Today's debate and the circumstances preceding it follow an all-too-familiar pattern. There was spin and hype in the press about the importance that the Executive allegedly attaches to transport issues and there was an announcement in Parliament. The Executive's words sound good, but when the fine print of their documents is finally read, the position is more confusing than ever. That was true of the late, lamented Wendy Alexander's much-vaunted transport plan, which subsequently became a report. It is true of the comprehensive spending review announcement and the section on transport in the glossy document "Building a Better Scotland: Spending Proposals 2003-2006".
Ms Alexander's report turned out to be nothing more than a wish list with no substantive commitments. The only new announcements that flowed from it were for a car park and a roundabout. How can we be confident that the spending review announcement will be any different? It is couched in the same terms. Beneath the spin, all we get are the usual weasel words: "work starting on work to develop proposals to bring forward options on surveys that could be progressed on how further consultation could be taken forward with stakeholders in partnership with partners so as to address the concerns as to how to take forward top priorities flowing from studies on how to create a land of milk and honey". And so it goes on.
The amendment to today's motion, lodged by the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, is in exactly the same terms. As I said of the comprehensive spending review, the Executive has turned the production of guff into an art form. The minister might be able to get away with drivel in the chamber, but what kind of reception does he think he would get if he tried to soft soap Fife rail commuters or a Glasgow bus queue with such anodyne nonsense? Like all hard-pressed transport users in Scotland, those people want to know the facts. When and how are services and infrastructure to be improved?
The purpose of the motion and today's debate is to flesh out the reality and the facts of the Executive's commitment to transport so that the Parliament and Scotland know what the Scottish
On reading the amendment, I am not optimistic. It is not that I expect the deputy minister to be a magician or some kind of Mystic Meg, but I cannot believe that, with the vast resources of the Scottish Executive at his disposal, he cannot come up with reasonably accurate costs of the projects outlined and the likely time scales.
Given that Mr Mundell's party was in power for 18 years and that it had the vast resources of the entire United Kingdom Government at its disposal, why did the Conservatives not cut the first sod on the M8, lay the first rail on the Glasgow airport and Borders rail links or build a tram system for west Edinburgh?
Not at the moment, but I will come back to the member.
If the Liberal Democrats aspire to be an Opposition party at national level, Margaret Smith should be holding the Executive to account and not going along with any old anodyne flim-flam that it comes up with.
If the Conservatives want to hold the Executive to account for its inactivity, so too do one of the minister's predecessors and Mr Bill Butler. I support the sentiments of the motions that they have lodged, which call for more detail on the Waverley station upgrade and the Glasgow airport rail link projects respectively. Today's debate gives the minister the opportunity to provide members, including Labour back benchers, with that detail.
Let me make it clear that I have no difficulty in welcoming genuine, additional expenditure on the key transport projects that were alluded to in the transport plan and the spending review document. After all, as I have set out many times in the chamber, Scottish Conservative policy is to put additional investment into our transport infrastructure as a key element of improving Scotland's potential for business growth and investment, as well as being of benefit to the travelling public.
You may call me cynical, Presiding Officer, but given Labour's record on transport in the five and
"sold short in the first spending round".
During the five and a half years, Scottish and UK ministers have presided over the needless delay of important infrastructure projects such as the M77.
I put it to Mr Mundell that, had the Conservatives been returned in 1997, they would have further neglected infrastructure investment not only in transport but in schools, hospitals and the water industry. Perhaps Mr Mundell will explain why, in the 18 years in which the Conservatives were in power, they failed to realise the strategic importance of the completion of the M8 motorway.
The Conservatives have always understood the importance of Scotland's motorway network. That is why we put massive investment into the M74 link. Today's debate is about the Executive's record over the past five years and what the Executive is going to do in future. The Executive parties are being held to account. We want to hear what they are going to do.
Let us take the situation in Aberdeen. I do not have to tell the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning about the reaction of his local press to the lack of firm commitments in the spending review. As my colleague Alex Johnstone has said, the Executive's failure to make any announcement on the future of Aberdeen's western peripheral route is yet another missed opportunity. Once again, people in the north-east are left wondering when they will ever see a firm funding commitment for that project instead of the usual platitudes. In this instance, the platitudes include
"addressing the concerns of business and the wider community in and around Aberdeen by fixing Aberdeen's congestion - stimulating the local economy, strengthening the community".
That takes the biscuit, even by Executive-speak standards. No concrete commitments whatever are given.
Elsewhere in the spending review document, what does "invest to develop" mean in relation to the Glasgow and Edinburgh rail links? Why use the phrase "begin construction" of the M74 northern extension rather than use the word "construct"? The phrases raise more questions than they give answers.
When challenged on its failure to deliver on road and infrastructure, the Executive has responded repeatedly by claiming that it has concentrated its efforts to date on public transport. Not only did we have Ms Alexander's outrageous claim that all rural transport issues were "fixed", we also had the relentless promotion of the Executive's much-vaunted concessionary travel scheme for elderly people. Of course, the spin fails to point out that the scheme does not become fully operational until April next year, which coincidentally is only one month before the Scottish Parliament elections, and that, as we have seen in the past few weeks, the implementation has been an absolute pig's ear, with many elderly people left confused and disappointed. As ever, the Executive's priority is not the detail or the implementation, but the number of column inches in the press. This time, that has rebounded on the Executive.
Despite the platitudes and expensive advertising campaigns, there is not a shred of evidence that the Scottish Executive has encouraged more people to use public transport.
Lewis Macdonald can make his point in his speech.
Travellers remain as sceptical as ever about rail services in Scotland, which are struggling to return to normal after the ScotRail strike, during which the Scottish Executive demonstrated remarkable ambivalence. As we have said repeatedly, and as Lord James Douglas-Hamilton will set out in more detail, the attempts by the Executive and the City of Edinburgh Council to browbeat the public of Edinburgh on to public transport through iniquitous congestion charges, which is a tax by any other name, will not work.
I look forward to hearing some detail on how the Executive will achieve the so-called objective in the spending review of supporting
"sustainable development by promoting more efficient transport networks and more sustainable modes of transport, having regard to the overarching principles of minimising resource use, energy and travel".
I am disappointed that, although the Liberal Democrats at Westminster have attacked vigorously the Labour Government's disastrous track record, in Scotland we hear only acquiescence and support for flim-flam and double-speak. If realising our potential means simply saying that independence will solve everything, the Scottish National Party is as bereft now as it has been in the past three and a half years of ideas to deal with the issues that face the people of Scotland.
In the past five and a half years, we have had prevarication, flannel, spin and studies and the jargon of inter-modal, multimodal, semi-modal, urban-modal and sustainable-modal, but we have not had decent roads, reliable trains or a growing bus network. The Executive claims that there is sufficient money. I want to hear from the minister how and when the Executive will deliver.
That the Parliament recognises that increased investment in transport infrastructure is essential to providing the best business environment to generate growth and investment in Scotland; regrets that since Labour came to power in Scotland in 1997 there has been a failure to deliver any meaningful infrastructure or public transport improvements; further regrets that the Scottish Executive continues to prefer spin and wish-lists to costed plans and timescales for delivery, and calls on the Executive to provide full details, including the cost and timetable, for completion of each commitment outlined in the recent Spending Review which included the Scottish Passenger Rail Franchise, rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, public transport improvements across Central Scotland, A8 and A80 motorway upgrades, improvements to the existing trunk road network and tackling the congestion problems in Aberdeen.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the increase in the Scottish transport budget over the next three years. The budget settlement for 2003-06 reflects the fact that transport is one of our top priorities. The settlement provides the tools that we need to transform and modernise Scotland's transport infrastructure.
Excluding capital charges, our transport budget will rise from £671 million in the current financial year to more than £1 billion by the end of 2005-06, which in cash terms is a rise of 52 per cent. That unprecedented level of funding will allow us to act on our priorities and compares exceedingly well with the £100 million of additional funding that the Tories proposed when they last initiated a transport debate.
The budget settlement is about allocating resources, but it does not stand in isolation from the rest of the transport policy process. The origins
The third stage was to set out priority projects and to address the gaps in the transport network, which we did with the transport delivery report in March of this year. The report identified the greatest single transport challenge facing Scotland as road traffic congestion and proposed a series of measures to contain traffic growth. It established clear priority projects and a clear agenda for working in partnership with other bodies to tackle the growth in road traffic and to complete the missing links in the transport infrastructure.
The budget settlement does not, as has been implied, set out priorities for the first time—that has already been done—but it provides sufficient resources to meet those priorities.
I will address the matter of the western peripheral route, but the point that I was making, in response to Mr Mundell's motion, is that the spending review and the budget do not aim to make substantive decisions on projects and priorities. That was done in the transport delivery report. As a former member of the Audit Committee, Brian Adam will know that level 3 spending details will be shared in due course with the Finance Committee as part of the budget process. That will provide more detail on some of the figures that have been announced.
The decision on Aberdeen's western peripheral route is important. We are making progress on tackling Aberdeen's congestion. As Mr Adam knows, we made provision for that earlier this year. The budget settlement includes provision for whatever work might be required for the western peripheral route in the spending review period, provided that the value-for-money case and a basis for further progress are agreed. As all members with an interest in north-east Scotland will be aware, the transport modelling to provide the basis for that further discussion is under way and is expected to produce results later this year.
I have covered the issue, so I will press on.
The re-letting of the Scottish rail passenger franchise is at the top of the list of priorities for the next 18 months. Directions and guidance have been issued and a joint franchising team of Executive and Strathclyde Passenger Transport officials is working to deliver the service specification. We are working with the Strategic Rail Authority to let the franchise by March 2004. That is a specific commitment.
We are considering proposals from the central Scotland corridor studies and we will make an announcement on the way forward later in the year. We expect to begin preparation on the A8 and A80 motorway upgrades shortly, which will lead to a likely construction start date of around 2008.
I welcome the investment and the priorities, but does the minister recognise that barriers exist to the delivery of improvements? For example, work on the A78 West Station bridge in my constituency has been dogged by delay, which has caused great inconvenience to constituents and to business. Will the minister investigate that matter and bring it to a speedy conclusion?
I am happy to investigate the matter, as I am happy to investigate any case in which an agreed transport priority has been stalled for reasons that can be addressed.
As well as picking up the specifics, we must look at the wider picture. We must recognise that by the end of the decade we will have transformed Scotland's transport infrastructure. The budget settlement provides the resources to allow that to happen. It will allow the completion of the central Scotland motorway network, the provision of new railway links throughout the country—including rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports—and significant public transport improvements in and around our cities.
For some projects, discussions are on-going to establish a value-for-money case and, for other projects, progress depends in part on commitment from partners. We have sought to provide in the budget settlement the necessary resources to allow projects to be carried forward in the spending review period. I am confident that that has been achieved.
We will continue to fund and support lifeline air and ferry services and to make provision through the public transport fund. Between 2002 and 2006, we will increase Executive support for public transport by 70 per cent. The budget settlement
We have sought in the budget settlement to make the resources available to deliver on our priorities. Over the coming months, our tasks will be to deliver on those in detail, working in partnership, and to bring to completion the projects that we have identified and established as our priorities for a sustainable transport system.
I move amendment S1M-3422.2, to leave out from "recognises" to end and insert:
"welcomes the increase in spending that the Scottish budget settlement for 2003-06 provides for transport as one of the Scottish Executive's five key priority areas and recognises that these resources lay the foundation for priority projects set out in the Transport Delivery Report that will transform Scotland's transport infrastructure over the next decade, delivering a sustainable transport system fit for the 21st century, which supports business and economic growth and meets the needs of all in society."
It is difficult not to disagree with the Tory motion. We require to press, probe and call the Executive to account. There is no outline manifesto by a new Administration, because this is an Administration that is in its death throes. It should be capable of resting on laurels won for what it has done in its tenure in office to date. Instead, it is proposing to do something away in the future. That is unacceptable—we have seen it all before.
Nonetheless, I cannot agree entirely with the Tories, who had the opportunity to change things during 18 hard years of Tory rule, 10 or 11 of which were Thatcher rule. They cannot continue to dine out on the construction of the M74 and the dualling of other roads. In those 18 years, we witnessed the undermining of the rail industry. Whatever criticism I may make about where the rail industry is heading, the problems began under a Tory Administration that privatised and underfunded it.
The Tories have no reason to be self-congratulatory.
Reading the Executive amendment is a bit like seeing "Groundhog Day"—the amendment is couched in exactly the same terms that we have heard in the comprehensive spending review debate and from Andy Kerr. The Executive offers
We will speak later about the powers that are required, some of which are fiscal and some of which pertain to ways of dealing with the rail industry.
We have heard what the Executive is now saying previously in the CSR debate. Back in 1998, the position was outlined not by Jack McConnell, the current First Minister, nor by Henry McLeish, the previous First Minister, nor even by Donald Dewar as the first First Minister. It was Donald Dewar who, as the Secretary of State for Scotland, said on page 7 of the white paper, "Travel Choices for Scotland":
"We shall continue to ensure that the Scottish transport network is appropriate to support Scotland's economy".
Does that sound familiar? Does that sound like the Executive's amendment? What has happened since July 1998? The Executive has put forward no radical proposals. On page 8 of the same document, the Government talks about pressing
"for improvements in rail ... connections to airports".
The fact is that, since July 1998, no real progress has been made. There are more potholes, there is more congestion and we face a bus strike in Edinburgh.
Some improvement schemes would be cheap. For example, the proposal to re-regulate the buses is supported not only by Executive back benchers, but by Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Passenger Transport. That is not a grand scheme; it would be relatively cheap. Will the Executive support it?
Not again. I have given way once.
We are told that the flagship concessionary fare policy is a national scheme. Yes; it is a national scheme in Wales, where people can travel from Anglesey to Swansea and from Cardiff to Colwyn Bay. By contrast, in Scotland a national scheme seems to be one whereby people can travel from Alloa to Falkirk and the lucky people in the Strathclyde region can travel from Girvan to Gareloch. However, can people travel from Wick to Wigtown? No, they cannot. The flagship policy is nothing but a con that will unravel before next April, when Scottish pensioners will realise that they have been sold a pup.
There is also the question about the state of our roads. We had a great debate in the Parliament, during which Andy Kerr—as the then convener of the Transport and the Environment Committee—attacked the then Minister for Transport and the Environment, Sarah Boyack, about the privatisation of trunk road maintenance. However, we are told, on page 27 of the 2002 trunk road operating companies' report, that
"Media criticism, predominantly of BEAR's winter performance, was sometimes inaccurate."
I remember John Farquhar Munro voicing criticism that I certainly do not think was inaccurate. The Executive has not even resolved the shambles surrounding the care and maintenance of the roads. That is why we need to have control of the rail network. If we are to create rail links to airports, we must first tackle the congestion at Waverley station. Who is in charge of that? Is it the Strategic Rail Authority? Is it the minister? Is it the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions? We do not even know who is dealing with that problem. The only way in which to address matters is by taking control of the rail network and the rail industry, but we need full powers to do so.
I move amendment S1M-3422.1, to insert at end:
"and calls for the Parliament to be given all powers necessary to allow these and other required transport and infrastructure improvements to be properly implemented."
I am amazed that our Tory colleagues have chosen this subject for today's debate. It is a vain and misguided attempt to discredit the coalition partnership, which is endeavouring systematically to overcome the legacy of decades of underfunding and neglect and the Tories' abysmal mismanagement of the national transport infrastructure. Their efforts today are, to say the least, ill judged and inappropriate.
Any sensible individual would accept that the sustainable economic viability of our urban and rural communities can be secured only if there is an efficient and—most important—affordable transport infrastructure. Scotland deserves and has come to expect a much-improved transport network. The Liberal Democrats are striving to achieve that goal and, as members of the partnership Government, we have at last begun to reverse the decline in spending on transport that characterised the last years of the Tory Government and the first two years of the new Labour UK Government.
What are the Liberal Democrats doing to secure an integrated transport system? With our partners in Government, we have introduced a bill that will give powers to local authorities to introduce improved bus services and to tackle congestion. We have funded more than 30 major public transport projects throughout Scotland, which will encourage improved rural transport services, over and above the other 350 projects that have been introduced to the advantage of the travelling public. Extra funding has been allocated to local authorities to allow them to make a start on the backlog of repairs to our deteriorating roads and bridges, especially our remote rural single-track roads, which were never designed to carry the increasing volume and weight of traffic that we are seeing in the 21st century. Much is happening.
Substantial sums have also been allocated to encourage a change from road to rail freight, which we hear quite a lot about. Over the past two years, freight facilities grants have removed millions of lorry miles from our congested road network. However, much more is required. Substantial spare rail freight capacity is available, which should and must be utilised. I am sure that further incentives to that section of transport would attract widespread public support.
The Liberal Democrats are proud to have secured the resources to provide free bus travel for all Scottish pensioners and people with disabilities. That programme is due to commence next week. Some local authorities, such as the Highland Council, will not restrict free travel to off-peak periods. We need to secure an agreement for through-ticketing to remove border restrictions
I represent a Highland constituency. My wish list for the Highlands is an improved trunk road to the north coast and an east-to-west coast road built to modern standards. All of that could and should be integrated with our fishing and ferry ports and supported by an enhanced rail system.
Members will be aware that the Highland Council has not secured a passenger service obligation on flights to and from Inverness. We must continue to support that aim and the council's endeavours towards achieving it.
The convener of the Transport and the Environment Committee recently suggested to the Executive that it should consider a further reduction in, and ultimately abolition of, the Skye bridge tolls. I hope that that laudable suggestion finds favour in the chamber because the current level of tolls is the most expensive and absurd impediment on any transport link in Europe. The tolls defeat the Parliament's aspiration to social inclusion.
I need not tell anyone that an uncaring Tory Government introduced the tolls and, consequently, I cannot support the Tory motion.
When Andy Kerr, the Minister for Finance and Public Services, gave his statement on the spending review, the groan from Aberdeen must have been audible in the chamber. However, it is sad that the spending review document did not appear to have anything at all to say about Aberdeen. Nevertheless, the priorities of Aberdeen's modern transport system, particularly the western peripheral route, will come back to haunt the Executive, its members and possibly even the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, Lewis Macdonald, who is on the front bench today.
We must pay tribute to the organisation that has driven forward the western peripheral route project: the north-east Scotland transport partnership—NESTRANS—which represents the area's two local authorities, the enterprise company and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. NESTRANS has brought together a series of ideas and has proposed a project that would be of great value to the people of the north-east.
It is important to acknowledge the level of support that exists for a modern transport plan for Aberdeen. According to a household survey that
Funding is, of course, the key issue and we will keep coming back to that. Business in the north-east, particularly in the Gordon and Banff and Buchan areas north of Aberdeen, faces extremely high transport costs. The difficulties are caused by the failure to have a route around Aberdeen. Competitiveness is being seriously damaged.
I talk regularly to businesses and their representatives and spoke recently to businesses in the industrial estate in Huntly. They made it clear that every time they go through Aberdeen the lack of a bypass costs them money. It is increasingly difficult to run competitive businesses in the Aberdeen area.
That Scotland's third city is constrained by a trunk road that fails to serve it is ridiculous and unacceptable, as is the 400-year-old Bridge of Dee's inability to carry vehicles that are more than 7ft wide. The 14 sets of traffic lights on North Anderson Drive are also a serious encumbrance to transport.
NESTRANS has created plans for a modern transport system whose estimated costs are in line with policy and have been fully tested. Despite the overwhelming support that those plans have among people and the business community of the north-east, the Executive has given no firm commitment to funding the scheme.
Mr Johnstone is just in his last minute. It is up to him whether to accept the intervention, but he must finish his speech within the four minutes.
Indeed, I acknowledge that. The problem is that that funding is extremely small. We need to set out a project that includes estimates of the time that it will take to construct the western peripheral road in particular. That is the most important part of the project for many people, especially to the north of Aberdeen. We must also have a system by which funding can be provided over a set period. It is extremely important to the economy of Aberdeen and the north-east that we progress the matter.
We need a commitment from the Executive to fund the western peripheral road. If ministers will not listen to me, let them heed the words of their Aberdeen colleague Brian Rutherford, who is a Labour councillor and Aberdeen City Council's planning committee convener. He has called on ministers to stop pussyfooting around and to get off the fence and give the people of the north-east a firm commitment on the western peripheral route. The deputy minister's career could depend on it. We look to him to deliver on behalf of the people of Aberdeen and the north-east.
As the Deputy Presiding Officer said, we are tight for time so I must be strict about keeping speeches to four minutes so that we can get everybody in.
I welcome this debate on transport expenditure in Scotland, particularly in the wake of the comprehensive spending review. Everyone in the chamber recognises transport's importance to several major Executive objectives. Whether it is developing the Scottish economy with a 21 st century transport system, improving our environment or reducing the opportunity gap, transport has a central role to play.
It is also important in any transport debate to recognise that the United Kingdom as a whole has over decades not invested in its transport systems to the level that many of our European counterparts have. We must put that right and I believe that the Executive and the UK Government are putting that right.
In responding first to the Conservative's motion, it is clear that they have learned nothing from their period in opposition. They have not acknowledged their failure to invest in the transport system, nor have they acknowledged how they devastated the system through rail privatisation, declining bus services and underinvestment in roads. In particular, as I said in my intervention on Mr Mundell's speech, the Conservatives failed to complete the link between our two major motorways.
I understand why Mr Mundell does not want to talk about the Conservatives' record in Government. I assure him that the Labour party will never tire of reminding the Scottish people of the legacy of the Tories, a once-strong party that is potentially reduced to
Moving on from Mr Mundell and his failure to acknowledge the Tories' past failings, it is also sad to see Mr MacAskill, the original billion pound man, reduced from his usual uncosted wish list of transport projects to painting his face with blue woad and telling us that all transport problems will be solved as soon as we achieve our freedom. It is particularly amusing to see Mr MacAskill perform, given the Scottish National Party's recent abandonment of its previous tax policies. Mr MacAskill continually fails to recognise that, per head of population, Scotland spends more than the UK average on transport and that because of the spending review the transport budget in Scotland will continue to grow.
Turning to the Executive's plans—to please Mr Mundell—the priorities that the Executive has set out will make a real difference to Scotland's transport infrastructure. However, I regret Mr Mundell's simplistic desire for Mr Macdonald to produce precise costing plans when those costings are still being worked out. We are still identifying routes and costings for some of the major projects. It is naive of the Tories to want such details at this stage.
The Executive will deliver on several important issues. It will increase capacity in our rail network, most notably at Waverley. It will deliver a new rail franchise for Scotland. I was surprised that the Tories suggested that the Executive should simply put a wad of cash on the table and expect various people to say what services they would provide.
One of the most important issues that the Scottish Executive will work on in the coming years relates to the A8, A80 and M74 corridor studies. Each is important and I urge the minister to implement the recommendations, particularly—if I may speak from a constituency point of view—those relating to the A8 corridor, especially the suggestion that it be upgraded to motorway status, and the reopening of the Airdrie to Bathgate line.
Transport is vital to the future prosperity of Scotland. The Opposition has nothing to offer in that regard. I ask members to back the Scottish Executive's transport vision for the 21st century.
Far be it from me to criticise the SNP's opening speaker, but I think that he was far too generous. He said that the promised land was on the horizon, but I am afraid that my eyes cannot see it and I suspect that neither can those of many in the chamber.
We do not need to confine ourselves to the
There is a monopoly in air transport. BAA owns the three most geographically important airfields in Scotland, which are there simply as feeder stations for BAA's economic workhorses: the London airports. No passenger jet aircraft in Scotland is registered to an owner in Scotland. Is it any wonder that air services in Scotland are peripheral to the commercial interests of airlines that are based elsewhere and which will always seek to develop services closer to their bases?
We continue to suffer from the tearing up of many of our rural railway lines. As members have heard me say previously, I represent one of two mainland constituencies that have no railway line. Nonetheless, we get no greater share of the road budget. From the limited largesse that is being distributed to support railways, we get little additional benefit. Alex Johnstone was entirely correct to highlight Gordon and Banff and Buchan as being places that suffer from poor roads and limited railways. If I come to Parliament by public transport, I have a £20 taxi ride to the two-hourly service that runs from the nearest railhead at Huntly, which is outside my constituency.
We have no time for nonsense from Aberdeen Labour.
The western peripheral road is an economic drag on people in the north-east north of Aberdeen. I know of a company that estimates that congestion in Aberdeen costs it about £100,000. The area contains the world's biggest offshore oil base, but the 20 to 30 trucks a day that travel between Peterhead and Aberdeen are delayed by between 20 and 40 minutes on each of their round-trip journeys.
I know that Duncan McNeil did not hear this because he joined us late in the morning but, in the previous debate, Allan Wilson made the important point that his Executive is focused on three i's: infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure. Well, without infrastructure, we have no transport system worth debating.
The minister and I have exchanged comments on free local travel, especially with regard to disabled people.
I welcome what provision there is, but my disabled constituents do not have buses upon which they may exercise their right to those free rides. Labour is not delivering for the disabled or the pensioners in Scotland.
I apologise for the fact that I will not be here to listen to the closing speeches, because I have a previous engagement, of which I have informed the Presiding Officer.
I welcome the substantial increase in transport spending and I hope that rural Scotland gets its fair share. I note the big increase in spend on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services from about £27 million in the previous budget to £31 million this year, £37 million next year and £38 the year after that.
As the minister is no doubt aware, Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd has made a bid for two new ferries for the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay route. No more work needs to be done on the bid and I would appreciate it if the minister could make an early decision on the matter. I will read the Official Report of the minister's speech in the hope that he will indicate that some positive thinking is being done in that direction.
There is an urgent need for further upgrading and widening of the A83. Already this year, £3 million—a significant increase—has been spent on the road and another £1.5 million will be spent next year. In the past 20 years, there has been virtually no investment in that vital trunk road and the benefits of the road-widening and road-straightening work are evident.
I have spoken to the minister about a section of the narrows between Tarbert and Ardrishaig on which two lorries cannot pass each other without great difficulty. In this day and age, it is unacceptable that we have a trunk road on which lorries have to go onto the grass at the side of the road to pass each other. I appeal to the minister to look favourably on bids to do remedial work on that section. It was argued that the work should have been carried out at the time of the landslides, but it was not. Now that extra funding is in place, that road-widening project should go ahead.
I have also spoken to the minister about further trunking of the A83 all the way to Campbeltown if the Campbeltown to Ballycastle service restarts in spring next year.
The A82 north of Tarbert also gives us great concern. To describe the road that passes Loch Lomond as a trunk road is an insult to the term. It is single track in many places and most people who want access to north Argyll take the long
I am in my last minute, but I will agree with the point that I think the member was going to make, which is that that road is important not only to the economic future of Argyll, but to that of Fort William and the rest of the west coast of Scotland. This is not simply a constituency issue; it is to do with turning around the economic prospects of the west of Scotland.
The issue of the Tobermory to Salen road has been raised by the minister on previous occasions. The consultation document on the Clyde and Hebridean services states categorically that the Executive will consider the short crossings to Coll and Tiree at some point. That road is absolutely vital if that promise is to be delivered and I appeal to the minister to consider funding for it.
As the motion suggests, Labour is failing to address the problems of Scotland's transport infrastructure. Indeed, in Edinburgh, it is much more concerned with its anti-car agenda and the introduction of road tolls.
The City of Edinburgh Council's recent announcement of the result of its public consultation on the £2 road toll for the capital showed a small majority in favour of the scheme. That lacks credibility, because the whole consultation process was deeply flawed and rigged from the start. Of the 250,000 leaflets that were printed, only 20,000—fewer than 10 per cent—were returned. That is no surprise, given that the leaflets were available only on request. If the consultation were to have any credibility, the leaflets should have been delivered to homes throughout the city and surrounding areas. The consultation period of less than two months was far too short and it was cynically timed to coincide with the holiday period.
Moreover, the council further manipulated the results in its favour through the horrendously slanted manner in which the options were presented. The leaflets said that the option of no charge would lead to limited rail improvements and limited further environmental improvements in the city centre. That is patently misleading as it gives the impression that only by introducing road tolls could the cash be found to improve public transport. That is simply not the case—the Scottish Executive should provide funding for major public projects from its transport budget, as
The Executive's supposed commitment to developing an effective, modern, 21st century transport system for Edinburgh is duly proclaimed, so why should our motorists, who are already paying the highest petrol prices in Europe, be clobbered with yet another tax?
In the past week, two other shocking facts have emerged about the bogus consultation. First, 6,000 of the consultation forms—bear in mind the fact that only 20,000 were returned—were sent to green lobby groups, such as Friends of the Earth Scotland, which are strongly in support of tolls, in an attempt to draw up favourable responses. Secondly, the data that was collected from the returned questionnaires did not show a majority in favour of tolls. Only when the data was weighted to represent people who did not own cars and did not take part in the survey did the figures show a majority. In other words, the council made up the result by inventing people. We consider that a disgrace.
The Conservative party is the only party to have fought city-entry tolls every step of the way, and we will continue to do so. When we tried to amend the Transport (Scotland) Bill on 20 December 2000 by lodging two amendments opposing section 69 of the bill, which introduced road tolls, the amendments were voted down by all Labour, all SNP and all Liberal Democrat MSPs. Those MSPs include Fiona Hyslop, Kenny MacAskill and Margaret Smith, who are now falling over themselves to claim that they are against tolls.
Furthermore, the SNP's 1999 Scottish Parliament manifesto stated proudly that the SNP would support city-charging schemes. On 14 September 2000, while debating stage 1 of the Transport (Scotland) Bill, Kenny MacAskill said that the SNP
"are broadly sympathetic on congestion charging."——[Official Report, 14 September 2000; Vol 8, c 289.]
Nonetheless, I hold in my hand a copy of a leaflet that Kenny MacAskill distributed, which proclaims:
"Join the SNP campaign to end the Highway Robbery".
We welcome U-turns in our favour from wherever they come.
The road toll public consultation has failed to fulfil its purpose. It is no more than an exercise in political manipulation and that should fool nobody. The only way that road tolls will be stopped is at the ballot box next year. Only one party can be trusted to remain in the lead to stop them, whatever the circumstances.
Today's Tory motion can be described only as slightly bizarre, given the current scale of investment in transport in Scotland. We had 20 years of underinvestment in transport in Scotland, thanks to the Tories. The ill effects of that have been felt nowhere more acutely than in Aberdeen and the north-east. Parts of Aberdeen's modern transport system, such as the western peripheral route, were proposed years ago and could have been delivered by Grampian Regional Council, which for much of its existence was controlled by the Tory party or Tory-led coalitions under the national Tory Government. It has been left to the Labour administration in Aberdeen City Council and the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in the Scottish Executive finally to push for significant transport improvements, with the recognition that Aberdeen is one of Scotland's top 10 transport priorities. I welcome that.
In Aberdeen and the north-east, more progress has been made in the past three and a half years than was made in the previous 30 years. We have publicly supported plans with real development money, not to mention improvements that are up and running. Those include park-and-ride schemes and dial-a-bus schemes, which I mention particularly to Stewart Stevenson, because I am sure that they run in Aberdeenshire. I refer also to "twenty's plenty" schemes for safer communities and A90 trunk-road improvements.
There is the prospect of further funding from the recent spending review, if NESTRANS can introduce completed proposals rapidly. We know that tackling congestion in the immediate future is a key priority not only in Aberdeen, but throughout Scotland. The Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition is prepared to put in the investment for a massive expansion of public transport.
More than half of the transport budget is focused on public transport. In Aberdeen, for the first time in a generation, the number of bus passengers is growing. I do not doubt that that will continue with the introduction of free off-peak travel for our older citizens from Monday, which is another example of real delivery.
I also look forward to real change in Scotland's railways with, for example, the reletting of the ScotRail franchise. There have been improvements, and extremely successful grants such as the rail facilities freight scheme. If we are to continue to move freight off roads, issues such as low bridges and making the necessary investment to improve the rail infrastructure to allow greater capacity, such as on the Aberdeen to Edinburgh line, must be resolved. I ask the minister to address that in his summing up.
As a rail passenger, I believe that we have to work harder at making travelling by rail a pleasure rather than an ordeal. At least Labour has a real commitment to keeping Scotland moving, unlike the Tories. In the last year of the Tories' most recent Government they reduced grants to local authorities to zero.
We are making the necessary investment in public transport. We are helping Scottish businesses and industry by reducing congestion and we are improving the quality of many people's lives through schemes such as free travel for the blind and the new bus scheme for the elderly. In the coming decade we will see a transformation of transport in Scotland to give us a modern transport system for the 21st century. I call on the Tories to acknowledge that.
I, too, was tempted by the Tory motion, because everything is in it except the kitchen sink. However, I will support the amendment that my colleague Kenny MacAskill has lodged, because it recognises where the Government's plans and spending review and the Tory's concerns hit the buffers. Before anybody accuses me of talking only about constitutional niceties, I point out that I am referring to the powers that reside not with the Executive, but with what has during the debate increasingly been called the national Government in Westminster.
As evidence I refer to a written answer that the minister gave me on 18 September 2002. He said:
"Neither the Scottish Executive, nor any of its executive agencies, has carried out any detailed study focused on determining the comparative suitability of Glasgow and Edinburgh airports for a hub operation."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 18 September 2002; p1607.]
For goodness' sake why not? It is pathetic management of our economic development for the Executive not to have foreseen that it would have to come down on one side or the other and determine what its airport policy was to be. Is it going to be what is outlined in the strategic rail services review as determined by Westminster? When is the Executive going to decide that there is a priority for its spending review and for economic development?
I do not know whether to feel mad at the Executive or sorry for it for not deciding. It knows perfectly well that there is a limit to its powers and that the decision on the airport will be determined not by it, but by what I would call its superiors in Westminster—I do not doubt that the Executive would call them its senior partners. However, whatever the reason for the lack of a decision, will Lewis Macdonald undertake now to say what is likely to be the better option for Scotland's
Just before I press the case for the capital—as members would expect me to—will the minister consider what John Bowis, the Tory MEP, is saying today. Because of the strategic air services review, he is saying that there is the possibility of a central Scotland airport at Airth. We screwed up on that once before and missed the opportunity. Although it is unlikely that the minister will foresee a huge economic benefit to outweigh the environmental concerns of starting from scratch with a central airport, I still think that the minister should consider it.
However, the hub airport should be at Edinburgh for the reasons that are outlined in the strategic air services review. Edinburgh airport is in the right place when we consider the development of the business park—the fastest growing business park in the UK, never mind Scotland. There is room for a second, close-spaced, parallel runway. Believe it or not, there is potential for a reduction in noise pollution, because the two runways could have alternate take-off and landing directions. That is the way that I read it.
I have concentrated on airports, but the minister mentioned that it was in his power to reorder priorities. Will he listen to what James Douglas-Hamilton said about Edinburgh and congestion? The minister says that his own studies have identified congestion as the primary concern of transport policy and strategy in Scotland. Instead of concentrating on the rail link to the airport, will the minister concentrate on moving working people and tourists around within Edinburgh? Iain Gray has suggested that we may know by 2008 whether there will be a rapid rail transit in Edinburgh. We need to know much sooner than that, and we need Government help to move people around within Edinburgh. After that, the priority will be the rail link to the Borders, to ensure that people can get in to work in Edinburgh. The other big barrier to economic progress is the labour market problems that Edinburgh is experiencing. There are priorities other than airport links.
It is a pleasure to speak after Margo MacDonald. I agreed with almost everything that she said about Edinburgh and with almost nothing that she said about the powers of the Parliament. That is no great surprise.
I want to turn first to the Conservative contribution. I am glad that Mr Mundell has returned to his seat in time to hear this, because I
The Conservative party here has two groupings these days—and even today we can see some interesting seating arrangements. There are the mad privateers, who foam at the mouth at what they perceive as ideological dogma, but who have no other thought processes; and there are the camp followers, those who joined the party a very long time ago and sadly cannot remember why they are still there.
There is an old joke about how many such-and-suches it takes to change a light bulb. Usually the answer is a number between one and several hundred million. However, to the question, "How many Tories does it take to articulate a transport policy?" the answer is "None." No Tories articulate any transport policy of their own, and no Tories make any kind of effective attack on the Executive. That is a sad state of affairs for what was once regarded as the natural party of Government.
The nationalists are no better. Kenny MacAskill opened by saying that it was hard to disagree with the Tory motion. Well, there is more evidence of the Nit-Nat pact that we have seen in the chamber week in and week out. When questioned—by George Lyon, I think—on SNP policy, Mr MacAskill said that he would talk about it in some detail later. The "some detail" turned out to be a short sentence that was something like, "We need the full powers." What a blinding transport policy that is—a real vote-winner if ever I heard one.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton made one useful contribution to the debate: he exposed the utter hypocrisy of the nationalists on this issue as on every other. They are in favour of congestion charging when it suits them, and opposed to congestion charging when it suits them—no matter
I will return to our Liberal Democrat colleagues in a moment. I am sure that the Conservatives will enjoy my contribution on that.
The job of a transport policy must be twofold. It must support our economy and our business growth, and it must support the delivery of social justice in every community in Scotland. To do that, two things must happen: we must have a meaningful dialogue with business and industry, so that priorities can be set and met; and we must have a transport framework that reaches every community. The Tories failed to do that in their 20 years in power because they did not want to serve every community in Scotland. However, such an aim is what we should expect from public transport policy.
A 12.5 per cent real-terms increase over three years has been announced in the budget. That is an enormous increase in transport spending and we should welcome it. Massive additional money will make a big difference. What response do we get to such announcements? David Mundell referred to local newspapers. I have some local newspaper comments that I would like to read to Mr Mundell. The Edinburgh Evening News—an august Edinburgh institution, as I am sure Mr Mundell would agree—on 12 September 2002 ran the headline:
"City transport gets major funding boost".
I do not think that that is a denigrating headline. The article began:
"Edinburgh's transport system was given a major boost today as the Scottish Executive announced where it would be putting its money over the next three years."
The article went on to mention
"the prospect of the first new tram lines for decades" and then quoted Neil Greig, the head of the Automobile Association in Scotland, as saying:
"This is a big step forward for motoring in Scotland after 10 years of under investment, and finally brings the prospect of a European standard transport system closer to delivery."
Mr Greig welcomed the additional money on roads and transport. Mr Mundell was slow in quoting that particular contribution.
As Lord James has outlined, congestion charging is the subject of the day in Edinburgh. The Labour administration is at least trying to
I welcome the funding that has been announced for the Edinburgh airport link; I welcome the unprecedented increase in the transport budget; and I look forward to seeing Edinburgh trams on the road again as Labour's national economic success becomes Edinburgh's transport success.
It will not surprise members that I will talk about the Borders rail link. Years ago now, this Parliament voted unanimously to reinstate the line from Edinburgh to Carlisle. Since then, very little funding has gone towards the project. A total of £1.9 million has gone towards preparing a bill, and a pauchle—£250,000—has gone directly to the project. The project clearly is not a priority for the coalition, but it ought to be. It is a disgrace that a part of Scotland that has a family income that is £50 a week less than the Scottish average, and that has a growing elderly population, is not having its railway line reinstated as a priority to regenerate its economy.
Margo MacDonald said that we have an overheated city, from which there could be a dispersal of jobs and people to an environment that is pleasant to work in. That is not happening for want of £70 million to start the rail line to Galashiels.
Euan Robson recently welcomed the £250,000 and said:
"Once again, the actions of the Executive speak louder than words".
Well, with £50 million a mile being spent for a motorway, the Executive's actions do indeed speak louder than words.
The vision of my colleagues on the coalition benches is so limited that at a recent meeting in Stow—where people have been campaigning for a railway station that would reopen their village and connect it to other communities—a letter that Ian Jenkins had written was read out. It said that people should not go on about the Stow station or they might not get the line at all. My goodness, with fechters such as that, no wonder the people of Stow have a failing economy and no railway station.
Does Christine Grahame acknowledge that there are problems with the Stow station idea that could call the whole project of providing a half-hourly service into question? Does she also acknowledge that people were told at a meeting in Heriot the other night about what will happen to their houses because the line is being directed there? Progress is being made. The time is not yet right for big investment. The big money should not be in the three-year spending review.
Mr Jenkins has had his say.
The other point made at the Stow meeting was about the train taking longer. Mr Jenkins should ask himself why there are three stops in Midlothian and nobody quibbling about it taking time there. I shall tell him why: there are Labour votes in Midlothian. The Executive does not care about the two Liberal Democrats in the Borders. They have no clout, so no money is coming to the Borders railway line.
While I am about it, I shall have a go at Mr Jenkins's colleague, Euan Robson, who is not here now. If Mr Robson is welcoming £250,000 for the Borders railway line, how little will he settle for to have a stop at Reston, in his constituency? A lot less, I would suggest.
This Parliament unanimously committed itself to that railway line. What right has the Executive not to put any commitment in funding towards it? Why should it ask that railway line, above all others, somehow to pay its way? Nobody is asking whether the links to Glasgow or Edinburgh airports will pay their way. It is time now for the Liberal Democrats to get some money out of their Labour colleagues before it is too late.
There is a lot to welcome in the Executive's comprehensive spending review statement on transport, which includes increased spending to £1.6 billion by 2005-06 and a number of priorities that will be welcomed by my constituents. Those priorities include a new 15-year passenger rail franchise, a rail link to Edinburgh airport, progress on the Borders rail link—I agree with Christine Grahame that that link is essential to the well-being not only of the Borders, but of Edinburgh—and a link to Glasgow airport. There is also progress on a modern public transport system for
Edinburgh has seen a 60 per cent rise in the volume of traffic in the past 20 years, and it is clear that real public transport alternatives are needed. That is where the Tories have failed in the past, and continue to fail. TRANSform Scotland said of the 2001 Tory manifesto:
"The Tories have completely ignored the needs of Scotland's public transport users. Their manifesto makes specific commitment to £700 million of new road building yet fails to mention a single public transport project."
That would include a west Edinburgh tram system. TRANSform Scotland went on:
"With all transport investment squandered on new roads, there is no chance that public transport in Scotland could be improved. The Borders would still be deprived of its rail link while Scotland's cities would have no chance of seeing modern tram systems implemented."
I welcome the commitment to public transport from the partnership in power in Scotland. I also welcome the new concessionary travel scheme that will operate from next week. I agree with Kenny MacAskill and John Farquhar Munro that progress in through-ticketing must be made if the scheme is to progress. That is something that I would like the minister to address.
There is one thing that I agree with in the Tory motion. Whenever I speak to local businesses and ask what they want the Scottish Parliament to do to improve their business environment, they always say that transport infrastructure and education are their two main priorities.
I welcome the recent publication of the draft west Edinburgh planning framework, which focuses on an area of strategic importance and incredible economic potential. However, west Edinburgh is also an area of increasing congestion, so I am pleased that although the framework reinforces the green belt it says, crucially, that future development in seven agreed locations should go ahead only on the understanding that a public transport infrastructure is in place to support that investment and development. That is why I remain concerned about the council's recent decision on the Royal Bank of Scotland development at Gogarburn, which will add 800 more morning peak-time journeys to an already overloaded road network.
Margo MacDonald and Angus MacKay were right to say that Edinburgh needs Executive support so that we can tackle the transport problems that we face. Angus was right to highlight the investment that has already been made, through the crossrail project, the web scheme and the feasibility studies into the airport link and the west Edinburgh and central Edinburgh
In July, I wrote to the First Minister to express my concern at the manner in which the City of Edinburgh Council was conducting its new transport initiative consultation, for many of the reasons that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton outlined, and asked that civil servants investigate the matter. The consultation has been a sham and a shambles. There must be a referendum on the issue in order to find out exactly what people in Edinburgh think. There should be no weighting.
Over the past few years, I have had a number of meetings on the consultation with council officials and councillors, but I was never told that there would be weighting—there was simply to be one man or woman, one vote. Now we find that there is to be weighting. Where will that stop? Will there be weighting in elections? Will we give extra weight to the views of my constituents in South Queensferry, Kirkliston, Newbridge, Ratho and other villages that will be caught outside the cordon? I hope that the Executive will look favourably on the city's bid for funding to progress much needed transport improvements, but I urge the minister not to support the council's plans for a double cordon, which received the support of only 33 per cent of those who responded in Edinburgh.
On 13 June, Jack McConnell told the chamber that the Executive would support tolls only if there was clear public support. That was always my private and public view as a transport spokesperson in the City of Edinburgh Council prior to election to the Parliament and has been my view since then.
The Conservatives have lodged a worthy motion, but it lacks bite. It does not address the fact that we do not have the power to act in respect of airports and railways, for example, or in other transport-related areas. Some members of the Conservative group favour greater powers for the Parliament; some favour greater powers in respect of transport and some certainly favour greater powers in respect of finance—I note that Brian Monteith is here today. In the past few days, even the Liberal Democrats have tentatively shown a willingness to increase the Scottish Parliament's powers. Perhaps we will have more converts before 1 May 2003.
I whole-heartedly agree with David Mundell's point about the Executive's transport policy being a series of wish lists. I want to highlight the position in Aberdeen, where there is no better example of there being only wishes. There is no commitment whatever. I refer the minister and his deputies to the letter that Lewis Macdonald sent to my colleague Andrew Welsh on 18 September. It states:
"At the heart of the MTS is the proposed Aberdeen western peripheral route."
"This route would be a local road, and therefore the responsibility of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils."
That is clear, unequivocal and states exactly where the Executive stands on the western peripheral route. The letter says that it is not the Executive's responsibility and that the Executive will have nothing to do with it. The letter goes on to say that all it is prepared to do is to help to finance studies. That is the Executive's position.
I take it that Elaine Thomson will dissociate herself from such suggestions by an Aberdeen MSP who is the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning. He regards the road as a local road. Does Elaine Thomson regard the Aberdeen western peripheral route as a local road? I will give her the opportunity to speak, if she wishes to do so.
There is no financial commitment in the spending plans. As recently as a week ago, the minister wrote to my colleague and clearly gave the Executive's view that the road is local, and therefore the responsibility of the two local councils. I am disappointed that Elaine Thomson did not dissociate herself from that statement. She has been given the opportunity to do so and I am sure that the people of the north-east will note where she and her colleague, who also represents the city of Aberdeen, stand.
Despite the grand language that is regularly trotted out, I am concerned about whether the Executive will tackle the congestion problems. Since the western peripheral route is clearly a local road and the responsibility of the two councils, will the Executive care to tell us what plans it is working up as an alternative to that route, as part of a modern transport system? The word "modern" is thrown in to give the Executive some kind of credibility, but it does not do any good.
We have an opportunity to do something. The Executive has fluffed the opportunity and the Tories are not prepared to accept that we do not have the powers to tackle everything that is necessary. I support the SNP's amendment.
I am pleased to respond to some of the points that have been made.
The budget settlement is clearly good for business as it promotes growth and opportunity. It is a good budget settlement for public transport as it will help to bring about a public transport system that is a clean, efficient and reliable alternative for everyone. It is a good budget settlement for sustainable development as it will help to tackle congestion and lessen the use of fossil fuels. It is a good budget settlement for social justice as it will close the opportunity gap, widen access to transport services and maintain lifeline links with record sums of public support.
The settlement delivers a huge uplift in spending on transport infrastructure over the next three years. By the end of the spending review period, Executive spending on transport will exceed £1 billion each year. That is a step change in funding across the transport network. Those resources will enable a transformation of our transport infrastructure by the end of the decade. The M74 will be completed to Glasgow city centre, the A8 and A80 will upgraded and new rail links will be created to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. All those developments will be in place or significantly under way within that period. Our other priority projects will also be completed or well under way. The budget settlement provides the resources
I reaffirm what I said about Aberdeen. I agree with Elaine Thomson that north-east transport is not only about the western peripheral route, important though that is. I remind north-east members about the Aberdeen crossrail project, which is among the priorities that we want to be brought forward. As with the western peripheral route, great progress has been made and further progress is expected in the next few months.
I will respond to Brian Adam's red herring about local roads and national roads. He and other members are aware of the timetable for making a full assessment of traffic in and around Aberdeen. That is the responsibility, as was made clear in the letter to Andrew Welsh and elsewhere, of the local partners—Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council. On that basis, discussions will be held between the Executive and the local partners on how to carry the matter forward.
Why should the people of the north-east believe the rhetoric of the minister on the matter, when they have already seen the selling out of the A8000 in the central belt? That is clearly a Euro-route and a national route of significant importance to east and central—never mind north-east—Scotland. The Executive has passed the buck to the Forth Estuary Transport Authority. Will the Executive do exactly the same in relation to the western peripheral route?
Is it not a shame that, rather than welcoming the work that is being done by the City of Edinburgh Council through its partnership in the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, Kenny MacAskill wants to fight an old battle and use that as a diversion from the issues that are in front of us? What we are doing on the A8000, the M74, the A8 and the A80 is equitable across the board. We are working with the other partners who have an interest in carrying forward the projects in order to deliver them effectively and efficiently.
I want to say a word about aviation, which I was not able to address in my opening speech and about which a number of questions were raised during the debate.
I reassure John Farquhar Munro that we continue to pursue a public service obligation for the Inverness to Gatwick route. We recognise that that is a key priority for air transport in the Highlands. Within the framework of the air transport consultation, we are also considering
It is important that I make clear the basis on which the policy on concessionary fares has been introduced and will be implemented from Monday of next week. That social justice policy is designed to meet the vast majority of the local transport needs of elderly and disabled people, which is why it is being applied through local authorities' existing concessionary fare schemes. The policy is simply the most recent example of the Scottish Executive delivering on the priorities that we set out. From Monday, every pensioner in Scotland—that is, 1 million people—will be able to travel free on their local bus trips to shops and hospitals and to visit their neighbours. That is only one example; many others are coming through the pipeline. I look forward to announcing each of them to Parliament in the months and years ahead.
It is with great pleasure that I rise wearing the national colour of the Scottish Conservatives. Our choice of colour was in evidence long before the SNP's latest wheeze. I am delighted that the Scottish National Party sees the error of its ways—there is much that it can learn and borrow from the Scottish Conservatives. As I listened to Mr MacAskill's speech, it became clear that the opportunities for such learning are legion. We might have been prepared to listen to some of his arguments if he had communicated some enthusiasm for public-private partnerships or private finance initiatives to fund transport improvements, attempted to disguise the SNP's intrinsic hostility to the private sector or recognised that policies that have no costings or specification and that include higher taxation are unimpressive and unconvincing, but he did not do so. Instead, he tediously trotted out yet again the independence monologue. However, credit where credit is due. Mr MacAskill demonstrated one commendable piece of good sense: he did not talk about mutton dressed as lamb, whereas Mr MacKay was getting on to very dangerous ground.
It is my pleasure to wind up the debate on behalf of the Conservatives. David Mundell made a telling, eloquent speech. The motion in his name encapsulates the precise problems that surround
"flesh out reality and fact".
He also pointed out that we look to the Liberal Democrats to conjoin with us on the issue of transport and to provide a degree of opposition and was right to ask where the Liberal Democrat Opposition is in the Parliament. The Liberal Democrats' sycophantic fawning over the Scottish Executive is eclipsed only by the political flatulence that seems to accompany their contributions to our debates—great volumes of gut rumbling, but nothing of substance, significance or relevance emerges.
David Mundell focused on the complete lack of specification on transport. This is not year 1, year 2 or even year 3 of the Parliament. This is year 4, and the Executive's performance on transport to date has been, frankly, lamentable.
I looked forward to Mr Macdonald's opening speech with anticipation, but not for long. I jotted down the phrases that he was to repeat with great regularity: "priority projects", "partnership", "missing links" and the "resources" that are to be identified for those priorities. When Mr Adam intervened to ask about the western peripheral route in Aberdeen, Mr Macdonald had to be specific, but that was as specific as he got. He quickly went back to talking about projects, partnerships and availability of resources. He then uttered a telling phrase: apparently, "over the coming months", we are to get the detail of the grand plan that the Executive is hatching for transport. With that dynamic and rousing conclusion to a lacklustre and colourless performance, he sat down.
I thought that the minister's wind-up speech might afford some comfort, but it exceeded his opening speech in torpor, dullness and lack of specification.
I noticed that Bristow Muldoon criticised the Conservatives by saying that we do not want to discuss our record. I am happy to discuss our record. I suggest that Mr Muldoon should sit back—perhaps Mr McNeil will be able to provide comfort and support—while I tell him about our record. He will find the facts distressing. In the final four years of the Conservative Government, £907 million was spent on new construction and improvements. That figure contrasts with the figure of £603 million in the first four years of the Labour Government. It also contrasts with the figure of £617 million for the first four years of Executive responsibility, which includes the 2002-03 forecast.
No. I am responding to the point that Mr Muldoon made, which I think I am entitled to do.
If we extend our consideration to local transport network capital, the relevant figure for the final four years of the Conservative Government was £628 million. The figure for the first four years of Executive responsibility under the Labour Government is £381 million. I am happy to discuss Conservative policy on transport whenever Mr Muldoon wants.
It was unusual that Elaine Thomson was similarly seized by amnesia. I am sure that the hard-pressed commuters of Aberdeen will derive enormous comfort from her robust contribution. If I understood her correctly, she referred to a move towards delivery on the western peripheral route, which must make it the longest pregnancy out.
I always enjoy John Farquhar Munro's speeches. He said that the Conservative motion was
"a vain and misguided attempt to discredit the coalition partnership".
The Conservatives do not need to utter one word to achieve that—the coalition is doing that magnificently all by itself. Where was Mr Munro's caustic and devastating exposure of the Executive's failures, ambivalence and prevarication? There was a deafening silence, which represents a damning acquiescence and self-condemnation.
Mr Munro's plaintive plea was for improved rail transport in the Highlands, which is unlikely to curry favour with his central-belt socialist friends.
Mrs Macmillan should not interrupt me in the full flow of my rhetoric.
I am minded to advise John Farquhar Munro that sleeping with the enemy has seldom had a positive outcome for the sleeper, so there is not much hope for the railways. I must contrast Mr Munro's speech with the gutsy contribution of Christine Grahame who, with verve and aplomb, made a splendid argument for the Borders railway. Her effort was not matched by Margaret Smith's.
My colleague Alex Johnstone made an elegant plea for a specific commitment on the western peripheral route, which was articulately and ably supported by Stewart Stevenson. That issue illustrates what the Conservatives mean when they refer to the ambivalence, doubt, lack of certainty and lack of specification that characterise the Executive's approach to overdue, much-needed transport improvements.
I was struck by what Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said about the congestion-charge threat to Edinburgh. He rightly pointed out that a highly flawed consultation process has taken place. Margaret Smith was exposed in unusual U-turn gymnastics, which was a revealing spectacle.
The Conservative motion has exposed effectively the nakedness of the Executive's transport strategy. More than three years down the line, we are still looking for answers, projects, outcomes, costings and delivery. The public of Scotland is entitled to ask, "Where are we going?" If the answer were left to the Scottish Executive, it would be, "Nowhere fast".