20 December 2007

S3M-992 Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 20 December 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on S3M-992, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, that the Parliament agrees that the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill be passed.


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

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the tolls ending on the Skye bridge. When the previous Administration made that announcement, it set in motion a process that has brought us—perhaps inevitably—to today's debate. By ending the Skye bridge tolls, and the Erskine bridge tolls 15 months later, it highlighted what many of us have believed and argued for many years: that bridge tolls are an unfair and iniquitous way of making a small number of people pay extra for using our roads.

Our commitment to ending that unfairness, particularly for the people of Fife, Tayside and the Lothians, forms the foundation of the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill. I am grateful to many members of this Parliament for their support for that principle.

When the bill completed stage 2 consideration on 4 December—in what might well have been record time—Patrick Harvie commented that he had expected his first stage 2 as convener of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee to be much "more demanding". The fact that the bill has proceeded so smoothly and rapidly to this point is perhaps the best indication of the broad support that it has in this Parliament and elsewhere.

However, that does not mean that we have cut corners. I am grateful to all the members of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, as well as the members of the Finance Committee, for their detailed scrutiny of and comments on the bill. We have taken note of the concerns that they have expressed and the issues that have been raised by other members. I also thank the many officials whose work has brought us to this point.

We have worked closely with the two bridge boards over the past six months to ensure that proper traffic management arrangements will be in place so that the transition to toll-free journeys will be made safely and efficiently.

We have also been concerned to ensure that the staff who are affected by the changes have been treated with dignity and respect. I understand that it has been a time of great uncertainty for many of the people employed at the bridges and I know that the boards have worked hard to keep all staff and the trade unions informed of progress over recent months.

I pay tribute to the management at the bridges and, more importantly, the bridge staff for the work that they have done to help prepare for the future operation of the bridges.

When we debated this bill at stage 1, on 15 November, I said that I would be happy to meet bridge staff to explain the thinking behind the bill and reassure them about their positions. My officials contacted the bridge authorities to offer such a meeting if staff would find it useful. Representatives of Tay bridge employees said that they did not wish to pursue a meeting and I still await a formal reply from Forth bridge staff representatives.

John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): I suggest that the minister contact the transport and general workers section of the trade union Unite. I am sure that that union's representatives would be happy to meet him, as they wrote to him in the summer.

Stewart Stevenson: I take that on board and I will see what I can do.

I reassure members about the Government's commitment to continue to fund the bridges. Both are of an age at which they require constant maintenance and attention, and significant works are to come in the next few years. We have worked closely with the bridge boards to assess their funding requirements over the spending review period and beyond and we are establishing regular monitoring and consultation arrangements to ensure that those funds will be available when they are needed.

I have said that I have understandable satisfaction in bringing the bill to Parliament. Today we fulfil a commitment that was made prior to the election. The first bill from the new Scottish Government ends an injustice to the people of Scotland. It is a short and clear bill. I am delighted to move the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill be passed.


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