Meeting date: Thursday, October 10, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 10 October 2019
Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 2), Point of Order, Transport (Scotland) Bill, Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Business Motion, Decision Time
- Business Motion
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Portfolio Question Time
- Business Motion
- Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 2)
- Point of Order
- Transport (Scotland) Bill
- Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
Transport (Scotland) Bill
As members will be aware, at this point in proceedings, I am required under standing orders to decide whether any provision in the bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it would modify the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In my opinion, no provision in the Transport (Scotland) Bill would do any such thing. Therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.
We come now to the stage 3 debate on motion S5M-19335, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Transport (Scotland) Bill. I say to members that there is not an inch of time in hand.15:08
The Transport (Scotland) Bill is an ambitious and broad piece of legislation to develop cleaner, smarter and more accessible transport networks and systems. Its provisions include measures to improve bus patronage and air quality in our towns and cities, to increase the safety and efficiency of road works and to address antisocial parking. They also make some necessary technical improvements in quite specific areas. For example, they ensure that there will be more appropriate financial flexibility and governance arrangements for some public bodies. In addition, the Government’s transport strategy amendments that were agreed to yesterday help to frame the bill around a wider set of outcomes. That builds on the measures in the bill to help Scotland to reduce emissions and to play its part in addressing the global climate emergency.
The bill received a lot of attention at stage 2. More than 400 amendments were considered by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. Given that the bill’s contents are not only wide ranging and aspirational, but quite technical and complex in some areas, overseeing such scrutiny is no mean feat. I thank the committee and its clerks for their work and the long hours on stage 2 before the summer recess. I thank the stakeholders and individuals who submitted evidence at stage 1 and who were engaged in the pre-consultation process that shaped the bill. I also thank my bill team for their outstanding work over a number of months to ensure that the bill was prepared properly for presentation to the Government and for consideration at committee and in the chamber.
The Government’s vision is for Scotland to have the cleanest air in Europe. The low-emission zone provisions in the bill are a key pillar of our commitment to improving air quality as quickly as possible. LEZs have the potential to interact with a host of other transport issues, such as congestion, active travel and encouraging the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. We are working closely with local authorities to put in place low-emission zones in Scotland’s four largest cities by 2020.
A range of views have been expressed on LEZs in Parliament. Many of those are to do with matters that will be addressed in regulations at a later date rather than in the bill. I am confident that, should Parliament see fit to pass the bill this evening, the constructive dialogue that we have had through stages 1, 2 and 3 will continue, as I am keen for that to help to shape the regulations.
The draft national transport strategy clearly states that buses are a key part of the sustainable public transport system in helping to address the climate emergency. The bill offers an ambitious new model for improving bus services and will ensure that there will be sustainable bus networks across Scotland.
Parliament has now agreed measures that will enable local transport authorities to operate their own public passenger transport services, should they choose to do so. We will work with local transport authorities, the Competition and Markets Authority and others to develop clear guidance on the matter. Moreover, the bill will improve the information on the bus services that are available to passengers, helping them to plan their journeys; it will also accelerate the implementation of smart ticketing across Scotland.
The prohibitions on pavement parking and double parking will help to ensure that our pavements and roads are accessible for all, particularly those with mobility considerations. I particularly welcome the cross-party approach that we have had on parking reforms, and I believe that we have struck the right balance in the bill to tackle that issue.
The Green Party’s amendments on workplace parking levies have generated considerable debate. The measures give a discretionary power to local authorities—I emphasise that it is a power, not a duty. Such schemes can help to reduce congestion and tackle emissions by influencing travel behaviour, and they have the potential to be a valuable tool in delivering local measures to address the global climate emergency and tackle climate change.
The bill’s provisions on road works will enhance our current framework and improve quality, safety and performance. The bill also gives flexibility to regional transport partnerships and the Scottish Canals Board.
For all those reasons, I urge members across the chamber to support the bill this evening.
That the Parliament agrees that the Transport (Scotland) Bill be passed.15:13
I thank members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the committee’s clerks; I also thank the parliamentary clerks who helped to draft amendments, which was quite an onerous process. I thank my staff members, who have had many late nights drafting amendments at stages 2 and 3. I also thank the cabinet secretary and his team for their fairly constructive approach throughout the process.
A large number of external organisations have taken great interest in the bill, for the obvious reason that the bill’s contents are of great interest to people outside this building. I have met many external organisations and councillors, and even members of the public have contacted us in great numbers with their own views and concerns about the bill.
Overall, I think that the bill process has been positive; equally, I am disappointed in the final direction that the bill has taken. There is a lot to be positive about in the bill. The Scottish Conservatives support a lot of the measures in it, and I will address some of those.
First, I have perhaps shifted from where I stood on low-emission zones when I joined the Parliament, because I now see the good in them. I have gone through a journey in understanding what they will do to improve air quality in our cities. We tried to amend the bill as best we could to get it into better shape, but I wish the cities that choose to set up low-emission zones the very best. I hope that, in the future, there will be no need for LEZs because they will have fulfilled their objectives. I hope that we all share that aspiration.
Through the bill, we have worked to improve parking in our towns and cities. Pavement parking is a scourge in our towns and needs to stop, and I hope that the bill will address that. However, I voiced concerns about the approach that is taken in the bill. The plans to ban pavement parking completely that were presented to us seemed impractical and unworkable, and, following stage 3, I am not convinced that people outside this building will fully understand the consequences of the ban. Further, I am not entirely convinced that local authorities are aware of the exemption process and how it will work, nor am I confident about the enforcement that will take place. Where on earth are all the cars going to go once they are moved off the pavements? I do not have an answer to that question—I am not sure that any of us do. That is a problem that the bill presents.
Bus franchising is another major aspect of the bill. I support local authorities having the ability to run bus services if they choose to do so. Again, Conservative members have had what might seem to be a surprising shift in opinion from the views that we have expressed historically. We supported Labour on the issue at stage 2 because that seemed the right decision to take. However, as I said yesterday, we also created a bit of a mess in the bill at that stage. I hope that the end product is provisions that allow those who currently operate in the commercial environment to be able to do so fairly and transparently, but which give local authorities the extra power that we all, I think, want them to have.
Alas—this is my final point, given the short time, unfortunately, that I have to speak—I come to the workplace parking levy, on which there has been a lot of debate. The Conservatives lodged a series of very sensible and reasonable amendments to exempt a series of workers from the tax, but every single one of them was voted down by the Government. The Parliament did not endorse the policy at stage 1, and I would not have signed up to it if it had been in the stage 1 report. I accept that the issue was always going to be controversial, but I do not think that taking the approach that has been taken is how good law is made. It has undermined the parliamentary and committee processes and, structurally, it is not how bills should be presented.
It is with huge regret that I say that, because of the inclusion of the car park tax, Conservative members will vote against the Transport (Scotland) Bill at decision time. Given everything that I have heard from members of the public in the past 24 hours, those who support the car park tax today will rue the day that they did.15:17
I, too, place on record my thanks to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, its clerks and assistants, the many stakeholders who gave their views on the bill, the Parliament’s legislation team for its outstanding work, and the cabinet secretary’s staff, who discussed a number of issues with me and my team.
The bill was an opportunity to transform our transport system and to lay the groundwork for the greener, fairer and more accessible transport system that we need. However, in many ways, the bill has been a missed opportunity. The proposals on low-emission zones introduce a much-needed framework that will contribute to meeting our climate change aims, and they are very welcome. However, given that the bill will shape LEZs for the foreseeable future, it needs to be fit for purpose, and the final proposals, in my view, are not.
The bill provided the Scottish Government with a chance to move forward with its commitment in the programme for government to
“make the transformative shift to zero or ultra-low emission city centres by 2030”.
However, the Scottish National Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted down an amendment in my name that would have allowed for the creation of ultra-low-emission zones. It is therefore hard to see the pledge in the programme for government as anything other than empty words. The grace period that the bill sets out fails to recognise the urgency of our climate crisis and means that LEZs might not be fully up and running for six years after they are introduced. It might be a climate emergency when it comes to the Government’s rhetoric, but it is certainly not an emergency when it comes to its actions.
The bill is a missed opportunity to deliver a more equal Scotland. I attempted to amend the bill to require bus service improvement plans and franchises to meet the needs of people who are living in poverty and those with protected characteristics. I also sought to ensure that companies that receive taxpayers’ money to provide services make those services open to all, by providing information in accessible formats on request, such as bus timetables in Braille for the blind. I also tried to ensure that drivers would be required to undergo regular disability awareness training. All those measures are entirely within the powers of the Parliament but, shamefully, they were voted down by the SNP and the Tories, which was a real betrayal of disabled people.
The ban on pavement parking is welcome, but it could have been stronger. Parking on pavements is not just a nuisance; it is a hazard. My proposal to move the exemption regarding deliveries from primary to secondary legislation would have closed a potential loophole in the ban by making it easier to adjust if required.
The failure of the SNP and the Tories to support my amendment to close a loophole that still allows parking in cycle lanes has rightly been described by Cycling UK in Scotland as “a squandered opportunity”. No wonder the Government’s record on promoting cycling in Scotland remains so woeful.
The one area in which we have seen progress since stage 1 is bus ownership. The bill originally tinkered around the edges of our failed deregulated system. My amendment to the bill at stage 2 brought an end to the ban on councils setting up local bus companies, giving councils the power to help end the dismantling of lifeline bus routes and put a stop to rip-off fares. I welcome the Government’s support for that move through its amendment at stage 3. I also pay tribute to everyone who has so successfully campaigned for the measure: our trade unions, such as Unite; the Scottish Co-op Party; Get Glasgow Moving; Friends of the Earth; and colleagues such as lain Gray, who previously proposed a member’s bill with the aim of lifting the ban.
However, if we want such a power to become a reality, and if we are serious about improving our environment, we must provide support for our councils to establish municipal bus services and invest in public transport—and not keep cutting the council budgets that are needed to make such investment.
What will not protect our environment is the ill-thought-out, short-sighted workplace parking levy. The fact that the SNP and the Greens voted against exempting electric vehicles and exempting people who live in poverty from that attack on workers shows that it has nothing to do with emission lowering and everything to do with revenue raising. However, that sticking plaster will not cover the gaping wound in local council budgets. It is no wonder that every trade union is opposed to the workplace parking levy. Labour makes no apology for being on the side of workers and making it clear that it cannot and will not support it.15:21
The bill is a very positive piece of legislation. As other members have done, I thank the committee’s staff, the civil servants, those who have provided briefings and all those who have contributed to our work on it—not least the long-suffering Archie Stoddart, one of the Scottish Government’s transport officials, who I hope will now get his life back.
At the outset of the debate, the cabinet secretary said that the bill is all about strategy and framing. That is how it should be seen: we are responding to climate breakdown and a global emergency over the state of our climate, and the bill is but one small part of that response.
The creation of the low-emission zone is a positive step. It is not just a paper exercise but will address the plight of the several thousand folk each year in Scotland who die because of poor air quality. As I keep saying in the chamber, that is not a matter that is restricted to our major cities. The town that I live in has a zone with poor air quality. The approach should be quite the reverse of encouraging people to come into town centres: we should be encouraging them to keep their vehicles out of them.
Such an approach is partly about providing good public transport. I know that a lot of people campaigned in different ways, and my colleague Colin Smyth has just mentioned some of them. I thank everyone who contributed to the Scottish Greens’ better bus campaign. Especially during our consideration of the amendments to the bill at stage 3, there was a lot of discussion about how the mechanics of the bill played together, and criticisms have been levied. In relation to buses, there was a situation to which the Government responded. I appreciate that it felt that it had to carry out checks, but we are not in a position in which all the parties in the chamber support our local authorities having the opportunity to run buses. The previous situation, in which there was no commercial profit to be made, was never going to be an attractive option, so that is a positive step.
My colleague Jamie Greene was very frank and honest in saying that he had gone on a personal journey in relation to the progress of the bill. I understand that: I am a car owner, too. The idea that some of these policies attack car owners is incorrect. We cannot have a situation in which everyone is content to say that although there is an emergency the status quo should prevail. I suspect that many members will now go on similar journeys.
Of course, the Scottish Greens would like to see a lot more folk going on free journeys through the extension of concessionary travel to people aged under 26. I have often mentioned Lothian Buses moving into East Lothian and arresting the decline in passenger numbers there by targeting young people.
We need to get people into the habit of using public transport. We also need to encourage people to get involved in active travel. I am therefore pleased at the support from members on all sides of the chamber for road orders, which Age Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities both want. I appreciate that—as we know—the cabinet secretary will undertake a review in that area.
In the short time that I have left, I will keep my comments positive. I could have said many negative things about the conduct of the debate, but it is important that all of us in the chamber, regardless of the position that we take on certain matters, understand and respect that other members have strongly held views.
I urge members to have a look at the work of the UK Parliament Transport Committee—I read a news report just before I came to the chamber. It said:
“Ministers consider pay-as-you-go road pricing to fill car tax black hole.”
The committee is also looking at charging for emission zones and introducing something called the workplace levy. Let us see what happens with those options. There is nothing new in what we have done in the bill, and it is fairly modest, but I think that it is a good piece of legislation. I will leave it there.15:25
When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee produced its stage 1 report on the bill, we were heartened by the cabinet secretary’s response. We felt that there had been major improvements to the bill, such as the changes that were made to ensure that our local authorities would be able to establish their own bus companies in such a way that they would not be subject to running buses only on unprofitable routes. What company has ever been set up on that basis? Michael Matheson responded in the right way and amended the bill.
I worked with the cabinet secretary to see whether we could reach a reasonable compromise on pavement parking. We did, and the Government supported my amendments to ensure that a minimum width of 1.5m would be left clear. That is a real improvement—I say, as I said yesterday, well done to the cabinet secretary for listening, taking note of and supporting the correct action to improve the bill. That is how legislating in the Parliament is supposed to work.
Improving the Transport (Scotland) Bill was going very well until 20 completely new sections, on the workplace parking levy, were just dumped on us at stage 2. To use a familiar analogy, the bill process seems to have been a game of two halves. We all have our differences on the need for the new levy. The two nationalist parties want it, and the non-nationalist parties do not want it. [Interruption.] I have no time for an intervention—we are short of time.
It is absolutely right and proper to lodge amendments to take that new measure out of the bill completely, and equally it is right and proper for the two nationalist parties to vote against those amendments. The attempt to remove the measure from the bill failed. Once that had happened, we moved on to other amendments on the subject, with the aim—in the opinion of Liberal Democrat members—of making a bad measure better. However, every single amendment—every single one—to the 20 new sections of the bill was voted down. All Opposition amendments were voted down by the two nationalist parties. Here is my point. No amendments were even lodged by back-bench nationalist MSPs to improve those 20 sections of the bill—those MSPs would not even seek to amend the bill themselves.
It is apparent to me that there have been two approaches to the bill. First, the Scottish Government recognised that it was not the fount of all knowledge and was amenable to amending the bill. However, when we came to the 20 new sections, on the workplace parking levy, suddenly the bill could not be improved. That is amazing—the Government is obviously infallible.
It is a disappointment to me to see such naked tribalism in action. I well remember the first three sessions of Parliament, from 1999 to 2011, when although parties had major differences, they could at least work together to produce good law. I was not here in the previous session; I am glad that, if I had to miss one session, it was to be that one. Why? It is because I was told, and I could see from afar, that pushing through legislation without full scrutiny and amendments produced bad law. Here we are again, it seems. This time, it is the two nationalist parties pushing through the workplace parking levy without amendments that are making bad law.
There are good measures in the bill, such as enabling our local authorities to set up unfettered bus companies to run profitable routes as well as unprofitable ones; a much-needed ban on pavement parking; and the creation of low-emission zones. Those are all very good things, but the Liberal Democrats cannot support the creation of a bad law, and we will vote against the bill at decision time.
The Labour Party’s saying that it is against the workplace parking levy and then voting for it at decision time says everything about the Labour Party. Far be it from me to intrude on personal grief in the Labour Party, but the correct course of action would be MSPs voting against the bill at decision time and asking the Scottish Government to bring back a new transport bill with the good measures that we could all have supported.15:30
I hope that I can bring some joy to this debate on the Transport (Scotland) Bill.
I thank the members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and its convener for allowing me to attend that committee, and I thank its clerks for all the work that they have done in a mammoth task that has covered many issues.
I will concentrate on pavement parking, double parking and dropped footways. I mentioned the committee’s mammoth task. That was nothing compared with the years that it has taken to get responsible parking legislation through the Parliament. Believe it or not, I brought forward my bill in 2012. I sincerely thank Ross Finnie, who was a Lib Dem MSP, and Joe FitzPatrick MSP for introducing bills and for all the work that they did. It was an honour for me to take matters forward in my bill in 2012.
I also thank the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Living Streets and all the other individuals and groups that have helped to bring the legislation to fruition.
I will be appalled if the Conservatives and Lib Dems vote against the bill. We are talking about years to get something that will give people justice in relation to responsible parking, and they will vote against that just because of certain aspects of the bill. It really pains me to say that.
Will the member give way?
I have only four minutes. I am sorry.
We heard real horror stories during the consultation, when we went out to meet people and when we met people in the Parliament. Every MSP from all the parties—not just me—heard the story of the blind gentleman who was walking along a pavement. His stick snapped against a lorry that was parked on the pavement, and he was absolutely stranded on the pavement for hours, until somebody came along and asked whether they could help him off it.
We heard horror stories involving people with their kids in buggies and prams who had to go off pavements to walk along streets.
I thank the Government, including the cabinet secretary’s predecessor, for looking at my bill and taking it on board, because the issue matters to every single person. It matters more to vulnerable, disabled and older people and people with young families. The bill gives them the independence to be able to move about that every single one of us has. It makes them the same as us and ensures that those people can get out and about.
We heard horror stories of people not being able to get out of the house because they were frightened. People with wheelchairs would get out of the house and come to a dropped kerb with a car parked in front of it. They could not even get to the shops.
Members should look at the bill in its entirety, please. They might not like some of it—indeed, I do not particularly like some of it—but it is important for ordinary people out there to get justice for a change.
We have talked about car owners. I do not want punitive measures; I want education for car owners, because I am sure that they do not want to punish vulnerable people and people who cannot get on to or off pavements. We see people outside with guide dogs with obstacles in their way. Pavements should be for people.
We have worked for years to get the legislation through the Parliament. Please vote for it and ensure that people out there who are suffering and have horrific stories to tell us can get about and say, “I can go out today, and I know that I won’t be stuck on a pavement and that I won’t have to go on the road.”
I cannot wait to see the bill enacted.15:34
I have watched and worked on the Transport (Scotland) Bill from the moment it was introduced in Parliament. As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I worked to rectify its limitations with the rest of the committee. I thank all the members of that committee and the clerks for their diligence.
Many of the provisions regarding LEZs, bus franchising and pavement parking have been improved, so that they will work for Scotland and improve our streets, roads and environment. My Conservative colleagues and I support them.
There were high expectations for the bill. However, suddenly, at stage 2, came the Greens’ workplace parking levy—a proposal that was the result of backroom dealing with the Government. It was a deal that was done in order to get the Government’s budget through, at the expense of people who work to support their families and Scotland.
I live in a rural area; I know that transport is critical. People want properly maintained roads, more reliable buses, trains that run on time and do not skip their stations, new and reliable ferries that are built on time and on budget, and airports that do not close before the last flight has landed. This Government, which has been in power for 12 years, has not delivered those things. However, it has delivered a charge that, due to the lack of central Government funding, many councils will be forced to use.
The car parking tax is a tax on workers: it is a regressive tax that will hurt low-paid people. It will hit shift workers, the police, fire and rescue staff, charities, health and care workers, residential home workers and vets, to name but a few. It will not hit high-paid workers, but everyday normal Scots who go to work to support their families. The Government cannot hide behind the fact that whether to impose a levy is a decision for local authorities. If we do not fund authorities, they will have no option but to use it.
Many SNP members feel as uncomfortable about the tax as I do. Initially, they were prepared to speak out, but where are they now? They are invisible and are not on the side of the people who will face paying that tax.
The hypocrisy is that the tax is being sold as an environmental tax, when it is not. Will those who can afford to pay the tax and who ride around in company cars that are driven by others change their behaviour? I think not.
The people of Scotland wanted better roads and better transport networks, but the Transport (Scotland) Bill, which promised so much, instead punishes them with an unfair tax.
The Scottish Conservatives would have supported the bill. I wanted to support it, until it was hijacked by people who want to punish workers. The public transport system that those workers rely on is not working
We lodged amendments that would have reduced the harm that would be caused by the workplace parking levy, but the heartless Government voted against every one of them. The SNP Government is intent on introducing an unfair and regressive tax, and it does not care about the damage that it will do.
I will not support policies that penalise hard-working Scots. For that reason, sadly, I will be forced to vote against the Transport (Scotland) Bill.15:37
At committee stage and in the Parliament, the bill’s passage has been a marathon. I wonder what we have ended up with.
I thank the committee’s convener and the committee for their incredibly hard work. I also thank Colin Smyth and Jamie Greene for championing the cause against the workplace parking levy.
There are things in the bill that I agree with—for example, municipal bus ownership and the importance of improving air quality. I would have liked my amendments at stage 2 to have been accepted. They included amendments on the extension of half fares on buses and trains to 16 and 17-year-olds, but that was not to be.
My most serious concern about the bill is the lack of scrutiny of some provisions. That has exercised me, and we will be the poorer for it. It was a mistake in respect of the reputation of Parliament. It might also have consequences for some of the provisions. Two members’ bills have been made into one piece of legislation—for one of which no stage 1 evidence was taken, and with only a few weeks to hear evidence at stage 2.
There is a completely new section on the workplace parking levy. That is an unfortunate precedent; I appeal to ministers not to allow it to happen again. There will also be consequences of both the issues that I raised earlier in relation to keeper liability. I will not cover all the points that I made previously on exemptions to the workplace parking levy, which is a tax that is designed to get people out of their cars. The inconsistency in exempting national health service workers but not police officers is extraordinary. The inconsistency in having a national anti-poverty strategy but not exempting the people whom we are trying to help is beyond me.
I do not think that due regard has been given to shift workers or women workers. The evidence shows that women will probably fare worse from a workplace parking levy being introduced. Helen Martin from the Scottish Trades Union Congress said in evidence:
“As a working mother ... I was always chasing my tail; I was always working through my lunch ... The idea of suddenly adding in a train journey or getting a train ... and then a bus would have been untenable for me.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 29 May 2019; c 13.]
I would like to hear some clarification from the minister at the end of the debate. I have asked him about this before. Will money that is raised by local authorities be ring fenced for public transport projects? I think that the minister said that it would be ring fenced for public transport strategies. As I have said previously, I would have had at least some respect for the policy if the money that is raised was to be ring fenced.
In the case of Glasgow, it will be decades before we have a transport system that is really fit for application of a workplace levy. In previous forums I used the example of a constituent of mine who cannot get a bus from the Queen Elizabeth university hospital at 6 o’clock at night, after visiting her daughter, to go home to the south side of Glasgow. That is the state of the public transport system in Glasgow—it is not ready, and there are not choices for people.
Even Sustrans Scotland came to the committee and said that there should be exemptions for low-paid workers from the levy. But not this Scottish Government—it does not think that there should be exemptions for low-paid workers. The levy is a tax on workers.
I do not think that local authorities are likely to make any further exemptions, because they have been advised to make the scheme a simplified scheme.
The Parliament will regret putting the keeper liability provision in the bill. There will be casualties from that, because we did not scrutinise that provision properly, I am sad to say.
I call Colin Smyth to wind up for Labour. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon. I have forgotten somebody. No, I am right and the clerk is wrong. I ask you. We can’t get the staff. Colin Smyth will wind up for Labour, please.15:41
The debate has done little to allay Labour’s concerns that the Transport (Scotland) Bill is, in many ways, a missed opportunity.
We support the introduction of low-emission zones, but an opportunity was missed to strengthen them. We support the ban on pavement parking but, again, an opportunity was lost to close potential loopholes.
Labour has worked hard to improve the bill. I place on record my thanks to my researcher Meg for her amazing work in developing our positive and constructive alternatives. It is her birthday today—what a way this is to spend it.
Labour made sensible and constructive proposals—for example, to make public transport more accessible to disabled people and to properly enforce a ban on parking in mandatory cycle lanes. On the day when the SNP voted for a car parking tax, it voted against making cycling to work safer. Go work that one out.
As I said in my opening speech, Labour welcomes the decision by the SNP to drop its opposition to Labour’s call to lift the ban on councils running bus services, thereby empowering our local authorities to play their part in stemming plummeting passenger numbers and rocketing fares. The potential to expand municipal ownership is one of the most important changes that the bill will now make, thanks to pressure from Labour. It is a chance to move away from the fragmented privatised bus system and for councils to take services back into public hands, so that they are run for passengers, not profit.
We now need the political will to put into practice those powers and others that are being introduced through the bill, such as for bus service improvement plans and franchises.
We in Labour will play our part through local councils right across Scotland, and I hope that others—including the SNP Government—will do the same, by properly resourcing our councils to deliver bus services for our communities, instead of voting through budget after budget that cuts those resources.
If we really want people to use cars less, we need transformational change in public transport. That is how less car use will be achieved. It will not be achieved by a regressive car park tax, which was an afterthought in the bill—a proposal that the Government tried to sneak through as a late amendment, thereby igniting a backlash that I believe will undermine public support for proper environmental action for decades to come.
No wonder people are angry. What signal did it send when, fresh from voting for a car park tax on workers, SNP ministers went home from Holyrood last night in their fleet of chauffeur-driven cars parked outside the Parliament that were paid for by the same workers? Between them, the MSPs who voted against Labour’s amendments to scrap the tax last night have claimed £304,342 from the taxpayer in car hire, mileage, taxis and car parking. Yes. Car parking.
Even though they were determined to drive through the tax, those MSPs could have tried to make it fairer. They could have supported Labour’s amendments to exempt electric cars and low-paid workers. Instead, as things stand, a company boss could be asked to pay the same as a company cleaner. A chief executive of a health board, who is on more than £100,000 a year, will be exempt, but a carer who works for a charity on the minimum wage will have to stump up. That is simply not fair.
Many of my constituents travel to cities for work from rural areas that have poor transport links. Under the car park tax, they will pay hundreds of pounds to a neighbouring council—Glasgow City Council or the City of Edinburgh Council—but not a penny will be spent on improving public transport in the council area where they live, and where they do not have transport, because of a lack of strategic thought by the Government.
That is why Labour lodged amendments to the bill to scrap the car park tax. And it is why, when the bill passes—as it will, with the votes of the SNP and Greens—we will make it clear that, in our manifesto for the next Scottish Parliament election, there will be a clear commitment: Labour will scrap the car park tax.17:45
I close for the Scottish Conservatives on the Transport (Scotland) Bill with a sense of disappointment, as we will not be able to vote for it. Fundamentally, it is a good bill, improved by the extensive amendment that has taken place. We believe that low-emission zone schemes are a good thing, and that they could prove fundamental in tackling climate change. We are supportive of local franchising, but believe that it should be done in a considered manner, with local authorities being clear with their electorates about what the long-term impact on local public transport links and council budgets will be. We support smart ticketing, but feel that ministers could have taken a more ambitious approach. And I am pleased to see Parliament taking action on tackling obstructive parking, which is detrimental to local residents and particularly affects people with disabilities or visual impairments. Those are positive provisions that could have a significant impact on our transport framework.
However, we cannot vote for a bill in which a car park tax has appeared. I choose my words, because of course the provision was not there originally. Questions have to be asked about a process that sees Parliament agree to the principles of a bill that then has an entire tax regime inserted into it.
Incidentally—to pick up on Jamie Greene’s point of order from earlier, which was spot on—I have four minutes to speak on primary legislation to which hundreds of amendments were lodged, into which a whole new tax was inserted without evidence to support it, and on which the final debate has been significantly curtailed. If there is no time for interventions and challenges, can we really say that we are debating?
The car park tax is a measure that has simply not been thought through, with no economic analysis or consultation with businesses or stakeholders before it was proposed. Yesterday, Murdo Fraser flagged that although the amendment that introduced it looks like a Green amendment, it appears that the idea was first put on the table by the finance secretary. That makes sense, because it appears from Mike Rumble’s comments that if evidence been taken at stage 1, we would have learned that the tax does not lead to the behaviour change that is, apparently, the underlying principle. In fact, the evidence suggests that it might lead to increased congestion. The clear implication is that it is revenue generation dressed up as green virtue signalling.
As Edward Mountain said, that is, of course, the answer to why the Government is so keen to get the provision through, and to say that it is a local authority power. It allows the SNP to make ever more swingeing cuts to local authority funding and to say, “Well, we gave you the power to raise taxes on your people, so you can’t complain.” Although, as Alexander Burnett pointed out yesterday, it is not necessarily “your people”, because, for example, many people in Aberdeenshire drive to work in Aberdeen, where any parking levy would be collected and spent.
As Pauline McNeill said in her powerful contribution, the people who will be affected are those who, perhaps because of shift patterns or the nature of their work, may not have a safe, reliable and affordable public transport alternative. They have no option but to use their cars, and yet, for the privilege, they will get hit with a tax of £500 per year.
Mike Rumbles was right to say that it is the SNP’s right to team up and vote it through. However, that is why we lodged amendments to exempt various groups. I find it utterly shameful that not one—not one—SNP member agreed that we should exempt the police from a tax on doing their job, and that not one felt that teachers or, for that matter, school caterers or teaching assistants should not have to pay, even where they drive in from outside of a city because the public transport is insufficient. Yesterday, Gillian Martin intervened on me. I know that she knows, and cares deeply, about the lack of teachers in the north-east, yet she voted not to exempt them. Not one SNP member felt that we should exempt the military or Royal National Lifeboat Institution volunteers. That is staggering, because, surely, they cannot believe that an RNLI volunteer should pay £500 per year to save lives at sea.
This is a good bill, but in one of its most fundamental, far-reaching and prejudicial provisions, it falls woefully short. For that reason, we cannot support it at decision time.15:49
I have listened with interest to the contributions to this debate on what is a significant piece of legislation. The bill will give provision to a range of important policy areas—for example, low-emission zones, which will help to drive up air quality improvement, particularly in our cities. John Finnie highlighted the health challenges associated with poor air quality that we must tackle. We want Scotland to have the best air quality of any European country, and low-emission zones have an important part to play in achieving that. I am delighted by the way in which Glasgow City Council has shown leadership by creating the first low-emission zone, which has been in operation since the turn of the year and is demonstrating already the benefits that can come from the LEZ approach. The bill’s new provisions with give further support to that approach.
The bill also has provisions for improving bus services and driving up bus patronage through the bus service improvement partnerships and franchising. There is cross-party support for empowering local transport authorities to be able to look at how services should be delivered in their communities and giving them the discretionary powers to provide passenger services themselves. The bill also has provisions to improve smart ticketing and ensure that we have a transport system that can adapt and manage new technology in a way that helps to improve connectivity and journeys.
Of course, the bill’s provisions around parking will provide significant improvements. The issues addressed by the bill on which I have had most contact from constituents are those of pavement parking and double parking, which have been a problem for people for decades. I acknowledge the tremendous, concerted work that many MSPs have done on those issues but acknowledge in particular the work that Sandra White has done over the years in pushing for solutions to the problem. In addition, the amendments that Mike Rumbles introduced at stage 2 improved the bill’s provisions on parking. The bill has been strengthened by the parliamentary process and members’ willingness to work on improving the its provisions and ensuring that it is aligned with the key principles set out in the draft national transport strategy, which will take forward our transport priorities for the next 20 years.
There is also provision in the bill for traffic regulation matters. The cycling sector and local authorities raised issues regarding difficulties with the existing system, which is unduly bureaucratic and compromises progress. I will use the proposed review to consider how to improve that situation.
The bill also provides a modest discretionary power for local authorities to look at the provision of workplace parking. Many members sought to introduce exemptions to the workplace parking provisions, but the reality is that they were not concerned about the substance of the exemptions but simply trying to make the proposed system unworkable in order to frustrate it. The key element is that the bill will allow local authorities to apply every discretion to workplace parking provisions that the Tories, the Labour Party or anyone else might want. In fact, it is a bit rich for the Tories to portray themselves as standing up for the workers. There is one thing that the Tories do not do and that is stand up for the workers.
Voting against the bill means that members will be voting against all the improvements that will come from it. It is a good bill and it deserves the support of Parliament tonight.