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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 It is a great sorrow to wrinklies such as me that politeness has been replaced by ill manners and unpreparedness among too many people in our society to acknowledge others' needs.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

Stewart Stevenson
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