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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, September 26, 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motor Neurone Disease (Blue Badge Scheme), Portfolio Question Time, Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Stage 1, Scottish National Investment Bank Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time


Motor Neurone Disease (Blue Badge Scheme)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18066, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, congratulating Doddie Weir OBE and calling for automatic access to the blue badge scheme for people with motor neurone disease. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Doddie Weir on receiving his OBE from The Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse; recognises that he received his award for services to motor neurone disease (MND) research, rugby and the Borders community; notes calls for the Scottish Government to change the criteria for the Blue Badge scheme to allow people with MND to have automatic access, rather than through the lengthy process of an assessment; further notes the view that automatic access is the most appropriate way due to the nature of the disease, which leads to a rapid deterioration in a person's physical ability; notes that Doddie and The Scotsman back the campaign to give people with MND automatic access to a Blue Badge, and believes that people with the condition, and their families, should be able to live their lives as fully as possible and in a dignified way.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

It gives me great pleasure to present the motion to Parliament today. I extend a warm welcome to the members of MND Scotland, if they have made it to the public gallery, and to my constituents Paul and Doreen Cheesmond, who are in the gallery.

Members might have noticed someone else in the gallery—he is hard to miss. Without his great courage and determination, the fight against motor neurone disease would not have gained as much vital support and awareness. Presiding Officer and fellow members, please join me in welcoming Doddie Weir OBE, and his wife Kathy. [Applause.]

Doddie Weir began charging around “like a mad giraffe” back in the late 1980s for Stewart’s Melville college then Melrose Rugby Football Club. A Borders lad born and bred, he went on to be selected for the Scotland team in 1990, with his first appearance being against Argentina. Doddie is a rugby legend, and during his successful career he racked up a whopping 61 caps. I am delighted that he has pledged his support for my campaign.

Doddie has been instrumental in raising awareness of MND, and his My Name’5 Doddie Foundation has gone from strength to strength in raising funds for grant support. The foundation arose from the lack of options for MND sufferers, there being no effective treatment and no access to meaningful clinical trials.

We are here today, debating automatic access to the blue badge scheme, because of the hard work of my constituents, the Cheesmonds. Doreen Cheesmond, who lives with MND, first highlighted the issue to me. The Cheesmonds’ letter spurred me into action.

Motor neurone disease is a rapidly progressing terminal illness, which prevents signals from the brain getting to muscles. People living with MND can deteriorate rapidly, and can lose their ability to walk easily or to raise and lower their arms. Currently, there is no cure or effective treatment for MND, and the average life expectancy after diagnosis can be, sadly, just 18 months.

Given the nature of MND and the timeframe in which the person can become immobile, it is important that life is made as easy as possible for them. My campaign seeks to change the criteria for the blue badge scheme to allow people who are living with MND to gain automatic access to the scheme. At the heart of the campaign is the fundamental aim of ensuring that people with MND keep their independence for as long as possible. When it comes to mobility, especially driving, we should consider people’s ability to live their normal everyday lives as far as possible. As background, I point out that the blue badge automatic entitlement criteria do not currently include living with MND.

It is estimated that about 230,000 people in Scotland hold a blue badge, which allows them to park on roads without being charged and, normally, without a time limit. Around 75 per cent of blue badge holders say that they would go out less often if they did not have one.

People are eligible only if they are in receipt of the higher rate of the mobility component of the disability living allowance, or if they score 8 or more on the “moving around” descriptor for the mobility component of the personal independence payment.

In 2017, Scotland’s blue badge scheme was extended to include carers and relatives of people with conditions including dementia, autism and Down’s syndrome, but not MND. Waiting times and application difficulties act as barriers to people with MND obtaining a blue badge under the current circumstances. Because a person with MND cannot automatically access a blue badge, there is often a lengthy waiting time, which is incompatible with the immobility that the disease causes. The waiting time that is associated with processing of blue badge applications varies, and currently takes, on average, 12 weeks. Feedback from MND Scotland advisers has highlighted that, in some circumstances, the process can take up to two months, which is simply too long for someone with MND to wait, given that their mobility will significantly deteriorate within that timeframe.

Moreover, for people who do not have access to a computer, the paper documents for applying for a blue badge are lengthy and time consuming. MND Scotland notified me that the process also varies from local authority to local authority. Aberdeenshire council’s application form, for example, is seven pages long, and Glasgow City Council’s is 27 pages long.

Doreen Cheesmond’s desk assessment was carried out by an occupational therapist at the what matters initiative hub. That was perhaps the most dignified way to assess her that Scottish Borders Council could offer, since Transport Scotland had dispensed with the previous general practitioner certification system. I know, however, that such is not the case for everyone in Scotland, so there should, I believe, be a simpler process.

I thank members from across the chamber—the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats—for their support for my motion. I believe that what it suggests is the right action to take in order to give people with MND their independence for longer. I also thank The Scotsman for its coverage and for backing my campaign, and I thank MND Scotland for its continued support and its assistance in preparing for the debate.

Finally, I congratulate Doddie Weir on his remarkable achievements to date. The positivity and tenacity that Doddie has displayed throughout the years, in exceptionally difficult circumstances, is a formidable example to us all.

Looking to the future, I hope that we will see action from the Scottish Government to make a simple change to the blue badge scheme criteria—a simple change that would make a huge difference to many people with MND throughout Scotland. It would remove a significant barrier and would allow them to live their lives more freely and independently. The costs would be insignificant; it is all about dignity. I ask members to stay for a photo in the garden lobby after the debate, please, if they can.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

As I always do, I say gently to the people in the public gallery that applause—although I perfectly understand why you are applauding—is not permitted in parliamentary debates. Only members may applaud.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I congratulate my friend and colleague Rachael Hamilton on securing today’s debate, and I pay tribute to her campaigning on this important issue.

I also welcome Doddie Weir and his family to the gallery, and I warmly congratulate him on having received the OBE and commend him for all his campaigning work. It is truly inspirational and will, I know, make a huge difference to people with MND.

I want to take this opportunity to remember my friend, the late Gordon Aikman, whose campaigning a few years ago achieved so much in raising public awareness across Scotland of MND. Gordon’s legacy lives on in many ways—not least in the improved provision of MND specialist nurses across the country and in the Gordon Aikman scholarship scheme.

I express my condolences to the family and friends of Fernando Ricksen, who died recently and who showed such dignity and determination in his struggle with MND. Again, a significant amount of money for research into MND has been raised by Fernando and his supporters, and by the Rangers supporters family, which offers more hope for finding a cure in the future. We all want priority to be given to achieving that.

I fully support the call for people who are diagnosed with MND—which we know can be a very rapidly progressing condition—to be given automatic access to a blue badge without having to go through a bureaucratic and potentially lengthy application process. Doddie Weir has said:

“Not everyone has six months to wait for the blue badge system to kick in ... I believe everyone who is diagnosed with motor neurone disease should automatically be entitled to a blue badge, this will enable families to live a dignified and as full a life as possible while coping with this terrible disease.”

People who have been diagnosed with MND fear the loss of their independence and their mobility, so providing them with a blue badge has the potential to help significantly by giving them easier parking and greater accessibility.

In recent months, progress has been made, for example, in support for a definition of “terminal illness” that includes people who are in the last two years of life being included in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. There was also a welcome step forward in April this year, when free personal care was extended to people under 65, which is progress for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

However, there is much more that we can do to improve people’s lives and support them, and to provide their loved ones and carers with support. I believe that the Scottish Government should be able to implement a change to make available automatically a blue badge for everyone who is diagnosed with MND, and that it should make that extension without delay.

I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate to ministers the broad and genuine cross-party support that exists for that move. It is a commonsense and practical measure that could make a real difference, so I urge the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to set out in his response to the debate how the Scottish Government can take the matter forward.

We all want to make people’s lives easier: I hope that, across the parties, we can make that happen today.


Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Rachael Hamilton for bringing the debate to the chamber and for kicking it off with such clarity of purpose and compassion.

All of us know that MND is a debilitating and devastating illness that has such a sudden impact on those who are diagnosed with it and their families. I have spoken previously in Parliament about the experience of one of my constituents, Frank Lyons, who lived in Hamilton and who very sadly passed away in July 2017, after being diagnosed with MND in 2014. Frank received excellent care at the hands of the amazing staff and volunteers at Kilbryde Hospice in East Kilbride. He did a lot of fundraising, which his family continues. They are very much in my thoughts today.

Much commendable work has been done to raise awareness of MND in recent years—not the least of which was that of the late Gordon Aikman, whose efforts have led to a widespread increase in our understanding of MND, and of what is required to help people who are diagnosed with it.

With colleagues, I am pleased to welcome Rachael Hamilton’s constituents, the Cheesmonds, to the chamber. Of course, I also take this opportunity to congratulate Doddie Weir on his OBE, and to commend him for his efforts in furthering MND research. We welcome his wife Kathy here, too. I have had the pleasure of hearing Doddie speak at an event: to say that he is a legend who is courageous, funny, brave and a role model is probably an understatement. It is a real pleasure to have Doddie and Kathy here today.

There are champions of the cause of MND in Parliament. Kezia Dugdale, who is no longer a member, was a very close personal friend of Gordon Aikman and did so much, so it is right to give her a mention today. We are often on opposite sides, but Christina McKelvie, the Minister for Older People and Equalities, has been courageous and persistent in sharing her family’s experience of losing her dad to MND. I am acutely aware that MND does not pick sides. Whether we are talking about football clubs or political affiliations, any one of us or of those whom we love could be affected by MND.

The suggestion is a simple matter, as far as the campaign is concerned. Do we even need to debate it? Anyway, here we are. The campaign to change the criteria for the blue badge scheme aims to ensure that people with MND are given automatic access to a badge, rather than having to go through a lengthy assessment process. It is hard to see how anyone could disagree with a that.

We know that people with MND do not have time on their side, and we know that applying for a blue badge is not straightforward for anyone. I have been doing some research and note that, in some local authorities, the paper application is almost 30 pages long. The time of people with MND is precious, and they cannot afford to waste it.

I am pleased to back the campaign, and I commend Rachael Hamilton for all her efforts. I also pay tribute to The Scotsman for pursuing the issue and keeping it in the public eye. I look forward to hearing from the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands as he makes his closing remarks, and I hope that we can start to work towards addressing the matter as quickly as possible. I know that Christina McKelvie probably has the ear of the minister already, so I remain optimistic for people with MND and, of course, for people with other terminal and life-shortening conditions who need access to a blue badge as a matter of urgency. Let us get on and deliver that.


Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in today’s members’ business debate. I, too, congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate.

I also welcome Doddie Weir and his wife to the gallery—I commend him for all that he has done for Scottish rugby, and I celebrate his 61 caps for his country as part of the Scottish national rugby team. I take the opportunity to express my admiration for what he has achieved through his foundation to raise awareness of motor neurone disease, to raise funding for research and to support those suffering from MND.

MND is a very cruel illness indeed, and I know that many families in Scotland, including many MSPs, have had to watch a loved one suffer so badly. Sadly, my family has not been immune from that. Of course, this week, our hearts go out to the family and friends of Fernando Ricksen, whose bravery and dignity in facing his MND diagnosis were truly inspirational. May he rest in peace.

The key issue for discussion today is whether to extend the automaticity of the blue badge scheme to those who are diagnosed with MND. In other words, are there grounds for considering that MND is unique in its nature, such that the normal assessment rules of the blue badge scheme should not apply? In that regard, I am aware that, to date and as a general rule, the eligibility criteria are focused not on whether an individual has a particular medical condition but on an assessment of the impact of that condition on a person’s mobility—that is, a universal approach is taken rather than there being a focus on specific conditions. I understand the rationale for such an approach in terms of both fairness and administrative simplification, although I think that we need to look at the length of some of the application forms. However, we must ask whether the approach is in fact equitable, given what we now know about MND.

Specifically, we know that MND is a terminal illness. We know, too, that a third of people who are diagnosed with MND die in the first year. We also hear of the lengthy periods that are involved in a blue badge assessment of individuals who do not fall within the current automaticity regime—periods of many months have been cited in relation to individual experiences with the process.

That knowledge then begs the question how the process meets the demonstrable needs of those suffering from MND, who have very little time. For such individuals, a wait of, say, three months to get a blue badge, when they may only have a year to live, deprives them of a quality of life in their last days on what could be viewed as bureaucratic grounds.

It is important to note that in social security legislation the Scottish Government has already recognised the need to remove administrative hurdles to ensure that resources can be accessed by those with a terminal illness. At the same time, the Scottish Government has sought to address how quickly and effectively those with MND receive the care and support that they need. That is all very much to be welcomed.

Given such a commendable track record, I now urge the Scottish Government to proceed to review the blue badge automaticity rules, with a view to including those who have been diagnosed with MND. That could be done in tandem with the Scottish Government’s on-going work to complete its first ever national action plan on neurological conditions, which I understand is to be published by the end of this year. The action plan will set out how people with neurological conditions and their carers will be involved in decisions about care and support. It will also set how out the provision of co-ordinated health and social care will be improved, and how a sustainable neurological workforce for the future will be developed. That excellent initiative would seem to me to afford a very timely opportunity to work across Government portfolios to ensure that the very important practical issue of equitable access to the blue badge scheme for those diagnosed with MND is now addressed.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I add my congratulations to my colleague Rachael Hamilton on bringing the debate to the chamber.

I first became aware of MND through Gordon Aikman. I did not know him, but I have been in the room when he was speaking. As I have said before, the way that the room was drawn to him indicates what a remarkable individual that gentleman was. That baton has been passed on, and it is great to welcome the indomitable, indefatigable, inimitable, inflatable Doddie Weir to the chamber. When I see him in the quiet suits that he usually wears, I often think that somewhere there are rows of deckchairs without covers. We all recognise that, in so many ways, he is larger than life. He is never backward at coming forward.

I am going to tell the story, Doddie—I am sorry. I will always remember the time when we were golfing at Crammie’s golf day at Slaley Hall—given the size of him, when Doddie plays golf it is like a giraffe going for a drink. I do not know whether he remembers this, but we had a heated intellectual conversation with some of our English counterparts in the bar at Slaley Hall at 2 o’clock in the morning. Doddie was trying to convince the ensemble that Scotland is far better at scrummaging than England. To prove that, he recruited me as a prop and—only he could get away with this—looked across at Eve Muirhead in her short skirt and high heels and said, “You’ll do as a hooker”. He was proved right, and that unlikely front row won the day.

Doddie’s personality comes to the fore when we look back to his playing days. I hold his international sports career in high regard, but that pales into insignificance when I consider the journey that he now finds himself on and the way in which he has taken that challenge head on. We have heard about the money that he has raised through his campaign, and the raising of awareness of MND across the world is quite remarkable.

That brings me to the motion and the idea of automatic access to a blue badge for all MND sufferers. I remember Gordon Aikman describing the lack of understanding of MND. When he walked down the street, stumbling sometimes and not quite able to control his movements, people just thought that he was under the influence of something. The work that Gordon Aikman did and that Doddie Weir is doing is going a huge way towards dispelling those thoughts. As has already been said very eloquently today, it seems to me that this is a shooty in, for want of a better expression. Given the repercussions for those who contract the life-shortening condition of MND—they can have as little as a year—automatic access to a blue badge is an obvious step forward.

As always, it is great to see the big man doing his thing, as he does. My admiration for everything that he has achieved goes without saying. I wish him well in his continuing journey and, with others, I will continue to support his drive to find a cure for MND.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I, too, thank Rachael Hamilton for bringing the debate to the chamber. I am delighted that the motion allows us parliamentarians to congratulate Doddie Weir on receiving his OBE from the Queen in recognition of his services to motor neurone disease research. I gather from other members’ speeches that he must have played a bit of rugby, too.

Like my colleagues, I have watched in admiration as Doddie fights his horrible disease with his legendary wit, spirit and courage. Indeed, I would salute him, but I am too scared to: I know from past experience that any sort of gesticulation has a deep impact on my wallet. Doddie and his partner in crime, Scott Hastings, are masterful at taking movements as bids, as Brian Whittle and I know to our cost. Last year, we somehow ended up buying tickets for the Scottish golf open and a Loch Lomond booze cruise, which we later discovered did not even include booze. That all happened while we were just trying to summon the waiter. People can imagine how difficult it was the next morning, when my partner said, “I can’t believe you bought that golf lot at the auction last night—thank goodness you didnae buy the booze cruise!”

Doddie, who is one of the most recognisable sportsmen of our generation—and not only because of his dress sense—revealed in June 2017 that he was suffering from motor neurone disease. From the outset, he has been driven to help fellow sufferers and to seek ways to further research into this, as yet, incurable disease. He established the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation in response to his frustration at the lack of options that are given to MND sufferers. He reached out to leading neurologists, professors and medical researchers and invited them to become part of an advisory panel, which engaged with the research community to seek advice and help us to better understand MND and the work that is needed to find a cure.

When high-profile names get the terrible news that they have been diagnosed with a condition such as MND, the publicity is, inevitably, much greater, but that brings positives as well as negatives. As we have heard, only yesterday we witnessed the outpouring of love and respect for Fernando Ricksen, after his brave six-year fight with the disease. The constant media spotlight on him and his wife and young daughter must have been very difficult at times, but Ricksen helped to raise more than £1 million to help scientists find a cure for the disease, and Doddie was among the first to pay tribute to him last week.

We are aware of the high-profile campaigners, but we know that many people are suffering in silence and isolation, and it is those people whom Doddie is fighting for, including those in my region, where the numbers are stark. It is not yet known why Dumfries and Galloway has a higher-than-average rate of diagnosis for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, myalgic encephalomyelitis and MND, but we know that those conditions have a profound impact on people’s way of life.

I pay tribute to former SNP MP Richard Arkless for all the work that he has done on the subject, particularly after the tragedy of losing his mother to MND. In 2016, Richard discovered that the equivalent of 15 people per 100,000 in Dumfries and Galloway are diagnosed with the condition, whereas the United Kingdom-wide average is 6 people in 100,000. In Stranraer, in my constituency, the statistics are sadly even bleaker. The stats suggest that a staggering equivalent of 57 people per 100,000 are diagnosed with MND. Dumfries and Galloway is a region where MND continues to have a devastating impact on many lives, and it is vital that today’s debate raises awareness.

It is admirable that Dumfries and Galloway Council does not charge for the blue badge scheme as a whole, but, like other local authorities, there is no automatic assumption that those living with MND will be granted a badge. Those living with MND should not have to face the red tape and daunting process of form filling and assessment, which is why I hope that today’s debate, and the calls that have already been made by Rachael Hamilton and Doddie, will allow a change in policy and attitude, in order to give MND sufferers as much independence as possible.

I am proud that the debate has taken place. We have heard many emotive and powerful speeches on MND. I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government, working alongside local authorities, will treat the introduction of a policy to extend automatic access as a matter of urgency. That would be a fitting legacy for all those living with MND.

I could not finish in a more fitting way than by quoting the words of the big man himself. He said:

“My attitude is that you should do what you can today and worry about tomorrow when it comes. This is the card I’ve been dealt so I’ve just got to crack on.”

Mr Weir, we salute you.


The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

I thank all the members who have contributed to today’s important debate. The range of views from across the chamber highlights the emotive nature of the subject and the significant impact that the blue badge scheme can have on those who receive the badge.

I welcome Mr and Mrs Cheesmond, who I understand from Rachael Hamilton’s speech are here today. I thank Rachael Hamilton for securing the members’ business debate.

I am delighted that Doddie and Kath are here to hear the great tributes to the great man and to hear respect being paid for the process that he has been going through. He has handled a very tough situation with great dignity, enthusiasm and wit throughout.

I could probably spend hours telling stories about our time at school—Doddie and I were in the same year at school. Indeed, I had the honour of playing in a team with him—a team less grand than Scotland—and seeing at first hand his extraordinary skills in the line-out. That probably stemmed from the fact that he was already a foot taller than our primary 6 teacher when he arrived in primary 6. That is shown in the school photographs, of which I am sure that Doddie still has copies. As I said, Doddie is a great man and a great leader in many ways. He gave an inspirational speech, which Rachael Hamilton was there to hear, at the Borders College graduation at which he was made a fellow of the college. That speech was an inspiration to everyone who heard it. It was all the more impressive because I know that he made it off the cuff—he was deciding what he was going to say as we were waiting to go into the hall. That is a tremendous tribute to him as a person.

I know that the subject that we are debating is of great personal interest to colleagues across the chamber. Of no one is that more true than Christina McKelvie; I am delighted that she has accompanied me throughout the debate.

I appreciate very much the issues that lie behind the request in the motion, and I would like to begin by explaining the current situation. I hope that we will get to a good place by the end of my speech, so I ask members to bear with me—I have to go through the motions.

The blue badge scheme originated in the 1970s. There have always been two types of eligibility criteria. The first is automatic eligibility, which is based on passporting from disability benefits. The second category of eligibility is for individuals who do not qualify on that basis, in which case an application can be made to the relevant local authority, which will decide whether the applicant meets specified eligibility criteria. Annabelle Ewing, among others, talked about that. Those criteria are set by the Scottish Government in legislation. As has correctly been said, they have never been based on the medical conditions that people have been diagnosed with. That is consistent with the practice across the UK. Instead, the eligibility criteria look at the impact of medical conditions on a person’s mobility. That means that, in Scotland, an adult is eligible for a blue badge if the local authority considers that they are unable to walk, are virtually unable to walk or have a mental condition that means that they pose a risk to themselves or others in making journeys.

I understand from health colleagues that, in Scotland, 160 people are diagnosed with MND each year and that, at any one time, there are just over 460 people living with the condition. We need to do all that we can to help people to manage this most cruel and debilitating of diseases. I understand from social security colleagues that, at present, there are 226 people in Scotland who receive disability benefits where MND is the main condition and who have the mobility rate that is required to passport them into the blue badge scheme. That represents progress. I hope that those people who are automatically entitled to it are already utilising that benefit. If they not, I hope that today’s debate, which Rachael Hamilton has brought to the chamber, will raise awareness of the existing rules that they can take advantage of.

I highlight the fact that we have a record of listening to calls for legislative change, such as when we responded to the concerns of parents and carers of disabled children by explicitly extending eligibility to those who might be at risk in traffic, such as children with autism. That was in addition to our changes to protect badge holders moving on to PIP from disability living allowance, which mean, we believe, that Scotland has the best set of transitional protections in the UK.

Before I go on to discuss the call for change that is being made, I make it clear that we think that, in general terms, the present approach is the right one for three reasons. First, not everyone who has a particular diagnosed medical condition needs parking concessions at the point of diagnosis. Secondly, having eligibility criteria that were focused not on functional mobility but on conditions would be unwieldy and could add significant complexity to the system. I note that colleagues have rightly raised the complexity of the application process. Thirdly, issuing blue badges on a needs-based system of eligibility criteria ensures fair allocation of blue badges. In Scotland, the current ratio of badge holders to parking spaces is 1:9; across Great Britain, it is 1:30. There is more access to spaces here. In managing that process, we are making sure that those who need a blue badge can use the spaces when they need to.

I want to move on to discuss how we are listening to the case for change. Although we have not been convinced that a change in legislation is the way forward, I strongly agree that there is always a need to ensure that the scheme continues to improve. Members are right that speed and quality of decision making are extremely important, given the very short period that people sometimes have between diagnosis and needing a blue badge. We must move quickly. Rachael Hamilton set out a number of those arguments, so I will not repeat them.

I reassure Doddie Weir, Mr and Mrs Cheesmond, other campaigners and colleagues across the chamber that Transport Scotland has already been taking steps on the issues in partnership with Scottish local authorities and UK transport departments. For example, earlier this year, a new blue badge digital service was introduced, which provides a better online application form for users. User satisfaction with that UK-wide service stands at 74 per cent for August.

I have mentioned that the improvement work is done in partnership with local authorities. As we know, local authorities run the blue badge scheme day to day. That is important to appreciate, because we have no powers in legislation to intervene in how local authorities administer the scheme operationally, including on specific cases. However, I will come on to talk about how we might make a change without the need for legislation.

Ultimately, these are local decisions to make. However, Transport Scotland publishes guidance to local authorities about how to administer the scheme. Its non-statutory code of practice acts as a benchmark across Scotland against which local practices can be judged. The code says that local authorities should fast-track cases in which someone is terminally ill. As we all too horribly know, that is particularly relevant in the context of today’s debate. As Rachael Hamilton has set out—Doddie has made this point, too—tragically, there is no cure for MND. I know that Doddie Weir is dedicating much of the funding that he is raising through his charity to find a cure for this horrible disease.

The code has not, however, been updated since 2014. We are conscious that society’s needs and users’ expectations have moved on significantly since then, so I confirm that we will revise and refresh the statutory code of practice in partnership with organisations such as MND Scotland. That might enable us to incorporate an accelerated model along the lines of a prescription approach, as has been called for by members across the chamber.

Without changing legislation, we can commit today to that action for progressive conditions such as MND. That means that MND care teams might be able to authorise a blue badge automatically. I hope that that is helpful. Obviously, we have much work to do in order to make that happen, but we will, of course, take into account the points raised in the debate and look into what guidance can be given on the speed and the quality of assessment decisions.

I reassure members, on behalf of Michael Matheson, who sadly cannot be here for the debate, that I have noted down their key points. Members can expect the new code to underline the importance of things such as local authorities making use of the existing information sources and exercising professional judgment to assess applications instead of unnecessarily calling people in for assessments. As I have said, there is potential for us to work together, to have a more automated process.

Crucially, in revising the code we will support a person-centred approach to the scheme. It is very important that issuing or refusing a blue badge is not seen as an end in itself. Instead, the time and trouble that someone takes to apply—at a very tough time in their life—should result in their local authority considering what extra help they could offer to the user to make more journeys, to maximise the value of the blue badge to them and to make sure that they have the best quality of life that they can manage. That kinder approach to delivering the service will place the disabled person at the centre and is consistent with how we in Scotland want our public services to be delivered.

Looking at the scheme in that way shows the improvements that we can make and reflects the spirit of the motion. We are in agreement about the objective, and I hope that the method that we use can deliver that.

I am grateful to members for participating in this important debate. I am also very grateful to Doddie, Kath and, indeed, to Mr and Mrs Cheesmond for coming here today. I again thank Rachael Hamilton for raising the subject. As I have said, I hope that we can make sure that we do Doddie and Mr and Mrs Cheesmond proud.

13:28 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—