Transport

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 28th March 2002.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 9:30 am, 28th March 2002

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2945, in the name of David Mundell, on transport, and two amendments to that motion. Members who wish take part in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I just met the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning in the foyer of the Parliament, wearing what looked like a jogging suit. I know now what the reference to pedestrians in the Executive's amendment is all about.

It is another Thursday morning—the 9.30 graveyard slot. I hope that today we will have a meaningful transport debate. Unlike last week's ministerial announcement of the so-called transport delivery plan—now called a report—I hope that today's debate will be of substance and will set out Scotland's transport needs and identify how we will meet them, not just for the benefit of the travelling public, but for the economy.

There can be no doubt of the significance of transport infrastructure. In that term, I include public transport. The infrastructure is important to the development of Scotland's economy and to lifting the growth rate above its continuing below-trend performance.

There is no doubt that business in Scotland is crying out for improvements. The Confederation of British Industry Scotland, Business a.m. and numerous other organisations have produced their own transports plans. The Scottish Executive described the CBI's plan as a

"timely contribution to the debate ... in Scotland."

No wonder there is universal disappointment among the business community, road-user organisations and the travelling public following the launch of the Executive's transport delivery report. As Business a.m. said:

"Wendy Alexander's claim that her transport delivery report sets out an 'impressive range and number of transport improvements' across Scotland is either astonishingly naive or is designed for Labour flag-waving. Of the 10 projects announced, some are old news, others are dependent on studies before they can go ahead, and none has committed funding."

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Which projects would the member like to remove, and does he accept that the concessionary fares scheme, Traveline Scotland and others are fully funded?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Pardon me for being sceptical, but it is interesting that the much-vaunted travel scheme was announced 19 months before it is to come into operation. It will be fully operational only one month before the Scottish Parliament elections.

It is not as if the Scottish Executive did not have sufficient time to prepare detailed proposals. The transport delivery plan was due in September 2000, but has been constantly delayed. It was originally intended to be the Scottish version of John Prescott's 10-year strategic plan for transport in England and Wales. However, as The Sunday Times pointed out, since then there has been significant divergence between England and Wales and Scotland in the priority afforded to transport.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I will not at the moment, but I will come back to Mr Muldoon.

Indeed, if The Sunday Times's story "Scots transport cash lags behind England" is to be believed, the minister's civil servants calculate the shortfall between what is being spent south of the border and what is being spent north of the border at £85 million over the next three years. That one-time favourite transport guru of new Labour, David Begg, agrees. In a recent paper, he accused the Executive of

"failing to deliver the levels of investment and improvement that are being implemented south of the border", which will lead to a significant negative divergence of approach. According to the article in The Sunday Times, Miss Alexander rejected the idea of a strategic plan not, as I suggested last week, because she prefers 15-second soundbites to 15-year plans, but because she believes that planning is

"dangerous because it makes the unwarranted assumption that money will be available ... to finance those promises."

What a danger; that the electorate should believe that the Labour party and its Liberal Democrat partners would back up promises to improve Scotland's transport system with hard cash. To avoid that clear danger, the minister took the decisive step of ensuring that there are no concrete plans in the report and that there is no money.

There are more questions than answers from last week's report. For example, it would be useful if the minister could give a copper-bottomed guarantee that the Scottish Executive, in conjunction with the Strategic Rail Authority, will complete the process of re-letting the ScotRail franchise by April 2004, but there is no evidence that it can.

What is the Executive's commitment to Borders rail? Is it patronising tokenism or will there be hard cash? Perhaps we will hear the answer today.

I am sure that the park-and-ride facility at Croy station is a good idea. No doubt there will also be benefits from the works at the Auchenkilns roundabout, although those benefits will be no substitute for an extension to the M80.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I will come back to Cathie Craigie.

Can it really be the case that when the minister announced her major strategy for the future of transport in Scotland, all that it contained were commitments to build a car park and a roundabout? No wonder it was met with such derision. That is why we need to begin the process again, but this time with funds and time scales clearly identified.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour

The member raised two points about matters in my constituency—the Auchenkilns roundabout and the Croy park-and-ride scheme—but it is obvious that he and his party know nothing about issues in the area. Traffic management at the Auchenkilns roundabout is exactly what the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth are looking for. It is exactly what will ease the congestion on that road. On Croy station—

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We do not want a speech. You have made your point.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

If Cathie Craigie had listened, she would know that I said that I welcomed the Croy station improvements. I have spent hours in queuing traffic at Auchenkilns roundabout, so I know what the problems are there and the solution is completion of the M80.

I will refer back to the transport delivery plan. I do not accept Miss Alexander's assertion in another Sunday newspaper that the transport problems of rural Scotland have been sorted out. That is an outrageous assertion that is based on the giving out of a few minibuses instead of acknowledging the deplorable state of most rural non-trunk roads, which those minibuses must drive on. Nor has rural public transport been improved.

The need to improve the A75 and A77 in the Stranraer area is as great as ever. Failure to do so will have a knock-on impact on ferry investment and will create in Wigtownshire a rural economic catastrophe of unparalleled severity. That is why the Conservative party would carry out the necessary works out of public funds. That does not apply just to the A75 and A77; we believe that Scotland's motorway network must be completed. The time for studies is over. Scotland's travelling taxpayers are entitled to see their hard-earned tax pounds spent on completion of the M8, the M74 northern extension, upgrading of the A80, the A8000 and the Aberdeen western relief road. There are many other worthy projects in Scotland.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Not at the moment.

That does not mean taking money from rail and public transport, which have a vital role. That vital role is why we support the development of rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. As the Evening Times stated in relation to Glasgow airport:

"The lack of decent public transport links ... not only helps to contribute to massive congestion on the M8 but is also one of the main factors cited as stifling the growth of the west of Scotland economy."

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I want to make sure that we get this on the record. Will the member confirm that all that he suggests should be paid for by the Executive out of public funds? Does the Conservative party support those projects being paid for out of taxpayers' money?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Mr Rumbles will hear about that. We have previously made it clear that we would commit to transport £100 million per year from the budget of the rest of Miss Alexander's department. I restate that. As the smoke and mirrors are stripped away from the Executive's budget, significantly greater resources might become available. What, for example, will happen post 2004 to the £100 million a year that the Executive currently has in an estates budget that is being ploughed into the Holyrood project?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Given that the Conservatives are never going to be in power, or even in coalition, in this Parliament, can the member tell me what is the point of all this?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am terribly sorry, I thought there was a point of order. On you go.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I do not know how to take that, Presiding Officer.

We in Scotland cannot have a transport system that we can be proud of if we do not rid the country of the scourge of Labour's plague of potholes, which have become all too common on our country roads and in our towns. The Executive must engage in a strategic dialogue with local government on the steps that are needed to return our non-trunk roads to a reasonable state of repair. Scottish Conservatives are committed to setting up an inspectorate that would carry out an independent audit of the state of non-trunk roads that would provide a basis for dialogue. Road users want to end buck passing between the Scottish Executive and councils. It is time to deliver a mutually funded plan for action.

The Scottish Executive has failed to deliver the transport infrastructure that business needs and the travelling public deserve. It has presided over transport chaos, the most lamentable recent example being its sitting on the fence on the rail strikes. Only when the public were at the end of their tether and business had lost millions did the Executive even begin to give any sort of signal to its friends in the rail unions that strikes were totally unacceptable and that the travelling public should be put first. In so doing, the Scottish Executive failed the Scottish people, just as Stephen Byers has failed rail users throughout the UK.

Mr Byers has one priority. That priority is not travellers, but himself and saving his neck. The latest thing he has had to do to achieve that is to pay £300 million to Railtrack's shareholders, which he and many Labour MSPs vowed would never be done. It would have been far better to have used that money to continue to support Railtrack to invest in improving our railways, but just as in Scotland—as the Executive's amendment today proves—Labour has no interest in transport, only in spin. The Conservatives do have an interest in transport. Our commitments to business and to the travelling public are clear and unequivocal.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the importance of transport to the economy in delivering growth and investment to Scotland; further notes that the Scottish Executive's stewardship of transport issues has been characterised by chaos and muddle, evidenced by strikes, increased congestion, poor maintenance of local roads and unreliable public transport; regrets that the long-awaited transport delivery plan launched by the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning on 21 March 2002 contains no concrete plans for funding and delivering desperately needed improvements to Scotland's transport infrastructure and services and, in particular, gives no details of new trunk road improvements beyond 2004-05, and calls upon the Executive to make a clear commitment to investing in transport for the benefit of the economy and the travelling public.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 9:42 am, 28th March 2002

I am grateful to the Tory party for raising such an important topic again, and for providing us with another opportunity to highlight the Executive's priorities in delivering a modern transport system for Scotland as a whole. The reason why the debate has revolved, and will continue to revolve, around the policies of the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition is not simply that we are in power. It is because we have gone beyond complaining about the problems and have brought forward solutions while the Opposition has not. We have outlined priorities and laid out what needs to be done to overcome the legacy of 18 years of neglect and decline under Tory rule.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Indeed it was five years ago, but it has taken some time to get to where we are. In looking forward, we will not do what the Tories have just promised to do, and cut university funding by £100 million a year.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I do not think that we said that. Ms Wendy Alexander's budget covers far more, as Lewis Macdonald knows, than university funding. Does he think that the £3 million that Scottish Enterprise spent on public relations activity was money well spent, and that it would not be better spent on public transport?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

If I stand corrected by Mr Mundell, I must acknowledge that rather than cutting £100 million from university education, clearly his proposal is to cut £100 million from business support. That announcement will not be welcomed by the business community, but perhaps it will be more welcome to universities than was his first proposal.

We will meet the challenges that face Scotland's economy and transport system in the next 20 years by setting priorities and moving forward to meet them. A generation ago, as Wendy Alexander said in the Parliament last week, the great challenge was to provide the strategic roads to link our major cities and to connect Scotland with the south. Today, the greatest challenge—and the one thing in the Tory motion with which I agree—is to tackle congestion in and between our major metropolitan areas.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We will not meet that challenge simply by girning about the problems. We will meet it by recognising that the price of urban congestion is too great for our economy and our environment to pay, and by identifying the most effective ways in which that economic and environmental burden can be removed. We will seek to modernise and improve our public transport system, not talk it down. We will seek to complete the missing links in our strategic transport networks, not just say that every single project is a priority and then avoid the tough choices that need to be made.

We want a bigger, better and safer railway network. That is probably the common view in the chamber, but the Executive will focus its efforts on what is achievable and what will deliver and make a difference. We are working to deliver by April 2004 the directions and guidance that are required for a 15-year franchise for ScotRail's services. We have restructured the existing franchise so that all existing services can be built into the baseline for its replacement, whether they are part of the present agreement or not. That is real progress. We want to see real competition for the next franchise, so that Scottish travellers get the best possible deal out of whoever delivers the services from April 2004.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

On the ScotRail franchise, the minister might like to advise the current holders of the franchise that today is not a public holiday, and that it is highly inappropriate for ScotRail to charge travellers premium rates for travelling within Scotland, just because the company happens to be owned south of the border.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Members will find that the process of issuing directions and guidance and letting the next franchise will take into account the record of the present holder of the franchise, as it will take into account the plans of the present franchise holder and any other competitors that come forward.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I will come back to Mr MacAskill shortly.

The Strategic Rail Authority's strategic rail plan, which was issued recently, contains a set of priorities for upgrading Scotland's railway infrastructure, which are also among the priorities for Scotland that were announced by Wendy Alexander last week. Redeveloping Waverley station is one of those. Provision of more platforms for local and strategic services will increase the capacity of the rail network on mainline routes to London, Glasgow and Aberdeen, and of commuter services into Edinburgh. In partnership with the SRA, work on that could be under way as early as 2004. On developing rail links to our largest airports, we will consider the options on the basis of proper examination later this year, and decide on progressing routes for development.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Is it still the Government's intention to get more and more freight on to the rails, given that that has massive implications for signalling requirements? What steps is the minister taking to ensure that signalling resources, expertise, manpower and hardware will be made available?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We have increased our target for transferring freight from road to rail and water from 18 million lorry miles a year, which we achieved this month, to 23 million lorry miles a year, which is our target for a year hence. We are in discussions with the SRA, Railtrack and others that are involved in the industry on how to obtain those signalling resources.

Delivering top-priority public transport projects is part of our proposals.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We also want a capital city with a public transport system that is fit for purpose. Edinburgh trams will symbolise that vision. Partnership is the key to fixing congestion in Aberdeen, which is also a key national priority.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

In the course of the past 12 months, we have extended our strategic road traffic model and strategic rail planning to the north-east from the central belt. That means not more studies, but judging transport issues in Aberdeen on the same basis as those in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and fully acknowledging that Europe's energy capital is part of urban Scotland.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

What does the Executive expect the end date to be with regard to plans for the transport system in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire? Is it a year in the future?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We expect the strategic traffic modelling that I have described to produce concrete results during the course of this year. We are investing, as we did again last week, in the development of a modern north-east transport system for the region, and in developing a Borders rail link.

We will follow up the short-term measures that we announced last week to tackle the major issues on the corridors between Glasgow and Edinburgh. We will deliver our commitments to providing a national travel timetable through Traveline and concessionary fares for elderly and disabled people on local off-peak bus services.

We will continue to set our priorities, which we will use to achieve the transport system that we want. We will also continue to fund the rural transport projects that we have supported with substantial funding in the past three years, and to provide record levels of support to lifeline air and ferry services.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I am over my time and I wish to conclude.

The transport delivery report and our list of priorities set out a clear route map for action, which will help us to achieve a transport system that will deliver sustainable economic growth in the next 20 years. We welcome support from all those who share that ambition.

I move amendment S1M-2945.2, to leave out from "further notes" to end and insert:

"welcomes the publication of Scotland's Transport: Delivering Improvements which sets out the Scottish Executive's transport vision for Scotland; endorses this Executive-led vision of an efficient, safe transport system which meets the needs of all in society: individuals and businesses, car and public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians, whilst protecting our environment and promoting sustainable development; commends the integrated package of measures that the Executive is pursuing: tackling congestion, ensuring greater access to a modernised and improved public transport system, promoting alternative modes of transport to the private car, and targeted motorway and trunk roads improvements, and further commends the specific articulation in this transport delivery report of the Executive's top priorities for delivery."

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 9:51 am, 28th March 2002

Mr Mundell talked about a "plague of potholes". The phrase

"A plague o' both your houses!" springs to SNP members' minds.

I have some sympathy for Mr Mundell's critique, which echoed many sentiments that he and I, and members from around the chamber, have expressed in previous debates. He was right to say that the transport delivery plan provides more questions than answers. We must consider where we are at present and how we got here. We have not simply arrived from cyberspace. We are here because of a period of logical progression. As the minister said, during that time we had 19 years of Tory rule. Because of those 19 hard Tory years, the people of Scotland turfed the Tories out at the 1997 election.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

The fact is that the Tories constructed the M74, for which we give them credit. However, they cannot dine out on the construction of one major bit of infrastructure in a generation. That is inadequate.

Many of the points that have been made about potholes arose because the Tories underfunded local authorities. The Tories started starving local authorities of cash and I am sad that the Lib-Lab Executive has continued to do that. When the Tories initiated that underfunding, the cracks began to appear. They might resemble crevasses in many areas now, and they began with the Tories.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Mr MacAskill asked how we got here. I got here from Ayr by driving up the A77 dual carriageway, which the Tories modified, up the M77, which the Tories provided, and on to the ring road around Glasgow, which the Tories provided. I got here on roads that the Tories provided.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The member probably did that because he did not wish to use the railway. A former Tory Prime Minister used to say that she did not believe in railways, and she went out of her way to humiliate them. Mr Gallie did not take the train because to travel through Glasgow—our major city—he would have had to change trains and stations. The Tories had power for a generation, yet they could not connect Ayr to Edinburgh with a direct train. The Tories failed to do that, so we need no empty lectures from them.

The motion refers to fault, error and malaise, but all that started with the Tories. Did not the terms "chaos" and "muddle" apply in the 1980s and 1990s? Did not we have strikes? Yes, we did. I have some sympathy for ScotRail, because when the public monopoly was handed over to a private monopoly, the difficulties that the public monopoly had were simply transferred. The blame for that cannot be laid solely at the Executive's door. I blame the Executive for failing to take action and for washing its hands of the matter, but the solutions that the likes of Mr Canavan suggest would probably not be required if we still had British Rail, because collective bargaining would take place nationally. The Tories caused the problems by fragmenting and privatising the rail network. As I said, the Tories started underfunding of local road maintenance.

It is gross hypocrisy for the Tories, who privatised the railways and deregulated the buses, to say that public transport is unreliable. Not only did the Tories deregulate the buses back in the 1980s, but Mr McLetchie now wants to privatise Lothian Buses—the jewel in the crown of Edinburgh in the 21st century. The Tories initiated the problem and want to worsen the situation. The people of the Lothians will reject them again next year, because their suggestion to privatise Lothian Buses is anathema.

The Tories did not restrict themselves to privatising the railways and deregulating the buses—they even sold off the British Airports Authority. Glasgow airport now withers on the vine not simply because of the Executive's failure to construct a rail link, but because of its management's failure to deliver and make that airport prosper. We have no control over that, because the Tories sold BAA.

The Tories say that they want to resolve the situation by taking money from Scottish Enterprise's budget. I sympathise with that position. Scottish Enterprise has suggested that it would pay for the M74 north extension if nobody else would, so it is clear that there is slack in its budget. However, that alone will not address matters.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

How much slack does the budget have? How much would Mr MacAskill cut and for what purpose?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

That is a matter for Scottish Enterprise. The minister would have to speak to Robert Crawford about that. Scottish Enterprise has said on record that if the M74 extension could not be funded any other way, it would scrape to the bottom of the barrel and use all its money at local enterprise company and national level to build the extension, because it considers the extension important. If Scottish Enterprise has said that it can manage that, it is about time the Executive found out where it can get that money.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

In the Executive's amendment, Mr Macdonald talks about public transport. The ScotRail franchise is to pay for everything that has been pledged for rail, but the franchise does not exist in isolation. We will eventually pay for it. We can approach SNCF, Virgin Trains or National Express, but they will all want to know how much they will be given before they will say what they can do.

We cannot say that we will construct the Borders rail link and the airport links, improve the service and make the trains run on time unless we say in time for the tendering process in 2004 what budget will be available. It is incumbent on the Executive to say what funding will be available for the ScotRail franchise. Until it does that, we will have only a wish list, because SNCF, Virgin Trains and National Express will say only, "We can provide what you want, but that depends on how much you pay us." The proposals for Waverley station are fine. Everyone welcomes the developments, but Waverley station is a property bank.

The Executive and the previous Tory Administration failed and let down Scotland. We are paying the price for a generation of underfunding and the failure to have a strategy. The key problem with the transport delivery plan is that it contains no long-term planning and establishes no structure. We need immediate action to fix the potholes in key congestion areas, allied with a long-term strategic plan for building up our national infrastructure. So far, the problems have been caused by the Tories and continued by the Executive, which has no solution. As I said, we should say not "plague of potholes", but

"A plague o' both your houses!"

I move amendment S1M-2945.1, to leave out from "unreliable" to end and insert:

"trunk roads and unreliable public transport; recognises that this is a result of decades of under-investment and misguided privatisation; regrets that the Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive has failed to reverse these damaging Tory policies, and further regrets that the Scottish Executive's latest transport strategy publication, Scotland's Transport: Delivering Improvements, provides no programme, no costings and no timescale, and therefore offers little hope for, or commitment to, improvements in Scotland's transport infrastructure."

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 9:58 am, 28th March 2002

The Conservatives have lodged a brave motion. It says that

"the Scottish Executive's stewardship of transport issues has been characterised by chaos and muddle, evidenced by strikes, increased congestion, poor maintenance of local roads and unreliable public transport".

When did all that start? To do all that in two short years is very clever. [MEMBERS: "Five years."] The motion refers to the Scottish Executive. Could the cause have something to do with the brutal undermining of local authorities, which created a backlog of road maintenance that stretched 40-year road treatment programmes to 200 years, as an almost tearful local government officer once informed me? Could it have something to do with bus deregulation or the botched privatisation of the railways?

The motion rather unfairly sneers at the transport delivery plan. For a start, it is a transport delivery report, and it reports many good things. Members should read it. It sets out projects that are beginning to be tackled, including the redevelopment of Waverley station, dealing with congestion in Aberdeen—projects that are dear to my own self-interest—rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, a light rail system in Edinburgh and the Borders rail link. All those projects were Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges. The report also lays out completion of the missing links on the A8 and A80. Progress is beginning to be made on all of those projects.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Nora Radcliffe said that the projects she listed were Liberal Democrat manifesto commitments. Will she say what funding the Liberal Democrats have pledged to put in and where will the money come from?

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

The projects were in our manifesto and progress is beginning to happen. As the member knows, the money is collected from various sources.

Scotland presents an interesting selection of transport problems. They range from our remote areas and islands that have population levels that cannot sustain unsubsidised modern transport links, to densely populated areas that have overloaded public transport systems. We have highly productive food, forestry, paper, fish and textile industries at one end of the country, but their main markets are at the other end of the country, in Europe and beyond. We have a rural population that is dependent on the car and an urban population that is choking on its own exhaust fumes. Thirty per cent of households have no access to a car.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Does the member accept that the last time her party was in power there were very few cars and therefore no transport problems? Will she tell me whether her party is following the same policies today as they did at that time?

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

I remind the member that the National Health Service was among our policies.

Scotland has the advantage of being a small country in which it is easier to take an holistic approach. Would not it be sensible to rationalise how our airports do business so that they complement each other and do not compete for the same type of business? Modern mapping systems and computer capability enable us to look at the goods and bodies on any particular route and to calculate the reason why that route is used. Those systems and that capability can calculate whether the route is used for a local or a through journey, for business or leisure and by a native or a tourist. Those systems and that capability make it possible to make intelligent transport provision, using every appropriate mode of transport, including pavements, cycleways, roads, rail, air, sea and even canals.

Shared transport is more efficient transport; that is the case on environmental and financial grounds. The public will change from using their cars and move on to buses and trains not only if major investment in infrastructure and rolling stock is put in place, but if more passenger-centred thinking is applied. Potential passengers will not use a bus if they do not know its timetable or route. They will not spend time and trouble seeking out that vital information. We must put the information under their noses.

The potential passenger's journey does not begin or end at the bus stop, station or airport. We have to think about the facilities, connecting services or information that the person will need. Provision of such services need not be expensive, but it will pay dividends.

Although transport is about moving people and goods around, we tend to forget the value of planning for removing the necessity for transport. All new developments should be planned to put people's homes near their jobs, to build in walk and cycleways through residential and business areas and to ensure that pupils have safe walking routes to schools.

On Monday, I travelled to Oban for the Transport and the Environment Committee's meeting. As I did so, the remains of an old railway line—two short viaducts and a retaining wall—caught my eye. The structure had survived from Victorian times because it was beautifully engineered and built to last. If the Victorians could build a rail network to last, surely to goodness we can do at least as well. The Victorians believed that they could do it, so they did it. We need some of that confidence and self-belief today.

We can and will create a safe and affordable transport network throughout Scotland and with connections beyond. It should be a network that is as fit for our time as the Victorian network was for its time.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We move to the open debate. I ask for speeches of about the standard four-minute duration.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 10:04 am, 28th March 2002

When the minister announced the transport delivery plan—with the customary fanfare of trumpets—it was significant that she decided to do so in a statement rather than a parliamentary debate. The reason for that was simple. When one examined the statement, one saw that it did not say a lot. The report's 10 highlighted priorities depend entirely on the completion of more studies, more consultations and more plans. There is a total lack of action.

Given the time that is available to me, I will deal not with the transport problems that affect Scotland, but with those that affect Glasgow. That is not because I am being parochial or territorial; it is because the problems in Glasgow highlight the difficulties that apply to Scotland.

Glasgow is a city in which it is easy to get around. It does not have too many problems in that respect. As a result of some pretty enlightened thinking in the 1960s and 1970s, Glasgow, with its expressway and its motorway network, is easy to get through. However, getting there is highly problematical.

A journey from Stirling to Glasgow is fine until one arrives at the nightmare that is Auchenkilns. A journey from Edinburgh is fine—once one gets out of Edinburgh—until one arrives at Newhouse, where the situation is one of wall-to-wall metal all the way into the city. We agree that missing transport links have to be completed, but when will that be done and what action will be taken in the meantime to improve a situation that is well nigh intolerable?

When will something be done about the rail link to Glasgow airport? Even by the earliest estimation, it will take something like seven years for the project planning and planning process to be undertaken. Until that component is in place, the vital link between Glasgow and its airport will not be achieved. Is it not ironic that it is possible to take a train from Glasgow or Edinburgh to Manchester airport but impossible to take a train from Glasgow city centre to Glasgow airport? That highlights the difficulties that we face. Not only would a rail link to Glasgow airport be invaluable to commerce and the local economy in the city of Glasgow, but it would achieve what the Executive seems anxious to achieve—a reduction in the congestion on the M8 around and about Paisley.

The railway network is in a total and absolute shambles and is likely to become worse as a result of Mr Byers's plans and his ill-considered taking of Railtrack into administration. I have referred before in the chamber to Michael Palin's programme "Great Railway Journeys of the World". However, in the minds of many people, what should be a simple train journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh is a nightmare. It need not be thus. With a bit of thought and pre-planning, many of the difficulties that are experienced could be avoided. Although, as a Glaswegian, I tend to regard the view from the 5.30 pm train from Edinburgh to Glasgow as one of the best that the city of Edinburgh has to offer, there has to be better communication between the two cities. If there is not, there could be a damaging effect on industry and commerce.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that the current state of the railways has little to do with Mr Byers, who has been in office only since last summer, and everything to do with the Treasury under the Tories? At that time, the Treasury turned down practically every investment scheme that was proposed for the railways.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I would have more sympathy for Mr Morgan's viewpoint if he and his SNP colleagues realised one basic fact, which is that the Conservative Government has not been in office for five years. Anything that was wrong should have been rectified by now. It is now up to the Labour Government to act, but it has manifestly failed to do so.

We should examine the SNP's record on transport. It is interesting to note that Mr MacAskill was highly critical of my colleague Mr Gallie for highlighting the fact that he was able to drive on Conservative-funded roads from Ayr to Edinburgh. If Mr MacAskill's colleagues had had their way, Mr Gallie would not have been able to do that—the SNP vigorously opposed the M77 link. That shows the negative aspect of the SNP's approach to transport.

The debate is serious. It is a good thing that it has already engendered some heat. Transport in Scotland is in a vulnerable state and early action is necessary.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 10:09 am, 28th March 2002

Before touching on the main subject of the debate, I want to respond to some of the points that have been made. Mr McGrigor intervened to make a point about the length of time since the last Liberal Government. I look forward to that same length of time elapsing until the next Conservative Government. Indeed, if the Tories continue as they are, that will be easily achieved. I must also comment on Mr Aitken's brave reference to missing links. The Conservatives could give evolutionists a great deal of useful material on that topic, but perhaps not in the way that he intends.

The Tories' choice of subject is interesting. I wonder why they choose to secure debates on subjects in which they have a record of abject failure instead of debating topics in which they had some success when in government. When I thought back over the Tories' 18 years in power—not 19 years, as Mr MacAskill claimed—I came up with some successes that perhaps they should be mentioning instead. For example, making the wearing of seat-belts compulsory and banning alcohol in Scottish football grounds were excellent initiatives. However, it would get boring if we had to talk about those issues every week.

I am pleased that the Tories have decided to debate transport today, because it is one of the areas in which they have the worst record of failure. They are responsible for many of the problems that they have highlighted. Bill Aitken described the railway network as

"a total and absolute shambles".

However, as Mr MacAskill correctly pointed out, the network is in such a state because of the Tories' lack of investment in the railways when they were publicly owned and because of the Tories' botched programme of privatisation.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

Will Mr Muldoon be writing to his colleague Mr Byers to urge him to renationalise the railways completely?

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Mr Byers has taken a progressive step by placing Railtrack into administration and turning it into a not-for-profit company. That will result— [Interruption.] The Tories should listen to this point. That step will ensure that taxpayers' money will be spent on improving the railway service instead of being poured down the drain making shareholders rich as the Tories would prefer.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

What will the £300 million that Mr Byers has set aside for Railtrack shareholders be spent on? Why were Mr Byers and indeed Mr Muldoon's colleagues only a few weeks ago saying that not a penny would ever be paid to shareholders?

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Mr Mundell should tell us instead how many more billions of pounds of taxpayers' money the Tories would waste on an enterprise that failed in every respect. Railtrack failed to invest, to manage safety and to operate as a financially successful company.

The Tories are absolutely obsessed with roads. However, they have absolutely no concept of public transport, which is hardly surprising, as they never use it. Mr Gallie demonstrated that when he described his journey from Ayr.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

No, I have taken enough interventions. The member should sit down.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I have a simple point of information.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Sit down.

If the Tories had any experience of using public services, they might believe in them.

From the way in which the Tories describe the Executive's forward transport programme, one would think that they did not want the minister to plan for the future. Do they think that major investment in infrastructure happens by accident and that we do not have to plan it out years in advance? Perhaps that is why there was so little planning when they were in power.

The Tories also seem to suggest that, so far under the Executive, nothing has happened in transport in Scotland. However, there has already been major investment in a number of areas. For example, £8 million has been invested in the Fife circle line and £13 million has been made available for new trains for Strathclyde Passenger Transport. Moreover, the Executive has committed an additional £320 million to a number of motorway and trunk road projects. In my area, £4 million has been invested in a brand-new express bus service from Livingston to Edinburgh. As for the Strategic Rail Authority plans, a range of different projects over the next three years are already under way with timetables attached, including investment in capacity on the Bathgate to Edinburgh line.

In their dogmatic approach to transport and their failure to recognise their responsibility for the problems that the Executive is now grappling with, the Scottish Tories have clearly shown that they are committed to staying on the road to nowhere.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 10:14 am, 28th March 2002

Before I ask the minister specific questions about the railways, I must tell Bill Aitken that the Tories have a lot to answer for. Rail projects are not delivered quickly; they have a long gestation period, and we are still suffering from the lack of investment throughout the Tory years.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Not at the moment.

I know that the minister is not directly responsible for the west coast main line, but is the Executive happy with the capacity forecasts on the line, particularly in relation to freight? The rail lobby is already complaining that there is not enough capacity south of the border. When Richard Branson introduces his faster tilting Pendolino trains, the situation will only get worse, because there will be even less room for freight. The Post Office has already indicated that it is taking off some of its trains because the journey times are not decent enough. The matter is important for the Scottish economy.

I am glad about the remodelling of Waverley station, but one of the main constraints is the line capacity out to Dalmeny and Falkirk. Before ScotRail introduced its emergency timetable, one delay in the morning would make every train late. As I have not been able to find the part of the programme that addresses that problem, I wonder whether the minister will explain where it is hidden.

All parties need to find some imaginative solutions to the fact that many of our previous solutions have become problems. For example, the Edinburgh city bypass was originally built to take traffic around Edinburgh. However, instead of simply being a bypass, the road has become a destination, because many offices, supermarkets and cinemas have been built beside it. Clearly such development cannot be undone; indeed, one could argue that it has brought great economic benefit to the city. However, in future, when new bypasses are built elsewhere, we must stipulate the planning constraints on development near them to ensure that bypasses remain bypasses and do not become new points of congestion.

I know that members would be disappointed if I did not have a small rant about the A75 and the A77, so that is what I intend to do so for the remaining minute and a half of my speech. This is not just a local matter in Dumfries and Galloway; the roads are strategically important to the whole of Scotland. If we compare the northern corridor from Stranraer to Ireland with corridors further south, we find that the northern corridor is far more important for freight than, say, the central corridor from Holyhead. The proportion of freight on the northern corridor—and then on the A75 and the A77—has implications for the type of road that is needed. Although the total number of vehicle movements might not be as great as those on more southerly corridors, the fact that most are lorry movements means that we need a better solution to the problem.

The A55 through north Wales to Holyhead has brought significant economic benefits to that part of the world.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Well, it might be, but it is a Tory road that was not built in Scotland. That is part of the problem.

A Cardiff Business School survey highlighted the huge economic benefits that the A55 has brought to north Wales and that was before the recent dualling of another 18 miles of road in the island of Anglesey. One constituency alone has received 18 miles of dual carriageway at the end of the route from London to Holyhead and then on to Ireland, which is about 17 miles more than the entire length of dual carriageway in the south-west of Scotland. Although £730 million was spent on the A55 at 1996 prices, it is planned that only £30 million will be spent on the A75 and that is for the period up to 2008. If we do not have a more level playing field between the A55 and the A75, there will be severe consequences for the economy of the whole of the south-west of Scotland and—because the roads are of strategic importance—for the whole of Scotland.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 10:19 am, 28th March 2002

I am delighted to support David Mundell's motion. Unlike Bill Aitken, who said that he did not wish to be parochial, I fully intend to be parochial and will raise two issues that affect the region that I represent.

I am sure that many members, especially those who commute into Parliament daily, will be familiar with the problem of rail services in Fife. I should declare an interest at this point, because a member of my staff who commutes on that route is constantly late because of the railway. At least, that is what she tells me.

We accept the need to get more traffic off the roads and more people on to the railway. However, there is a real problem with the state of rail infrastructure and the lack of capacity on the tracks. Despite all the spin that we hear from the Executive and today's self-congratulatory amendment, in the real world commuters face a dismal experience. They know what the situation is on the ground. As on health service, all that we get from the Executive is fine talk; the reality does not match the rhetoric. We need proper management of the railways so that confidence can be restored to the sector.

The railways need the private sector to invest, but the private sector will not do so with all the dithering that we have seen from Stephen Byers and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Six months ago, Stephen Byers was saying that not a penny of taxpayers' money would go to Railtrack's shareholders. This week, in another dramatic U-turn by the Labour Government, £300 million is to be spent on compensation. How can anybody have any confidence in the Government's approach when Byers's priority is saving his own neck rather than sorting out the problems on the railways?

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Murdo Fraser talks about capacity problems that cause difficulties, especially in the east of Scotland. Can he tell us when a Tory Government or the privatised Railtrack was going to get around to investing in Edinburgh Waverley? Does he not recognise that the Strategic Rail Authority—which was established by Labour—put that on the political agenda?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Plans to reassess the capacity of Waverley have been in place for years. The fact is that the private sector will not invest in Railtrack and the railways because of what has happened with Byers. The Government has completely lost the confidence of the private sector.

I shall move on to talk about roads. Mr Muldoon talked the most nonsense that I have heard in the chamber for a long time when he talked about our record. Under the Conservative Government in the years between 1992 and 1997, the average spend on trunk roads and motorway construction in Scotland was £150 million a year. In 2002-03, the spend on trunk roads and motorways will be £43 million. The improvements that were delivered under the Conservative Government can be seen: the dualling of the A90 from Perth to Aberdeen; the dualling of the A9 from Stirling to Perth; improvements on the A9 north of Perth; and the Dornoch and Kessock bridges. Bristow Muldoon would not have to look too far to see where those road improvements were made. We have a good record to be proud of.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that the failure to provide rail facilities across the Dornoch bridge was short sighted of the Conservative Administration?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

As I understand it, a proper assessment was undertaken at the time and incorporating rail on the Dornoch bridge was deemed not to be a viable project.

I welcome the fact that work will shortly start at the Inchture junction on the A90. I also welcome the work that is being done at the Forfar and Glamis junctions to deal with accident blackspots. However, work also needs to be done on the A9. South of Perth, a considerable number of junctions are in need of upgrading. The problem is that there has been an exponential growth in traffic on the A9 since it was dualled. Because of the growth in communities such as Greenloaning, Blackford and Auchterarder, the junctions that serve those communities have become substandard. I recently spent a day in that area, meeting local councillors and community councillors who all had the same message: the accident rate is unacceptable. If there is to be further housing development in the area, there must be improvements. In the long term, we must also consider dualling the entire stretch of the A9 north of Perth to Inverness. That would have to be done over several years. The Conservative Government made good progress on that, but investment has dried up under the Labour-Liberal coalition.

Good roads are required not just to make the lives of locals easier. Poor and congested roads inhibit economic growth, especially tourism, which is the life-blood of local communities. If the Executive is serious about promoting enterprise in Scotland, it should listen to local people and business organisations and loosen the purse strings so that we can build the roads that we need to get Scotland moving again.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 10:24 am, 28th March 2002

I congratulate the Scottish Conservatives on today's motion, which surely wins the award for showing the biggest brass neck since the election in May 1999. The motion shows the brass neck of a party that pontificates about the importance of transport to the economy but that presided over a sustained period of underinvestment in our transport infrastructure and was responsible for some of the most volatile economic conditions in the UK in recent history. It shows the brass neck of a party that criticises our public transport services but, when it was in power, spent less than 12 per cent of the transport budget on public transport, compared with the 53 per cent of the transport budget that the Labour-led Executive is spending on public transport. It shows the brass neck of a party that dares to comment on rail problems after selling off our national rail infrastructure for a bargain-basement price to a company that demonstrated that it could not do the job.

I am beginning to have serious doubts about the health of Conservative members. They seem to have a form of dementia that causes them to forget the distant past and remember only recent events. In debate after debate, the Tories seem to have completely forgotten what happened under previous Tory Governments.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Ms Whitefield is well qualified to lecture on amnesia, because that is what she is suffering from. She seems to think that time stopped in May 1997, when Labour took control of transport in Scotland. From that time, the Government has delivered nothing. Labour has been in power for five years and that is where the buck stops.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

Since we came to power, things have started to move. We have started to invest in public transport and we are not setting public transport against roads. The issue is not just about investing in roads, which is something that previous Tory Governments failed to understand.

Let me provide the Conservatives with some therapeutic assistance to help them to remember what happened. In a debate on rail privatisation in 1996, John Watts, the then Minister for Railways and Roads, said:

"Rail user groups are increasingly coming to recognise the benefits that privatisation has brought. A shift in public attitudes is under way. The future of the railway in the UK is secure. The case for privatisation is so overwhelming that in 10 years the radicalism of today's policies will look like nothing more than common sense. By putting the railways into the private sector, we are powering them into the 21st century."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 15 November 1996, Vol 285, c 607.]

David Mundell said that Railtrack failed because of Labour's interventions. However, less than a year after the Tory minister made that statement—in May 1997 when Labour came to power—Railtrack was already £700 million behind in its investment in rail and its maintenance programme. We all know that the Tories' vision of nirvana for the railways was oversold. The truth is that they botched the privatisation and the Labour Government and the Labour-led Executive have been left to pick up the pieces.

The Executive is committed to tackling congestion in an integrated way, by improving key sections of our trunk road network and investing substantially in and improving our public transport system. Unlike the Tories, the Executive is not content to take sides in a false dichotomy between the car and public transport. I welcome the strategic approach to the transport delivery report. It is right to prioritise initiatives that will alleviate congestion, such as the development of rail links to our airports, action on the findings of the multimodal studies—which I believe will prove the need for an Airdrie-Bathgate railway line—and the delivery of free off-peak travel for elderly people.

Under Labour, we will at last see an improvement in the section of the A8 between Baillieston and Newhouse—something that the Tories long promised but never delivered. No one is claiming that turning around 20 years of underinvestment in our transport system will be easy, but the Scottish Executive is finally beginning to make its mark. I am confident that, given time, even the scars that have been left by failed Tory Governments can be healed.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 10:29 am, 28th March 2002

David Mundell is always good value in the chamber, but I think that I must have slipped into a parallel universe when I hear senior Tory spokespeople such as David Mundell quoting David Begg. David Begg was wrong on several things that he said about transportation in Edinburgh and some of my constituents would be interested to hear that he has now been adopted as the Conservative party's transport guru.

I will be parochial this morning. Given that the majority of people in Scotland live within 50 miles of Edinburgh, failing to get the strategic view of the Edinburgh transport system right will have a knock-on impact on the rest of Scotland's economy. Over the years, the people of Edinburgh have been frustrated not only by 18 years of Tory Government but by the grand schemes of City of Edinburgh Council and previous councils. David Mundell was dismissive about the Croy park and ride. All I can say is that, after decades of grand schemes in this city, we still do not have a park and ride. Sometimes, a successful transport policy is not about dreaming up grand schemes but about delivering small, medium and large schemes. That is what the Executive is trying to do in developing the proposals that the minister outlined last week. It aims to develop a mix of small, medium and large proposals, in the short term, the medium term and the long term.

That is the way forward. We must have a strategy for where we are going. What people want from a transport system, in Edinburgh and elsewhere, is capacity and choice. This city is absolutely booming, but it is a victim of its own success in transport terms. We have economic and population growth unlike any other part of the country, but in the past we have not had investment. I welcome the fact that in recent months investment has been announced and that the Executive has made a commitment to improve transport in my constituency, with investment in the west Edinburgh bus system, the north and central Edinburgh tramway and now the west Edinburgh light rail tramway. The Executive's priorities include airport links, the redevelopment and increased capacity of Waverley station, which will have an impact for the whole of central Scotland and beyond, and the Borders rail line.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does Margaret Smith believe that the tramway outlined in the transport delivery plan is best paid for by congestion charging? If we read between the lines, it is quite clear from the answer that the minister gave after making her statement that the tramway in Edinburgh would be paid for by congestion charging. Does Margaret Smith support congestion charging?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

If Kenny MacAskill is prepared to wait, he will hear me come on to that point.

It is critical that, as well as meeting the capacity needs of the city and Scotland's transport needs in general, we must give the people of Edinburgh and Scotland choice. Obviously, some of that choice can come only with investment. We have to consider a whole range of ways in which we can invest in Scotland's transport infrastructure to make that happen. I would rather that my constituents were given the opportunity to make legitimate choices about what public transport they use and other transport issues than allow the current situation to continue, where they have no choice but to sit in traffic jams. There are 15,000 people working at Edinburgh Park. They cannot get in and out to their work in the morning because of congestion.

Unless people see investment on the ground, they will view congestion charging as nothing other than a tax. It has to be seen as something that will actually make a major difference to people's lives. That will happen only if people feel that that money is being properly invested on the ground, giving them opportunities for choice before they are asked to pay congestion charges. That is important in considering how to take forward the consultation with people and what we intend to do with such schemes.

We had 18 years of the Conservatives. Murdo Fraser talked about their commitment to transport. We had no dualling of the A8000, which is a missing link in Edinburgh's road system. We had no airport link, no integrated public transport system for Edinburgh and no Borders railway. None of those things was delivered in 18 years. What kind of commitment to Scottish transport is that?

The announcements that the Executive has made, in relation to Edinburgh and in relation to the whole of Scotland, show that it is serious about planning in the short term, the medium term and the long term for Scotland's transport needs. I support that, but it is essential to back it up with proper investment to deliver the schemes on the ground to give people the real choice to decide whether to use their cars on roads that are safe or whether to use public transport. We must give them the choice and that needs investment—from the Executive, from the private sector and from local authorities. I also urge the minister to keep a serious watching brief on what is happening with the A8000 and the new Forth bridge authority that is being set up. We need that missing link. It is ridiculous that the Conservatives took 18 years and still did not deliver that link. We must deliver it.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 10:35 am, 28th March 2002

We live in strange and disturbing times. I have listened to David Mundell calling for more public investment and focusing on public transport, and I have read the document from the Executive, which does not want to spend any public money whatever. That merely confirms the view that we on the SNP benches have already formed that the new Labour party is the new Tory party.

I would like to say a little bit about something that has not been covered much in the debate—the effect on business of the current infrastructure in Scotland. Like many other members, I will be parochial.

The Executive's document says that it will be

"fixing Aberdeen's congestion before it leads to further deterioration in journey time reliability."

The reality is that many people in the north-east of Scotland—and when I use that phrase I mean the country beyond Aberdeen—are absolutely constrained by the congestion in Aberdeen. Businesses in my constituency are actively considering relocation because they cannot reliably go through Aberdeen.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

They have been considering relocation even since Mr Davidson became a regional member for the area.

Businesses are paying huge sums of money because of congestion and unreliability. It costs £50,000 a year for a small company to be in Peterhead instead of Aberdeen. It is time that the Executive stopped talking about grand plans and started putting up some grands of money to solve the problems.

I thought that I heard the minister say that he is looking for 23 million lorry miles in his new plan. I would very much welcome that, because his document mentions 21 million. He might care to confirm that. I would very much support that. I see that there are existing facilities for getting freight off the roads and on to railways, enabling groceries to go from Bellshill to Wick and Thurso, and I am sure that people will be grateful for that.

Let me say a word or two about flying and about Scotland's role. There is a consultation document on European new skies. Well, well! The list of consultees that the UK Government has chosen for the exercise is very telling. Among the hundreds of bodies that are being consulted, there is only one Scottish company—Loganair. Almost none of the air transport facilities that are provided in Scotland is provided by Scottish air transport companies. That perhaps indicates why I find it difficult to agree with the Scottish Tourist Board, whose website says:

"Scotland is a small country and travelling around it is quite easy, as is getting here."

That experience is alien to the majority of people whom I meet.

I turn to something that Alex Johnstone said. He referred to 18 glorious years of a Tory Government. Well, I have something rather surprising to say to Alex. I met a Tory voter when I was campaigning last year, and he had had some rather upsetting news. He had been to his doctor and heard that he had only four months to live. I said, "Why are you voting Tory? They will not help the health service." He said, "No, I'm voting Tory for the very first time, because four months under a Tory Government is like 18 years under anybody else."

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

That is cruel and in bad taste.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 10:39 am, 28th March 2002

It is not fair to have to follow that—I did not quite get the point.

The Tory motion attaches about as much importance to transport and its effect on the economy as did the 18 years of Tory Government about which we have heard so much this morning. It is unacceptable that the Parliament and the Executive should be asked merely to note that transport is an important issue. It is important that the Executive and the Parliament establish a plan that will set in place a framework that will deliver improvements in our transport system—our roads, our rail services and our bus services.

Many members have said that the transport system that was inherited from the Tories was in a state of neglect. David Mundell said that the time for studies was over. In respect of my area, I agree with him and agree that we must look forward to the completion of the central Scotland multimodal study that is due to be completed soon.

The Tory record was to commission consultants' reports, hear findings and then do nothing. Bill Aitken is not here to respond, but he mentioned the debate on central Scotland's missing motorway link. In the days of the Tories, that was how we referred to the A80 corridor. In fact, from 1979 through the 1980s and the 1990s until 1997, the Tories promised to make decisions—they promised a decision in the summer, in the autumn, in the spring and even for Christmas—but in all those years, they did nothing. In the months before the general election, they made a number of promises on roads. They promised to build new roads and to finish off missing links. Those were empty promises with no substance and there was no cash to deliver.

The Tories also claimed to have a rail plan. In the 1990s, their plan for Croy—which has been mentioned—was to close the station. Thankfully, a public outcry stopped that, but services were reduced and the station was hardly used.

When I was elected to the Parliament, I travelled from Croy station to Edinburgh. I could take only one direct train in the morning and one direct train back in the evening. That service should be contrasted with the current service. Now there is a service every half-hour from Croy station and the journey time is 35 minutes. A number of lonely people used to stand on the platform; now, people struggle to find car parking spaces at Croy station. That shows that, if the Executive and the transport deliverers provide services that people want to use and arrange them to meet the needs of the travelling public, we will get people off our roads and back to using our rail and bus services. I look forward to working with ministers and local authorities to ensure that facilities are there to meet the public's needs.

Mr Mundell ridiculed the Auchenkilns roundabout proposals. The proposals that the Executive announced last week are exactly what the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth have been calling for for many years. We do not want a three-lane motorway through Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. In Cumbernauld, we realise that the section of the A80 that runs through the town plays an important part in the central Scotland transport network, but we do not want a three-lane motorway splitting our town in half. We want proper traffic management solutions to the problems at Auchenkilns and on the A73. The Executive is delivering on that and I look forward to working with it to ensure that we deliver what is best for the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and the rest of Scotland.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Before we move to winding-up speeches, I should say that we are extending the debate by about 10 minutes as more members have asked to speak in this debate than in the debate on enterprise, which will follow.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 10:44 am, 28th March 2002

I welcome the £1.1 million that the Executive has announced to tackle the problems of congestion in and around Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. Such money for pre-planning and feasibility studies is welcome. However, the time is rapidly approaching when we will need action to commit the Executive to funding publicly the integrated transport system that we desperately need in the north-east. I was pleased to hear Lewis Macdonald say that we can expect a concrete announcement later this year. A concrete commitment to fund the project is exactly what we need. When the Parliament journeys to Aberdeen in May, I hope that there will be an opportunity for Lewis Macdonald to make an announcement.

As usual, David Mundell's contribution to the debate was amusing and informative—it was particularly so today. Usually, only the SNP calls for a bottomless pit of public money to be spent, but the Conservatives gave a whole list of transport projects that they would fund. When I intervened and asked David Mundell how those projects would be funded, he confirmed that the money would come out of public funds and I thought that there had been a major Tory policy change. The reply was, "Oh, no." The implication is that they would remove £100 million from business support or the higher and further education budget. That is complete nonsense.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Does Mr Rumbles agree that decisions that relate to supporting the economy are about making hard choices? It is clear that a transport infrastructure is the fundamental requirement of Scotland's economy. Money would be better spent on that than on nice-to-have business projects.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That we can magic money out of a hat to spend on something is a typical Conservative con. The Conservatives do not want to tell the business community that we do not want to support it.

My colleague Nora Radcliffe made an important point when she said that we can create a safe, efficient and affordable transport network throughout Scotland. That will not happen overnight—nobody is claiming that it will—but there is a lot to be accomplished.

Bristow Muldoon successfully pointed out the failures of the previous Tory initiatives, notably the disastrous lack of investment in the railways and their privatisation. I was amused by Murdo Fraser's contribution to the debate. He spent a great deal of his speech listing what the Tories did for the roads when they were in power. When he was challenged, he completely failed to list what they had done for our railways.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I have already given way.

Members should consider the mess in which the Tories left the railways.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

Are the member and his party still in favour of the electrification of the north-east railway? If they are, where will they get the £600 million for that?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The Liberal Democrats are keen on an integrated public transport system for the north-east, including electrification of the railways, and an integrated commuter system from Inverurie in the north to Stonehaven in my constituency in the south. We also want a western bypass around Aberdeen. I hope that Executive ministers will announce a commitment to many of those matters later this year.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

Where would the money come from?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

From the public purse. [Interruption.] I have never mentioned £600 million—I do not know where the Tories got that figure from.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The Conservatives should not even have turned up for this debate, let alone lodged a motion. They cannot lecture anybody on transport, given their appalling record in office. They went on a mission to attack public transport throughout Great Britain. The much-heralded revival of the railways has come unstuck as the full folly of John Major's botched privatisation plans has become apparent.

The Tories claim that no concrete plans have been announced in the transport delivery report. Do they think that rail links to Edinburgh airport and Glasgow airport, a light rail system in Edinburgh, the central Borders rail link—which are all Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges—and road upgradings can be achieved without any feasibility studies or pre-planning? Of course they cannot.

The SNP's transport policy is, if anything, a bit more laughable. Whatever policy position they hold now, another one will come along in a minute.

In conclusion, I hope that I do not misquote Karen Whitefield when I say that the Liberal Democrat-led coalition is delivering on our manifesto commitments. I will name just a few of them: a more integrated transport policy; better rural transport; expanded rail networks in the Borders; rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports; hope for funding in the north-east; improved public transport; and a concessionary fares scheme for pensioners.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 10:50 am, 28th March 2002

The debate has been interesting and, at times, amusing. Accusations have been made about the Liberal Democrats' horse and buggy approach, and demented Tories have had accusations thrown at them by the Labour party. We have had a lot of the usual special pleading for parochial interests. Members have spoken about their own pet projects, and rightly so. That is what happens: we represent people where we live and we should do that.

It is a matter of regret that members have talked about Edinburgh, Glasgow, central Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway, the north-east and Aberdeen, but no one—in particular no one from the Executive parties—has talked about the Highlands. Despite what is stated in the Executive amendment, no specific matters are being addressed in the Highlands and Islands and no one would take an intervention from my colleague, Fergus Ewing, so that that matter could be addressed.

The transport policy that was inherited from the Tories, quite some time ago, is still in place.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Wait until I have developed my point.

What has been inherited from the Tories is not only privatisation of the railways, which has led to such disaster, but privatisation of airports and the ports. The purpose of privatisation of the ports was to enable friends of the Tories to make lots of money developing the land, rather than developing the ports. Bus deregulation has also taken place. Predatory pricing policies have been used in the past few months to try to drive out Lothian Buses, as a direct consequence of Tory policies.

A variety of mechanisms have been used to fund—or, in the long term, not to fund—transport projects. Those mechanisms include private finance initiative and public-private partnership projects and proposals for congestion charging. I have a question for those who favour such mechanisms, especially PFI/PPP. Although that approach guarantees maintenance for the future, which has been one of the significant problems to result from lack of investment, how do we achieve equity in the areas where that approach is not taken? Why will folk who travel on roads that will have guaranteed maintenance over the lifetime get well maintained roads, but roads that are not covered by that mechanism will not get the same kind of arrangement?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

If David Mundell wants to answer that question, I will be delighted to hear from him.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

We have heard little about the SNP's policy and its ideas on funding. What has happened to the SNP's Ikea tax? Some weeks ago, the SNP floated the proposal that funding of new roads in Scotland should be paid for by taxing people who park in out-of-town shopping centres.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I am delighted that Mr Mundell did not bother to answer the question that I posed. The SNP has proposals for funding mechanisms. Those are dependent on our public services trust. We will use that mechanism to fund a variety of projects. We are considering a variety of innovative ideas for funding. There is nothing wrong with that.

I pose a question to those in the chamber: how can we deliver an integrated transport system when, as elected representatives in this Parliament, we can have no influence over a significant part of transport services?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I will be happy to hear from Bristow Muldoon why we cannot deliver an integrated transport system when we have no control over the railways.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

I would like clarification. Is the SNP's proposal to introduce a shopping tax in shopping centres such as the Almondvale centre in Livingston? Is the SNP aware that that is a town centre shopping centre and not an out-of-town centre?

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Having enjoyed a visit to Livingston last weekend, I put it to Bristow Muldoon that the current problem is that people who work in and visit hospitals have to pay to park there. We are considering innovative approaches to the issue. We have ruled out workplace parking charges. We are looking to provide an appropriate level playing field for development for all sorts of businesses, not to favour those who happen to be on the periphery.

We have a significant problem in delivering an integrated transport system because the Strategic Rail Authority and the Labour Government's proposals for addressing the problems related to Railtrack do not allow for any influence from this Parliament and its elected members. We cannot deliver an integrated transport policy on the current basis.

I commend the SNP amendment to the chamber.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour 10:56 am, 28th March 2002

Contrary to what has been said by one or two Opposition members, a good deal of evidence of the Executive's investment in transport is all around us. There are new trains in Fife and Strathclyde and new park-and-ride sites serve Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Bus quality corridors in all our major towns and cities give preference to bus travel and promote that mode of transport. New ferries for Caledonian MacBrayne serve the Clyde and the Western Isles and a new level of service will come in later this year for the northern isles. There are new terminal buildings at the airports in Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway. That emphasises our continuing commitment to Highland as well as lowland Scotland. Improvements have been delivered throughout rural Scotland through the rural transport fund. Considerable investment has been made in cycling, walking and safer streets projects, and in the progression of 94 schemes under the motorway and trunk road programme, including a new bridge over the Forth at Kincardine.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Amidst the list of largesse, can Lewis Macdonald say what investment has been made in any of the arteries that serve the Highlands, in particular the A82, the A9 and the A96? Is not it a fact that those are the roads that new Labour has forgotten?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Quite the contrary. If Mr Ewing had read the transport delivery report, which was published last week, he would have noted that the A96 improvements at Fochabers are one of the priorities that we established at an early stage and that we are taking forward under our motorway and trunk road programme. As I said, substantial and record sums are being spent on lifeline services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Action is being taken by the Executive to help local councils to address the backlog of repairs that are within their budgetary responsibility. Last year, we provided an additional £70 million and only last month a further £20 million was announced to assist councils in meeting those responsibilities.

Last week, Wendy Alexander presented to the chamber the Executive's vision of how to address the priority transport challenges of the future. The transport delivery report is evidence of our willingness to prioritise and plan ahead. The report recognises the central importance of tackling congestion in our major metropolitan areas. Our research forecasts indicate that over the next 20 years there will be an increase in road traffic in Scotland of 27 per cent, the vast majority of which will be concentrated in our major urban areas.

Above all, we must address the issues that such an increase raises. That is why so many of the priority projects that we have outlined are aimed at tackling urban and interurban congestion by improving and promoting public transport, providing alternatives to the car and seeking—as the transport delivery report makes clear—to stabilise road traffic usage at 2001 levels by 2021.

Our vision contains substantial, strategic, large-scale projects. However, as many members have indicated, it is not only the big strategic projects that matter. We are investing in many other ways to upgrade our transport infrastructure. We are undertaking a series of improvements on the A77 and A75 and we are talking to local partners about how to target that investment most effectively.

Only last week, we released a further £2 million to progress the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, which will promote a public transport alternative for commuters and, by diverting freight, will free up capacity for passenger services on the Forth rail bridge. Next week, the new Forth estuary transport authority will be set up. It will have new powers to address transport issues such as the A8000, which will help to tackle congestion in Edinburgh.

We recognise the importance of the rail capacity issues that have been raised. That is why the strategic rail study will address those issues—for example, at Falkirk—and why we are pleased to report recent progress in the discussions on the west coast main line.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The minister considers railways a key priority. Like many other members, I have received a communication from Network Rail regarding its make-up; it has no shareholders and it is accountable to its members, who fall into three categories. Those are the SRA, industry members, who will be represented—

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I have a question. The third component will be public interest members, who will be chosen from a wide range of stakeholder groups. Where is the Parliament's representation? What power will the Executive and the Parliament have over Railtrack's successor?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I will compensate Mr Macdonald for the time taken up by that intervention, although he should not have taken an intervention in the final minute of his speech.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I take that as a plus and a minus, Presiding Officer. Kenny MacAskill knows that we are working in close partnership with the SRA on the infrastructure provider, which is critical to the future of the railway system.

I am pleased to note the progress that has been made in talks between ScotRail's operators and the train drivers unions. I understand that an announcement has been made and that the threat of strike action in the coming two weeks has been lifted. That is good news.

I will touch on one or two other matters that members have raised. I confirm that this year, we hope to make progress on the assessment of Aberdeen's traffic flow and to complete the modelling within 12 months. I will meet Cathie Craigie to discuss the issues she raised about Croy and Auchenkilns. Her welcome for those projects reminds us of the progress that is being made here and now. We have developed projects and set out a larger vision, for which we invite the support of all members. They should agree with us on the priorities for Scotland's transport system and help us to make progress in achieving them. We welcome such support.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 11:02 am, 28th March 2002

I congratulate David Mundell on his excellent speech, which laid out clearly our proposals—something that we have been trying to get out of the Government for the past two and a half years. His speech caused obvious confusion among the SNP members, which shows that we hit the button right on. I did not believe what we heard from the SNP members. I timed their speeches—Kenny MacAskill had a seven-minute slot, but six minutes and one second into it, he had made no comment on SNP policy. His rant was entertaining, but it contained absolutely nothing about policy on what is supposed to be one of the SNP's key issues.

I turn to the speeches of members of the coalition parties. I watched the expression on Wendy Alexander's face when Mike Rumbles, on behalf of the coalition, committed what comes to at least £1 billion of spend, when all the parts are added up. To get the euro into the debate, I say for Mr Rumbles's benefit that the £600 million for the electrification of the east coast line would be €1 billion.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

A little later. I must make progress.

The Labour members gave us tirade after tirade, but they ducked the issue of their so-called plan, which has been turned into a report. They said nothing about the past five years. Lewis Macdonald began by saying that the Executive has a list of priorities and that it will meet the challenges. We are still waiting to hear those priorities in rank order and the costs that are involved. We are none the wiser on those issues.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Not at the moment.

Ms Alexander said that the document is a route map. To where is it a route map? It has no destination marked on it. If one has a route map, one knows the destination, one has planned a route and one knows the date, times and commitments that are involved. We are going into initiative after initiative.

Karen Whitefield attacked David Mundell viciously, which was dreadful. He welcomed the park-and-ride facility at Croy and the roundabout at Auchenkilns, but Karen spent a long time attacking him. I did not understand that.

To get down to the nitty-gritty, I will list examples of issues on which the deputy minister might have been helpful. He had two opportunities to be helpful, but he made no suggestion for dealing with potholes in rural roads and gave no commitment or notion of a policy on how he will get local authorities to deliver their responsibilities.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Are you aware that a member has been throwing things in the chamber?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I do not know that it is in order to sneak in school. I ask all members to behave a little bit better.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

May I continue deputy headmaster?

We have had no clarity. Last week, there was an Executive statement on transport. We expect the Executive to lay out its plans in such statements. This morning, there has been a series of rants and raves about what the Conservatives did not do when they were in power. Labour has been in Government for five years; before that, it made a series of commitments about what it would do in power. Those commitments are around eight or nine years old, but there has been no delivery.

There is no recognition that taxes on road users must go back into the road network. That is vital for business and tourism. Neither of the ministers recognises that the problem in many rural areas is that there is no option other than to depend on the motor car. Brian Adam, who is sadly missing from the chamber, was right when he mentioned the infrastructure requirements for all parts of Scotland. I do not represent the Highlands, but the deputy minister made no comments about the problems there. One or two of my colleagues listed local issues—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Did those include the western bypass for Aberdeen and the electrification of the east coast line?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

One day, Mr Rumbles will catch up with the fact that the Conservative party has said for a long time that there should be a bypass for Aberdeen to suit the needs of Aberdeen and the need for links to Inverness and up the coast to Banff and Buchan. The bypass is in our plans.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I should not answer questions from a sedentary position. The bypass was in the list that David Mundell read out.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

No, thank you. The deputy minister said nothing about congestion charges, which were mentioned during last week's statement. We must know how the Executive will fund its proposals and how it intends to implement the charges. New powers have been given to local authorities; I assume that that means that if authorities do not introduce congestion charges, the money will be taken from their block grant.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 clearly gives the power to raise congestion charges to local authorities. We will not issue directions to councils on whether they should use those powers.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I am not sure why the minister bothered to make that comment. Why did the Executive introduce the power if it has no intention of using it?

It is vital that members recognise the content of David Mundell's speech as the way forward for the Conservative party's strategy. Our proposals are affordable and our priorities are different from those of the Executive. We know how to use a budget. That does not mean simply adding more money, as the Liberal Democrats would have it.

It is interesting that the SNP made no proposals on policy or funding. For the first time, the SNP did not mention oil and did not seem to mention independence. The moving of the Conservative motion raised the level of parliamentary debate on transport and provided a good start to the day's business. We will do the same job in the enterprise debate.

EnterpriseThe Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): We move to the next item of business, which is a debate on motion S1M-2946, in the name of Miss Annabel Goldie, on enterprise in Scotland. There are two amendments to the motion. I invite those members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call Miss Annabel Goldie to speak to and move the motion. You have 10 minutes, Miss Goldie.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 11:10 am, 28th March 2002

The political process in Scotland has never been more visible, more accessible or more expensive. Never have more consultations, strategies and initiatives in glossy brochures been launched than have been launched by the Scottish Executive in the first 1,000 days of this Parliament. The people of Scotland should be dancing in the streets because of pent-up excitement, but they are not. The business community should be engaged in a corporate fandango of unfettered jubilation, but it is not.

The general sense of frustration and anger can be easily explained by such public relations nightmares as the new Parliament building and perverse priorities that place issues such as the banning of fox hunting and the smacking by parents of children ahead of creating a health service that treats ill people when they need treatment. There was also the recent embarrassment of MSPs voting on their salary increases. It is small wonder that the public are scunnered.

What about the business community? It can now engage in the political process with unprecedented ease. There is a Scottish Executive with 20 ministers and an Executive department that is devoted to enterprise that has legions of civil servants. There are 129 MSPs. There is an Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee and there is the enterprise network, which is joined at the hip with the Executive. What is the measure of that wide spectrum of political access and what has been happening to the business community since 1999?

Business start-ups have, sadly, shown a decline. In 1999, there were approximately 19,000 new businesses, but with a declining graph. In 2000, there were approximately 17,000 new businesses.

The 2001 figure is likely to be around 17,000 again. That measurement becomes starker when it is compared with 1977, when Scotland had 24,771 business start-ups. At best, we are declining; at worst, in real terms, we are de-enterprising and going backwards.

On Scottish economic growth, Scotland has had lower growth levels, historically, than the rest of the United Kingdom. However, the Scottish position has weakened even further in recent years. The Fraser of Allander Institute for Research on the Scottish Economy, in its quarterly economic commentary, projected a 7 per cent gross domestic product growth in Scotland for 2001 and a 1.2 per cent figure for 2002. A separate Government study suggested that Scotland has been more dramatically affected than the rest of Britain by the events of 11 September.

In an article in The Scotsman of 12 February 2002, Douglas McWilliams stated:

"Slow growth gradually corrodes a nation."

He went on to observe that Scotland might end up poorer than Greece.

Lurking below the surface of this bleak economic scene is more disquieting evidence of the disparity between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

I agree with Miss Goldie's analysis. However, does she agree that Scotland's slow growth and relative decline is not a function of the Labour period since 1997 but is in fact the history of post-war Scotland, which has declined relative to the rest of the UK throughout that period? Does she also agree that the opening words of her motion are an admission of the failure, throughout the whole post-war period in Scotland, of London Government?

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I do not agree with Mr Wilson, whose views on the economy are a bit like his sartorial style: casual to the point of being random and demonstrably uncoordinated.

Scotland saw significant losses in jobs and skills in 2001. Nearly 8,000 of those job losses were in the electronics sector. We also failed to cash in on 3,700 jobs that were cancelled within that sector. That gloomy chronicle is continuing, with depressing announcements of current job losses. That is not merely demoralising for the workers involved but an alarming expansion of the skills gap. That gap is worsening and employers increasingly despair about that further challenge.

This is a picture of a country that does not have an enterprise culture, whose Executive displays an inability to understand business, and in which the economy is stagnating. One must conclude that the Executive and the enterprise networks are not delivering for Scotland. For 2002-03, the enterprise and lifelong learning department's staff costs budget is more than £10 million for employing 338 people. There will also be ministerial and related costs. The enterprise network budget for 2002-03 is £465 million. One must ask what all those resources and that beaverish activity have been achieving.

Scottish Enterprise has been on a rationalisation mission, but the minister stated in a letter to me—dated 18 March 2002—that the projected head count for 2002-03 is estimated at 1,517 people. Still under review is how many of those will be permanent employees, fixed-term employees or contracted staff. That lack of specification is surprising.

Far less easy to understand, however, given what the enterprise networks have been presiding over, is why Scottish Enterprise thinks it necessary to increase the in-house resource for public relations, which in 2000-01 cost £1.62 million. Over the same period, external public relations services cost £1.4 million. If my arithmetic is correct, Scottish Enterprise has recently spent over £3 million on PR. I presume that it was explaining to anyone who was interested why business start-ups have declined, why Scottish economic growth is so much poorer than the rest of the UK, why job losses continue and why skills gaps are intensifying.

Is it any wonder that the business community does not have faith in the cluttered political scenery or does not believe in the atrophy of the enterprise network bureaucracy?

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Forgive me for not doing so. I want to expand my point.

It was predictable that on 13 March 2002 the newspaper Business a.m. should have an article entitled: "Businesses demand answers from the Executive." Bear in mind that the Executive has had nearly three years to provide answers.

That brings us to the kernel of the problem. What has the Executive been providing? The previous debate on transport indicated that there was a complete absence of strategic planning for transport and roads infrastructure, which is one of the most frequently articulated concerns of business. It is more startling that the Executive has seemed impotent as a conduit to Westminster to stop the aggregates tax, which will have a devastating effect on the Scottish rural economy. The Executive also seemed blissfully indifferent to the lurking menace of tax stamps for the whisky industry until my party debated the matter in the chamber.

The Executive has achieved the remarkable commercial advertisement for Scotland of a higher business rate poundage than the rest of the UK. Businesses in Scotland pay around 9 per cent more in business rate than businesses of equivalent rateable value in England. Not just startling but downright alarming was the Local Government Committee report that was released on Wednesday last, which endorsed reinstating the right of local councils to set business rates and held out the prospect of increased council tax bills for hard-pressed payers of council tax. My colleague Mr Harding, who serves on that committee, rejected the committee's proposals in their entirety, as did the business community and the business media in Scotland.

The media not only gave an unprecedented mauling to the press launch of the report and to the actual report, but asked what kind of committee takes 18 months to come up with such negative proposals. Throw into the cauldron the mass of regulation and red tape with which business in Scotland daily struggles and the now completely discredited Executive improving regulation in Scotland unit—IRIS—and one can understand why the business community feels that, where its interests are concerned, it is being sold a pup by the Executive.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

I am sorry, but I want to proceed with this.

If the business community, which is being sold a pup, looks at the minister's amendment it will find only pap, which articulates more eloquently than I can precisely what the problem is.

Does the situation have to be like this? It does not. My party sends some short, sharp messages to the Executive: it should restore uniform business rate; it should abolish IRIS or give it a meaningful purpose in considering the repeal of existing regulation; it should persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to abolish the aggregates tax; it should devise a transport strategy whose immediate priority is the improvement of the main arterial routes in Scotland which, in their current condition, delay, obstruct and frustrate business; and it should have a fundamental review of the role and function of the enterprise network, with the sole objective of creating a network that is concerned exclusively with promoting enterprise and improving growth and competitiveness in all sectors of the Scottish economy.

If there is any feature of the political process post-devolution that has provoked, irritated and angered the business community, it is the universally perceived fact that the Scottish Executive and the enterprise network occupy an overheated orchid house, engaged in mutual self-admiration, mutual self-congratulation and perpetual self-direction while, outside in the cold, the business community looks on with detached dismay. In the unhealthily close atmosphere between the Scottish Executive and the enterprise networks, there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest. The enterprise network cannot be a credible co-ordinator between the Scottish Executive and the business community while it is the delivery arm for numerous Scottish Executive strategies and programmes.

The apparent visibility and ability to access the Scottish political process is, for the business sector, a sterile prospect. Government meddling and interference in the enterprise process does not improve business start-ups, grow gross domestic product or create jobs; neither does distracting the core function of the enterprise network with ancillary activity such as volume training and social engineering. However, a successful enterprise economy will do more for universal opportunity and real social inclusion than any other factor.

The confidence of the business community has to be re-engaged. That will happen only if the business community is working not only with a Scottish Executive that displays a greater understanding of the flexibility and space that business needs to survive and prosper, but with a lean and demonstrably effective enterprise network that is not tied to the apron strings of the minister but has an entrepreneurial dynamism and a mind of its own.

I move,

That the Parliament notes with concern the relatively poor performance of the Scottish economy compared to that of the UK economy as a whole; believes that public funding of enterprise programmes should be focused on infrastructure improvements which benefit all businesses; further notes the damaging effects of the higher business rate poundage in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK, and supports the reintroduction of a uniform business rate across the UK and calls for a fundamental review of the role and functions of the enterprise network, both with the objective of improving growth and competitiveness in the Scottish economy.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 11:21 am, 28th March 2002

I thank my Conservative colleagues for securing a debate on this issue. We in the coalition parties look forward to the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to creating a smart, successful Scotland. It is well seen that spring has arrived because the Conservatives have obviously decided that it is safe to talk about the economy again, after a period of silence that they presumably feel was long enough to allow memories of mass youth unemployment, mass adult unemployment and mass long-term unemployment to fade.

In the spirit of spring, I will examine what the SNP—sorry, what the Conservatives are suggesting. I will turn to the SNP soon enough. I was going to invite the Conservatives to view themselves as the official Opposition for the time being, which, of course, the SNP usually claims to be.

Official Oppositions are expected to come up with programmes for government. What are the three big ideas in the motion today? First, that the enterprise budget should be redirected towards infrastructure improvements. With regard to that suggestion, I ask: what programmes should be cut and by how much? We are open minded and are asking for information.

The second big idea is that business rates should be cut. Fair-minded people in Scotland know that the total burden of business rates in Scotland has not risen relative to that in England. Interestingly, the Conservatives have not said whether they support the proposals for small business rates relief in Scotland.

The third big idea is that there should be

"a fundamental review of the role and functions of the enterprise network".

Why on earth would we want that? We have spent the morning talking about the fact that there are too many reviews. Before we embark on that much-vaunted review, we should think about its purpose.

The motion shows that the Conservatives do not know what they want to cut in the enterprise budget, that they will not say by how much they want to cut business rates and that they will not say what they want to review in the enterprise network or why they want to do it. Perhaps they should try again.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

What I made crystal clear was the fact that the business community cannot be expected to have any confidence in the devolution process or the presence of the Scottish Executive and the enterprise network if the amounts of budgetary allocation that are being devoted to supposedly improving the economy, starting up businesses and expanding our skills are demonstrably achieving very little.

My point was that, if certain substantive measures were taken, such as restoring a uniform business rate at a cost of around £170 million and paying for that out of the enterprise budget, business would rejoice. Business people could see that, instead of that money disappearing into a bureaucratic hole, it is appearing on their territory and providing a much-needed advertisement for business in Scotland.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I think that we might have smoked a position out of the Conservatives. They are suggesting that we should cut the entirety of business support—which is worth about £100 million—and slice 25 per cent off the budget of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise. That is a substantive proposal, but I doubt that it will find favour, particularly when the Conservatives will not say whether they are in favour of the small business rates relief scheme that we have introduced. I challenge them to say whether they are in favour of any specific support for small businesses and, if so, on what basis.

Having established that that is the sole substantive proposition from the Conservatives, we should examine what the Executive is doing. As people know, unlike the Conservatives, we are not looking for a quick fix of inward investment; we are saying that the future economy of Scotland rests on our indigenous science and skills. For that reason, we have brought together enterprise, research and lifelong learning in one department. We have modernised the enterprise networks at home and overseas by the creation of Careers Scotland and Scottish Development International. Furthermore, we have reformed the financial support that we give to companies at home and overseas and have created new venture capital funds. The central part of the policy is to ensure that science spending rises by 15 per cent over the lifetime of the Parliament. To that end, we have introduced the new enterprise fellowships and proof of concept funds.

I remind the chamber that, only 18 months ago, during the general election campaign, the Conservatives proposed a cut of more than £1 billion in the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry, which would have meant a cut of £120 million in Scotland. That means that the Conservatives are suggesting that there be £200 million of cuts added to the £100 million that they planned for in their budget.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I welcome the additional money that is being invested in research. However, does the minister accept that the percentage of Scotland's GDP that is spent on research and development will still be only about half the UK rate, which itself is only half the European rate? If we are to catch up with our competitors, we should be talking not about raising science spending by 15 per cent but about almost quadrupling the investment in research and development from the public and private sectors.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

The figure of 15 per cent relates to public investment in science. Scotland leads Europe in terms of the investment in research and development by higher education institutions. Our difficulty is how we can stimulate research and development investment by the business community. To that end, last year we introduced R and D tax credits for small companies. It is anticipated that the UK budget that will be announced within the month will include an announcement that similar proposals for large companies will be finalised. We need to do more to stimulate knowledge transfer. The enterprise network's technology institute proposal is designed to achieve exactly that.

We are not about talk but about action, whether it be: improving the small business gateway during the past 18 months; rolling out electronic infrastructure through Project Atlas; creating Scottish Development International as the sales force for Scotland in the world; or launching Careers Scotland, which is the first all-age guidance service operating throughout the UK and is aligned to the enterprise network.

The situation is not perfect, but we have strong leadership and a programme for action. That compares well with the position of the other official Opposition party, the SNP. Does the SNP still want to abolish the local enterprise company system? The only thing that the SNP has had to say with regard to the science and skills agenda is that, somehow, it would help to make the north-east a centre of excellence in oil and gas if we were to close down Grampian's local enterprise company and relocate to central Glasgow the leadership that it provides.

The SNP's amendment says that we should tackle root causes to allow

"the optimal policy mix required to place the Scottish economy at the competitive advantage".

What does that optimal policy mix mean in relation to monetary discipline? How would interest rates be set in the short and long term? On fiscal policy, does the SNP have any equivalent to the sustainable investment rule or the golden rule? On tax policy, what is to be the level of corporation tax, personal tax or benefits? On public investment, will the SNP drop its opposition to public-private partnerships? The SNP should either clarify its macroeconomic policy in relation to any of those dimensions or tell us about its alternative proposals to the science and skills strategy.

The science and skills strategy is the right one for Scotland. Sometimes, we should learn from other small nations not simply individual policy propositions, but lessons about their willingness and ability to build a national consensus for growth. That national consensus for growth will be around science and skills, not quick fixes, either those of the past or those proposed for the future.

I move amendment S1M-2946.2, to leave out from first "notes" to end and insert:

"welcomes the Scottish Executive's initiatives to improve Scotland's economic position and its new economic strategy for Scotland based on science and skills; believes that the Scottish Executive should build consensus behind this new strategy; notes the significant progress already made in establishing the conditions for sustained success in relation to our key objectives: global connections, growing businesses, and skills and learning, and welcomes the clear direction given to the enterprise network through Smart, Successful Scotland to work with the Scottish Executive to deliver this vision."

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 11:30 am, 28th March 2002

Despite Tony Blair's complacent spin that the United Kingdom is the fourth-largest economy in the world, with average earnings of just over £20,000, the UK is sliding down the international league table and now occupies the 19 th place—on the brink of relegation from the premier league. The standard of living for citizens of the country is in relative decline compared to that of those of our main economic competitors.

Independent Ireland, which was once the economic laughing stock of the British ruling classes, has long since overtaken poor old declining Britain. Its citizens earn on average £5,200 more than ours and are reaping the material benefits of healthy economic growth. At the same time, Ireland is able to make much more rapid progress than we are in building quality public services and addressing social justice issues. Redistribution of wealth and investment in public services are much easier to achieve and encounter much less resistance when a concomitant increase in the tax take or expansion in the tax base is possible through natural economic growth.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Mr Ingram is talking about the taxation system. Will he clarify what his vision of the taxation system in an independent Scotland is? In particular, will he clarify what percentage of GDP the tax take would be? Would it be akin to that in Ireland or that in Finland?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

I am just about to expound those matters. If Bristow Muldoon will be patient, he will get his answer.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

I will not hold my breath.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Mr McMahon should try it.

In Scotland, we are faced with a double disadvantage compared to the Irish. Not only are we stuck with the consistent failure of UK economic policy to stimulate high rates of growth, but we are stuck with economic policies to suit the UK's economic engine—London and the south-east of England. We have no powers of our own to lubricate or maintain the Scottish engine.

The sad fact is that the union is bad for Scotland's economy. The latest figures show little growth at all in the Scottish economy in the past year. But more damning than that is the long-term growth rate, which runs at half the UK's mediocre performance. Scotland's underperformance against the UK can be costed in cash terms as a loss of £1.4 billion from 1995 to 1999.

The notion that we have an economic union that provides a level playing field for all its constituent nations and regions to thrive is a myth. Even the Scottish Tories acknowledge that in the mention that their motion makes of business rates. The UK's playing field is much more akin to the old Easter Road slope: it is downhill all the way in favour of London and the south-east of England. Down the slope flow people with outstanding talent and skills, profits, capital and corporate decision making, to the huge detriment of the Scottish economy and every household in our land.

It is high time that we all acknowledged the leeching of our nation's life blood by the UK's capital city. The dice are loaded in London's favour because it is the centre of political power in the UK. It exerts a huge gravitational pull and creates a large, talented labour pool that is drawn from the UK and elsewhere, which in turn creates a large mass of affluent and influential consumers.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No. He is in his last minute.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

London's dominance is self-perpetuating. What is more, little can be done about that as long as Scotland is trapped in a unitary state that imposes uniform tax and interest rates across all its constituent parts. Scotland needs to be free to compete and free to generate high levels of growth and prosperity by placing our economy at a competitive advantage.

We need to place economic growth at the centre of our policy making in Scotland. We have to stop making do with rearranging the deck chairs on a slowly sinking ship and treating the symptoms of economic decline rather than tackling its root cause. We need the ability to put in place a fiscal regime that will create wealth for the nation, resource excellent public services and provide the leeway to address social justice through redistribution. We need to create a vibrant economy that will grow businesses with R and D capability and attract and retain business headquarters in Scotland. We need to be able to define particularly Scottish business tax measures that will create an incentive for growth as general taxation under European Union rules. We cannot do that unless we achieve independence.

I move amendment S1M-2946.1, to leave out from "as a whole" to end and insert:

"and competitor European economies over the post war period; further notes that the efforts of enterprise development agencies and initiatives within the uniform UK economic policy regime have had no apparent effect on our relative economic decline throughout the period and that the gap in performance would appear to have widened more recently; believes that the policy and debate in Scotland has so far been focused on dealing with the symptoms of this relative economic decline rather than its root causes, and calls for a refocusing of the political debate in Scotland on the potential for the acquisition and use of the range of financial and economic powers available to competitor states such as Ireland and Finland and the optimal policy mix required to place the Scottish economy at the competitive advantage required to achieve faster growth, higher living standards and an improved revenue stream to resource sustained investment in public services."

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 11:36 am, 28th March 2002

The minister has talked about research and development. I point out to members that everything that the Executive has done to increase access to universities—the abolition of tuition fees and the reintroduction of financial assistance—means that a record number of people are going to Scottish universities and applying to go to Scottish universities. Those people will be the seedcorn for the future growth of business and industry in Scotland. That is one concrete move that we have made and it is there for all to see.

My second point is a good Highland point. The debate has been on the overall Scottish scale and whether to have a union. That does not go down desperately well in the Highlands, particularly with small businesses. There has been talk in the past in the chamber about future legislation that would enable planning authorities to say to a supermarket company, as and when a new supermarket is built, that part of the planning conditions will be to devote a certain percentage of shelf space to local produce. That would go down exceedingly well in our rural areas. I know that there are difficulties with defining local produce, but I recommend that the Executive consider that carefully indeed.

My most important point concerns what I have in my wallet. That is a €20 note. I show it to the Tories—in fact, I will pass it round and they can have a look at it. A recent survey of industries in Scotland, which was conducted by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, showed that 30 per cent of Scottish firms wish to join the euro at the first possible opportunity and that 41 per cent would like to join the euro in the lifetime of this Parliament. That is a huge majority in favour of joining the euro.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

I will in due course.

I have given the euro note to the Conservatives deliberately, because they must focus on the key issue for Scotland's economy, which is getting into the euro. It was interesting that Miss Goldie, in a speech that was splendid and fragrant as usual, did not comment on that key issue.

To return to the Highlands, when we speak to farmers and businesses little and large in the Highlands, they say loudly and clearly to George Lyon, to me and to other Highland colleagues, "For goodness sake, get into the euro." The fluctuation in currency between the rock of the mighty dollar and the hard place of the euro means that the pound seesaws about. For someone running a retail business and trying to buy fruit, for example, from abroad, it is almost impossible to plan what the price will be. They may find that they have been robbed of their profit.

I tell the Tories to study the €20 note. It is key to Scotland's future. I look forward to hear what the Tories have to say about the euro in their closing speech. Have they distanced themselves from the Euroscepticism of the past?

I wish everyone a happy Easter.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Does Mr Stone have any more €20 notes?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

That is not a point of order; nor is it a matter for the chair whether Mr Stone gets his money back.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 11:39 am, 28th March 2002

Speaking from a rural perspective, I can say unequivocally that the most important parts of the motion are the plea

"that public funding of enterprise programmes should be focused on infrastructure improvements" and the subsequent call

"for a fundamental review of the role and functions of the enterprise network".

Nowadays, infrastructure falls into two categories: the traditional infrastructure of roads, railways and public transport and the new information and communications technology infrastructure of broadband and the information superhighway. To illustrate my point, I would like to examine both those categories as they currently exist—or rather do not exist—in the south-west of Scotland.

The problems with the A75, which is a recognised trans-European network route, have already been well aired in the chamber, not least during the previous debate but, sadly, to little avail.

The problems with the A77 and A76 are less well publicised but equally pressing. Those three roads represent the main arteries into and out of south-west Scotland. As long there are only tenuous rail links, commuting possibilities are unrealistic. The public transport system is rendered virtually useless by the rurality of the region, and the end result is an area from which people have to move if they cannot find work within it. That explains why Dumfries and Galloway is the only region of Scotland with a declining population, which is surely a graphic enough statistic to explain why something must be done.

Despite Jim Wallace's reassurances during the 9 January debate on the Executive's priorities that the pathfinder project in the south of Scotland provides the be-all and end-all of information technology provision in rural Scotland, the information superhighway remains a dream for most individuals, businesses and employers in the south of Scotland. Why else would both the chief executive of Dumfries and Galloway Council and the chief executive of the local enterprise company agree that, unless something is urgently done to bring broadband technology to their region, it will continue to have to play catch-up with the central belt when it comes to attracting jobs into the area.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

How much of the budget does Alex Fergusson propose to spend on upgrading the roads in the south of Scotland and on providing the information superhighway?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

If George Lyon had been present at the previous debate, he would have heard exactly the answer to that question, so I suggest that he read the Official Report .

The equation is quite simple, as people will follow good roads, and jobs will follow people. It does not matter whether those good roads are the traditional vehicular highways or the new technological superhighways; the result is the same. Of course, the Executive understands all that; why else would it include among its principal aims in the glossy document "Rural Scotland: A New Approach" the aim to

"invest in our young people by bringing childcare, education, training and employment opportunities to where they live and work. Getting on need not mean going away"?

That aim rings pretty hollow with the people of Dumfries and Galloway, and with most people in rural Scotland. Far from

"bringing ... education ... to where they live and work",

Dumfries and Galloway Council is having to consider closing 39 primary schools and three secondary schools. Far from employment opportunities being brought to the people of Dumfries and Galloway, the population is steadily declining. Access to services is so pathetic that one young graduate who gave evidence to the Rural Development Committee last week said that he could find work up in Ayrshire but not the public transport to get there.

For the community, expansion and business development are almost things of the past, as West of Scotland Water claims that its services can take no more strain and that therefore it cannot condone further developments. That is not a pretty picture.

If we superimpose the effect of the Executive's legislative impositions on rural Scotland, the picture becomes even less pretty. Never mind the rights and wrongs of a ban on hunting; no matter the muddled thinking behind the land reform proposals; no matter the continued inability of the Executive to support and foster the primary products of our different regions—the result of the eventual legislation will be further deterioration in the jobs and economic prospects of rural Scotland.

The Executive's answer to that mess is limply to condone the introduction of the aggregates tax on 1 April—what a suitable date! The Confederation of British Industry says that that tax is causing chaos and confusion throughout the country. Chaos, confusion and muddled thinking sums up the efforts of the Executive on rural enterprise. The time to refocus on what are very real problems is long overdue. I totally support the motion.

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour 11:44 am, 28th March 2002

There is an end-of-term feel to the debate. One wonders whether it is spring when one sees the first moleskin suit, and Andrew Wilson, in whom Simon Templar somehow displaces Harry Potter. However, we come back to earth with a dunt when we hear David Davidson promising that the Tories are going to do the same job on enterprise. Thankfully, he has removed himself from the chamber. When people in my constituency hear that the Tories are going to do the same job on enterprise, they remember the Tory record: the lost businesses and homes and the destroyed hopes. That is one reason why the Tory party, although it may come back in many parts of the country, will remain fifth out of five in Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

The debate has been unfortunate. Annabel Goldie usually makes spirited contributions to our proceedings, but her speech today was surprisingly lacklustre. I suspect that that was because she did not really believe half what she was saying but felt obliged to have an end-of-term knockabout on the performance of the enterprise network. However, she did not advance much on that front.

Annabel Goldie touched on one point about which I share some concern. The Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning will be aware of my interest in the activities of the Executive's IRIS unit and of my various parliamentary questions. I entirely accept that much of the regulatory burden on businesses arises as the result of European or UK legislation, but I am surprised by the lack of resource that was disclosed in answer to my questions, and in particular by the grades of staff employed in that unit. I urge the minister to consider seriously how we can get the work of those with experience of business impact aligned with the work of the unit so that we may make more progress on that front.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

If Mr Fitzpatrick could resist sartorial allegations, I would be grateful.

In the interest of the debate, can the member tell us whether the aim of the Executive's economic policy is to close the wealth gap with the rest of the United Kingdom or just to mitigate our continuing relative decline?

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

It would take me slightly over my time to give Andrew Wilson sartorial advice, so I will desist from that.

Andrew Wilson makes a point that was wholly absent from Annabel Goldie's speech. She gave the game away when she spoke about the fundamental review of the enterprise network. She made no mention of social justice ambitions for the network or for employment, nor of widening access to higher education, skills and jobs.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

The point about business expansion is that, if we are to have an enterprise network that operates according to what its name suggests, we have to let it focus on the enterprise economy of the country. I specifically said that we will do more if we succeed in that. The phrase that I used was:

"for universal opportunity and real social inclusion".

Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour

I am obliged. That contribution takes us back to the essential divide between the far right in the Parliament and the bulk of members of the Parliament, who do not view social justice ambitions as the distaff side of an enterprise economy. After 18 years of these people—the Tories—we realise that putting 3 million people, with their skills, talents and ambitions, on to the scrap heap is not the way to run an economy.

We have had a hard job returning from the mess that has been left by the Tories. We have built in economic stability and the conditions for growth. There is nothing in the Conservative motion that encourages us to support it, so we should not vote for it today.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 11:48 am, 28th March 2002

I feel as though I am intervening in a family feud between two right-wing unionist parties. I could hardly split the difference between them in the eye of a needle.

I want to make three points in the four minutes that are available. The first is that, irrespective of what the Parliament does at a microeconomic level, if that is not in tune with the macroeconomic policy that is decided in London, it will not have the desired effect in Scotland. I will give some examples of that, starting with taxation policy. No independent Scottish Government with power over fiscal policy would in its right mind have the current fuel tax regime. No Government whose priority interest lay in Scotland would tax its own national drink at the rate of 50 per cent. Would the French tax wine at 50 per cent? No way. That is another example of Scotland trying to promote an industry that is being taxed to the hilt by the chancellor in London.

I will give members another example. One of the biggest economic problems that we face in Scotland is depopulation. According to one forecast, by 2065 Scotland's population will be down from more than 5 million to 3.8 million, which has major economic implications. We need to do two things. First, we need to keep many more of our young, talented people in Scotland—to encourage them to stay to build a career here. Secondly, we need to have a positive immigration policy—not one that chases people away, sometimes because of the colour of their skin, but one that welcomes all creeds and types to Scotland if they have something to contribute to economic revival. An independent Scotland would have an entirely different immigration policy from that of the UK.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

No. Brian Fitzpatrick should sit down.

Another issue is interest rates and their effect on exchange rates. No independent Scottish Government would pursue the interest rate and exchange rate policy—the lunacy—that is being pursued by Gordon Brown. Until we get control of macroeconomic policy—

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Ben Wallace should sit down.

Until we get control of macroeconomic policy, all the strategies—all the enterprise networks and the money that is spent on them—will not work. They will not work unless they are part and parcel of a real national strategy for Scotland.

The second issue is that of scale. The minister's comments on research and development, although factually accurate, betrayed complacency. The fact is that one company, Nokia, spends more on research and development than the whole of Scotland spends. Until we lift our eyes—until we get into the same league as the Nokias, the Finlands and Irelands of this world—we will be kidding ourselves about our ability to close the growth rate gap. The venture capital fund is a great idea, and I welcome the £20 million over three years that has been allocated, but that is peanuts compared to what is required.

My final point relates to the enterprise network. Let us never forget that it was the Tories who destroyed the Scottish Development Agency and created Scottish Enterprise. I agree with much that Annabel Goldie said about the balkanisation of the enterprise network in Scotland. The figure of £100 million for business support has been cited, but how much of that ends up with businesses and how much ends up in the pockets of consultants? That issue needs to be addressed, but we will not be able to address such issues until we have full power. I declare an interest as someone who used to do consultancy work for Scottish Enterprise.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 11:53 am, 28th March 2002

As a Scottish Conservative, I am proud to be part of the only party in Scotland that understands and trusts business. We realise that it is individuals and businesses, not politicians, who create a successful economy and a prosperous society.

I contrast our approach with the behaviour of the Local Government Committee, which has exposed the long-term plans of the three left-of-centre parties to change business rates. Committee members from those parties all wanted to allow councils to determine and collect business rates, which would hit business and directly stunt investment growth as the inevitable increase in rates removed the current level playing field.

I was the one voice of dissent on the committee, ensuring that the business community's well-publicised opposition to the proposal was heard. That opposition was completely ignored, as the committee caved in to its chums in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Not at the moment.

Even when the Executive seemed to heed business calls for it to honour its commitment to reject any such proposal, Aberdeen Central Labour MP Frank Doran let the cat out of the bag by backing calls for Aberdeen and other cities to get back the right to fix, collect and spend business rates.

The view of Tom Sunter of the Institute of Directors is clear. He said:

"We feel very strongly that returning business rates to council control would be another way of adding stealth tax."

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Andrew Wilson will have an opportunity to reply to my speech in summing up.

Bill Stitt, deputy director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, who has consistently argued for the return of a uniform business rate for the whole of the UK, stated:

"Returning business rates to local authority control would only exacerbate this problem."

It is clear to me that Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP members are more interested in the views of their fellow like-minded politicians than in the views of everyone in business in Scotland. Let us not forget that business generates the wealth that politicians tax to spend on public services.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does Keith Harding not recall that for the first 11 years of the previous Conservative Government local authorities were allowed to set business rates? Does he not also recall that only in 1995—year 16 of 18 years of Tory rule—did the discrimination of higher business rates on Scottish businesses come to an end? Is that not totally inconsistent with the Tory motion that we are debating today?

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Of course it is not totally inconsistent with the motion. We introduced the uniform business rate and we want it to be maintained.

Without business wealth creation there would be no public spending, so easing the burden of tax and regulation on Scotland's firms is paramount for the future of the whole of Scotland. Scots firms already pay 9 per cent more than their English counterparts. That makes it more economical for a company to invest south of the border.

The fault lies with the Labour party, which abolished the uniform business rate, creating a competitive disadvantage for Scotland. In my region, restoring the UBR would save Fife local businesses £7.6 million each year.

The SNP is no better.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member is in his last minute.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

The SNP says that it wants to ease the burden on Scottish business, but would let our councils milk them with much higher business rates. Where is the consistency there?

Even the Executive's sop of the rate relief scheme for small businesses is no help, as it is a typical bureaucrat's reaction to a problem. It is extremely unfair on medium-to-large businesses and sends out entirely the wrong message to firms that are considering locating in Scotland. It also discourages expansion in our indigenous firms.

The Scottish Conservatives recognise the problem and have the solution. Our plan is to bring down the rate poundage for the current year from 47p in the pound to the English level of 43p. The resulting £176 million loss in revenue would easily be funded by a reduction in spending on the enterprise networks.

It is time for the other parties to join the Conservatives in listening to and understanding business needs. The proposal of the Local Government Committee has met with outright rejection from the business community. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are the only party that has so far rejected the recommendation. It is time that Parliament as a whole woke up to that and accepted our proposals to cut tax and greatly boost business in Scotland. I support the motion.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour 11:58 am, 28th March 2002

Alex Neil has left the chamber, but I point out that I have never before heard Wendy Alexander called complacent.

I would like to focus on the significant role that is played by the enterprise network in the development of the Scottish economy. The Conservative motion is short-sighted, to say the least, in its understanding of the role played by the development agencies. It fails to grasp the importance of the enterprise network in encouraging new ventures, fostering enterprise and providing strategic oversight for the way ahead.

Encouraging growth and innovation throughout our economy is dependent on a large number of factors. Quite rightly, developing modern infrastructure is a key pillar of that. However, there is a great need to provide targeted support and assistance to business and entrepreneurs, allowing ideas to be turned into employment. The small business gateway is providing a one-stop shop for a wide array of quality advice and services for new businesses throughout Scotland.

In my constituency, the service is enabling start-ups to grow and to establish healthy market foundations. Only last week, Scotchem—a pharmaceuticals supply company based in Kirkcaldy—celebrated achieving significant growth in its first year. The company has cited the essential role that market research, advice and business planning from Fife small business gateway—which is a partnership between the enterprise network and Fife Council—played in its success. That is just one example of a growing band of start-ups in Fife.

The underlying theme of the Executive's approach to the enterprise network, expressed in "A Smart, Successful Scotland" is enabling ideas and innovations to get out into the marketplace.

Bridging the gap between innovation, enterprise and capital investment is the essential role that the enterprise network plays. Scottish Enterprise's proof of concept fund is a pioneering example of how that philosophy is being put into practice. The fund of more than £30 million is targeted at assisting commercialisation, particularly in science and technology.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

I want to be on record as saying that all that is terrific and the Executive is to be lauded for it. However, will the outcome of it be a closing of the wealth gap with the rest of the United Kingdom or just mitigation of our continuing relative decline?

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

I shall continue. I hear what Andrew Wilson is saying, but I genuinely believe that improvements need to be made and I will come on to that in the rest of my speech.

One reason why I mentioned the proof of concept fund is that Alex Neil spoke about the need to commercialise and fund research. We have to consider not just funding but how we develop that research, roll it out into the economy and create new opportunities.

Work is continuing to improve the enterprise networks, as all the major stakeholders are aware. Scottish Enterprise addressed many issues in January in its strategy for business start-ups. I have concerns about the business transformation programme that is under way. I urge the minister to ensure that in taking on national strategic issues, we ensure that local flexibility is considered. I believe that our success has lain in local imagination and innovation. I ask the minister to ensure that the correct balance is achieved.

The microeconomic foundations for delivering growth and job creation are in place and what is needed is considered innovative thinking, not right-wing economic dogma. That will build on our foundations and realise fully the vision of a smart, successful Scotland.

We believe that a strong vibrant economy can generate growth and promote social well-being, which the Tory motion ignores. I urge the Parliament not to support the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I ask that the next two speeches be of three minutes, to allow everybody in.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 12:03 pm, 28th March 2002

I will comment on the situation in Ayrshire and endorse my colleagues' comments on the mishandling of the economy.

The reality in Ayrshire is that we feel under threat. We have lost more than 1,000 jobs in the past few months in the Prestwick area alone, with many others going in the surrounding areas. Our quarries are under threat from the unfair aggregates tax and the Auchincruive campus is under threat of closure. In short, although spring is coming—as the minister has said—and everyone wants to be optimistic, we must be realistic.

Yesterday, BT announced the closure of its Ayr call centre and the transfer of around 100 jobs to Glasgow. Earlier in the month, Compaq announced the transfer of 600 jobs from Ayr to its Erskine plant.

The reality in rural Ayrshire is dreadful too. Ayrshire did not have foot-and-mouth disease, but the farmers whose animals did not have foot-and-mouth are worse off than those whose animals did.

Tourism has had a dreadful time too, although I welcome the initiative taken to develop the Burns festival. That must be a success and a building block for our tourism industry, which has been so badly represented throughout Scotland in the past.

Quite simply, the Scottish Executive must do better. A growth rate of 0.8 per cent, while the UK economy grew at 2.6 per cent, is simply not good enough. The Scottish Executive has to realise that people and businesses create jobs. Glossy brochures and fanfare launches do not in themselves make a difference. What makes a difference is the creation of the right climate for businesses to start and grow. Sadly, that climate does not exist in Scotland at the moment.

It is not easy—I know, because I have tried—to start businesses or maintain new or existing ones. Why would somebody choose Scotland as a place in which to start up businesses, given our high business rates, our excessive red tape, our bureaucracy and our inadequately funded and functioning enterprise network?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, the member is in his last minute. I gave him three minutes and that is all that he is getting.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I do apologise.

The Conservatives would do more to encourage new and existing businesses. We would reintroduce a uniform business rate and seek to abolish the aggregates tax. We would deliver a genuine less-is-more environment with less bureaucracy, regulation and tax and more targeted encouragement. By doing less, better, we would achieve more.

I support the Conservative motion.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 12:05 pm, 28th March 2002

I will keep to my three minutes, Presiding Officer.

Wendy Alexander referred to quick fixes and Marilyn Livingstone applauded the enterprise system, but the experience in the Scottish Borders has given no cause for that satisfaction.

It was announced proudly in 1999 that the call centre at Claridge Mills in Selkirk would provide 250 jobs, at least 60 of which would be in place by October 1999. The last figure that I have shows that there were 28 jobs in January, eight of which were in management. I tried to confirm the exact figures this morning, but the company is not answering my phone calls—I wonder why. The cost so far to the public purse of that little enterprise has been £680,000 and regional selective assistance is in the pipeline.

However, when ordinary people in the Borders try to access enterprise funds they find it extremely difficult. I refer to Thompson and Son Bakers in Hawick. The owner used his own money to renovate an old building and turn it into a bakery, which cost him £56,500. He asked for help from Scottish Enterprise Borders and got £1,500. He has six jobs and another six in the pipeline.

John Mackay of Eyemouth took over the old Co-op, which overlooks Eyemouth harbour, and redeveloped it into a splendid restaurant, which opened three weeks ago. The business employs 20 people and he is looking to develop it. He got nothing from Scottish Enterprise Borders.

Another lady in Peebles, who wants only £2,000 to start up a business, got an offer of £500 from Scottish Enterprise Borders for information technology. However, Manpower can get £670,000 for providing 28 jobs to date. That is the problem with the system on the ground.

The other problem with the system is the infrastructure in rural areas, to which Alex Fergusson referred. The Ettrick riverside business centre has just opened in Selkirk. Its aim is to provide a complete business facility for Borders people. The problem with that centre is that it does not have broadband. Another problem is the road network to the Borders. The A1 is not complete; the A68 has just a couple of crawler lanes; and the A7 and A702 are definitely scenic routes. I will not even mention the railways. With infrastructure like that, who will locate in the Borders?

How on earth can the Borders get on? How can enterprise develop in that community with that kind of system in place? Lots of guff gets spoken in here. Ordinary people cannot set up businesses in the Borders, because they cannot access the funds that the large companies can access.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 12:08 pm, 28th March 2002

The debate has an end-of-term feel to it. The prize for the best put-down must go to the Presiding Officer, for his remark to Jamie Stone.

The Executive has taken a range of actions to improve the competitive position of Scottish industry, as we have heard from the minister and other members. The introduction of the small business rates relief scheme will benefit an estimated 70 per cent of Scotland's businesses. That figure will be even higher in rural areas, where small businesses make up and dominate the business scene. The new scheme will be of benefit to large numbers of small businesses in my constituency.

The Executive has also taken action to improve Scotland's skills base and tackle the shortage of skills. The minister alluded to the comprehensive review of the careers service, followed by its rationalisation to ensure lifelong career advice, which is a significant step forward. The actions that have been taken include: the scrapping of tuition fees; the commitment to funding 2,800 additional higher education places; the commitment to funding 40,000 places in further education colleges; and the establishment of learndirect Scotland to give everyone in Scotland one-stop access to post-school training, skills and education.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Will the member tell the chamber whether none of that would have happened without the Liberal Democrats?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

I can assure the member that none of that would have happened without the Liberal Democrats. It certainly happened without him.

Together, those initiatives should improve our skills base and ensure that we improve our competitive position. However, there is no doubt that the worldwide recession appears to be hitting Scotland's economy harder than the economy in the rest of the UK. The recently published GDP figures bear that out.

Scotland's heavy reliance on big inward investment, especially in the electronics industry, has left us vulnerable in times of recession. When companies such as Motorola are hit by recession and losses, it is all too easy for them to pull the plug on plants in Scotland. The minister has acknowledged that, although the strategy of attracting big inward investment projects into Scotland has been successful, it brings with it the dangers of leaving Scotland exposed to forces that are outwith our control.

The minister's decision to refocus the Executive's enterprise strategy towards investing in and growing indigenous businesses is therefore welcome. It is interesting to note that Ireland, which successfully pursued a similar policy to Scotland for the past 20 years, has also refocused its enterprise policy towards growing indigenous Irish businesses.

The SNP's amendment highlights the muddle and confusion that lies at the heart of SNP policy. We heard that in the speeches by SNP members. Their newly rediscovered policy of independence has no clarity. In the same breath, they mention Ireland and Finland as models that they wish Scotland to emulate. One is a high-tax, highly regulated economy; the other is a low-tax, deregulated economy.

The question for SNP members is which model do they want Scotland to follow? Is it the Finnish model or the Irish model? I hope that Andrew Wilson, who seems to favour the Irish model, will tell us in his wind-up speech. Which model would the SNP follow? There are great implications for whichever model it chooses.

As for the Tories, Annabel Goldie's proposal to slash the enterprise budget by over £100 million to fund business taxes would go down like a lead balloon in my constituency and throughout the Highlands and Islands. A 25 per cent cut in the HIE budget would spell disaster for economic regeneration throughout the Highlands and Islands.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party 12:12 pm, 28th March 2002

I was cut and deeply hurt by Annabel Goldie's opening comments. It is one of the great ironies and inequities of modern politics that young gentlemen have to accept slings and arrows from ladies on their sartorial elegance, but making such remarks vice versa is impossible. I open by commenting that Miss Goldie's purple dotted cravat is lovely.

The debate is important to Scotland's future success. The Parliament and the parties involved must get their act together and acknowledge the realities of Scotland's performance, which is utterly mediocre. It gives me no pleasure to say that, but the simple truth is that our growth performance is unacceptable. Our amendment seeks to bring to the debate a call for all parties to acknowledge that fact and to have an open-minded look at how we can equip ourselves with the powers to have the policy mix that George Lyon pointed to.

I welcome George Lyon's question. I would love to have the debate about Scotland's national target. Do we follow the Scandinavian model or the Irish model?

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

If the member would apply his ears more than his mouth, he might learn.

The Conservatives might seek a low-tax deregulated economy. The Labour party might seek to follow that route and the Liberal Democrats might follow another. The point of the SNP amendment is that that debate cannot begin in Scotland, because we have a model imposed upon us from outwith.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

Throughout the debate, Jamie Stone has moved around the chamber, talking over the member who is speaking. If he wants to act like the licensed clown, let him, but surely he should give respect to all the speakers in the debate.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I had not heard Mr Stone. That is something that you should leave for me to worry about, Mr Neil.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

With all due respect, we cannot hear what is being said.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I would be grateful if Andrew Wilson would continue.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

I am grateful, Presiding Officer.

My point was that I want Scottish political debate to focus on such serious questions. I have my own ideas and we all bring our own ideas to the debate. However, this morning the focus has been on two parties that say that they are better placed to manage Scotland's relative decline. My comment to the Conservatives is that yes, the Labour party's performance on Scotland's economy in the past few years has been utterly mediocre. I do not even think that that is a function of Labour party policy; it is the context in which it finds itself. The Conservative's policy approach would produce no real difference. The post-war experience in Scotland has been of managed relative decline. It is a long-term problem, which is not due to the worldwide recession but arises from our being part of an economic union without being able to place ourselves at a competitive advantage to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

I have had three offers and three declines. I will move on.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member is not giving way.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

The Executive and the other parties have to answer a simple point. I support the Executive team on many of the programmes that it brings to the table, but what will it do to close the wealth gap that has been identified between Scotland and the rest of the UK and Europe? Is the issue one of overtaking our competitors or mitigating our relative decline? The simple truth is that, at present, disposable wealth in the rest of the UK is growing three times faster than in Scotland. In the past six years, the growth in disposable wealth in the south-east has been 24 per cent, but in Scotland growth has been 9 per cent. If we had grown at the same rate, we would have £8.4 billion more in the Scottish economy. That is the gap that we have to close.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Given all the interruptions that I have had, I need to move on.

This is a long-term problem. Labour's approach to politics has been to nursemaid Scotland's political, economic and social symptoms since the war. Everyone loves a nurse, so Labour has been popular, but that approach has not changed the underlying causes of our relative decline. Politics needs to grow up and move on. We need to have a debate on the economy that is more mature in tone than the stupid, narrow sniping that we have had over the past few years. I hope that Wendy Alexander will address that issue in her summation and show some leadership to her party, which she can do.

My simple point is that we would trust the Executive ministers with the full powers of independence at their disposal. It is ironic that in Scotland we have the only finance minister on earth who does not trust himself with the nation's finances, and we have the only economics minister on earth who does not trust herself with the nation's economic powers. We would. Let us get moving, tackle the mediocrity and have a proper and mature debate.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 12:17 pm, 28th March 2002

I thank colleagues for their contributions to the debate. There were a number of suggestions on how we might improve the enterprise network. In particular, Alex Fergusson referred to the need to strengthen our capability to support rural Scotland. Annabel Goldie and Brian Fitzpatrick talked about the IRIS unit and how more expertise has been brought to bear. Alex Neil made the point that Scotland is an attractive place to live and work, and said that the talent strategy in Scottish Enterprise needs to be expanded. Christine Grahame eloquently made the case for why we should support indigenous businesses more by reconfiguring regional selective assistance in the future.

I turn to some of the bigger issues. The Conservatives made a charge about the atrophy of Scottish Enterprise's bureaucracy. An organisation that is seeing its head count go from 1,900 last year to 1,500 next year—a cut of 400—could hardly be accused of atrophying. The cost of public relations external services is also falling by a quarter in the current year, so there is movement on some issues.

I am still unclear about whether the SNP's position is that it wishes to abolish the LEC network. I am also unclear about whether the Tories support a small business rates relief scheme. That takes us to the central policy choice that is before us. The Tories' solution is to cut a further £180 million, in addition to the £100 million that they wished to cut from the budget last year. The Conservatives should use the Easter holidays to think about the wisdom of proposing cuts of £280 million. Such cuts would end investment in science and replace it with an indiscriminate cut in business rates that would benefit big business—because the Conservatives do not support a scheme for small businesses—and inward investors. A £280 million cut, resulting in the ending of the investment in science that we seek to achieve, is antithetical to a science and skills strategy.

Andrew Wilson said that he wanted to have a macroeconomic policy. Let us be clear. Scotland has a choice of macroeconomic policies. It can choose the policy under the current constitutional arrangement, which I will not go over, because people know it. Jim Mather and Alex Neil appear to favour that macroeconomic policy, which places us outwith the European single currency area. John Swinney's macroeconomic policy is that we should not favour cuts in corporation tax, but Andrew Wilson is willing to do that. I will go to the heart of what the SNP said. One option is not considering Scotland relative to England. The choice is to do what it takes to get Scotland growing again. That is at the heart of our difficulty with the SNP. Its constitutional solution requires us to break up Britain before we can pursue any of its policy prescriptions, on which the SNP has as wide a range of views as it has members.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

As a director of Scotland in Europe, Jim Mather can hardly be against the euro. I am not for the break-up of anything. I want to empower the Scottish Executive. The minister referred to the research and development money that might be provided in the next UK budget. What will that do to improve Scotland's position relative to its competitors in the rest of the UK and to close the gap?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

That is the central con of the SNP's policy. I ask the SNP to show me any sovereign state in Europe in which different areas have different corporation tax rates. The only way to say that the rate should be 18p, 20p or 35p in Scotland is to break up Britain first. That is the dishonesty of the policy that the SNP peddles.

A wider issue that links the SNP and the Tories is the suggestion that our economic salvation lies in competitive undercutting on tax. If members look around the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, they will see that the total tax take in Japan—the "economic basket case" of the OECD—is 30 per cent, whereas the level in Scandinavian countries is higher than 50 per cent. Therefore, the idea that, uniquely, our economic salvation lies in competitive undercutting of one or another element of the tax burden is not borne out by the evidence.

The evidence is that investing in science and skills is the answer to boosting Scottish performance. That means the first-ever science strategy, links between the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University, the Alba Centre as a focus of research in microelectronics, enterprise fellowships, technology institutes and five times as many modern apprenticeships as before.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

The answer involves creating careers Scotland, an adult literacy scheme and a Scottish university for industry. Scotland's economic salvation lies in the consistent pursuit of that strategy, around which we want to build a consensus that stretches beyond the coalition parties, out across Scotland and to other parties.

Scotland's salvation does not involve super profits through corporation tax cuts for inward investors or bigger business rates bribes for big business. It involves a balanced taxation policy and a strategy for growth. The Executive is pursuing that approach. We invite support for it.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 12:23 pm, 28th March 2002

One disappointing element of the debate is that it was undersubscribed. That is unfortunate, because we spend too much time debating how we spend Scotland's wealth, rather than how we will create it. A morning devoted to discussing the economy and one of the most important components in improving economic growth—our transport infrastructure—is well spent.

The speeches from the principal parties in this morning's debates have been interesting. However, it cannot be more clear now that only one party in Scotland is committed to improving Scotland's transport infrastructure and delivering for business and the economy. That party is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

I do not doubt the minister's good intentions, but five years of failure since Labour's election in 1997—almost three of those years post devolution—have meant that fact has given way to spin and self-justification.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I will do so in a moment, because I feel sorry for Sylvia Jackson.

We hear a range of views from the SNP—from the out-and-out Stalinism of some members—Mr Quinan comes to mind—to the more Milton Friedman-style economics that Mr Wilson prefers. That range of views demonstrates that, while SNP members—or, at least, most of them—may be bound by a common commitment to independence, the SNP does not have a coherent strategy for Scotland's economy or its transport infrastructure.

When the SNP leader, John Swinney, unveiled the SNP's "Talking Independence" campaign a few weeks ago, he pledged that his party would provide

"the most sophisticated economic presentation on independence ever devised."

So far, the SNP has failed to live up to that promise. No matter how many prawn cocktails are consumed or lattes are drunk, I cannot believe that anybody in the business community in Scotland believes that the stewardship of the Scottish economy would be better in SNP hands. Nothing that has been said this morning makes me change that view.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

David Mundell's comments so far have been rather negative. Will he comment on the new business start-up rate in the Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley area? In common with the Fife area, very good results have been achieved by Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley, which has passed its original target of 497 start-ups. The total includes 188 start-ups by women and at least 24 business start-ups in social inclusion partnership areas.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

The member raises an important issue, but I am coming to my scrutiny of the enterprise network.

When someone runs a business, they have to make hard choices. They have to decide which things it would be nice to do, but which things are essential. That is the position in which the Scottish Executive finds itself, relative to the expenditure of its enterprise and lifelong learning department.

Businesses cannot proceed on the everything-but-nothing-is-a-priority basis that so bedevils the Scottish Executive. Businesses have to make choices, and the Scottish Executive has to do that too.

We are brave enough to make those choices and to answer to the Scottish people and to businesses for the choices that we make. When it comes to the economy, the choice is quite clear: either we put substantial investment into our transport infrastructure and into delivering broadband infrastructure—the roads and the railways of the 21st century—so that businesses can thrive and develop, or we continue to fritter away money on myriad schemes and initiatives that are operated by the enterprise companies or the Executive. That is not a difficult call, because it is clear that existing arrangements are not working. Let us not shirk the choice, but let us come down firmly in favour of investment in transport and technology infrastructure.

One of the most positive features of the Parliament is the opportunity that it has provided for proper scrutiny of budgets that are spent in Scotland, in particular in the case of non-departmental bodies. George Lyon may have sung the praises of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but members of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, including his colleague Tavish Scott, were much more concerned to hear that 20 per cent of Highlands and Islands Enterprise's budget is spent on administration. We have to get to the bottom of facts such as those, because they show that there is considerable scope for transfer of funds. That exercise must be undertaken and we continue to scrutinise the Executive in debates such as this one.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Given David Mundell's interest in transfer of funds, does he agree that particular consideration should be given to West Dunbartonshire? Is it a place to which he would be content to transfer some of the funds that are not being spent in rural areas?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I am sure that the Deputy Presiding Officer would like me to commit all sorts of funds to the Dunbartonshire area, but I cannot do that in this speech.

I do not accept criticism of the calling to account of Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is our job, on behalf of the taxpayer and the business community, to call those organisations to account. We make no apology for doing that. The significant costs that are attributed to those organisations are a direct cost on every business in Scotland. I note Sylvia Jackson's positive comments about Scottish Enterprise Forth Valley, but we have to judge every component of the enterprise network on the basis of what difference it makes. We have to ask, "What are the outputs and how can we measure them?" Furthermore, we have to do that in a context of asking whether local authorities could perform any of the functions better.

Although Ms Alexander might not be asking such questions, we most certainly are. Alex Neil is right to say that the Conservatives introduced the present form of the enterprise network. However, it is quite clear that times have moved on, not least with the creation of the Scottish Parliament, and what was appropriate a decade ago might no longer be so.

My colleague Alex Fergusson highlighted the difficulties that are being faced in rural Scotland, and Christine Grahame eloquently did the same. At least the minister did not say—as she did on transport matters—that the rural economy has been fixed, although it would be helpful to all concerned if she pointed out to us where her responsibilities for the rural economy end and Ross Finnie's responsibilities begin.

Keith Harding concentrated on business rates and made clear our opposition to the Local Government Committee's ill-conceived proposals, which not only unfairly target businesses across different local authorities in Scotland but completely undermine the commitment to a uniform business rate that business in Scotland has struggled to achieve. We cannot and would never support such measures and will take every parliamentary opportunity to demonstrate just how damaging they are.

To improve our economic performance in Scotland, the Scottish Executive could take certain positive steps, the most obvious of which is significant investment in our transport infrastructure. It is time that the Executive made that a real priority in its economic policy instead of prioritising regulation, bureaucracy and increased business rates.

I support Miss Goldie's motion.