Partnership Agreement

Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 17th June 1999.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 17th June 1999

Will the First Minister answer this in a phrase or two?

To ask the Scottish Executive to explain how the partnership agreement lives up to the desire for radical change in Scottish society which is symbolised by the advent of Scotland's first Parliament for 300 years. (S1O-54)

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I like the phrase or two.

As a partnership, we are committed to introducing a programme of initiatives that is in the interests of Scotland. That will be done in a number of ways: in the legislative programme that we announced yesterday, in the spending priorities that we will advance and reflect, and in administrative action. We are committed to changing and improving the standard of life in Scotland across a whole range of issues, including education, health, housing, jobs and the environment.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Can the First Minister tell us what the environmental reasons are for imposing a toll tax on the M8?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I would not describe it as a toll tax. It is very important that we try to reduce the gridlock and congestion on motorways and in urban centres. In debate earlier today, there were some impassioned speeches from Alex Salmond's benches on the need to do something about urban congestion. Although people make those statements, when imaginative and difficult ideas are brought forward-difficult because we know that they will be controversial but believe that they must be examined-there is a barrage of criticism and complaint. There is a good deal of courage in the legislative programme that we announced, and the measures are an example of that.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

There has been a barrage of criticism and complaint from Graeme Maurice, the Labour leader of West Lothian Council. Does he not have a point when he argues that a toll tax on the M8 will divert traffic to less suitable roads, making things worse for the environment and raising safety concerns?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

It is perfectly legitimate for the Scottish National party-or any outside party-to draw attention to diversion. It is one of the factors that must be examined carefully. There are other possibilities for congestion charging which may have a part to play. It is important that, if there is to be a move in the direction of charging, it must be clear that any money raised will be used to improve transport services and infrastructure. When people sit down and think about that, it might be more popular than Mr Salmond would like.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The First Minister says, "if" there is a move in that direction-does that indicate some doubt? Let me try a simple question. When the ministerial car takes the First Minister back to Glasgow, who will pay the toll tax? Will he pay, or will the taxpayer, and how much will it be?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I imagine-and I suppose that this is a dolefully inadequate answer to that penetrating general matter of principle-that the Scottish Office will probably follow exactly the same procedure that it follows when we cross the Forth road bridge.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

Will the First Minister indicate what the Executive will do to help young people? The word youth, or young people, does not figure in the lists of ministerial duties. Who will be in charge, and what can he offer young people in this dynamic new Scotland?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I know that Donald Gorrie takes a great interest in those things, and I suspect that he rather fancies himself as a representative of youth. It shows a confidence in that matter that I find implausible. I have never taken the view that young people had totally different interests from those of the rest of the population. Young people are interested in educational opportunity and-essentially-in job opportunity. Mr Gorrie might want to consider the impressive statistic that, since the Government came to power at Westminster, the new deal has halved the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming unemployment benefit.

It is the same with housing, the health service and a range of social services. If we get those matters right, and bring about the kind of improvements that we want, we will appeal to people of 18 as much as we will appeal to people of Mr Gorrie's age.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

In relation to the question about toll tax, will the First Minister introduce immediate legislation to bring us into line with England and Wales, and announce an amnesty for poll tax non-payers, in order to alleviate poverty in Scotland?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

Mr Sheridan is indulging in wishful thinking, because there is no such amnesty in England and Wales. I take the view that when people owe money, and when money is due, that debt should be met. I have no intention of introducing an amnesty. There are difficulties about collecting, and other principles of law apply, but local government is right to recover due debt. If it does not do so, there will be an additional burden on others in society-I do not include Mr Sheridan-who have been meeting their dues.