29 May 2002

S1M-3073 Transport Strategy (North-East Scotland)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3073, in the name of Elaine Thomson, on the transport strategy for Aberdeen and north-east Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. We can risk starting the debate now, as the last members who are leaving the chamber are trickling out through the door.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership (NESTRANS) for developing and progressing a regional transport strategy for Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland that promotes modal shift and tackles growing congestion, including the effective development of park-and-ride schemes in Bridge of Don and Kingswells.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Elaine Thomson gave a very interesting speech. She will be aware that, just for the sake of getting something into the business bulletin, I lodged an amendment to her motion. Of course, in members' business debates, such amendments are quite properly never selected. However, my amendment focused on the impact of congestion in the city on business in the area north of Aberdeen. In that respect, I was very disappointed by Elaine's speech. Despite the fact that her own motion refers to

"Aberdeen and the north east"

she entirely concentrated on the effects of the current transport difficulties in the city. Although I acknowledge that other members share my views on this matter, it will come as a surprise to some in the chamber that the effects of congestion in Aberdeen and rural transport are also a matter of concern. The Parliament might be sitting in the city of Aberdeen, but the north-east of Scotland itself is an altogether different matter.

We are delighted to hear that the transport profile of the area and the difficulties that we face have risen into the top 10. However, we are not talking about top of the pops and some transient view of our difficulties; the bottom line is that we need actual money.

We are talking about plans that are coming forward. At the dinner that Aberdeen City Council generously provided last night, the Labour council leader Len Ironside said that a failure to invest would be a problem for the whole of Scotland. I certainly agree with him. He said that things are moving forward, and that he hopes to have funding next year. But hope will not sustain the business communities of the north-east of Scotland; only action will do so.

We have heard that inclusive transport is needed, and I thoroughly agree with Elaine Thomson on that. She gave high praise to the efforts that have been made in the city to allow people with wheelchairs access to buses. However, I draw to her attention and to the minister's the fact that there are also many people in rural areas who are disabled and use wheelchairs to get about. Although they have the necessary passes to get access to buses, rural areas do not have buses that the wheelchairs can automatically get on to. Even more to the point, we do not have bus drivers who are able or willing to lift wheelchairs on to their buses. I know that I am not alone in representing a constituency where disabled people with bus passes still have to use taxis because, despite the apparent provision of transport for them, they cannot use the buses.

I would also like to address my remarks to business. I believe—no one has yet denied it, although I confess that I have not done rock-solid research—that my constituency is the only mainland constituency without any railways. Business in my constituency is utterly dependent on the roads. There are several businesses in my constituency that are genuinely and actively considering relocating to Aberdeen. The north-east would not lose out because of such a move, but the area north of Aberdeen certainly would. They are considering the move because it takes them an extra hour to get to their markets and that puts an extra £100 on the cost of taking a load south.

The NESTRANS studies have been excellent and we can support their recommendations, but what we actually need is money and action now.


S1M-3154 Air Links

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): We have two debates this afternoon, the first of which is on Scotland's air links.

... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I begin by picking up on a point that Lewis Macdonald made. I am sure that members and people in the visitors gallery will be pleased with what I have to say. Next week, as part of my investigations into the prison estates review, I shall visit a prison in France. I shall not be flying from Aberdeen with my assistant, because the airfare would be £958. Instead, I shall drive to Prestwick—that takes extra time, but it is a trade-off that is worth making—from where the flight costs £180.

Before Phil Gallie gets too complacent, I remind him that it was a Tory Government in the 1970s that, at the express request of BOAC, removed the fifth freedom flights from KLM, SAS, Pan Am and TWA. That denied those companies to pick up passengers at Prestwick on their en route flights to countries in Scandinavia. Does he recall that it was a Tory Government that did that?

Phil Gallie: I am too young to remember it.

Stewart Stevenson: I will accept that.

Model 737-200s burn 50 per cent more fuel than 737-800s. We need the facility to support economical aircraft. Incidentally, in Scotland we are denied the most effective route into Luton and Stansted because of military traffic that uses the east coast of England—there is limited capacity for southbound traffic and none for northbound traffic. If we had an airway down there, we would save between 600kg and 1,000kg of fuel per 737 flight—I point that out for Robin Harper's benefit.

We talked about equality of access across Scotland, about which Mr Morrison made a point. Is not it curious that the Labour Government has continued with the practice of charging 90p per litre for the inter-island flights in the Orkneys and Shetlands? Fuel for a flight out of Aberdeen is priced at 20p per litre. What is the difference? The difference is tax, pure and simple, not the cost of the fuel. Many of the things that discriminate against aviation in our remote communities are avoidable.

David Mundell challenged the SNP on what would be different about aviation if Scotland was an independent country. He did not let me intervene during his speech, so I will ask my question now, so that he can ponder it and tell me the answer later. Is there an independent country anywhere in the developed world that has fewer airline seats owned and operated by local airlines per head of population than Scotland does? The answer is no. We have 20 per cent of the number of seats that the country above us in the list has. That is one thing that independence would change.

I say to Rhoda Grant that I pay tribute to Total Logistic Concepts Ltd, which runs Oban airport. Oban airport has the facilities to run scheduled services and in the past it provided services to Glasgow and Mull.

That brings into sharp focus the fact that we get fixated with terminal buildings. We have built a wonderful new terminal building at Inverness. That is fine. However, we did not install an instrument landing system that would bring the cloud base at which aircraft could make an approach down from 500ft to 200ft. The aircraft are equipped and the traffic controllers are ready to operate. We are getting the £500,000 for that landing system at last. That is more important to airlines than anything else. When I was a tourist in South Africa, I flew by jet into an airfield that had no terminal building. Terminal buildings are not the problem.

It is true that resources are finite in this business. However, we have differential landing charges. It costs £1,500 to put a 737 on the tarmac at Inverness airport, whereas it costs less than £1,000 at the London airports. Airlines will therefore make choices. That is why we are putting broadband into the Highlands and Islands so that people are not turned away. That is also why we should support lower landing charges.


28 May 2002

S1M-3051 Drug Misuse in North-East Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3051, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on drug misuse in north-east Scotland.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern that drug misuse in the north east of Scotland has increased dramatically in recent years, with an estimated 50% rise in problem drug users in Grampian alone between 1997 and 2000; further notes that Dundee has the second highest and Aberdeen the third highest level of drug misuse in Scotland and that Grampian has the highest percentage of injecting drug users in Scotland, and considers that the Scottish Executive should recognise the scale of the problem and investigate the level and nature of resources that have been applied to addressing this growing social problem in the north east region, paying particular attention to (a) the role and accountability of the various agencies involved, (b) the amount of resources dedicated to drug users, (c) the cost to society in terms of loss of life, associated health problems and distress caused to users' families and (d) the enormous amount of drug-related crime inflicted on the local community, reflected by the fact that 80% of inmates at HM Prison Aberdeen test positive for drug use at reception.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): ... ... ...

Is it not ironic that we debated the alternatives to custody earlier this afternoon? During the debate, we heard about diversion from prosecution. However, given the fact that we are told that 80 per cent of the offences in this area arise from drug offences, what we are looking for is diversion from offending. Anything that we can do and any ideas that we can pick up in that regard are to be welcomed.

I have always thought that there are three traditional Rs in the criminal justice system, just as there are in education. However, the three Rs in the criminal justice system are retribution, restitution and rehabilitation and the greatest of those is rehabilitation. It is in that area that the north-east is perhaps most lacking.

My colleague Richard Lochhead spoke about the lengthy waits for non-urgent referrals in the north-east. In essence, people have to wait for over a year. I want to pick up on a point that Keith Raffan made and enter a note of caution. He suggested that it was advantageous to send offenders to another area for rehabilitation. I am not at all certain about that, although we should be prepared to experiment.

A local addict from my constituency was sent to the south of England for rehabilitation because the nearest available programme was located there.

As it happens, his entry to the programme was delayed by a couple of weeks and, footloose in a foreign community with insufficient funds, he committed another crime.

Mr Raffan: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not have time to do so.

That addict is now back in prison.

However, I do not have a fixed mind on the issue and neither should the minister. We should simply be cautious in our approach.

One of the issues that we should address is resources. For every £303 that Scotland as a whole gets for each addict, the north-east receives £242. Over the past four years, there has been a per capita increase in funding in this area of 77 per cent, while the increase across Scotland has been 90 per cent.

Of late, some suggestions about how to deal with addicts have been made. For example, it has been suggested that we return to general practitioner prescribing, which is what my father did in the 1950s. Alas, I think that the world has changed: there are now many more addicts, and they have descended into chaotic lifestyles. However, I am prepared to consider the suggestion.

I am very reluctant to consider re-categorising—and essentially decriminalising—drugs if it means that addicts remain in contact with the criminal underworld. We will simply create an escalator from soft drugs such as cannabis to hard drugs. The only proposal that I would consider in this respect relates back to the Gothenburg experiment with alcohol in the 19th century, in which communities set up pubs to ensure that the profits from the sale of the drug alcohol were used for community purposes. If someone discovered a way of doing that with drugs, I might reluctantly be persuaded to change my position.

In the previous debate, the minister referred to experimenting, testing and measuring. Let us try everything. For example, we should not rule out harm reduction versus abstinence measures or supporting independent agencies as well as those connected to the Government and local authorities. Let us keep all our options open.


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