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]

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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.


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 It is a great sorrow to wrinklies such as me that politeness has been replaced by ill manners and unpreparedness among too many people in our society to acknowledge others' needs.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


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