Non-Executive Business: Transport

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:31 am on 16th September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 9:31 am, 16th September 1999

We now move to the main business this morning, which is the non-Executive business debate on motion S1M-151, in the name of Murray Tosh, on transport and on an amendment to that motion. I call Murray Tosh to move the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 9:34 am, 16th September 1999

In the past year or so, transport has leapt to the top of the country's political agenda. One would not necessarily conclude that by looking at the somewhat sparsely filled seats, but I am sure that we will have a lively debate as a number of issues have arisen in the past year to concentrate our minds on a matter that is of great importance to our country.

There is the on-going story of the fuel escalator, which has reached such a level that it is beginning to cripple our haulage industry, and is damaging many parts of our country and, in particular, rural areas. There are the Government's proposals for new taxes and charges on motorists. There is the issue of the strategic roads programme, which this Parliament has discussed and on which the minister is due to make an announcement in the next few weeks.

It is right that we should discuss those issues in a Scottish context. It is proper that we should consider the issue of congestion in our cities and at the various pinchpoints along our major arterial routes, as it causes us such difficulty. It is desirable that we should discuss the possibilities of promoting modal shifts; we should encourage bus use, and, as far as possible, a move from road to rail.

It is highly desirable that this Parliament should consider air quality and vehicle emissions. I make it very clear that we agree with the Scottish Executive and the Minister for Transport and the Environment about the importance of continuing to examine those issues. This country has a record of attempting to tackle greenhouse gases and to reduce pollutants in the atmosphere. There must be no remission in that work. We accept that in that exercise there is scope for differential fuel duties, as have been imposed in the past, to encourage the use of fuels that are more environmentally acceptable.

We accept that there is every justification for tight regulation on vehicle efficiency—on fuel emissions—and that part of the strategy to combat polluted air, particularly in our cities, is better traffic management. We are happy to support the Executive in positive initiatives such as that to switch freight from road to rail.

However, we also recognise that promoting bus and rail use can do only so much to absorb the inevitable and on-going growth in transport, and that, whatever is achieved in this field, roads will continue to be at the heart of our strategic transport system: roads for freight, and for commuters and other private motorists.

Road haulage demands good roads. It is vital to our industrial competitiveness that the cries of business are attended to, and that we do something to relieve the congestion that threatens the Scottish economy. It is important that we continue to make it possible for people to commute to work. It is the experience of so many of our countrymen and women that commuting is the only option to access work.

We agree with the recent warning from Professor David Begg—whose name does not necessarily spring first from a Conservative spokesman's lips when discussing transport issues—that there is a danger that the Scottish Executive is swinging the pendulum too far away from roads.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

How does that argument square with the Conservatives' cuts in the roads budget from £247 million to £162 million, and with their reductions in grants to local authorities to absolute zero? How does that fit with Mr Tosh's argument about business, and the Confederation of British Industry and its comments?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

If Mr Kerr looks at the figures for road construction under the Conservative Government, he will find that, at 1999 prices, the Conservative Government managed to spend £251 million on roads in 1996, and that a high proportion of that was spent on construction and upgrading of road networks. Under the current proposals, by 2002 expenditure on roads will have fallen in real terms to about £170 million. There are on-going cuts in local authority commitments as well, and there is almost nothing—only £14 million—in the budget for new road construction.

That is precisely what we mean in saying that the pendulum has swung too far, and why we can agree with what Professor Begg said in an informal briefing to the Transport and the Environment Committee. He said that it cannot be right that we have no new road building at all.

Roads matter. We cannot simply wipe out the road building programme. Professor Begg identified the importance of bypasses, and road improvements to promote road safety. He also urged us to consider carefully economic development. Almost every member can relate to that. We all come from regions, constituencies and council areas that regard infrastructure as the key to their vitality, prosperity and development. With the best will in the world, and with even the most optimistic expectations about bus and rail transport, we will continue to need roads and must provide for good roads.

I have already touched on the spending reductions that have taken place in the past few years; more worrying are the projected reductions. When the minister makes her announcement on the strategic roads programme in a few days, we are afraid that she will have nothing to announce. She may be able to reorder the programme or to delete some projects, but should any strategic roads programme remain, there will be no resources to fund it. That should be a matter of deep concern to the Parliament.

We need to know what the Executive thinks about those issues and what importance it attaches to our industrial competitiveness and to economic development, particularly in our more peripheral areas. What is the Government's big picture? Over the past decade, it has been a central objective of European and UK policy to improve our strategic transport arteries. Surely, as a United Kingdom economy and as part of a growing and dynamic European economy, that should be the big picture. The improvement of strategic transport arteries includes roads, which is why the previous Government put so much into the M74. That is why the Government must—at a minimum—complete the essential, integral core motorway network, as well as considering road safety issues.

We believe that rail, sea and air routes are important too. We are happy to discuss the improvements to rail transport. We are conscious of the investment programme that ScotRail and the franchise operators are undertaking. We were heartened by the minister's visit to the Transport and the Environment Committee, in which she almost purred with delight at the prospect of all the new rolling stock that will be introduced by 2000. We welcome that development and hail it as a result of the privatisation regime and the substantial increases—£27 billion in the UK and £2 billion in Scotland—in investment that have been made by Railtrack. We are delighted that the Scottish Executive applauds and welcomes the fruits of that decision.

We have heard tolls and city entry charges being justified on the basis of tackling congestion and pollution. We are also aware of research and advice that suggests that if tolls were to achieve a substantial modal switch, they would need to be set at levels that we would all regard as prohibitive. Instead of tolls, we believe that we should improve traffic management, rail networks and bus operations in cities. We should not tax the motorist off the street; that policy will not work, and so will have no impact on environmental pollution. The problem demands more carrot than stick.

At the end of the day, the bulk of the traffic in our cities will still be there. The approach should be one of management, containment and balance. We simply do not see a place for tolls.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Is Mr Tosh saying that the Conservatives are against the principle of tolling or just against the practice of tolling?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

In the current climate, we are against the principle of tolling. The Government is attacking the motorist from every conceivable direction by means of the fuel escalator and the proposals for motorway tolls and city entry charges. If the press are correct in their interpretation of the minister's recent comments, there may be a proposal that strategic routes will be approved only on the basis of private finance initiatives, which are in turn backed by tolls.

It appears that there is no intention of doing anything to repay motorists for the huge amounts of money that they pay into the exchequer.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Not in the middle of a point, thank you.

The Government and the Executive are jointly in the middle of a take, take exercise. I will acknowledge the fact that survey evidence suggests that motorists might be prepared to pay more. The Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Association—even the CBI—have said that they are prepared to accept some charges. That is not our position, but those organisations think that motorists might be persuaded, if there were transparency and a commitment to spend the money in a way that will benefit those who are being charged.

Transparency and accountability have gone haywire. We began with a consultation scheme, which, when it was announced, did not even promise to ring-fence the money that was raised by tolls. Within a day, the Government backtracked on that and claimed that that was not its intention, but we still do not have any commitment on additionality. We still have not been promised that any moneys raised by tolls or city entry charges will be absolutely and categorically additional to the funds of the local authorities that receive them. As Andy Kerr has said, local authority expenditure on roads has fallen.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Andy should examine the current year and the projections for the next few years before interrupting me again.

Nobody has been prepared to say that toll money will be additional or that motorists will gain from it. I am not belittling the importance of investing in our railway infrastructure, because, if members will forgive the expression, we have set in train an important programme of investment. In order for any policy to win public acceptance, there must be a promise that some proportion of the money will go towards roads expenditure. That commitment has not been given. There is no commitment from the Government to do any significant work on our major arterial routes. That cannot be right and will not be accepted. If that is really the Executive's point of view, it will find itself in severe political difficulty.

I am moving on to develop the next two points of the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, I have given way twice. I am willing to give way on another matter, later on, if Sir David will indulge me.

The Conservative party recognises that not all the issues raised in my motion are matters for the Scottish Parliament or the Executive. I want to make a general point before going on to develop the more specific ones.

At various stages over the past few months, many members have asked ministers what they are saying to Westminster and what representations are being made about air, transport, fuel and a variety of matters that are reserved or in which responsibilities are shared. The only answer that we get to any of those questions is that ministers are meeting regularly with their UK counterparts and are raising a variety of issues. There is not a lot of transparency in that approach.

If devolution is going to work and if the Parliament is to convince the people of Scotland that it is meaningful and a success, we need more openness from the ministers in the Scottish Executive about the way in which they represent the Parliament and the country at a UK level.

There are two clear areas in which the Scottish Executive must send a message on transport, one of which is fuel duty. Inevitably, we will be attacked about the fuel escalator—we started it. However, we did not impose the fuel escalator at 6 per cent a year.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We were not committed to continuing it to 2002.

Above all, we are realists. If members consider the differential fuel price between this country and our European competitors in 1996-97, they will find that we were not significantly out of line. However, if members examine the differential this year, they will find that we are out of line, and the projections for 2002 show that we will be enormously out of line.

One would have to be deaf not to hear what our road haulage industry is saying. One would have to be unfeeling not to have a twinge of concern about the impact of fuel prices on our rural areas. We must acknowledge that there is a strong feeling that we have reached the stage at which the escalator has gone too far. It is time to get our fuel prices back in line with those of our competitors. There are serious implications for our economy if we do not do that.

We are not saying that we should never again increase fuel duty, nor are we saying that the proceeds from fuel duty should be spent on transport. That was never our policy. When we were in government in Westminster, we raised money from fuel for health and education and other areas of Government expenditure. There is a judgment to be made about when that has gone too far. There is an enormous body of opinion—in Scotland and in those areas that are affected most starkly by those issues—that the Government and the UK have gone too far. It is time that the Executive reflected that opinion back to Westminster.

We also believe that there is a national problem of under-expenditure on transport. We trust that the large sum of money that the Chancellor managed to underspend by last year and the extra taxation that he is taking this year are not being retained for electoral purposes. We think that there is scope and justification for increasing UK expenditure on transport, with a consequent impact on Scotland.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, I am sorry, Mr Morgan. I intended to give way, but Sir David is indicating that I have to wind up. I have already taken two interventions, as well as Mr Kerr's second, unofficial, one.

The Conservative party is concerned that the Government is embarking on a policy that consists largely of attacking the motorist. We think that the balance of the policy is wrong. There needs to be more commitment to our major arterial routes, and there needs to be a more balanced approach to fuel policy. Indeed, the Government's policies are out of balance in a number of areas.

We agree that there is much work to be done on transport, and that pollution problems in our cities must be tackled. However, the Government has not communicated its view of where the strategic transport network fits in with our economy, and where roads fit into that strategic transport network.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the increased profile that has been given to transport issues and the Scottish Executive's commitment to continue reducing vehicle emission levels; recognises the importance of Scotland's transport links by road, rail, sea and air to our markets in the rest of the UK, the European Union and beyond; expresses concern that the Scottish Executive does not attach sufficient importance to the strategic road network, and calls upon the Scottish Executive to—

(a) increase the current level of spending on construction and maintenance of the trunk road network as part of the strategic roads review;

(b) withdraw the proposals to levy new tolls and taxes on motorists and other road users;

(c) initiate urgent talks with Her Majesty's Government with a view to increasing the share of the UK budget devoted to transport to allow strategic road and rail investment to proceed so that Scotland's needs are reflected in policies pursued at a UK level, and

(d) urge Her Majesty's Government to review the level of fuel taxes and vehicle excise duties.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 9:51 am, 16th September 1999

I am grateful to the Conservative Opposition for this opportunity to debate the future of transport in Scotland and to highlight the depth of confusion and doublethink to which Conservative transport policies have sunk. I commend the Conservatives for their bravery in raising this issue.

Scotland's motorists and public transport users deserve a realistic and honest debate; we have seen little of that in recent months. We heard some fine words from our colleague Mr Tosh. He tried to portray himself as the motorist's friend and the defender of the car driver. But what do his words really add up to? From 1979 to 1997, the Conservatives had their chance to show their concern for Scotland's travelling public, and what did they do? They cut spending on motorways and trunk roads from £247 million in 1994-95 to £162 million in 1997-98. They pressed ahead with an over-ambitious road building programme without providing the money to back it up, leaving the roads network to deteriorate. Hardly the motorist's friend.

What about public transport?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Does Mr Tosh wish to intervene on the issue of public transport?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The minister asked what the Conservative Government had done. The answer is the M74, the M77, the St James interchange next to Glasgow airport, the Edinburgh city bypass and major improvements to the A9. We did a great deal to improve the strategic transport network. That work was not finished—we expect the Government to finish it.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The Conservative Government left us a legacy of an over-ambitious programme, in Scotland and in the United Kingdom as a whole. We are the Government that now has to work out how to fund that programme and how to prioritise the various schemes within it. Our answers will be clear when I present the strategic roads review to Parliament.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Not at this point, Kenny.

What about public transport? We heard a little from Mr Tosh about how public transport cannot meet our balanced transport objectives. I will take no lectures from the Conservatives about public transport. In one memorable year, 1996-97, they reduced central Government grants to local authorities for transport investment to zero. Yes, zero. In other words, no money for local roads, no public transport fund, no rural transport fund and no community transport fund.

What about the Conservatives' car-friendly policies? As Mr Tosh rightly anticipated, I would like to remind Parliament that the Conservative Government introduced the fuel duty escalator in 1993 and increased it from 3 to 5 per cent. According to a certain Ken Clarke:

"Any critic of the Government's tax plans who claims to also support the international agreement to curb carbon dioxide emissions will be sailing dangerously close to hypocrisy."

Only yesterday, Michael Meacher reinforced that point when he said that we would need to review the programme in 2002.

Who, I wonder, published "Paying for Better Motorways", as far back as May 1993? Whose Scottish transport policy statement in February 1997 canvassed the possibility of

"a better use of price signals to influence the demand and supply of road space"?

That is an interesting proposal. The prose is somewhat confused, but the meaning is clear—charge the motorist. Who said those things?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Perhaps Mr Tosh could enlighten us.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The previous Conservative Government did not propose tolling on any existing route or on any upgrade. It introduced powers—which are currently being used in Birmingham, for the first time, I think, since they were used for the Skye bridge—to construct a totally new road under a private finance initiative backed by tolls. We did not at any stage countenance or propose that we should impose tolls on existing motorways or on trunk roads that had been upgraded to motorway status. That was not in our election manifesto in 1997.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I quoted from "Paying for Better Motorways", which does not talk exclusively about new roads. The Conservatives think that it is important that we discuss this issue in what they call the right climate. When will we reach that right climate?

We did not hear a lot from Mr Tosh about Tory plans for the future. We have to move further south for those—to John Redwood. People say a lot of things about John Redwood, but he is the Tory transport spokesman.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

On a point of order. John Redwood is not the transport spokesman for the Conservatives; Mr Tosh is.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

That is not a point of order, although it may be a point of information.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

In the absence of any practical proposals from Mr Tosh, we have to look to the Tories' 10-point plan for the motorist. John Redwood's proposals are for minimum speed limits, whereas our discussions in constituencies tell us that local communities are calling for appropriate lower speeds, not higher speeds.

Mr Redwood also proposes a mix of tax reductions and spending increases on roads, without any explanation of how the bill can be met. That is wholly implausible, and nothing has been added this morning to provide clarity.

I want to be fair to Mr Tosh's motion. He recognises the importance of reducing vehicle emissions. However, why is there no meaningful mention of public transport? He dismissed it out of hand, saying that it would have virtually no useful role to play in tackling emissions and congestion.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No, I will not give way. I have taken a number of interventions already, and I would like to get on.

The difference between the Government and our opponents is that we are prepared to look honestly and constructively at Scotland's transport problems, and to consider what needs to done to provide solutions.

I would like to outline the Executive's agenda for action, explaining how we propose to tackle the Conservatives' legacy of inaction in transport. Our programme for government commits us to delivering an integrated transport policy that will provide genuine choice in meeting our transport, social and economic needs, while protecting the environment as well.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No, I will not give way yet.

The devolution settlement gives us powers in transport policy. We will also vigorously promote Scotland's interest in reserved matters.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

May I correct the minister on one point? Mr Tosh referred continually to public transport issues.

What representations has the minister made concerning the provision of the air traffic control centre at Prestwick? The promise to provide such a centre has not been fulfilled by the Labour Government, and I suggest that it will not be implemented this century.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It is difficult to answer several questions when only one was expected.

There has been a lot of cheap political posturing in recent days on the issues of fuel duty and reserved matters. I want to make it absolutely clear that, since the day that this Parliament was established, my colleagues and I have been second to none in standing up for Scotland's interests.

We have ensured that our interests are placed firmly on the agenda in Whitehall, both through direct contacts with Treasury ministers and through the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is true on tax and on other matters, such as the one that Mr Gallie mentioned. However, it would hardly be in Scotland's interests for me to turn my private contacts with UK Government colleagues into public diplomacy by soundbite. Those who suggest otherwise are putting narrow party politics ahead of Scotland's interests.

If anyone doubts this Executive's ability and willingness to defend and promote Scotland's interests, let them reflect on Lord Macdonald's August announcement on opening up Prestwick to freight carriers. That will give Scottish business easier access to world markets—a good outcome for Scottish business and a good outcome for Scottish jobs. That is the sort of negotiation that we are engaged in.

At the local level, we are working with local authorities. They are absolutely critical in delivering local solutions to local problems. Our first round of local transport strategies is in place. Our public transport fund will provide £90 million over three years. The first round awarded £29 million over three years to 13 local authorities, and the second round of bids is currently being appraised.

At the national level, we are committed to making travel easier for all by delivering an effective national public transport timetable.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Yes, I would be delighted.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The minister spoke about making representations to central Government. During last week's meeting of the Transport and the Environment Committee, she was asked this question:

"Has the minister made representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the increase in the fuel duty escalator in addition to the market force increase?"

Her response was:

"We will consider what we can do about that, but I have not been consulted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. During the past few months, we have consulted UK Government departments, but that has not been one of the issues that we have discussed."—[Official Report, Transport and the Environment Committee, 8 September 1999; c 36.]

Is she now saying that she has discussed the issue with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? If so, what representations has she made about the problems caused by price increases and, in particular, the fuel duty escalator?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

We are indeed making representations to the UK Treasury through the correct channels.

This year, we are introducing a voluntary scheme that will provide free travel for blind people on bus and rail services. We will spend £18 million over three years to encourage freight on to rail—I welcome Mr Tosh's support for that measure. Only last week, we allocated money to LAW Mining in New Cumnock for that purpose and, on Monday, I was in Grangemouth with Lord Macdonald to announce our largest-ever award for freight road-to-rail transfer.

We are also addressing distinct issues in Scotland's rural areas. We are committed to £14 million of new investment over the next three years. Following representations from rural communities, this year we have added more to the pot for rural petrol stations to make sure that people have access to petrol in those areas. Yesterday, I announced 21 community transport awards totalling almost £500,000. From Orkney and Shetland to the Borders, rural Scotland will benefit from the development of new, innovative local transport projects that will be delivered by communities to meet their own needs.

That is not all. We will investigate what can be done to bring together aspects of rural transport, rural development and social inclusion to provide the maximum support for accessible rural services.

We are also helping lifeline services by providing the largest-ever financial support for Caledonian MacBrayne, northern isles ferries and Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. We are building two new ferry vessels for CalMac at a cost of £20 million. Furthermore, next year we will introduce our integrated transport bill, which will contain a balanced package of measures to improve Scotland's transport services, as Mr Tosh suggested should be done.

Our proposals on charging have recently provoked a fair amount of argument. However, I hope that the debate is now coming back to earth and that we can have a serious and realistic discussion about tackling the growing problems of congestion and air quality in our cities and in our vital transport arteries. We are not doctrinaire; we will listen and take the consultation seriously.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

How can you say that you are not doctrinaire? In your document "Tackling Congestion", you say dogmatically that you will introduce congestion charges, which are wholly unproven, to achieve your aims. If you are not doctrinaire, you should have a debate about the principle of the policy, not about its mechanics.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I thought that that was my department.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

That is the best intervention we have had all morning.

We are not doctrinaire. The whole point of our transport strategy is to consult people. We have asked a number of questions in the transport consultation document and I await views with interest. I find ridiculous the Conservative proposal to cut short the debate and wait for a better climate before we consider the crucial issues before us. We have made it absolutely clear that, should we proceed on the back of our consultative paper, the money that we would receive from road user charging would be entirely additional; it would be new money that would be directly channelled into transport. There would be consultation and motorists would expect—and receive—value for money.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I am not giving way.

We will also introduce legislation to place bus quality partnerships on a statutory footing to allow local authorities to introduce quality contracts where appropriate.

I recognise many local authorities' concern about recent service withdrawals and tender price increases. We have therefore commissioned a research study to examine trends in the bus market. Although there can be no return to old-style public control, bus operators cannot ignore the wider social context of their activities.

I submit that those measures represent a comprehensive and balanced programme for the future. We should be under no illusions about the extent of the challenge. Existing unsustainable transport trends are the product of decades of neglect. However, we have started a process that will deliver a transport system fit for the 21st century.

I move, as an amendment to S1M-151 in the name of Mr Murray Tosh, to leave out 'expresses concern' to the end and insert 'commends the efforts the Scottish Executive is making to tackle the consequences of 20 years of Conservative transport policies and reverse the resulting legacy of under-investment, rising congestion and environmental degradation, and calls upon the Scottish Executive to continue to work to deliver a sustainable, effective and integrated transport system through in particular the programme of government commitments on investing in public transport, promoting a national transport timetable and bringing forward a transport bill in early 2000 whilst reflecting the diverse transport needs of all Scotland's people, in particular those living in rural areas, and by so doing to take the decisions required to deliver, working with others, an integrated transport system fit for the 21st century.'

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

On a point of order. Is it in order to establish what the minister means in her amendment by "20 years"? Do those 20 years include either the last two years of the Callaghan Government or the first two years of the Blair Government?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

That is not a point of order. The minister will have a chance to respond to that point at the end of the debate.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 10:06 am, 16th September 1999

I was astonished when the minister criticised the Tories for their over-ambitious programme in government. We have always criticised the Conservatives' lack of ambition in our country during the same years.

The debate has centred on the issues of current costs and of who is to blame for getting us into this situation. However, we believe that there is a bigger issue to address. As I think the Tories pointed out, with the millennium approaching, we are part of a global economy and transport is fundamental for our nation to be viable and to survive economically. We need trade links to allow the economy to boom. However, we lag behind other nations because of the lack of good transport links to the south, to Europe and internationally, and that will damage us.

We need to work out a strategy to address the problems. I would like to provide a definition of the purpose of transport. First, transport should facilitate the movement of trade, commerce and people to provide a base for economic advancement in a global economy. Secondly, it should provide the structure by which people in urban and people in rural areas—who are currently excluded through geographical isolation—can be brought into the economic and social fabric of our society. That should be the fundamental ethos behind our transport policy. Such a policy should allow us both to trade externally and to look after people internally whether they are isolated in an island region or stuck in a peripheral housing scheme in one of our larger cities.

To assess the current situation, we have to examine the existing transport infrastructure. Our trunk road network is inadequate, despite the Executive's suggestion that there has been an ambitious programme of road building. We have poor ferry communications and ferry links. We await the opening of the ferry link to the European continent—and about time, too. However, of the three organisations mentioned in connection with the link in yesterday's Edinburgh Evening News, not one was the Scottish Executive. Where is the Executive's drive and desire to achieve that link?

We have limited air links. We talk about the financial service sector in Edinburgh but, although there are flights from the Republic of Ireland to five German cities—to the main hub and axis of the European economy—in Scotland, we can fly to only one. It is an abomination that we are used as a spur to Heathrow and Gatwick.

We were promised a direct rail link to the European continent, but that has not happened. Our trade is restricted and people going to Europe have to change at King's Cross or Euston and travel across London. That is not good enough.

Furthermore, access to rural areas is poorly resourced. Although I welcome any further funding for rural areas, the fact is that the air service in the Highlands and Islands is inadequate. Part of the problem is terminology. We should not talk about lifeline routes as if we were speaking about medivacking old grannies who are ill; we should be bringing in commerce and industry and allowing people to access those areas.

My grandparents have benefited from being flown out to Raigmore hospital. However, if we are to make the western isles part of our booming economy in the next millennium, people should be able to fly, using a cheap and reliable service, from Stornoway either to Glasgow to make a connection or to Schipol airport.

How did this situation arise? I am a bit incredulous at the Tories' comments, which were disingenuous. I meant to ask Murray whether there had been any benefits from our rail privatisation. Perhaps he will tell us now.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I suggest that Mr MacAskill looks at Railtrack's £27 billion investment programme, the £2 billion programme for Scotland and the investment plans of all the franchise operators. The minister advised the Transport and the Environment Committee that the new rolling stock would be appearing in the next couple of years—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Does Mr MacAskill agree that he will find the answer to his question there?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The SNP is not going to take lectures from those who privatised the railways, deregulated the buses, left the public to pay the price and left a poorer service with higher prices. The only gain from rail privatisation is the gain in Railtrack's profits. Everything else remained static.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I will not take another intervention.

Let us look at the facts. Between 1979 and 1997, when the Tories were in office, traffic increased by 75 per cent. During the past 10 years, there has been a 32 per cent reduction in the number of bus-passenger journeys. The number of rail passengers has remained static; indeed, in terms of the railways, all movement has been static apart from Railtrack's profits.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at the moment, Murray.

We must remember that, while we were getting the M74 and the other much-needed road improvements that were mentioned, the infrastructure down south had already been built. The problems south of the border—on the M3 and the M25—are to do not with the lack of infrastructure, but with congestion. The links have been built south of the border; SNP members want Scotland to have x infrastructures and x links built, too.

The cost of motoring affects us all—motorists, consumers and businesses. It is crippling people and harming our economy. There are two aspects to that: the fuel price escalator and Government excise duty. We are told that the fuel price escalator was introduced by the Tories, first at 3 per cent plus inflation, then at 5 per cent plus inflation and then at 6 per cent plus inflation.

The fact is that the ground has shifted under the Government's feet. The Government has to answer for its culpability in not making appropriate representations and protecting Scotland's interests. When the fuel escalator was increased to 6 per cent plus inflation, it was assumed that inflation would be 2.5 per cent. Oil prices have doubled, however, and that has meant that, in the past eight months—

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

What price would the SNP set for petrol? Where would it make up the shortfall in taxation or what services would it cut?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The Government does not set the price of petrol except in terms of excise duty. The price of petrol is set by the market price and by the excise duty that is charged thereafter.

SNP members are saying that the fuel duty escalator should stop. The money that the Government gets must also be returned to Scotland. We do not accept what we are told—that we get our fair share.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

No, not at the moment. I have taken plenty of interventions.

Donald Dewar stated his position in the Scottish Grand Committee on 1 February this year, and his decision was predicated on the following. He said:

"The oil price is likely to stay at about $10 to $12 a barrel at least in the foreseeable future."

The First Minister is not here, but the foreseeable future from 1 February would presumably include 16 September of the same year. He continued:

"Therefore, we are worlds removed from the oil prices and production levels of the mid-1980s".—[Official Report, House of Commons, Scottish Grand Committee, 1 February 1999; c 8. ]

Contrary to those claims, the price of oil has risen from $10.2 a barrel to $18.9 a barrel in only seven months. That is a 65.6 per cent increase and we are paying the price. That is why it is not good enough to say that some representations have been made since the Transport and the Environment Committee meeting. We need to stop the fuel price escalator now because it is crippling the Scottish economy, never mind the Scottish motorist. After that, we must ask what the Government does with the excise duty that it has milked from Scotland, given that it has failed to provide the road, rail, marine and air infrastructure that I mentioned.

Let us consider the Executive proposals. First we have motorway tolls. To some extent, that issue has been dealt with by the Tory spokesman. SNP members think that the proposal is nonsense. What is the logic behind bringing in motorway tolls? Is it to help the environment? We lodged a written question about the effect motorway tolls would have on the reduction of journeys. What answer did we get? "We do not really know. It is maybe aye, maybe no; it depends on what you do and how you run it."

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Kenny opposed congestion charging for cities. He asks the Executive to give projections on a scheme that it has not even consulted on, but what effect would the SNP scheme have on the number of cars in the cities?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

If Andy bears with me, I will come to that.

There is a difference between user congestion charges in cities and motorway tolls. That is certainly what David Begg seems to think, and he is an adviser to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. David Begg made it clear to the Transport and the Environment Committee that he thought that motorway tolls were not on, but that user congestion charging required consideration.

There is no environmental argument in favour of motorway tolls. They will not put road users off; indeed, the Government cannot predict what effect they would have. We all know that they would cause mayhem. We do not need a transport consultant to tell us that, if there were tolls on the M8, Salsburgh, Whitburn, Harthill and West Calder would be rat-runs. The same number of people will travel, but they will choose a different route. The people who will pay the price will be those with young families and those who require to cross the road in those communities. That is why North Lanarkshire Council and West Lothian Council, which are Labour controlled, have made their position clear—they do not want motorway tolls.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Does Mr MacAskill accept that the consultation paper specifies that, if any schemes are suggested—let me make it clear that the Executive has no such proposals for any stretch of our existing trunk roads or motorways—there would have to be extensive research into diversion, as there has been in other countries?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

That smacks of the same U-turn that we had the day after the consultation document was announced, when we were told that the money raised would be hypothecated.

The Government's intentions are well canvassed. The minister may try to deny it, but the public know that they are paying the highest price for petrol in Europe. Now the Executive wants to toll them, too. Tolls are simply another hidden tax—similar to air passenger duty, landfill tax and insurance tax—which will be taken from people and put into the Treasury's coffers.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We face the possibility of petrol at £4.30 per gallon by the end of this parliamentary session. On top of that, the Labour Executive proposes road tolling. If we assume a toll at the rate of 5p a mile for the M8, motorists could have to pay close to £1,000 per annum. At the end of the Labour Executive's term, the motorist will be paying £4.30 a gallon as well as £1,000 a year for travelling up and down the M8. [Interruption.] Labour members may laugh, but the people out there know that I am right

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Let me deal with congestion charging—

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

I quote from the SNP report "Taking Scotland into the 21 st Century: An Economic Strategy for Independence". Under the heading "Government Revenues", it says that, based on a population-based share of UK fuel duties of 8.2 per cent, the SNP would raise the required revenue. The SNP claimed that that would mean no change in fuel duty. However, Scotland's share of UK fuel duties is only 7.2 per cent of the UK total, based on inland deliveries of petrol.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

How will Mr MacAskill fund that deficit?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

It has already been funded by the change in the price of a barrel of oil; it has been funded by what the Government has taken in petroleum revenue tax. Does Karen Gillon not think that the chancellor gets money in his pocket when the price of a barrel of oil goes up? When that document was written, the price of a barrel of oil was far lower.

Let me deal with Andy's point about congestion charging. We believe that congestion charging is vastly different from motorway tolling. We would use it sympathetically. We would not impose it if areas did not want it. For example, Mr Lazarowicz could persuade the City of Edinburgh Council that it was a good thing and Mr Gordon could persuade Glasgow City Council that it was a bad thing. It is up to the local authorities to decide.

There must be hypothecation for transport and infrastructure. Before congestion charging is implemented, it must be predicated on improvements in public transport. People in public transport, as anyone who has spoken to them will know, say that they could not cope—

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

No I will not. I am trying to wind up.

As I was saying, the present system could not cope with the increase in passengers. Congestion charging is important and should be considered for two reasons. First, there is an economic argument. In Scotland, hauliers experience delays not at Harthill on the M8, but when they enter Edinburgh or Glasgow at Barnton or Baillieston. Scotland's economic lifeblood is slowed down by traffic congestion, and if we are to allow trade and commerce to develop, we require flexibility at those bottlenecks at peak times.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Secondly, there is an environmental argument, which the Tories did not mention. Our cities have an air-quality problem. In 2005, legislation will be in place and we know that half the sites within the city of Edinburgh that are currently being monitored will fail the standards. Unless we take action in the cities, the continual problem of asthma and bronchial complaints, experienced by youngsters and the elderly, will worsen. We have to address the problem in our inner cities and urban areas. That is why we are sympathetic to road user congestion charging, but say absolutely no way to motorway tolling.

On that basis, the debate returns to where we must take Scotland. We believe that the Executive is failing to deal with the problem that it inherited after 18 years of Tory administration. We see no resonance or substance in the principal motion or the amendment. The Tories are crying crocodile tears. As for the minister, I will paraphrase Norman Tebbit: "On yer bike, Ms Boyack."

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

While I have no wish to curtail rumbustious debate, members must remember that significant overruns will impact on those who want to speak.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 10:21 am, 16th September 1999

I have heard it all now; the answer to the SNP's fiscal problems is that oil prices will go up and up and up. We really have heard it all today.

I welcome Mr Tosh's opening sentiments. Indeed, it is good to debate transport and Scotland's transport needs. However, in terms of policy development in Scotland, the motion is deficient for several reasons, not least of which is that it would achieve nothing and add to congestion on our roads. Further, a significant dose of hypocrisy underpins Conservative policy. The motion fails to provide the leadership, vision and honesty that we need in relation to investment in Scotland's future transport needs.

To propose, as the motion does, to increase current spending on Scotland's roads while, on the other hand, opposing congestion charging is inconsistent and illogical. It is a typical Tory policy of mutual contradictions. To then demand that the Westminster Government increase spending on transport is fine, but then—typically of the Tories—Mr Tosh somewhat missed the point. The motion does not mention public transport; the implication is clear: buses and trains are not a factor in moving people round Scotland's roads and cities.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Scott must acknowledge that I mentioned buses and rail in my speech. I welcomed improvements in both services and the subject of strategic rail investment appears in the motion. Our view is that even if we achieve the most optimistic, realistic goals for bus and rail movements, we cannot ignore the central fact that roads will account for the vast majority of our people and vehicle movements. That is where we are coming from; we do not dismiss the importance of buses or railways.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The Tory policy is that the car is king; nothing has changed about that. The Tory approach in Scotland today has a discreet whiff of former Tory ministers—something of the Steve Norris approach—and the car is king. Scotland has been down that Tory single-track road and has said no; there must be a better way of approaching our needs.

Look at what happened to public transport when the Conservatives were in power. Between 1992 and 1997, there was a 12.2 per cent decrease in the number of passenger journeys on local bus services, or 65 million fewer bus trips by Scots. The number of passenger journeys by rail fell to its lowest in 1995. The Tories see the car as the only solution. That is narrow—

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

No, Mr Tosh has already had one go; he has been up and down faster than a number of things I could mention. [Laughter.]

To ignore public transport is one thing, but to oppose congestion charging is another. The former is confirmation that the Tories have lost none of their prejudices; the latter illustrates a degree of hypocrisy. How Lord James can sign the motion—in particular paragraph (b), which opposes tolls—when he was the Scottish transport minister who introduced the Skye bridge tolls, is quite beyond my humble comprehension.

However, it is not fair to mention only Lord James. I will quote Ian Lang, then Secretary of State for Scotland, from the document "Paying for Better Motorways". Last week, the Tories made much of the colour of documents; the cover of this one is a nice tone of blue.

"Charging could provide another source of financing for improving roads. This would improve the service to road users . . . and ensure that we make more effective use of the existing network."

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Mr Lang concluded:

"Direct charging would . . . secure the efficiency and value for money that a market approach would bring."

This year David McLetchie said in "Stop Labour's Road Tolls":

"Labour accused the Tories of planning to introduce motorway tolls. This was simply not true."

It is interesting that this time the Tories have gone for a black cover showing a no-entry sign; that sign certainly illustrates their approach to such matters.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

What did Mr Lang's document say? The Conservative party has a selective memory. No wonder Ian Lang was not invited to the state opening; he would not exactly have been among friends with the Conservatives in the chamber.

Mr Tosh referred to the Tories' introduction of the fuel price escalator, but the motion does not mention that. Presumably, the Tories are now rejecting their own policy. This debate should be about illustrating the fact that the fuel price escalator is simply one blunt instrument in the wider pursuit of the UK's international emission reduction obligations. No other European country uses just fuel prices as a single fiscal measure to meet CO2 targets. Our European partners' policy instruments are improvements in public transport—which the Tories have dismissed—better vehicle energy efficiency and financial support for clean vehicles. That is the task for us.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

What are Mr Scott's views on paying off the Skye bridge debt and making the bridge toll free? During the 1999 election campaign, the Liberal Democrats campaigned to pay off the Skye bridge debt and won seats in the Highlands from the Labour party. How do they stand on paying off that debt now that they are in coalition with Labour?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

The partnership agreement makes it quite clear what is happening. Mrs Scanlon should ask my colleague John Farquhar Munro, who has pursued the matter time and again. He is still pursuing it with all the relevant authorities and is taking action in the chamber to achieve progress. Perhaps Mrs Scanlon should help him rather than whingeing from the sidelines.

We need an informed debate with Westminster about the need to use a variety of policy measures, especially to alleviate the costs in Scotland's rural and island areas where the car is not an option but a necessity. That is why Liberal Democrat back benchers went to Westminster yesterday to petition the Treasury. We were seeking a fair deal for Scotland's rural motorists; we also looked at the policy instruments available to the chancellor as he considers strategy for the next budget.

The SNP's public position, as outlined on the radio, is that it opposes all congestion charging. Kenny MacAskill may shake his head, but I heard it on the radio at 7 o'clock this morning and the line was that the Tories and the SNP together oppose congestion charging. Interestingly, today we heard some qualification of that—

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I am just winding up. I hope that Mr McLetchie will forgive me if I do not allow him in to support the SNP.

The crucial question for the SNP, which it did not answer last week, is how it will put more money into Scotland's transport needs. The money that the SNP raised from its "penny for Scotland" campaign was intended specifically for health, education and housing. There is nothing wrong with that, but the money was not intended for transport. We have yet to hear how the SNP would put more money into transport, and I am keen to hear clarification of that.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The chancellor chooses to spend the money down south. Why did Stansted have a rail link built to improve access and create a better gateway when we have no rail link at Aberdeen, Glasgow or Edinburgh?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

It is useful to know that it is one of the SNP's aspirations to create such links.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Alasdair Morgan had a 24-hour hit for the SNP with his suggestion of putting 1p on tax for transport. However, as soon as he said it, his party bosses were on him like a ton of bricks and told him to withdraw the suggestion. Perhaps that is the route that the SNP wants to go down.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

As is so often the case, the SNP and the Conservatives are united in their affliction—short-term memory loss. Under Ian Lang, the Tories suggested road charging. They have now forgotten that. The SNP proposed city centre congestion charging, but it has forgotten that, too.

The Liberal Democrats in Scotland support an honest debate about our transport needs. We support the amendment in the name of Sarah Boyack to implement lasting improvements to meet the transport needs of our cities and towns and our island and rural communities. There is work to be done on behalf of the people of Scotland to achieve those aims. From today's debate, it is clear that the Tory-SNP Opposition simply does not match up to the challenge.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Further to the announcement made earlier by the Presiding Officer, the debate on the motion on Continental Tyres in the name of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton will take place for 20 minutes at 2.10 pm. That will allow the minister to be present and more time for this debate, in which many members have indicated their intention to participate. This debate will conclude at 12.20 pm as originally planned.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 10:31 am, 16th September 1999

We are losing sight of the major environmental issues that are at stake. It is worth reminding ourselves that we cannot simply accept continuing transport growth.

In 1987, 51 per cent of people owned cars. Now, the figure is 65 per cent. According to projections, car usage will increase by 53 per cent over the next 30 years. That is a real problem, and I hope that debates such as this, and the work of the Transport and the Environment Committee, will allow us to reflect maturely on the issues and to get away from the games that have been played this morning.

The fact is that, while the cost of taking a bus has increased by 24 per cent and that of taking a train has increased by 33 per cent, the cost of using a car has gone down by 5 per cent.

Emissions are an issue. Transport is responsible for 32 per cent of emissions, of which 82 per cent are caused by road transport. That is a real environmental issue that must be dealt with. We need to listen to people and take soundings on how we should deal with the situation. We need to reduce traffic on our roads to reduce emissions and meet the international agreement to which this and previous Governments signed up.

Our streets are another issue. I am astonished that John Redwood is advocating the removal of traffic safety measures and the raising of speed limits. Communities should be reclaiming the streets, in particular for young people.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I support what Mr Kerr says about home zones and speed limits, but why are such things reserved matters? Why is the hypothecation of speed camera fines, which the police in Scotland want, a matter reserved to Westminster and dealt with by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions? Why are we not competent to deal with speed limits, never mind to decide what we do with speed camera fines?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Never a debate goes by without Kenny or one of his colleagues raising the whole issue of the settlement debate. The country voted resoundingly in favour of the settlement in the referendum, which is why the situation is as it is.

Whenever Labour and the SNP's policies on reserved matters are discussed, the SNP fails to answer the question. Kenny has still not told us what the SNP's policy on congestion charging will do for the environment. What are the figures? What are the statistics? What would the policy deliver for Scotland and for the world environment? We still have no clear answer.

All the Executive is doing is consulting. We are a listening Government, here and at Westminster. We have spent lots of money and given lots of resources to local authorities. The results can be seen every day on our streets in the number of red and green routes that are being introduced in cities throughout Scotland. Additional funding has also been given to rural areas.

Murray Tosh, with all due respect, did not criticise the SNP at all in his speech, yet in the Daily Mail earlier this month, he said that the SNP

"should re-visit their policy, recognise the contradictory nature of their statements and change their approach."

There are contradictions in what the SNP says. On the one hand, it does not want charges—it does not want the fuel duty escalator or road charging—but it cannot say what it will do instead. How would the SNP fund the major changes that are required? How would the modal shifts that Murray talked about—the need to get people out of their cars and on to public transport—be achieved? The SNP has no solution.

When asked the same question on the radio, Kenny MacAskill had no answer either. I have the transcript of the radio programme. The interviewer asked him how, if he wanted to reduce fuel duty charges and did not want to introduce any charges or road tolls, he would fund improvements. He had no reply. I hope that when Linda Fabiani sums up, she will. I am glad that the full SNP team is here, because there are questions to be answered about the party's policies.

The SNP has never delivered and continues not to deliver for Scotland's environment. Our approach is to say that we need an integrated policy that will deliver on public transport, for the private car user, for business and for the economy. The position of the SNP and its Tory Opposition colleagues is simply to say, "No, no, no" to any charges, without presenting any realistic alternatives to the Government's proposals.

It is absolute hypocrisy for the SNP to criticise the Executive for considering user charges when in past manifesto statements the SNP has said that it would examine the issue of road pricing and road charging.

We need to get back to the issue of the environment and address the roads problem maturely. Too many people are using their cars because public transport is not good enough to make them change, but the roads are not good enough for them to use because of the number of vehicles on them.

Those issues must be addressed through an integrated policy, as set out clearly in the Executive's motion. This is the first time in many years that an integrated approach to transport has been adopted, and it is thanks to this Parliament that we can deliver an integrated strategy for Scotland.

I hope that members will support the Executive's position, which is the only way in which we can deliver for road users, for those who use public transport and for the environment, particularly on emissions.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative 10:37 am, 16th September 1999

"We will save before we spend. We have made no proposals to raise personal taxation for individual families. Indeed we would like to reduce taxes for ordinary families."

Who said that? It was Tony Blair, before the election, yet Labour's transport plans will cost ordinary families at least an extra £100 per month.

Tavish Scott, who unfortunately has disappeared from the chamber, may be a man of honour and honesty, but at a BBC television debate before the election on 6 May at the Museum of Transport in Glasgow, he heard many Liberal Democrat party members from the Highlands say that the car was a necessity—the car was king. Now, he is accusing the Conservatives of making the car king, yet his own people think the same thing. Perhaps he is away now getting a few calls from people telling him that. Who knows?

I do not intend to get into the big battle between Labour and the SNP, but the cost of congestion charges, which the SNP supports, will be more than £1 every time users enter a city.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I will not give way just now. I might give way further down the line, once I have got into my speech.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Members should try to keep their speeches to a maximum of five minutes.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

There was a transport debate in Polmont just before the election at which people from the transport sector, politics and the local community were represented. What came through loud and clear was that they wanted transport to be a top priority. It had to be on the same level as education and health—the three big items, as one speaker put it.

Railways are important—no one is denying that they are crucial. However, if we take everything from the road hauliers and put it on the railways, there will be real problems for the road haulage industry. There must be a balance. We should not forget that many foreign truckers who come to this country are on routing orders. In the whisky industry, all the costs within the United Kingdom are paid up to the port of departure, which the foreign companies indicate must be in the south of England. That is a problem.

So far, the minister—no doubt instructed by John Prescott's office—has talked about motorway tolls, local government levies, congestion charges and parking charges. There is also the business about ring fencing. Will there or will there not be ring fencing? It is a sort of ring-a-ring o' roses and we all fall down—roads, motorists and everyone else.

Shortly, we will have the roads review. Do not hold your breath. Will a public roads building programme be unveiled? Will a priority upgrading be carried out, or will we hear that the public road building programme is at a halt, unless paid for by the private sector? So far, companies have shown reluctance to become involved in major private finance initiatives, despite the Labour Government's invitations.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I am sorry, but I have so little time that I do not propose to give way.

The £180 million extension of the M74 into central Glasgow is unlikely to go ahead. There are doubts about the plans to convert the entire M8 from Glasgow to Edinburgh into a six-lane motorway—those plans are also unlikely to go ahead. What about the A77? It is estimated that within six years, 30 lives could be saved and 240 serious accidents avoided for a public purse contribution of £10 million per annum. In the past three years, that killer road has claimed more than 15 lives in more than 40 serious accidents. One highly dangerous 10-mile section, which runs from Fenwick to what is called the Malletsheugh, is used by 35,000 vehicles per day. It is essential that money is spent on that road, which has the worst accident rate in Scotland—there is no question about that.

I am told—I have no doubt that the minister will confirm this—that there are five main criteria for designating moneys, which I presume apply to all 17 schemes: economy, safety, environmental impact, accessibility and integration. All five criteria apply to the A77: make no mistake about that.

I use public transport every day and always have. This morning, I came with Frank McAveety on public transport. The train was a bit better than usual and the company was very good, but I accept that our public transport is lagging far behind that of our counterparts on the continent. There is no question about that, and it is essential that public transport is brought to the fore.

Much has been said about the environment. The environment knows no boundaries and we should make no bones about that. Labour members of Glasgow City Council—some former members of which are here today—discussed making Glasgow a nuclear-free zone. We might as well draw a chalk circle round the bottom of a lamppost, in order to tell dogs that it is a no-peeing zone, as such things cannot be stopped. The main offenders where the real problems are found are the United States, Russia, China, Brazil and Indonesia. We should try to set an example. This is a relatively small country and we should do our best.

Scotland makes up 31 per cent of the landmass of the British Isles, but has only 9 per cent of the population. It is obvious that we need around five different transport strategies: one each for the Highlands, the Islands, the north-east, the central belt and the Borders. I have no doubt that the Conservative party in Scotland is the answer to those problems.

We are against tolls and we are against the imposition of more taxes. The Liberal Democrats will simply go along with Labour—they want to keep their ministerial seats, and will do and say anything to keep in with Labour. I urge members to support Murray Tosh's excellent motion.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 10:43 am, 16th September 1999

I support Sarah Boyack's amendment.

The Labour Government came to power in the UK promising to start to provide an integrated transport system. The Scottish Labour party went to the electorate in May promising to continue that approach, and I am glad to see that it has been taken up by the Executive and is now the subject of wide consultation with the people of Scotland.

Under the Tories, our transport network was crumbling, crippled through lack of investment. As has been said, they cut money for road improvement and gave up on local transport and congestion. In fact, the Tories gave up on the car owner, the transport industry and the one in three households that do not own a car and that depend on public transport in order to get about. The Tories ignored our growing transport needs and, as the Deputy Prime Minister has said, the Tories caused the traffic jams that we see across the country.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I will not give way to John Young—he did not give way, so neither will I.

Scotland needs a transport policy that will tackle the problems of congestion, pollution and social exclusion.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

Yes, I will— [Laughter.]

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I want to share some of your thoughts, Cathie, as I think that you agree that the real hypocrisy comes from the Conservatives. They destroyed the roads network across Scotland during their time in power. As an example, the minor roads in Perth and Kinross are supposed to be relaid every 25 years, not every 75 years.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I think I need the protection of the Presiding Officer.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Do you agree that that is Conservative hypocrisy?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Remarks should be made through the chair, and should be in the form of a question.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

Thank you, Bruce, for that intervention.

Scotland needs a transport policy that will deliver and that will tackle the problems that we are experiencing. In delivering that policy, the Executive must work in partnership with the people—with car owners and with all providers of rail and bus services. In Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, which is the area that I represent, we can see the difference made by the Government, local authorities, ScotRail and various bus companies, which are working together to ensure that trains and buses run to meet the needs of the people they serve.

New investment will mean improvements to train and bus services. New timetables and more frequent buses and trains mean that public transport will become more attractive and will encourage many more people to leave their cars and to use public transport. However, costs are important to the travelling public, and we should ensure that affordable fares represent value for money. I hope that the Executive, and Sarah Boyack as the responsible minister, will take that on board.

I want to talk specifically about the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, who live with one of the most congested roads in Scotland. The A80 runs through the middle of the constituency; members who have travelled on that road will know that it is a nightmare, particularly at peak times. We have waited for improvements for 20 years to that part of the road, which is the missing link in the central Scotland motorway network. Delays on the A80 not only cause disruption to the motorist, but cause accidents and grave disruption in the surrounding towns and villages, when, for whatever reason, cars are forced on to minor roads in order to avoid the hold-ups and delays on the A80. The Tories put off investing in the A80 time and again. They alone are to blame for the congestion that we see—and hear about on the radio—every day in that part of Scotland.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

No, I will not give way—Mr Young did not give way and so I will not give way to him.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

I have raised my constituents' concerns with the minister and I look forward to the publication of the strategic roads review. I hope that it will include measures to reduce the congestion in the towns and villages along the route of the A80. I hope that there will be a large number of respondents to the Government's consultation paper and that the exercise will produce a transport policy that will provide genuine choice to meet the needs of the people of Scotland.

I return to the point that was made by my friend from the SNP benches, Bruce Crawford. The Tory motion is a hypocritical sham, and I ask the Parliament to reject it.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 10:48 am, 16th September 1999

I am sure that most members in the chamber agree that the Tories have a bit of a brass neck to lecture this Parliament on any aspect of transport. Everyone here knows that it was their disastrous introduction of bus deregulation that brought about the precipitous decline in bus use over the last decade or more.

As with the poll tax, Scotland suffered most, with a 32 per cent decline in the number of bus passenger journeys in the past decade, compared with 17 per cent for the UK as a whole. The drop in the number of passengers in the rural areas of Scotland has been twice that in urban areas—and the supposed defenders of rural Scotland caused it.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Would it not be fair to say that two of the biggest transport companies in the world—Scottish-based and Scottish-owned—came about as a direct result of that deregulation?

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Did that benefit the customers? Did that help the socially excluded? Did that help people who have to travel to work? Did that make timetables more reliable? Did that put more buses on the road? Of course it did not.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

No, I am afraid it did not. I am sorry, but that is factually inaccurate. I suggest that Mr Tosh look at the report, "Scottish Transport Statistics". Perhaps then he would stand corrected.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

If Mr Gibson looks, he will find that the number of kilometres covered by buses on our roads network has been rising steadily. He will find that the number of buses and coaches on our roads has not only risen steadily but is projected to continue to rise steadily. The issue is that passenger use has declined steadily since the 1950s. The issue is not that deregulation caused the decline in bus use, but that bus use declines as prosperity rises and people take to the roads. That is the issue that we must address.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am sorry to disagree with Mr Tosh, but as I have already said there has been a 32 per cent decrease in bus use since deregulation. In the year immediately after deregulation there was a 10 per cent decrease in use. That decline continues. There was a 6 per cent reduction in bus passenger journeys last year alone, whereas car use has not increased at all during the past three years.

When deregulation commenced, the idea behind competition was that it would lead to better and more frequent services and lower fares. That has not happened. I am sure that we all recall the chaos in towns and cities following deregulation.

Town centres and high streets were chock-a-block with buses during the highly profitable rush hour, but services were slashed or abandoned for the rest of the unprofitable day and without the centres. Bus services have never recovered.

There is a problem developing bus service infrastructure in the deregulated environment as there is no certainty that operators will use it. Timetables can be changed without notice, leading to a fall in potential users' confidence that a bus will turn up from day to day. In the area covered by Strathclyde Passenger Transport, there are 154 operators, leaving potential users baffled.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

John, we have debated many a long year, but if you do not allow people to intervene, I will not allow you to intervene on me.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am sorry, John, I will not let you in.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The number of staff employed by bus and coach operators has also fallen—by 15 per cent in 10 years. Bus fares in Scotland have risen by 79 per cent during the past decade, which is 24 per cent above inflation.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Will Kenny give way to me? I am not Mr Tosh.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Can you give me a tick? I have quite a lot to get through.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

It might be helpful to members if I say that in a five-minute speech up to four interventions might be reasonable, otherwise members further down the list who wish to speak will not get called.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am not even a quarter of the way through, Brian, otherwise I would let you in, honestly.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

In the first year of the new Labour Government, fares rose 7.9 per cent in Scotland. The decreasing confidence in bus services has led to a 28 per cent increase in car use on Scotland's roads over the last decade, causing much of the congestion that we have debated today. Most obviously, the increasing reliance on private cars has directly reduced the market for public transport. The consequence of that has been a reduction in the viability of significant parts of the public transport network. In turn, that has led to service withdrawals or reductions and to increases in fares—which increases the relative attractiveness of car ownership.

The potential for a continuing cycle of decline in public transport use and provision is self-evident. Public transport must be organised and marketed in order to attract more people—particularly marginal car users—back on to it. Inter-modal ticketing is important, and we need to maintain the affordability of public transport for pensioners, disabled people and the low-paid.

What has been the Executive's approach to public transport? On 13 September, the Evening Times quoted the minister, Sarah Boyack, as having said that she wanted other towns and cities to copy Glasgow's new overground bus operations:

"I expect that our forthcoming decisions on authorities' bids for public transport fund support will encourage bus operators right across Scotland to deliver similar improvements."

If she had read the Evening Times on 9 September, only four days previously, she would have seen the headline, "Bus firms are slammed over city services". That article said:

"Bus firms in Glasgow have been slammed by council and transport bosses after claims that passengers are being left without a bus service."

Alistair Watson, chair of the land services committee on Glasgow City Council was quoted as saying that Balornock, for example, is left without a bus service every night after 6 o'clock. He added that Ms Boyack might consider new rules to regulate firms, because the number of routes being abandoned by the private bus companies means that the public budget for subsidising services has already been spent. Services are thus no longer available.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

One minute, George.

Locals are furious at the new bus services. They claim that the providers are interested only in profits and that they are ignoring the public. The following day, 10 September, another Evening Times article contained similar remarks. FirstGlasgow's press release said that the overground was supposed to be a

"groundbreaking service designed specifically to increase bus journeys by making access simple and easy."

That is an example of a supposed quality partnership in action. What we need is quality contracts, not quality partnerships in which one or more partners may move the goalposts. We must regulate operators through negotiated contracts that are legally enforceable. Those contracts must ensure that timetables are adhered to and that a realistic pricing structure is put in place to enable people on a minimum wage and the socially excluded to afford to travel to work.

We must insist on high standards of comfort and safety and on more low-floor, articulated, high-capacity vehicles that will allow increased access to the disabled. The best operators will support such contracts because they will provide stability and keep out the numerous cowboys. We need an integrated public transport network that provides effective and affordable links to ensure that every community has full access to employment opportunities, leisure and shopping facilities.

Andy Kerr raised a point about the environment to which I would like to respond. Why has the Government changed the national air strategy so that, rather than action being taken in an area when particulates register above a safe level on four occasions in a year, action is now taken only when particulates register above safe levels 35 times over the year?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 10:55 am, 16th September 1999

I was pleased that, during a recent visit to Moffat in Dumfriesshire to hand over a community minibus, the Minister for Transport and the Environment acknowledged that in rural areas the car is the only viable form of transport for many people and that that was likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. It is vital that that statement is backed up by deeds. The whole tone of Government policy and action is profoundly urban and anti-car, painting the car driver, no matter their need, as a pariah.

The contrast between car use in the city and in rural areas is marked. I have found that myself, living in Edinburgh for even a few days a week. From the flat here, I can walk—and I am happy to do so—to the range of facilities that I need. I can get a bus from early in the morning to well into the evening. That is not the case for people who live in small towns and villages across Scotland.

For example, in the town of Langholm—again in Dumfriesshire—a major survey was done into the cost of building and running a swimming pool adjacent to the town's school. The survey showed that although funding would be available from various sources to construct the pool, the running costs could not be met by use. While the community accepts that providing that facility is not possible on a cost basis, it cannot accept the extraordinarily high cost of fuel in the area, or that people should be penalised for travelling to and from facilities in neighbouring towns—or across the border to Carlisle, which is some 20 miles away.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Certainly, Elaine. Having read the description of you in today's edition of The Scotsman , I could not but take an intervention from you.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

David mentioned Langholm. Surely he agrees that one of the problems there is the volume of traffic that flows through the town centre and the problems that that causes for public safety. He is stressing the needs of the car driver. His party has said that it is committed to public transport. What would he do to improve public transport and take some of those vehicles off the road?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I am about to address public transport in rural areas. Like Elaine, I said at a public meeting that I am committed to a bypass for Langholm. I was interested to see that, in reply to Elaine's written question about improvements on the A7, the minister said that that bypass would not happen in the foreseeable future.

Travelling within Edinburgh is not a problem, but travelling to Edinburgh from the south-west is a major problem. A car is the only practical solution. I have tried to use a train service directly from our regional office in Dumfries. It would take three and a half hours for a journey which, as the crow flies, must be about 80 miles. Alternatively, I could go to Lockerbie station, but I would be unable to get a train that allows me to be here for the start of parliamentary business—and I would have to leave before its conclusion.

I am not holding myself out as the requirement for services, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that business people would want to come to Edinburgh for a conference where registration might be between 9 am and 9.30 am.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Does the member agree that rather than being concerned about his own transport arrangements or those of the business community, we ought to be concerned about opportunities for people in rural areas to access education, health services and the other necessities of daily life? Does he also agree that his party has proposed absolutely nothing that will enable people in rural communities to use those facilities?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I was just about to come to that point. There is still no real alternative to the car after two years of Labour government, so it is no wonder that Government rhetoric appears to be empty and anti-rural.

Having accepted that there is a difference between rural and urban transport needs, will the minister take that fact fully on board and do something about the problems?

As others have said, the most fundamental thing that can be done in the short term is to lobby colleagues in the UK Government on fuel tax, and in particular to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Driving rural motorists off the road does not save the environment. I recently travelled from Langholm to Eskdalemuir and did not pass another car on the journey. The roads are not full of traffic—there is very little traffic on them. High fuel charging will damage the environment because, with the other difficulties that they face, they will drive upland farmers off the land. We will lose the managed hill landscape of much of Scotland that we have come to value so much.

My final point is in connection with the maintenance of rural roads, particularly minor roads. It is vital that we continue with maintenance programmes. A lack of rural road maintenance impacts on the morale of communities and makes them think that the Government and councils are not concerned about them. It also gives tourists a bad impression. Their expenditure offers the principal opportunity for economic development.

As my colleague Mr Tosh said, roads and economic development are inextricably linked, and nowhere more so than in rural Scotland. It is about time the Scottish Executive accepted that.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 11:03 am, 16th September 1999

Moran tàing, a' cheannard, agus bha mi air son aig tòiseachadh tòiseachdainn, facal neo dhà a' gabhail ann an cànain a' Ghaidheil. Tha mise a' fuireach an drasda ann an àite ann an iomall air a' Ghaidhealteachd, far am bheil sinne a' pàigheadh cìsean air rathaidean mar-thà. 'Se sin cìsean as àirde anns an Rionn Eòrpa. Chaidh sin a' steidheachadh bho Riaghaltas nan Tories, bho'n a bha iadsan a' riaghladh ann an Lunnainn. Tha e a' cur ionghantas orm agus tha e gu math neònach gu bheil iad ag iarraidh na cìsean agus na ceistean mu dheidhinn cìsean a tharruing dhe na prìomh rathaidean ann an Alba.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Tapadh leibh, Iain. 'Se obair latha, tòiseachadh.

As the Gaels say; getting started can be a whole day's work. When speaking in Gaelic, members should provide a brief translation. If they wish to give a full speech in Gaelic, members should give the Presiding Officer 48 hours' advance notice.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

Thank you. I introduced a few words of Gaelic as a matter of principle. I know that in the weeks and months ahead the Parliament will make simultaneous translation available if members wish to use the language of the garden of Eden in this magnificent building.

I will give a brief translation of what I want to say in this transport debate.

I live in a rural area of Scotland where toll charges have already been imposed on a trunk road—the Skye bridge crossing. The tolls there were introduced by the Tory Administration and it seems strange to me that we are debating a motion lodged by the Tories to address that situation. In the motion they suggest that we abolish the concept of toll charging on trunk roads. There would seem to be a difference of opinion between them and the previous Tory Administration.

I hope that the Conservatives will hold to the view in the motion when we come to debate the sensitive issue of the Skye bridge tolls.

Mr Mundell is very much in line with my thoughts on integrated transport and rural transport issues. He mentioned the lack of congestion and pollution on rural roads. Congestion and pollution are mentioned in relation to cities or in an urban context, but they are not something that we in rural Scotland suffer from. I do not see much pollution or congestion on our Highland roads outside the main urban centres.

Serious consideration should be given to the periphery of rural areas. I can think of areas in Skye where the road system is deteriorating. The road systems in the west Highlands and the far north have deteriorated. There cannot be an effective and efficient integrated transport system unless there is the infrastructure that goes with that.

It is not surprising that our Highland roads are sadly in need of attention; over the past four years the budgets that are available to the council in the area have been reduced dramatically. Highland Council's revenue budget has fallen from £28 million to £18 million. Its capital budget has fallen from £16 million to £3.6 million. If I tell members that it costs £1.2 million to build a two-lane road, they will imagine what little attention will be given to roads in those rural areas.

I have said that rural areas do not have problems of congestion and pollution. Mr Young said that the Tories have all the answers. I wonder whether they do. I would be glad to hear what their proposals are, because much of the deterioration and problems that we have now are as a result of 18 years of Tory administration.

Yesterday, some Liberal Democrat colleagues and I delivered a petition on fuel prices. It had been circulated in the Highlands for two or three weeks prior to the election when, I am pleased to say, 18,000 people signed it. By the time we delivered it yesterday that figure was in excess of 20,000. We delivered it to the Treasury and I hope that Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown will consider doing something about the heavy fuel costs in Scotland and the adverse effects that they have on rural Scotland.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

Did Mr Munro draw to the attention of the chancellor the Liberal Democrat policy of having an 8 per cent real-terms increase in the fuel duty escalator, and its plans to further tax bigger engines such as those used in Land Rovers in the far outer reaches of Scotland? Will moves be made to change that policy?

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

The Liberal Democrat policy has not changed. Our policy of imposing a levy on fuel costs was a green policy designed to address the issue of congestion and pollution in cities. We adhere to that. We employ a quite different concept when we address the difficulties of rural Scotland.

The fuel petition has been delivered previously to the Office of Fair Trading and we await a response.

I need not tell anyone in here of the adverse effect of high fuel prices in rural Scotland, but 85 per cent of the cost of fuel is taken up by taxes of one form or another.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat

I thank Parliament for giving me the opportunity to start my speech in Gaelic, which—as everybody knows—is the language of the garden of Eden. I am sure that many great debates in the past were in Gaelic and I am sure that we will get that opportunity in the months and weeks ahead.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour 11:11 am, 16th September 1999

I have a great interest in transport as I represent a rural area. This Executive has shown that it recognises the challenges to transport provision in rural areas. I would like more to be done, but many initiatives have gone largely unnoticed.

Work has been done to move freight off the roads by providing freight facilities grants to companies such as Safeway plc, which enables them to remove 30,000 trucks from the A9. Local Highland companies such as Lovat Pride Mineral Water have also begun to transport freight by train.

In Caithness, Norfrost has built a freight terminal at Georgemas Junction, which has been used by other companies to move steel pipes, aviation fuel, flagstones and timber off the roads.

This is only the start. By moving freight on to the railways, we not only cut the cost to companies by a third, but cut pollution and free up the road system. Previous Governments cut funding for road maintenance but did nothing to ease the pressure on the roads.

Ferries have also benefited. CalMac's grant has increased by £3.2 million, and it has received additional funding to build two new ferries. That will help it enhance the service it provides. Northern isles ferries have also benefited by their grant being increased by 25 per cent. Yesterday's announcement of a 25 per cent increase in spending on the rural transport fund was a huge boost.

I would like to list all the organisations in the Highlands and Islands that have benefited from the increase, but I do not think that I will have time. I particularly welcome the funding for social car schemes and dial-a-bus services. It not only provides for people to become less dependent, but allows those without access to cars to become self-reliant: they do not have to depend on friends, family or neighbours to take them shopping. The Executive's policy goes a long way towards tackling social exclusion in rural areas.

Much has been made of high fuel taxes and their effects on rural areas. I look forward to the Office of Fair Trading report on fuel pricing. I hope that it will lead to equal pricing between rural and urban areas. Over the past decade, many petrol stations have had to close. The rural petrol stations grant has stemmed that decline, ensuring that many rural filling stations can continue to trade. The grant ensures that people in rural areas have access to petrol locally and do not have to travel a huge distance to buy it.

Those initiatives are real investments that make a difference to people's lives throughout the Highlands and Islands and the rest of rural Scotland. I support Sarah Boyack's amendment.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 11:12 am, 16th September 1999

I shall contain my remarks to points of safety. I do not know everyone's listening habits in the morning, but I always listen to the traffic reports by the whirly girlie or from the eye in the sky or by one of those leather-clad motorcyclists, with their on-the-spot assessment of traffic build-ups on the major roads. It will come as no surprise—as I served notice on it in my first speech in the chamber—that the road that causes me and thousands of others the most concern is the A77, which is rightly known as the killer road.

When I was a girl living in East Kilbride, a trip to the seaside, on the Ayrshire coast, was a delightful anticipation. The journey over Fenwick moor and the A77, with its bumps and hollows, was as thrilling as any white-knuckle ride at a theme park. But that was 40 years ago. At 39 and holding, Kay Ullrich would certainly not remember anything that far back—or she would not admit to it. Forty years ago, there were not as many cars on the road and they did not travel as fast as they do nowadays. The A77 was a dangerous road then; it is positively lethal now.

Apart from filter lanes and a small stretch of dual carriageway with lighting at the Galston Road end, the road has changed little between Malletsheugh and Fenwick. That the road is busier now is beyond question.

I added to the volume of traffic when I stood as a candidate in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. The upgrading of the A77 was one of the main campaigning issues. Its importance far outweighed the concerns about education, taxes, jobs and the economy, important though those issues are. The message was loud and clear: "Do something about that killer road." I attended the meeting on 12 November at Fenwick, when Calum Macdonald was in charge of the strategic roads review and came to hear the strength of local feeling. The local community council was represented, as was East Ayrshire Council, and many others came to express their support for the upgrading of the road. Figures showing that the road was carrying motorway volume traffic were incontrovertible—all that on a road with two lanes in each direction, but no central barrier or reservation.

At peak traffic times, it takes only a millisecond's distraction for an accident of catastrophic proportions to happen. There does not have to be a driver at fault; an accident can be caused by someone coming in the opposite direction moving out by a fraction to pass a bus or lorry. At 60 mph in each direction—that is the speed limit—there are not many who walk away from a head-on collision unscathed. We are not all as fortunate as Jacques Villeneuve in having a wall of tyres piled high and five deep to hit.

What happens on the dreadful days when there is a serious accident on the A77? The air ambulance is frequently summoned to deal with the casualties, because medics cannot get through by the road. Traffic is diverted through the village of Fenwick, or perhaps through Kilmaurs and Stewarton, on roads that were never meant to carry such a volume of traffic. In winter, it is worse still, because the minor roads through those villages are not gritted.

Tens of thousands of people use the road every day to commute to work. Thousands of people in the area do as I do in the morning and listen for the traffic update, advising that there are no major problems on the A77: that members of their family will have arrived at work safe and sound.

The experience is repeated at the end of the working day until there is that reassuring sound of a car door closing and the key in the door signalling that another journey on the killer road has been safely completed. If the Minister for Transport and the Environment doubted the strength of feeling about the road, I can assure her that the three candidates who stood in the Kilmarnock and Loudoun constituency all heard the same pleas and are now members of this Parliament. Margaret Jamieson is not in the chamber, but Cathy Jamieson is: she will remember. Alex Neil was there too. We have all heard the same pleas.

We all attended a meeting on 21 June, organised by the councillor for the area and queen of the campaigners, Katie Cochrane. We pledged to work together on the issue. This must be a first for the Parliament: in this debate we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. We have the support of Fenwick community council, East Ayrshire Council, Enterprise Ayrshire, the Ayrshire chamber of commerce, the Westminster MP and the numerous MSPs from various parties who represent constituencies in the area.

I give the minister fair warning now that the requests will not stop. The A77 is a road that has to be tamed, and we will not give up. I know that she has finally responded to our request for a meeting, which is to take place on 4 October. I look forward to talking with her then.

I read in newspaper reports that the minister has no money for roads, so I ask her, between now and our October meeting, to talk to the money men—the boys holding the purse strings—and get an advance on the chancellor's war chest. She should not save that up for votes at the general election, but spend the money now and save lives.

As recently as this morning, I heard the minister comment that she was looking forward to this debate and that the Government had a record to be proud of. Not on this road. The improved signage and bright cats'-eyes are appreciated, even by me, when I have a late surgery or consultation.

I intended to mention the accident statistics, but John Young, who is not in the chamber, stole my thunder. I ask for the safety aspects regarding the A77 to be considered. Money should be spent on it.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 11:18 am, 16th September 1999

I urge members to pause for a moment and remind themselves about one of the key issues of this debate, not just here in Scotland or the UK, but across the world.

We are given a salutary reminder in The Scotsman of this morning, following the publication by the United Nations

"of the most authoritative assessment yet of the crisis facing mankind.

Severe water shortages, the effects of global warming and chronic air pollution are among the 'full-scale emergencies' threatening the planet . . . The UK is an acknowledged world leader in global efforts to tackle climate change".

Air pollution and emissions are among the prime causes of climate change. It is eight years since the Rio earth summit, and the Scottish Executive is firm in its view that doing nothing is not an option.

There can be few things in Scotland today that deserve as high a place on the Scottish Executive's agenda as transport strategy, the stark contrast between congestion in city centres and the problem of access to transport in rural and semi-rural areas, and the crucial issue of peripherality in the wider European picture. How are we to embrace the big-picture issues and integrate them into our parochial picture? We desperately need strategies to tackle those issues. I support the Executive amendment in the name of Sarah Boyack and I am certain that big issues and parochial issues alike will be in excellent hands with her.

In memoriam, lest we forget the Tory legacy, we should ask ourselves who got us into this traffic jam. The Tories now have no strategy and no policy. Kenny MacAskill used the words "quite disingenuous" to describe the Tories' approach to transport matters. Who introduced the fuel duty escalator in 1994? Who introduced the tolls on the Skye road bridge that have since been cut by Labour? Who privatised and broke up the rail network? So desperate is the situation now that no layperson knows who is in charge.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Mr Tosh did not give way to me, so I will not give way to him.

Who published a transport green paper in 1996 that declared a presumption in favour of introducing legislation to enable congestion charging and area licensing to be implemented? Who raised £24 billion a year in tax but spent only £4 billion on roads? By abandoning the fuel duty escalator, the Tories have not only abandoned their environmental programme, but opened up a huge spending hole.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

The Tory motion does not even mention support for public transport, although more than a third of households in Scotland do not have a car. Are the people of Scotland aware that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has condemned the Tory proposal to raise speed limits? How does that chime with the pleas of community councils and residents' associations for traffic calming measures? Where are the park-and-ride schemes across Scotland? They are few and far between. Labour authorities throughout Scotland developed them in spite of, not because of, the previous Tory Government's approach. Contrast the Tories' approach with that of a Government that has a clear strategy to support the development of integrated road and transport policies.

The real enemy of business and the car user is congestion. The Confederation of British Industry estimates that clogged roads cost Britain £20 billion a year. I applaud the sound intervention that Bruce Crawford made this morning, when he attacked the Tories. I have to ask, however, whether the SNP will vote with the Tories on an amendment that will allow the level of transport spending to be determined by Westminster.

The SNP campaign flies in the face of the comments that were made by its transport spokesperson at the Scottish Parliament Transport and the Environment Committee, and contradicts the SNP manifesto and the motion that was placed before last year's SNP conference by the party's leadership. The SNP has just joined the Green grouping in the European Parliament. It has always pretended to be all things to all voters. In Europe, however, SNP members sit with the Greens, among whose policies is the introduction of a 7 per cent fuel duty escalator and a doubling of the price of fossil fuels.

Tavish Scott was right to expose the hypocrisy of SNP members. They tried to hide their budget for independence throughout the Scottish general election campaign, and eventually published it in April 1999. In that proposed budget they allocated fuel duty without any reduction. The manifesto stated that the SNP would support city centre charging schemes. Last year, the SNP conference endorsed a motion recognising that car pricing schemes may provide the revenue that is needed to develop alternatives.

I look at my Tory friends across the chamber and ask, "Who introduced bus deregulation?" That policy left rural areas all over Scotland with no bus service at all. The Scottish Executive proposes quality partnerships, and the Scottish transport partnership proposals clearly state that standards, specifications and levels of service will be developed and embraced by local authorities throughout Scotland. This is the first attempt to deliver, in partnership with the bus companies rather than in confrontation with them, a real service to the people whom we really care about.

Murray Tosh spoke about caring. If the Tories really cared, why have they not set those standards and specifications? The Scottish Executive's exciting proposals deserve to be embraced with vigour. I welcome the statement that was made by Sarah Boyack on Monday, allocating £10 million to freight transport. A Government that is committed to such policies is long overdue.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 11:25 am, 16th September 1999

When I first read the Conservative motion in the business bulletin, I thought that there was a mistake—that the date should have been 1 April instead of 15 September. The antipathy of the iron lady to the iron horse was legendary, and that is just one of the problems with the Conservative motion.

In the Scottish Borders, 96 per cent of the population has access to one or more cars. That is not because it is an affluent area—the Borders has a history of low pay—but because of the problems of delivering bus services to a sparse population over a large rural area.

Let me give some examples of a commuting day from the Borders to Edinburgh. The round trip from Eyemouth to Edinburgh takes three hours on the bus, from Kelso and Jedburgh it takes three and a half hours, and from Hawick it takes four and a half hours. It is impossible to make the journey to Edinburgh from Duns, the county town of Berwickshire.

Travelling from east to west, there are also severe difficulties. A student constituent told me recently that she travels from Cockburnspath to Hawick for her studies, and the round trip of 100 miles involves her commuting for five hours a day on the bus.

There is no railway line either. I welcome the feasibility study into the possibility of reopening the Waverley line. It should be viewed not as a local project, but as a significant national project for Scotland, providing a third rail route into England. We await with great interest the publication of that study in November or December. I urge the Executive not to rule out any options at any stage of the feasibility study, but to consider the economic benefits.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I share Mr Robson's sentiments about the Waverley line, which I well remember as a boy living in Hawick. I also remember the Waverley line being closed by a Labour Government. Does he agree that the cost of reopening the Waverley line—and we should keep an open mind as to whether it should reopen in part or as a whole—should be borne by general taxation if there is to be any public sector input, rather than being funded by tolls levied on commuters from the Borders, who already face high transport charges in a low-wage area?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

There is a case for public investment in that railway line, but I am not sure how that investment is to be achieved. However, there is a major opportunity to open the line and relieve congestion in Edinburgh. If one considers the rates of commuting from the Borders to Edinburgh, it is evident that much could be achieved by the reintroduction of the railway line and by investing in public transport services.

How should that be financed? I believe that the people of the Scottish Borders would accept tolls in and around Edinburgh if they had a viable alternative. The viable alternative must be an improved bus service or a railway line that takes people from the Borders into Edinburgh in reasonable time for a working day.

There would be considerable advantages in looking at the proposed scheme as a way of reducing congestion in Edinburgh. The south of Scotland has been forgotten to a large extent because of the debate on a second Forth bridge. There was no suggestion that an alternative solution to Edinburgh's traffic problems might be a railway line from the Scottish Borders into Edinburgh.

We await the feasibility study. For people in the south of Scotland, improvement in public transport is almost a prerequisite before we can accept road taxation, either in the form of tolls or through an increase in fuel duty.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 11:30 am, 16th September 1999

A great deal of lip service is paid by unionist politicians to the need for an integrated transport network to serve Scotland's social and economic needs. The reality is that the failure of successive Tory and Labour Governments to invest in infrastructure projects and public transport is leading to a disintegration of our transport links and services. Over the past 10 years the volume of traffic on the roads in Scotland has increased by 25 per cent and it is set to increase by a further 25 per cent in the next 10 years. Despite that, Labour will not prioritise investment in roads programmes. Roads expenditure has been cut savagely since Labour came to power. Current spending plans for motorways and trunk roads are a mere £50 million over the first three years of this Parliament.

We await the long-delayed strategic roads review. I hope that its outcome will be a substantial increase in the budget so that urgently needed projects such as the upgrading of the A77 between Glasgow and Kilmarnock are given the go-ahead. I have little confidence that that will be the outcome, however, given that a series of pronouncements by Labour politicians suggest that road spending will continue to be low. The prevalent attitude is typified by George Foulkes, the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley MP, who dismissed roads as an issue during the election campaign and suggested that Labour was happy to leave it to the SNP.

Labour is making two fundamental mistakes in disregarding the fact that, after years of Tory neglect of public transport, increasing numbers of people depend on cars, and the fact that the cuts to road improvement programmes are having a severe impact on road safety and economic development. The situation in Ayrshire illustrates that. The A77 is the main road artery connecting Ayrshire to Glasgow; Mrs McIntosh has already said how dangerous that road is. It is used every day by 37,000 vehicles—that is 7,000 over its capacity. By 2005 an increase of a further 8,000 vehicles a day is expected. The proposed PFI to build a Glasgow south orbital route with a link to the A77 would add another 9,000 vehicles. If the Executive fails to bring forward a plan to upgrade that road immediately, it will be guilty of deliberately neglecting public safety.

In more general terms, the drive to regenerate the Ayrshire economy has been severely hampered by the lack of trunk road development. To the north we need an upgrade of the A737 to connect it to the M8. In the south and west the narrow and aging road network does not help the tourism industry that towns such as Maybole and Girvan need to develop. Girvan has the highest level of unemployment in Scotland, and the lack of a bypass is causing severe structural damage to the town centre of Maybole. In the east, the former mining communities of Cumnock and Doon Valley are suffering high unemployment and rapid depopulation that could be stemmed if cheap and affordable public transport links and better roads were available so that people could travel to areas where there are jobs, such as Ayr and Prestwick.

The greatest economic opportunity for Ayrshire is the development of Prestwick airport now that the fifth freedom rights have been granted. There is a missing link there too—a fast corridor to the M74 is needed to open up the north of England market and to ensure that Prestwick becomes a major European air freight hub as well as a rival to Manchester for passenger services.

I am afraid that the next four years may see little or nothing of that agenda addressed, let alone fulfilled, while Westminster holds the Parliament's purse-strings. Roll on independence.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 11:35 am, 16th September 1999

I listened to Murray Tosh with disbelief. He criticised the fuel escalator. Who started it? He decried motorway tolling. Who introduced it? He bemoaned the crisis in roads funding. Who caused it? As Sarah Boyack said, there was a massive cut in the Scottish Office roads budget before 1997 and the Executive has tried to deal with the uncosted wish list that we inherited and to develop a clear set of priorities for road funding.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Chisholm said that we introduced tolled motorways. I would be interested to know where there is one in Scotland. I am not aware of any proposal for one.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

Leaving aside the Skye bridge, when the Tories were in power there was only a UK Government and tolls were introduced by it in England. I remember that there were wiser voices in the Conservative party. John MacGregor, as Secretary of State for Transport, said in 1994 that increases in fuel duty and motorway tolls would help people to make more informed choices about the cost of using their cars.

I listened with a different kind of disbelief to Mr MacAskill. Setting aside the fact that the SNP has applied to join the European Federation of Green Parties, which supports a much steeper fuel escalator and many other charges on motorists, I was struck today, as on so many days, by the SNP's wish list of undeliverable spending promises. Before the public spending round later this year, the SNP really must learn not just to promise more money for transport, more money for education, more money for health, more money for everything, without any indication of how it is going to be provided.

The Executive has made an excellent start with £90 million for public transport and initiatives such as quality partnerships for buses. The Parliament should take the opportunity offered by complete control of bus policy in Scotland, which is a very important lever. The Executive has also understood that no matter how much public money we are able to find, it will never be enough. That is why the issue of road user charging has arisen. I know that Mr McLetchie is going to say that we do not need it, that there are other pots of gold. He will tell us that if the City of Edinburgh Council sells Lothian Region Transport it will not need to introduce congestion charging. Lothian Region Transport provides money every year from its surpluses for public transport in Edinburgh and if it is sold off that will be very bad economics—once again the Tory ideology of selling off the family silver—and, in the long run, it will cost the people of Edinburgh more.

I was pleased that the SNP at least acknowledged a role for congestion charging. The Executive has put forward that proposal, but I emphasise that it will be up to local authorities to decide whether they want to do it. Already Glasgow City Council has indicated that it will not, but it may consider workplace charging. I felt, however, that Mr MacAskill caricatured the Executive's and David Begg's positions on motorway charging. As Sarah Boyack said, extensive research on diversion would be needed. David Begg has also said that he would support motorway charging if the money that it raised was used to develop public transport in the same traffic corridor.

The Executive has a good story to tell on public transport. We should remember that a third of households in Scotland do not have a car. Promoting public transport is in the interests of the poorest and most excluded sections of society. It is good for pensioners—I hope that we will develop concessionary travel schemes—and for women, who are the main users of public transport. It is also good for reducing congestion in cities, which is in everyone's economic interest. The Executive should go on the offensive and sell the policy on public transport.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 11:39 am, 16th September 1999

The Scottish Parliament must recognise that Scotland has vast areas that are sparsely populated, with remote communities that are being crucified by the present policies.

It is interesting to note that in Canada, which shares some rural problems with Scotland, a litre of petrol is 20p and car tax is £50. In the Highlands and Islands, petrol is 80p a litre, which is four times as much, and car tax is £150, which is three times as much. Frankly, it would not be surprising if we had another Highland clearance to Canada soon.

It is vital that people understand that, in many areas outside the central belt, the car is a necessity, not a luxury. Although there is public transport in some localities, it is often inconvenient to use, which results in under-utilised buses. What is more polluting than an empty bus? Why should the people who most need their cars have to pay the highest fuel costs in Europe? It does not make sense to them. It is the Executive's responsibility to redress the serious imbalance.

I was surprised to hear George Lyon and Alasdair Morrison state last week that the tourism figures for 1999 were not as bad as had been expected and were no worse than last year. Caledonian MacBrayne's recent figures expose that that was not the case in the north-west of Scotland. They show an overall decline of 20,911 passengers, 4,117 cars and 1,263 commercial vehicles. That comes on top of the fact that last year's figures were considerably down on those for 1997. Any downturn in the economies of the fragile island communities that are served by CalMac could have devastating consequences, especially as those areas are already deep in recession because of the disastrous state of agriculture, fishing, the tweed industry and tourism.

The key to helping rural communities to help themselves lies in low fuel costs and improved infrastructure. Previous schemes such as the Vattersay causeway, the Scalpay bridge and the Berneray causeway—which were all initiated by Conservative Administrations—have made a huge difference to people's lives, but we must not stop there; we must keep improving access with new and better roads. One such improvement would be a new road link from Tolsta to Ness on the Isle of Lewis. That link was first mooted 150 years ago, but the plan was never carried out. The road would be only nine miles long, but it would link up the whole coastline of the island and would be of great benefit to the local economy.

A major problem that has recently been brought to my attention—I see Alasdair Morrison laughing—and which is particularly expensive is the damage that is being done to rural roads by enormously heavy timber lorries.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

The obvious solution would be to upgrade rail systems to facilitate the carriage of timber, but that is unfeasible in many areas of the west. The option there is coastal shipping but—I hate to say this—if the coastal shipping industry is ignored for much longer there will be no ships left to turn to and that option will be gone.

"It is the aim of the Government to maintain the social and economic development of the Scottish Highlands and Islands communities through the support of sea transport services in the Highlands and Islands".

That statement was made in 1997. Where have all the ships gone? The gradual withdrawal of the tariff rebate subsidy has taken freight from coastal shipping and on to the roads. In 1995, the MV St Oran carried nearly 13,000 tonnes of timber, but so far in 1999 she has carried only 400 tonnes, which was cargo for the Argyll and Bute timber transport initiative. The withdrawal of the TRS from timber is immensely damaging to our road systems. The subsidised ferries encourage more haulage to ferry ports, often for just a short crossing. The large and heavily laden lorries increase congestion and can be the cause of major accidents. In contrast, in one recent trip by water, 415 tonnes of timber were carried from Ardrishaig in Argyll to the Mersey, saving 12,000 road miles.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I am finishing.

The tariff rebate subsidy was discredited because of some fraud, not because it was ineffective. The TRS used to be 40 per cent on timber, coal and building materials, but it is now only 20 per cent and applies only to coal cargoes. A sensible solution would be to reintroduce TRS for timber and other bulk cargoes, such as road salt, which is used by all the Highland councils. Even if the TRS were set at 40 per cent, the bill for the carriage of 200,000 tonnes of timber by sea would be only £1.5 million, and the number of road miles saved from heavy lorries would be in excess of 6 million. Given that Caledonian MacBrayne's subsidy has risen to £17 million, it seems only fair that some consideration be given to the highly adaptable coastal shipping industry before it disappears.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 11:45 am, 16th September 1999

I thought that it was a risky strategy for the Tories to lead on this motion this morning. Their defence of it today at least has been commendable— [Applause.] However, as Kenny Gibson said, what a brass neck. Before the Scottish Parliament election, the Tories apologised for all their mistakes, but there was no apology this morning to those pensioners who cannot take a bus to church on a Sunday or visit their relatives in hospital at the weekend, and there was no regret for those who cannot get a bus after 6 o'clock at night. There was no word of concern for those who cannot get to work for early shifts within the Renfrewshire area, including Greenock and Inverclyde, which I represent.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

No, we have had enough tosh from the Tories today, and I will have my say.

There has not been a word of regret for low-paid workers who are forced into taxis to take them to work in the morning. The fuel escalator affects those temporary workers in my constituency who are forced to hire buses to take them to and from work. The price of the bus is fixed, so they have to watch their fares increase week after week—the number of passengers has declined because people have been laid off. The price of their transport has doubled.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

No, I am going to press on. I apologise for that, but I need to make a couple of points.

No word of concern was expressed for Mr Dempster, whom I met at Greenock West station this morning, when again the train did not turn up at 6.30. He faxed me to say that he supports our integrated policy. I will tell him that no comfort came from the Conservatives this morning with regard to getting him from Greenock to Motherwell to work. The only comfort in this chamber this morning is the strategy that has been put forward by the Executive.

When I get back to my office I will tell Mr Dempster that I am supporting the amendment and that everyone in this Parliament should do the same, because the only people who can offer a solution to the crisis that we face in our public transport system are the Executive. I hope that the Parliament supports the amendment.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 11:48 am, 16th September 1999

It has become plain to me this morning that, of the many transport issues in Scotland, none can be considered in isolation. Some of the problems—especially road congestion in urban environments—are common to many parts of the world. However, some of our problems are particular to us, especially those that relate to islands and our remote communities.

Just over a year ago, the Government produced a white paper called "Travel Choices for Scotland", which outlined many of those issues. I think that most of us would agree with much of the analysis in that paper. The figures confirm that Scots travel further and more often now than they did even 10 years ago. The paper also catalogued the failure of the Conservative party's transport policy. Perhaps that is a misnomer; I should say the Conservative party's privatisation policy. As has been said, the amount of travel by every form of public transport has fallen.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Is Linda Fabiani aware that passenger levels on all the rail franchises have risen steadily since 1995? All the franchises anticipate that that trend will continue and they anticipate substantial investment. That is the direct result of railway privatisation.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

As Kenny Gibson said, Mr Tosh should tell that story to Duncan McNeil and all the people waiting on platforms at 6.30 this morning. If we examine the Scottish statistical surveys, we see that railway privatisation has not been a success.

The western world must face the fact that all transport issues affect the environment. Given the scale of the problem, the Executive's response to the "Travel Choices for Scotland" white paper is disappointing. "Tackling Congestion" is a fig leaf to conceal another tax-raising measure rather than an attempt to tackle the problem.

We have been told that rural issues are the most important. I welcome that, as I lived on an island for many years and experienced the problems faced in rural areas. Until now, the focus has been almost exclusively on the central belt; it has been anchored in the distance travelled between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Even in that area, the Executive has run into difficulties. No one supports its ridiculous proposal to apply a toll tax to the M8. It is clear to everyone—apart from the Executive—that the toll tax would simply drive more traffic on to minor roads.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

No, this is a winding-up speech. Andrew expressed concern for the environment, but I wonder how the people who live along the A71 will feel about their environment being wrecked. The minister may take some comfort from the local authority response to her proposals to tackle city centre congestion in Edinburgh, but she will take no comfort from the slating that the proposals received from her party colleagues in Glasgow.

The SNP position on city centre congestion is clear. Congestion is the responsibility of local authorities; it is a separate issue from motorway and trunk road tolling. It should be clear to the minister that her proposals lack credibility. She has been found out because she is trying to get something for nothing.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

No. Perhaps Andrew will be lucky the third time that he asks.

Many people would leave their car at home and some would not even buy a car if there were real alternatives. I will not become anecdotal by talking about the problems that I have had in getting to work without the use of my car. Other folk have outlined their problems. We cannot hammer motorists unless they have a viable alternative.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I agree that this is a serious debate, so will Linda Fabiani explain why the SNP has chosen to settle for glibness—by using the phrase toll tax, for example—which closes down the debate about the options in transport policy? We should all discuss the challenging problems of meeting the pressing needs of the individual, such as those of a mother, and the general needs of the community.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

We call it a toll tax because it is a toll tax.

At the moment, public transport is not an option for most people. Public transport must be good enough to make people want to get out of their cars; it must be decent, clean and affordable. Security issues must be addressed and park and ride must be secure. Women must feel that they can leave their car, use public transport and not feel threatened at night when it is dark.

Helen Eadie and Malcolm Chisholm accused the SNP of not having an environmental agenda and remarked on the fact that we had linked up with the Greens in Europe. We have linked up with the Greens, but only on the recognition of our distinctive positions, including on the fuel escalator. That coalition is not a compromise on principle, unlike the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, which has ditched principle for political expediency.

The minister's press launch for the consultation paper "Tackling Congestion" was a debacle. She was attacked for confirming that she did not propose to ring-fence the funds raised from road charging. The paper states:

"The proposed legislation will not, therefore, restrict expenditure entirely to transport-related matters."

We had a memorable U-turn.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Yes; I said that I would probably give way the third time.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The SNP spent all summer running away from principles and policies on road user charging. How would it pay for the infrastructure of the Scottish transport network, given that it would not increase the fuel duty escalator, would not charge on roads and would leave city centre congestion to local authorities? Where is the SNP's environmental and financial commitment to this Parliament's responsibility to produce an integrated transport policy?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Scotland has been paying through the nose for years. The SNP does not believe that the answer to everything is to cut income tax and impose hidden taxes on consumers.

I look forward to finding out from next year's bill whether the funds raised will be ring-fenced. The minister's excuse for her U-turn—she has allowed it to stand on record—was that she was badly advised by her civil servants. That excuse is an unfortunate precedent so early in the Executive's life.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

With respect, I wish it to be clear that I made no such statement.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Are you saying that it was not the civil servants who made the mistake?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Address your remarks through the chair, please, and wind up.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I am sorry, Presiding Officer. Will the minister state here and now that it was not the civil servants who got it wrong, but the Executive?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Ms Fabiani should not believe everything that she reads in the press. If it has quotation marks around it, it is my statement.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

It would have been nice if Sarah Boyack had refuted that sooner.

We have the opportunity in this Parliament to discuss, through the Transport and the Environment Committee, all aspects of Scottish transport and the environment. As the minister said, we have the opportunity for realistic and honest debate, which will result in the best solution for Scotland. The SNP would welcome that and, as a member of that committee, I look forward to discussing the responses to the Executive's consultation paper. I suspect that the Executive will find that everyone is out of step, except oor Sarah, so I hope that oor Sarah is willing to make some more U-turns. Andy told us that we have a listening Government in the UK and in Scotland. Along with many others, I await the proof of that bold statement in relation to transport and the environment.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 11:58 am, 16th September 1999

I welcome the fact that the debate has given the Parliament an opportunity to discuss some of the big issues in transport policy in Scotland and has given members from all parties the opportunity to raise local concerns. That balance has been welcome.

The debate has confirmed that on the big picture no amount of rhetoric can hide the fact that Labour does not give transport the priority that it deserves. Since it came to power, Labour at Westminster has pursued a vendetta against the motorist. The road user is the fall guy for levying taxation by stealth. It is intent on taxing ordinary people off the road, putting business costs up and thereby damaging job prospects. Gordon Brown has imposed the highest fuel taxes in history and we have the most expensive petrol and diesel in Europe—£17 out of every £20 spent on fuel is tax. Labour has put its foot on the fuel escalator since coming to power.

Our hauliers have been hit particularly hard by fuel taxes and by vehicle excise duty, which stands at 11 times the level that applies in France. Fuel taxes are a blunt instrument, hitting particularly hard people who live in fragile rural communities where the car is a necessity, not a luxury. I welcome the fact that members from all parties have expressed concern about that. I welcome even the Liberal Democrats' petition to the chancellor as one way of addressing the issue. It is a conversion on the Damascus road, given that their earlier stated policies would have pushed up fuel prices for road users in Scotland far more than even this Government has done.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Is David McLetchie aware that the Liberal Democrat members of the Westminster Parliament voted against the fuel tax escalator at every opportunity when it came up as a budget measure? Their principal argument was that it would harm rural areas unless compensating measures were introduced. That is the position, and David McLetchie should try to get it right.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I accept that that is the Liberal Democrats' voting record, but their policy is to favour energy and carbon taxes that would have a far more severe impact than the fuel escalator. That is the Liberal Democrats' national policy and Tavish Scott is saddled with it. There is no point in trying to write it off in this chamber by casting a few votes against an alternative tax policy.

The whole Government transport policy is built on a lie. Over the lifetime of this Parliament, Labour's motoring taxes will add an extra £9 billion to the motorists' tax bill in the United Kingdom.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I will give way after I have had a chance to develop this point.

The three budgets so far have added more than £150 a year to the fuel tax bill of every driver in Britain. However, despite those extra taxes, the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that the increases will result in reductions of less than 0.5 per cent in car usage and carbon dioxide emissions. Those taxes have nothing to do with helping the environment. They are Labour stealth taxes to raise more money for the chancellor's election war chest.

It is not as if the extra money that is raised through taxes from motorists and other road users goes towards improving the transport system.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I will give way in a moment.

In the United Kingdom as a whole, of the £32 billion that the Government raised from motoring taxes last year, less than one fifth went back into the transport network. That has led to Labour's slashing the roads budget.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Mr McLetchie has been critical of the fuel price escalator and of our proposals for road charging, yet he wishes to spend more on roads. Can he detail which public services he would cut or which taxes he would raise to pay the bill?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Yes. Our motion says quite clearly what we should do. The United Kingdom Government—because we need a unionist transport policy that reflects Scotland's needs as part of the United Kingdom—should increase expenditure and allocate a higher proportion of the total taxes already raised from motorists and road users to the transport budget. By dint of the application of the Barnett formula, that would ensure an increase in the Scottish block, which the Minister for Transport and the Environment could use to meet Scotland's transport priorities. It is as simple as that. If the Labour party at national level were not failing on the big-picture issues—failing to tackle soaring welfare bills in the budget—there would be more finance to tackle Scotland's basic transport needs.

The Conservative party is committed to ending the annual automatic fuel duty escalator. We say that enough is enough. The Scottish Executive should use its influence and tell the chancellor to press the emergency stop button on the escalator before he does more damage to our economy. As I said in response to an earlier question, we think that the chancellor should be told to give transport spending as a whole far higher priority in the public spending round than it receives at present. However, that does not appear to be the Scottish Executive's intention.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

No, I will move on before coming back to the member.

Far from doing either of the things that I have suggested, the Executive intends to exacerbate the situation by introducing tolls, taxes and charges on Scotland's motorists and road users. The Executive's consultation paper proposes tolls for travelling on our motorways—not just on our new roads—and charging people for using roads that their taxes have already paid for. It also proposes tolls for entering our cities and new taxes for parking at places of work.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Will Mr McLetchie answer Bristow Muldoon's question? If the Conservatives intend to make transport a priority, which public services would they cut? They cannot simply take the money from England, or promote one priority without demoting another. Which public services would pay—welfare and social services, education or the health service?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I have already answered the question. If the United Kingdom as a whole gives higher priority to transport in overall public spending, additional resources will be available here in Scotland.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I have taken one intervention and will give way to the member in a moment.

The new taxes that the Executive is selling are based on a lie. It is telling us that they are intended to reduce congestion and that there is a good environmental case to be made for them. That is not true. Even the SNP has seen through that as far as motorway tolls are concerned. The taxes have nothing to do with relieving congestion. The Government's transport adviser, Mr David Begg, said in an article in Scotland on Sunday of 27 June that

"the argument for motorway tolling is primarily a financial one: there is little or no money to fund the roads programme in Scotland."

Unfortunately, the SNP has not seen through the Executive's arguments on tolls to enter our cities and taxes on workplace parking. I find it deeply depressing that today SNP members not only failed to press the Executive on those points, but seemed to want to return to a neanderthal nationalising policy—if their attacks on privatisation and deregulation of rail and buses are anything to go by. The contempt that they showed for what Mr Souter has achieved in building Stagecoach into one of Scotland's most successful companies will do nothing to increase their election campaign funds for next year.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

How does the member propose that by 2005 Scottish cities should meet the air quality directives and address the problem of environmental pollution that we are suffering in urban areas?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

There is no proof that higher taxes to enter our cities will achieve that. Sensible physical traffic management measures, the development of alternatives to the car and the development of park-and-ride schemes are what is needed. I was interested to hear one member's comments on park-and-ride schemes. We in Edinburgh have been waiting years for such schemes. While Mr Begg has been wasting millions on consultancy fees and reports, the park- and-ride schemes have lain in abeyance. That is the reality in this city.

The Executive's policy of city entry charges is built on a lie. Experiments that have been carried out in cities such as Leicester have suggested that the rate would have to be set at £8 per day before it had any effect. I find it hard to believe that even this Executive is suggesting charges at that level.

Workplace parking falls into the same category. We are told in the paper on congestion that employees enjoy free parking. That is nonsense. Workplace parking is already taxed through the business rates system. That amounts to £1,000 per annum on rateable value in cities such as Edinburgh. People in Edinburgh are already paying more than £500 per parking space—what will an extra £100 do to reduce congestion? Nothing, I suggest. In the same Scotland on Sunday article that I quoted earlier, Mr Begg said that

"over the last twenty years there has been no change in rush hour traffic volumes into Edinburgh".

If he does not believe that the volume of rush-hour congestion is increasing in Edinburgh, why are these new taxes being presented as necessary and inevitable?

We need to improve public transport and provide alternatives. We do not need to bleed the motorist dry to do so. The Executive is trying to con the public into believing that its taxes will relieve congestion, to disguise the fact that transport is so low on its priorities list that it will not fund improvements to our system without extra tax revenues. That is why transport should have a higher UK priority and why I want Lothian Region Transport to be sold off to fund the improvements that are set out in the Government's local transport strategy. Malcolm Chisholm also talked about improvements in local transport, but our proposal would cause the improvements to be evident in a few years, not the 60 years that Malcolm's dividend cheque drip feed would mean.

I will finish my speech now as I am aware of the pressure of time. I am sorry that I have been unable to let Tricia Marwick ask her question.

Transport is a low priority for this Government. As Murray Tosh said in his opening speech, the question is one of balance. The balance has gone too far against the motorist, the haulier and other road users. It is time to correct the balance, to give transport its fair share of national resources. Our motion would ensure that, and I ask members to support it.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 12:11 pm, 16th September 1999

I would like to make a quick point before I start. Mr Tosh asked me to correct a typographical error in my speech notes, and I am happy to do so: the Conservative party was in power for 18 years, not 20. There were times when it felt like a lifetime—was it really only 18 years?

There is consensus in the Parliament. We all want a high-quality road network and a world-class public transport system. We all recognise that we need different approaches for the urban and rural parts of Scotland. That consensus is promising. The problem is that people will not address the issues of how we will pay for transport investment and how we can tackle traffic congestion.

I have spent all summer listening to Kenny MacAskill and Linda Fabiani avoid addressing the issues in our "Tackling Congestion" paper. Today, we finally had a ringing endorsement from them for congestion charges, even if it sounded a bit thin after the attacks during the summer.

The SNP has always pretended to be all things to all voters. Linda Fabiani's support for the SNP joining the Green grouping in the European Parliament sounded hollow, particularly in the context of Kenny MacAskill's comments about opposing landfill tax. We have a problem with how we can meet our environmental commitments. We need a responsible debate on the problem.

The SNP is in favour of road pricing; I am glad that SNP members have made a commitment to it today. The party supported city centre charging schemes in its 1999 manifesto.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

On a point of order. An allegation has been made, that I said that I supported road pricing. I did not say that. I would like Sarah Boyack to withdraw her remark.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I was talking about congestion charging. You said that you supported it in city centres. Is that correct?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

So you support some form of road pricing, as long as it is congestion charging and is left to the local authorities. That is the approach that is suggested in our consultation paper. I look forward to your endorsement of that suggestion and any other helpful suggestions on how the proposal can be implemented.

The SNP has dodged transport issues for months. You have historically argued for highly focused road pricing and your transport spokesperson—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

On a point of order. Repeatedly, the minister, who is reading from a typed speech, says "you". It is one thing when mere back benchers like me use the term, but it is atrocious that a minister should do so.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I am sure that the minister will take your point.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I do. When I refer to the Opposition parties, I will do so explicitly. Thank you for that point of order, Mr Gallie.

On 28 August, the SNP transport spokesperson Stewart Hosie said that there might be some arguments for motorway tolls. The SNP conference in September 1998 endorsed a motion that recognised that certain car pricing schemes might provide the revenue needed to develop alternatives—the conference supported focused road pricing to help develop public transport alternatives. Those comments were welcome, and I welcome the SNP to the serious debate about congestion in our cities.

Despite those policies, the SNP is also in favour of increasing income tax. We have one of the lowest rates of income tax in Europe and one of the lowest rates of corporation tax. Money for investment in transport has to come from somewhere. Earlier this year, Alasdair Morgan, during the 24 hours for which he was the SNP's transport spokesperson, said that he wanted an extra 1p on income tax to go towards investment in roads. That statement was withdrawn within 24 hours.

The SNP has not had a consistent or coherent approach to transport investment in Scotland. I will be interested to find out whether the SNP will support the Conservative party's motion, which is a thoroughly confused one. It welcomes the Scottish Executive's commitment to reducing vehicle emissions, yet does not say how that could be achieved. John Young asked us to set the rest of the world an example. That is the point of the Executive's policy.

The Tories recognise the importance to Scotland of our transport links by road, rail, sea and air, but abdicate all responsibility to the UK Government. The point of having a Scottish Parliament is that we should be able to make choices about where to invest the money that we receive in the block grant. As David McLetchie said, the Tories propose a unionist transport approach. Scotland deserves better. We need to set our transport policies in Scotland, while playing a full part in the UK.

The Tories promise new investment without the slightest idea of how they will pay for it. They promised the M74 contract; we have committed £25 million a year to it for the next 30 years. We are paying for investment in the road system and in public transport. Our new public transport fund and our new rural transport fund are further evidence of our commitment to invest in transport.

The Tories promise more money for maintenance, but cut maintenance spend to unprecedentedly low levels when they were in power. Roads are important for cars, buses and lorries and they should be a key part of any transport strategy for Scotland.

We have embarked on a major consultation on road charging. I want an opportunity to reflect on all the views received when the consultation process ends in two weeks. I encourage both the Opposition parties to respond. I would like the detailed comments that they have made today to be on paper, so that they can be properly considered. I have set up a sub-committee of the national transport forum, which is not a group of yes-men. It is made up of people, some of whom support our policies and some of whom have reservations, who will draw together the comments that have been submitted so that we can take forward a policy that people will support.

This Government is determined to build an integrated transport system that meets Scotland's economic and social needs but does not threaten our health or our environment. That will require innovative solutions. During the summer, I talked to the Confederation of British Industry, the Road Haulage Association, the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and many local authorities to work out ways in which we can work in partnership and build consensus.

I am happy to take on board Kenny Gibson's comments about social inclusion and buses. Our objective in bringing forward an integrated transport bill with legislation on buses is to address frequency, timetables, through-ticketing, access and the quality of buses. There are good examples of partnerships in action, but we must broaden them and give local authorities a statutory basis for working with transport operators.

That is what is critical about our policy, and we hope to work with people to deliver it. It will require commitment from central and local government. We have to tackle our inherited transport problems of under-investment, a second-class public transport system and polluted cities. Those will be our priorities.

We need to recognise the diversity of Scotland. I appreciated listening to the speeches by Jamie McGrigor, Euan Robson, David Mundell and John Munro. They are right to call for an integrated approach in rural areas. It is important that we acknowledge that most people in rural areas need to use their cars. That is why we have supported rural petrol stations and why I am anticipating the second Office of Fair Trading report on fuel pricing. We want to reflect on those matters.

I have been talking with councils in the Highlands and Islands, Argyll and Bute and the Western Isles. We need to work together, using our rural transport fund, to deliver for people in rural areas. However, it must be an integrated approach, and I welcome the comments about coastal shipping and transporting timber. I have been working with John Home Robertson on our review of the freight facilities grant, to see whether it can be extended to shipping. Those are important issues that we will reflect on as the Executive.

Scottish ministers, the Parliament, local authorities, regional partnerships, transport operators, voluntary groups and the UK Government must all work together in partnership. It is about balance, not about focusing on the needs of one group of transport users.

Mr McLetchie, we do not see motorists as being a separate group in society. Motorists use a whole range of public services. We need to take their views into account as much as those of anyone else. We want an integrated approach to our road, rail and bus networks, which tackles local problems, including local congestion. That is a broad approach. It is a transport policy that embraces rather than excludes, offers people choice where there is no choice at present, and seeks to protect our environment while ensuring economic prosperity and social inclusion.

I move amendment S1M-151.2, to leave out from 'expresses concern' to end and insert:

'commends the efforts the Scottish Executive is making to tackle the consequences of eighteen years of Conservative transport policies and reverse the resulting legacy of under investment, rising congestion and environmental degradation, and calls upon the Scottish Executive to continue to work to deliver a sustainable, effective and integrated transport system through in particular the Programme of Government commitments on investing in public transport, promoting a national transport timetable and bringing forward a Transport Bill in early 2000 whilst reflecting the diverse transport needs of all Scotland's people, in particular those living in rural area, and by so doing to take the decisions required to deliver, working with others, an integrated transport system fit for the 21st century.'