31 October 2017

S5M-08497 Promoting Active Travel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08497, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the promotion of active travel in Scotland. We are a bit pushed for time. I call on Humza Yousaf to speak to and move the motion.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I will focus on walking, just as I did the last time I spoke in a debate on active travel. The motion and the amendments make only two references to walking, while there are nine references to cycling, although walking is substantially more accessible than cycling. I suggest to colleagues in Parliament that the best way of improving active travel is to encourage people to walk.

Let us have a wee think about some numbers. The “Prescribing & Medicines: Prescription Cost Analysis” report for 2015-16, which is the last year for which I have been able to find numbers, shows that of the top five drugs, by number of items dispensed, the combined total of prescriptions for numbers 1, 3 and 5 totals 8.78 million. Those drugs are all for use by people who have respiratory conditions, who would benefit greatly from taking quite gentle exercise—or more serious exercise, if they are capable of it.

How much do those prescriptions cost? I do not quite know, but the average cost of a prescription is £10, and those drugs are at the top end; they are among the more expensive drugs. We are therefore considering a figure for annual prescriptions of those three drugs alone that exceeds the active travel budget.

What is the cost of a pair of trainers? One can get a decent pair of trainers—although not a classy pair—for about 30 quid. Add a pair of thick socks and a pair of thin socks, and you are ready to go. Let us put our doctors in a position in which they can prescribe walking and the equipment to do it, in order that we can improve the health of the nation and promote active travel.

I also have a few words to say to colleagues in the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, because it is not only the Government that can do things. Paragraph 11.18 of the Scottish Parliament members’ expenses scheme guidance states that members are required to provide a letter of justification if they take a taxi journey that costs more than £20. I suggest that we add to that a requirement for members to provide a letter of justification if their taxi journey does not exceed 1 mile, because it is the short taxi journeys that we should be replacing.

From the outset, we have been paying members of the Scottish Parliament 45p a mile if they use a car, but only 20p a mile if they use a cycle. How about turning that around so that we pay them 45p if they use a cycle and 20p if they use a car? I know that that sounds a little bit whimsical, but the reality is—

John Finnie: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will give way if the member is brief.

John Finnie: Thank you. I will be brief. Would Stewart Stevenson like to explain to me how—much as I would like to do so—I can cover on a push bike the area between the north of Shetland and the Mull of Kintyre, where there is a dearth of public transport?

Stewart Stevenson: The bottom line is that we have to challenge the existing norms and have a debate on the subject. I have a similar problem, albeit that it is on a smaller scale.

I am glad that I now have as my greatest fan in Parliament Mike Rumbles, who mentioned me three times in the first minute of his speech. In 2009, I said that it would be challenging to reach a 20 per cent target for cycling—I think that it is fair to say that I got that one right. However, we can, in general, be ambitious on walking. I have done 4km today, which is 5,650 steps—I prefer counting distances in kilometres, because they sound bigger than they do in miles—and others should be doing something at least as big as that.

Liam Kerr told us that he cycles, which is good. My last bicycle cost me a fiver, and I am not going to pay more than £25 for my next one, because I will get it when I next go to a rural roup.

I conclude, Presiding Officer, in my very few remaining seconds, by saying that we all have, in our own feet, the tools to promote the agenda. We, as MSPs, should be seen walking and should encourage others to walk. It delivers health, wealth and community benefit.


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