26 February 2009

S3M-3128 Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 February 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:00]

... ... ...

Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3128, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill.


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Stewart Stevenson:

I thank Jackie Baillie for introducing the bill and I thank her alter ego—or doppelgänger, as Dr McKee might say—Karen Gillon, for so ably filling the breach. I also thank Mary Mulligan for the support that she provided. Jackie Baillie and members of all parties are aware that the Scottish Government is committed to the principles behind the bill.

I take the opportunity to thank all the members who contributed to the debate, which has been interesting and indicative of the Parliament's engagement on supporting people with disabilities. I think that every member who spoke made a useful contribution, but I single out Patricia Ferguson, who made a particularly thoughtful and informative speech.

Thanks are also due to the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, COSLA and the non-Executive bills unit for their work in trying to obtain robust implementation costs. The task is not yet complete, but there has been honest endeavour, and at official and ministerial level we will continue to work in partnership with COSLA and local authorities to ensure that best value is achieved in the one-off national implementation exercise. Estimates of the likely cost appear to be coalescing around £3 million. That figure does not unduly alarm me.

A tangible result of the process will be the annual reports that local authorities and the Government produce. The reports will provide openness and transparency on the processes that surround the provision and enforcement of disabled parking bays and will let the public know whether local authorities are carrying out their duties in relation to the bill. I thank the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland for its advice on the bill. I am sure that it is one of many organisations that will scrutinise the annual reports.

Patricia Ferguson said that the debate is not about disability, which was spot on. The reality is that the debate is about changing the attitudes and behaviour of the able bodied, because only when that happens will we deliver for the disabled. That should perhaps be our primary focus. At stage 2, Patricia Ferguson asked about an information campaign and I confirmed that we will mount such a campaign. We will liaise with local authorities and other stakeholders in early course, to ensure that people have the good information that is necessary if the bill is to be a success.

Patricia Ferguson also said that the Parliament has been rather "legislation light" during the past two years. The Government is always happy to work with other parties in the Parliament to build consensus for legislation. The bill, which was introduced from the Labour benches, provides a good model for the work that can be done to build consensus before debates take place in the Parliament. It is clear from today's debate that the consensus that has been built will endure beyond decision time tonight.

Many members drew on familial experience. Bob Doris described his father's experiences. Of course, a charge or fine—whatever we call it—will be a mark of the system's failure; a mark of its success will be the change of behaviour that we all seek.

Charlie Gordon talked about disabled drivers. We should remember that not just drivers but passengers might be disabled. There are many blue badge holders who have not learned to drive or are unable to do so. We are talking about a wider community.

Ian McKee said that his mother drove without having passed the driving test. I am familiar with that situation, because my father drove on the roads without having taken the test. On many occasions I rather wished that he had had to go through the rigour of a test. Indeed, when, in his later years, he worked as a driver for the Women's Royal Voluntary Services, his passengers occasionally wished that, too.

My mother, Helen Mary Berry MacGregor, walked on sticks almost all her adult life—she could walk only from her knees—but when she was in a car she was a different animal altogether. She had the 47th Mini Cooper S to be built in 1962. That was before Barbara Castle introduced the national speed limit, and I recall being with my mother as she drove along the Baiglie straight towards Bridge of Earn at 100mph, although when she reached the supermarket car park her speed was down to about half a mile per hour. For disabled people, the mobility that cars deliver is a significant part of their lives.

Duncan McNeil said that stores need not wait to follow Asda's example. I am not entirely sure whether it was Abraham Lincoln who said, "The early bird gets the worm; the late bird eats the dirt." People who play catch-up play a dangerous game; people who show leadership often achieve commercial success, while supporting corporate social responsibility aims.

Duncan McNeil also talked about criminality in the context of the abuse of parking spaces. A chief constable told me that in his experience a person who abuses a disabled parking space is four times as likely to have a criminal conviction as a person who does not abuse such a space. A general pattern of disobeying society's rules and laws can often be illuminated by a person's willingness to break the rules about disabled parking spaces. Police forces have told me about the success that they have had in relation to criminal justice in general when they have focused on people who abuse parking spaces. To people who think of abusing disabled parking spaces, I say, "Think on this: you will be thought to be a criminal from the outset."

Michael McMahon's speech reminded me that cars can be status symbols, and Jackson Carlaw said that Mercedes and Audis are being converted under the Motability scheme. One of my aunts—she was called Stewart, too—had one of the three-wheelers that Jackson Carlaw mentioned. On one occasion she drove it into a ditch, and because it was so light helpful passing motorists were able to lift it out and put it back on the road for her. That would not have been possible if she had been driving a Mercedes ML55, so there were significant advantages to the three-wheelers—I do not think that my aunt Stewart would have been able to afford a Mercedes anyway.

Over the years, successive Administrations have sought to support people who have difficulty with mobility. The bill takes us further forward. Sandra White suggested that we consider extending the options for blue badge holders. We are working with the UK Government on the issue and we will continue to engage actively on it. In Scotland we are responsible for some of the regulations to do with the basic structure of the blue badge system, which was introduced to follow the orange badge system—my mother had an orange badge on her Mini Cooper S more than 40 years ago.

The bill will give dignity to people who have restricted mobility. It will give opportunity to disabled people. It is an earnest mark of the Parliament's commitment to people who suffer a degree of disadvantage in our society. I will take great pleasure in pressing the "yes" button when I am invited to vote for the bill at decision time at 5 o'clock.


S3M-3128 Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 February 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:00]

... ... ...

Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3128, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


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

I thank Jackie Baillie for introducing the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill. Her member's bill is an important and much-needed piece of legislation. I regret that she cannot be in the chamber to see her bill passed by the Parliament, as I am confident that it will be. A bill that has reached stage 3 with no amendments is a significant indicator of the consensus across the Parliament on the need for it.

Of course, a member's bill does not reach this stage without significant effort on the part of the member and their staff. In her remarks, Karen Gillon gave proper recognition to the work that Jackie Baillie and her staff have undertaken.

We welcome the bill because, like Ms Baillie, we take the abuse of disabled parking bays extremely seriously. The Government shares Ms Baillie's commitment to helping disabled people throughout Scotland have access to parking, which should in turn improve the quality of their lives.

Some of my colleagues have stated in earlier debates on the bill that legislation is not always the answer. I agree, but unfortunately we have reached a stage at which the evidence suggests that we will provide a real deterrent only by moving from the use of advisory disabled parking places to ensuring that the appropriate parking places are enforceable. We hope that the bill will bring to an end the abuse of disabled parking spaces and will result in the general public seeing it as socially unacceptable to misuse those spaces.

At a time when changes in the social structure mean that people with disabilities are viewed as no different from anyone else in having to adapt to a more independent lifestyle, we want a system to be implemented that is fair and understood by all. Change will not happen overnight, as local authorities require to do quite a lot of work to implement the bill, but I expect that coverage of today's debate and of previous debates will raise awareness of the abuse of disabled parking places and may help to deter some of the thoughtless drivers who exploit the current lack of enforcement.

The bill covers on-street and off-street parking and requires local authorities to contact private car park owners with a view to their making arrangements for the provision of enforceable disabled parking places in their car parks. We very much welcome the work that Asda has done, which Ms Gillon mentioned. I am sure that the charities concerned will welcome the £70,000 that has been raised to serve their aims, although we hope that that figure will diminish because the higher it is the more abuse is taking place.

The bill will require local authorities to prepare annual reports on their performance in relation to their functions on parking places for disabled persons' vehicles. The reports will include details of the action that local authorities have taken in fulfilling their duties under the bill, and I will ask my officials to consult local authorities on the drafting of guidance on the completion of annual reports. The adoption of a consistent approach will assist my officials in drawing up the Government's annual report, which is another requirement of the bill.

As we said in the stage 1 debate, the Government's position has always been one of support for the bill on the understanding that implementation costs are required that are more robust than the estimates in Jackie Baillie's financial memorandum. During that debate, I informed Parliament that my officials would facilitate meetings between Jackie Baillie and COSLA. Those meetings have taken place over the past few months, and I have attended several of them. My intention in doing so was to enforce the view that is shared by the Government and the member in charge of the bill that it is important for local authorities to engage seriously and robustly in the process of working out the costs involved.

It is obvious that a large amount of work was required to obtain a robust figure. As has been expressed several times, there is a lack of raw data to provide an instant figure. On previous occasions, Ms Baillie has mentioned that there are varying costs for the different elements of the work that is required to turn an advisory disabled parking place into an enforceable space as set out in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002.

Jackie Baillie agreed that her figure of £1.7 million was somewhat historical, and we have heard from Karen Gillon that the true figure is likely to be nearer £3 million. The local authorities still consider that to be on the low side and feel that, once geographic and regional variations are taken into account, the figure is more likely to be around £6 million. I am sure that Ms Gillon and Ms Baillie will agree that further work needs to be done to obtain an accurate figure for the number of spaces involved, including the number that will have to be removed. I am confident that further savings will be made through careful planning of the one-off national implementation programme.

To that effect, in the aftermath of today's debate and this evening's vote, in which I expect the bill to be passed, I will instruct my officials to continue to liaise with local authorities. They will ask the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland to address the issue of how to take account of economies of scale and best value as the implementation programme is progressed.

At stage 1, Parliament not only supported the general principles of the bill but agreed to the financial resolution that my colleague Mr Swinney laid. Given that that happened in the context of the numbers that were incorporated in Ms Baillie's financial memorandum, I would not expect the funding that the Government will make available in due course to depart radically from the numbers that the bill's sponsor has put forward, but I will not name a particular figure until further work has been done.

One of the first duties that the bill places on local authorities is to carry out an audit of all the advisory disabled parking places in their areas. The uncertainty that we have heard about justifies that action—indeed, it justifies the passing of the bill—and the bill gives local authorities a year to carry out the audit. Once it has been completed, we will have a better idea of the number of spaces that require to be made enforceable.

Some suggestion has been made that the bill does not go far enough in that it does not tackle the abuse of the blue badge scheme by amending the blue badge regulations. The tight scope of the bill would not allow it to cover such matters, but members will be aware that the Department for Transport recently reviewed the blue badge scheme in England. That review will result in the making of changes over the next five years that will radically improve the scheme and provide a better service for severely disabled people. I can reassure members that my officials are working closely with colleagues in the DFT and that, with colleagues from the National Assembly for Wales and other key stakeholders, they will take part in a steering committee that the DFT has set up.

I know that the sponsoring of the bill has taken Ms Baillie on a long and sometimes interesting journey, on which she has travelled to places that she probably did not imagine that she would reach. I believe that she will think that it was worth the effort and that the bill will get not just the Government's backing but the full support of Parliament in this evening's vote. That vote should bring an end to the beginning of the process, but a lot of work has still to be done. I ask members to inform their constituents that changes will come, but not overnight. I commend the motion to Parliament.


12 February 2009

S3M-3427 Housing

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 12 February 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:10]

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The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3427, in the name of Mary Mulligan, on housing.


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

My participation in the debate in no way adumbrates a change in my responsibilities, but it allows me to talk about land provision and infrastructure, to which the last part of the motion refers. In the five minutes that I have, I will try to deal with as many members' points as possible with brio and dynamism.

First, I will make a general point. The first law of epigenetics is that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it is affected by a change in that environment. The point is that taking a diverse approach has an intrinsic value. That is precisely why we disagree with and do not sign up to Jamie McGrigor's comment that there is no place for council housing. Of course there is a place for council housing, as part of the diverse housing provision that is necessary to meet our needs.

It is worth noting that the nature of housing tenure is not necessarily linked to how nations work. Twenty years ago, among the countries that now form the EU 27, the country with the highest proportion of rented accommodation was Germany and the country with the highest proportion of owner-occupied property was Bulgaria. Therefore, even with political systems and political leadership, diversity is significant.

Money has—of course—been a thread that has run through much of the debate. Yes—money is difficult to obtain for the Government, for housing associations and for businesses. That is precisely why it is important that the Government has put money on the table to help with cash flow for companies that have unsold stock, for example. This year, we have put in place £35 million of accelerated funding. Of that, £10.235 million is for construction, to deliver 716 new homes, and £12.72 million is for land purchase. When the former Minister for Communities and Sport and I visited the Irish Government a couple of weeks ago, we found that land purchase has been the key to that Government's ability to engage in many housing developments and in economic development. Land banks give Governments something to bring to the table. The accelerated funding also includes £12.11 million to secure 204 unsold new properties. In total, 1,700 new homes will be supported. More fundamental is the fact that cash will flow back into the system, which will make a real difference.

Ross Finnie chided us somewhat for talking about the low number of council houses that the previous Administration built, so I will say nothing about that. However, by excluding council houses from the way forward and saying that his party will support the Tory amendment, he makes a grosser error than he thinks that we made by focusing on the low number of houses that were built. I urge him to think more carefully.

Rhoda Grant made a good point about difficulties in rural areas because of incomers outbidding locals. We recognise those difficulties, which are the reason why diversity and more affordable housing are needed.

Lead developers have been a thread in the debate. The consultation is still in progress. Rhoda Grant said that she had suggestions—let us hear them and we will of course consider them.

In a pretty standard speech, Johann Lamont agreed with many of the Government's arguments yet managed to express her points in a way that suggested otherwise. I will ignore that. However, she made one good point that is worth exploring—that about the tension between economies and diseconomies of scale. Of course room exists for big and efficient national organisations. However, we also need organisations that respond to local needs and are connected to local people. We must achieve the right balance, because that tension exists.

Johann Lamont: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I am almost out of time.

The Government is—undoubtedly—responsible and reliable. We are resilient in the face of change and responsive to change. I am happy to support everything that my colleague Nicola Sturgeon said and, of course, we will support the Labour Party at 5 o'clock.


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