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]

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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.


Stewart Stevenson
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