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26 November 2008

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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