I hope that she will work closely with us to ensure that we deliver for disabled people throughout Scotland.

15:21

2 October 2008

S3M-2419 Alloa to Fife and Edinburgh Rail Link

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 October 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Alloa to Fife and Edinburgh Rail Link

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-2419, in the name of Jim Tolson, on the Alloa to Fife and Edinburgh rail link. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership has proposed that a feasibility study into a rail passenger service between Alloa or Stirling and Edinburgh via Fife should be sought; believes that the upgrading of the Charlestown Junction would allow a direct rail service between Alloa and Edinburgh and improve direct freight operations from the west coast via Stirling-Alloa and into Rosyth; notes that the usage of the newly reopened Stirling-Alloa rail service has greatly exceeded the forecast passenger numbers, and believes that there is a strong case for early work to explore the opportunities to increase the sustainable transport options available to people in the Stirling, Fife and Edinburgh areas.

17:11

... ... ...

17:33

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I will start by briefly referring to the proposed industrial action, which is within the terms of the motion, as it is on sustainable transport options for the Stirling, Fife and Edinburgh areas. I understand that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—the RMT—and railway representatives will be at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. Like the First Minister today, we encourage all the parties to take a mature and sensible approach and to use the opportunity to bring to the table an independent third party that is skilled in mediation and negotiation. We hope that doing so will deliver the outcome that we all seek.

Murdo Fraser asked why we are having so many debates on Fife. The answer to that question is straightforward. The transport minister lived in Fife from 1947 to 1969, which is why we are having so many debates on transport in Fife. Members across the chamber know about the commitment to and interest in Fife that I retain. Some members of my family remain there.

Murdo Fraser also talked about the pressure on train transport from Fife. We recently announced 1,200 additional seats throughout Scotland's network, which will be welcome. Some 500 of those are geared towards creating additional capacity from Fife to Edinburgh. That opportunity was created in particular by getting English Welsh & Scottish Railway freight traffic off the bridge. That has meant better use being made of the bridge's paths, which were one of the constraints. There are constraints at Waverley, but the constraints on the bridge were rather more important.

We are examining capacity at other stations. For additional capacity at Haymarket, we have retained platform 0, which is not being used. The Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme shows the priority that we give to rail and we will consider stations as part of that.

I congratulate the motion's proposer, Jim Tolson, on obtaining this important debate. He raised several matters, including the Rosyth container depot. Quoting Babcock's response to the consultation on the draft version of the second national planning framework might be useful. It says that opening the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway loop

"will effectively divert all coal freight trains off ... the Forth Rail Bridge and reroute them through Stirling ... It is our view that services into Rosyth via Elbowend and Charlestown Junctions could easily be provided".

Babcock is on the case. That was some of the input that we have received.

It is worth making the point that in rail freight, which I support strongly, a key aspect is having alternative paths. Very little—if any—rail freight is likely to use the line from the east to Longannet, but it remains important as an alternative path for operational reasons, so there is no prospect of downgrading.

Members have referred to speed limits, which are quite low on the route that we are discussing. Average speeds in some parts are as low as 20mph, and 30mph is the general average. To bring the route into use for passenger travel, considerable investment would be required.

Chris Harvie suggested that we are looking at cheaper roads—that relates to sustainable transport options for Stirling, Fife and Edinburgh, Presiding Officer—than the Forth replacement crossing. However, it should be remembered that we are using outcome pricing, which includes a lot of inflation, and half the cost is for roads. I was pleased to hear Richard Simpson say that no one is asking for hard cash.

Dr Simpson: At present.

Stewart Stevenson: I noted the words "at present".

I am pleased that our putting Clackmannanshire on the transport map through the name for the new bridge has given so much pleasure. Support for that name was decisively clear.

Keith Brown talked about the STAG appraisal that SEStran is pursuing. It is important to remember that STAG appraisals are mode independent. Although a decision that we require to provide additional rail connections in a corridor might be the result of a STAG appraisal, the appraisal could say something different. However, I accept that, given the existing railway and the wider benefits to which Keith Brown referred, it would be perverse not to consider railways seriously.

Jim Tolson is likely to be in serious trouble with his party leader, as he has asked for additional money when his leader wants to carve £800 million out of the public spending budget, but perhaps we will discuss that at greater length on another occasion.

The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway has been an outstanding success. It is first class and there is no more enthusiastic supporter of the railway than me—as a user and as the minister responsible for targeting investment. It is part of a £1.5 billion programme of investment by the Government in new infrastructure.

It is important that we consider more broadly what we are trying to do for Edinburgh and sustainable transport, by getting up to six trains an hour between Edinburgh and Glasgow—two with journey times of 35 minutes—by improving services for Fife and by improving bus services. It is a delight to travel behind a bus from Fife that announces that Wi-Fi is available on board and to know that there are leather seats on the bus. The quality of offering across a range of transport modes is improving. I think that all members will welcome that.

I congratulate Jim Tolson on bringing the matter to our attention and allowing us to explore the issues for Fife and for wider Scotland—we must put the debate in that context—on a fairly non-partisan basis. I hope that the SEStran STAG appraisal proceeds at a reasonable speed and I look forward to the outcome.

Meeting closed at 17:40.

10 September 2008

S3M-2496 Ferry Services [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Ferry Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2496, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's 4th report 2008, on ferry services in Scotland.

14:51

... ... ...

16:44

Stewart Stevenson: First, I welcome the fact that the number of Liberal Democrats shadowing me has doubled. Obviously, I presented a challenge to the previous single shadow spokesperson. I wish Ms McInnes and Mr Tolson well in their roles and every success short of actual victory.

The committee's report is a substantial piece of work that deserves a substantial debate in Parliament, and all who have participated this afternoon have made a substantial contribution to that debate. In the time available, I will try to pick up as many as possible of the points that have been made in the debate. I apologise if I do not cover them all, but there were a substantial number. Members can talk to me afterwards if they wish to pursue anything.

It is important to pick up Patrick Harvie's point about faster ferries, which was raised in a number of contributions. With faster ferries, there is a tension with the climate change agenda and the cost of fuel. Cutting a single knot off a vessel's steaming time can save as much as 10 per cent of the fuel bill, with a corresponding reduction in the carbon impact. Yes, we want more efficient vessels, but not necessarily in a way that will compromise other agendas. We will have to consider the subject carefully. I do not take a particular view on that at this stage, but it is important to put it on the record to inform all our thinking as we proceed.

Des McNulty made much of the 40 per cent discount scheme, which might have been thought up by the Labour Party in the immediate run-up to the election. Certainly, no steps were put in place to implement it. I do not apologise in any way for the road equivalent tariff scheme being an economic scheme. Of course it has huge social benefits, but it is central to the Government's purpose to improve the economy of Scotland.

Rob Gibson put the air discount scheme into context when he said that it was an excellent scheme for getting people off the islands to spend their money elsewhere. The road equivalent tariff scheme is based on getting more people on to the islands to spend their money there. We will of course monitor pilot and non-pilot routes to establish whether RET has had an adverse impact on areas that are not included in the pilot. We will do that on a monthly basis, with quarterly reporting, too.

In the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing that was made available to all members it is calculated that the subsidy to CalMac over the period 1996 to 2006 was only two thirds of the increase in the subsidy that went to the northern isles ferry service. One could argue that there is a rebalancing implicit in some of the RET interventions.

Alex Johnstone talked about unbundling and showed his enthusiasm for breaking up the network. Gavin Brown was correct to point out the risks of going down to route level. The review that we are undertaking is the opportunity to test the arguments on both sides. I remain someone whose instincts are to keep a single network and to keep CalMac as a fundamental player in it. However, I will be driven by the evidence and I want the review to test the arguments. The door is not shut, but it is not my hand on the handle that is opening it to changes, because I am coming from another direction.

Alex Johnstone made some points about the increase in subsidies. That has been driven by successive Administrations' agendas to seek to improve ferry services and the quality of the journey. Generally, that has meant bigger vessels with more capability, which are more expensive to build and operate. It is not surprising, and neither should it be a matter for adverse comment, that costs have risen.

This minister—and, I am perfectly content to accept, other ministers—has sought to put the users' and the communities' interests at the heart of ferry policy over a significant period.

Alison McInnes raised the issue of integration. I am happy to say that Transport Scotland and the relevant transport providers are considering what can be done to improve integration. If this were a subject for which there was a simple intervention, previous ministers would have made such an intervention. Each minister can make a contribution. We are seeking to provide further integration.

I will illustrate some of the difficulties that exist. Can anyone find the one sign at Waverley station that tells people where to catch a bus? There is one, but it took me six months to find it. Of course, I do not have responsibility for Waverley station—Network Rail does. I think that I have got the matter sorted, by the way. That is an example of how detailed interventions can often be required.

I should have said that the road equivalent tariff is a key benefit to businesses as well as to individuals.

Jamie McGrigor made several remarks, one of which related to Colonsay, and, in his closing speech, David Stewart quoted Andrew McGregor of Colonsay. I gently point out that the introduction of the air service from Oban to Colonsay is a significant investment in the island's infrastructure and a significant financial contribution to Colonsay's future economic health. I say that not to take anything away from ferry issues, but to point out that Colonsay has not been wholly ignored or neglected.

I thank Jamie McGrigor for adumbrating his oral parliamentary question for tomorrow; I will rewrite my response to it when I remember what it is. I take on board his comments about livestock, which are important.

I noticed that Liam McArthur wanted to compete with Alasdair Allan and got his blow in first; Liam McArthur has 18 inhabited islands, whereas poor Alasdair Allan has only 15, but ho-hum—there we are. Alyn Smith MEP's intervention, which he discussed with me beforehand, was helpful. Like him, I thought that it was time for the EU to put up or shut up. I hope that the issue will be laid to rest—it is important to do that. I confirm that my officials are talking to Orkney Islands Council.

I heard in the debate the longest advert for a private sector company that I have heard in my seven years in Parliament. It is clear that Pentland Ferries has a doughty advertising agency in Mary Scanlon.

I have travelled on many ferries throughout my life, several of which no longer operate, such as the service from Inverness to Eilean nam Muc; the Balblair service in the north of the Black Isle; the Kylesku free ferry, which has been replaced by a bridge; and the Connel ferry bridge, which was a railway bridge that was called a ferry.

Ferries are important to communities throughout Scotland. Being a part of the debate has been a privilege. I thank all who contributed to it. The Government has food for thought and I congratulate the committee.

16:52

S3M-2496 Ferry Services [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 10 September 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Ferry Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-2496, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee's 4th report 2008, on ferry services in Scotland.

14:51

... ... ...

15:02

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): In responding to the outcome of the committee's inquiry, I was delighted to report that we are now pursuing our own comprehensive ferries review in Scotland, which will develop a long-term strategy for lifeline ferry services. Indeed, there is the urgency that the committee's convener looks for in our taking that forward. The review will, of course, be completed before there is a new contract. The evidence that was taken by the committee and the committee's recommendations—all valuable work—will be used to inform the review.

The review will include detailed consideration of funding, costs and affordability; procurement of lifeline ferry services; services and routes; fares; vessels; ports and harbours; accessibility; environmental issues; integration; lifeline air routes; and freight. It will also consider how lifeline ferry services should best be delivered, by which I mean that it will consider the correct split of responsibilities between the Scottish Government, local authorities, operators and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. Of course, the review will also consider the issue of competition.

I have previously spoken out in support of CalMac and against the break-up of the ferry network. I remain supportive of the current structure. Nevertheless, I think that it is important to test whether the continued bundling of routes is the correct way forward. Therefore, the review will consider whether routes should be opened up to competition from commercial providers.

Arrangements are now being made to put in place a steering group for the review. We will invite representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Highlands and Islands transport partnership, Strathclyde partnership for transport, Zetland transport partnership, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and others. The relevant councils, operators and other key stakeholders will also have the opportunity to participate in and contribute to the process.

On-board surveys on a number of ferry services—both private and those that are provided by us—have already started to capture initial data to inform the review. There will be a public consultation on the strategy next summer, and the review will conclude next autumn.

I met the boards of David MacBrayne Ltd and CalMac Ferries Ltd on 30 July. We had constructive discussions, and the board of David MacBrayne, which is responsible for CalMac and Northlink Ferries, looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to achieve early progress on adjusting timetables and frequency of services to better meet the needs of ferry users; improving communication and co-ordination between ferry, train and bus operators; promoting more effective consultation of ferry users by operators; improving accessibility of ferries and passenger facilities for those in our communities with mobility difficulties; and improving ferry operators' standards of service. The convener of the committee referred to many of those aspects in his speech.

I am delighted to say that we are responding to the agenda for speeding up some changes. In the short term, we have made a number of improvements to the current timetable for Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, resulting in CalMac recently announcing 13 changes to the timetable. As the convener requested, those changes are focused on achieving better integration with bus and rail services and improving connectivity for businesses.

However, one of the most important changes is a change to the Oban to Lismore service, which will allow school pupils to commute daily rather than having to live in hostels in Oban. Patrick Harvie also referred to that in his speech.

The winter timetable will also see CalMac carrying bicycles for free for the first time, which is a significant gesture in supporting green, sustainable travel and a welcome boost to that sector of the tourism market.

Those changes have all been made following consultation with the communities concerned and demonstrate the flexibility in the contract. We are able to make changes to the timetable and improve services to better meet the needs of ferry users.

The winter timetable will also see the introduction of the road equivalent tariff pilot. RET has been a long-standing objective of the Scottish National Party. We understand the genuine concerns from our remote and fragile communities about the affordability of ferry fares and the impact that those fares have on island economies. The SNP's manifesto contained a commitment to

"Commission a study into Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), reporting on options for improved connection to our Northern Isles and Western Isles by end of 2007."

Our manifesto also said:

"As part of this we will undertake a pilot project on RET to the Western Isles which will include support for freight and tourist journeys."

We are delivering on that manifesto commitment.

The RET pilot study, along with the ferries review, will consider the scope for rationalising fares and will also consider how fares adjustments can provide greater support for particularly vulnerable island communities.

I understand that the committee took the ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge during its investigations. The Scottish Government is working very closely with Forth Ports and others to identify an alternative commercial operator for the Rosyth to Zeebrugge route. We will continue to do everything possible to secure a successful outcome. There have been constructive discussions so far with potential operators. Those discussions are continuing as we look to find a commercial solution.

We are conscious of the importance of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry route for freight and for passengers. We need a replacement ferry service that can satisfy the substantial freight and passenger markets that clearly exist. We appreciate the importance of providing early assurance to the freight, passenger and tourism markets. We are looking to secure a Rosyth to Zeebrugge service that is commercially viable and capable of growth and of enduring. We continue to work with the European Commission to seek a successful conclusion to its investigation into ferries in Scotland in general.

On the Clyde services, we are setting up tri-partite discussions with Argyll and Bute Council and Inverclyde Council to discuss how to deliver a town centre to town centre service between Gourock and Dunoon for passengers and vehicles that best meets the needs of the two communities. We continue to engage with the European Commission on the Gourock to Dunoon service to ensure that future services are compatible with European law.

The subject of services from Lochboisdale has been actively discussed of late, but any proposal that might exist for a standalone Lochboisdale to Mallaig service will require a dedicated vessel, which can only be acquired through an open and transparent procurement process. Typically, such processes can take a year or more to complete. It is important that I add that we will in no way consider solutions that would damage the accessibility of the mainland from Barra. The views of the people of Barra will be a very important consideration as we move forward on the issue.

With regard to the Mull of Kintyre, the assessment of the proposed ferry service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle under the Scottish transport appraisal guidance is nearly complete. Officials are working with the appointed consultants to ensure that the resulting report is available in time for them to put advice to me by the end of the month, and a similar process is happening in Northern Ireland. We value our communities, which is why successive Governments have continued to support vital lifeline ferry services.

I hope that it is clear from that update that the Government is taking a clear lead on ferry provision in Scotland. We are taking forward the committee's recommendations without delay. I thank members for the opportunity to debate this important subject, and I look forward to hearing members' contributions.

15:11

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