I welcome the Executive's legislative programme, especially its proposals for public transport. To fight social exclusion, we must improve public transport. That is even more important in rural areas. In the Highlands and Islands, many people are excluded from society because they do not drive and there is little co-ordinated public transport.
We need an integrated public transport system. That will mean involving all providers in a partnership: local authorities, CalMac, P & 0, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, ScotRail, other organisations that provide transport services, such as Royal Mail, and private providers. Such organisations need a forum in which they can work together to co-ordinate timetabling.
I welcome the proposal for a Scottish national public transport timetable, which would allow people and organisations to plan their journeys. That would be especially useful in rural areas and would involve looking at strategic issues such as whether funding is being put to the best use and what the new priorities are.
The Highlands and Islands integrated transport forum was a good starting point. There have already been many new initiatives, such as community buses, subsidised taxis and social car schemes. The rural transport fund will allow more services to be developed in rural areas.
All this is a far cry from the days when I walked miles along a track to primary school and travelled to church by boat. We need to go further; we must examine ways of devolving funding to organisations that can make strategic plans for rural areas. Perhaps we should consider a transport authority that can administer the rural transport fund.
Whatever decisions we take must involve people who live and work in rural areas. I look forward to the local transport strategies, which will enable local authorities to set out local priorities. We must devolve power to rural communities to make the decisions that best suit their needs.
Question, That the meeting be now adjourned until 2.30 pm today, put and agreed to.- [Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
Meeting adjourned at 12:27.