Legislative Programme

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:43 pm on 16th June 1999.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 3:43 pm, 16th June 1999

I have thought about a number of comments made today regarding what has to be scrutinised, and then I thought back to the consultative steering group debate that we had last week. That debate was important and useful with regard to committees-how important they are and what they need to do.

It seems that some people do not believe in the committee structure that we are going to set up, its importance and the ability of the committee structure to be different from Westminster. They do not believe in its ability to make a difference in this place. Apart from anything else, committees have the power to initiate legislation and to make a difference in the subject areas that they are responsible for.

In many of the areas in which members have said that they want to see more action, committees could play an active part by dealing with interest groups that bring forward ideas and by working these ideas up into legislation. There are two routes into that process: not just through the Executive programme but through the ability of committees to bring forward programmes of action. Members who sit on those committees should address that and face up to the challenges of the committee structure.

I will make brief points on two bills that I think are particularly important: the transport bill and the land reform bill. The transport bill needs to focus on a number of key issues, including the difference in transport issues for those of us who live in rural areas, as opposed to focusing on the congestion in Scotland's cities. We should face and focus on the question of air pollution, which causes health problems, and the related costs to society and to business, which Ms Goldie mentioned this morning in the context of the Confederation of British Industry report. We need to consider those issues in the context of the bill.

It is widely accepted that there is a need for a strategic transport rethink. Investment is needed to improve our public transport and to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail. This morning I listened to the director-general of the CBI on the radio. In a useful contribution that illustrated the organisation's thinking, he argued that in a tight public expenditure round progress can be made if, where there is road charging and where local authorities can consider charging for workplace parking, revenue from those charges is used to improve public transport and facilitate the movement of freight from rail to road. I hope that those issues will be addressed when the bill is discussed in committee.

Earlier, Mrs Ewing mentioned the importance of this Parliament being able to discuss other matters. In the part of the world that I represent and, I know, the whole of the Highlands and Islands, petrol prices were a huge issue in the election campaign. I see nothing wrong with the Transport and the Environment Committee or another appropriate committee considering all measures that impinge on car use in the Highlands and Islands. The committee should accept that the car is a lifeline, just as shipping and air services are, rather than a luxury. It should be able to consider not only the introduction of rate relief for petrol stations or infrastructure improvements such as grants for petrol tanks, but measures such as differential VAT rates. It should carry out a proper investigation of those issues to see where matters can be improved for the rural and island areas of Scotland.