Public Transport

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:09 pm on 12th June 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:09 pm, 12th June 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-130, in the name of Nicol Stephen, on investing in public transport. Members will appreciate that we are starting 10 minutes late. I would be grateful if all the opening speakers would keep to the advertised time limits and also if members would exercise the same degree of discipline throughout the rest of the debate.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 3:40 pm, 12th June 2003

It is a considerable privilege—and a significant responsibility—to be Scotland's Minister for Transport.

I begin by emphasising the approach that I intend to take. I strongly believe in the importance of working openly and in close consultation with local people and local communities. That open, partnership approach applies equally to business and to environmental groups, as well as to members inside the chamber. Many MSPs have already contacted me about issues of concern to their constituents and I look forward to having regular discussions with MSPs, including the transport spokespersons from all the political parties, as well as to a constructive relationship with the members of the Local Government and Transport Committee.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Iain Gray, who worked hard to make progress on our transport agenda and was serious about investing in our public transport system. I am certain that everyone in the chamber wishes him well.

Over the next three years, the total share of spending on public transport will increase to nearly 70 per cent of the total transport budget. By 2005-06, that budget will have expanded to £1 billion per year.

Public transport is the focus of today's debate, but I am also determined to deliver vital road projects, particularly where safety or environmental improvements can be achieved. High-quality, safe, reliable and sustainable public transport is crucial when there is congestion on our roads.

The strength of our commitment is now matched by the scale of the major projects that we are determined to deliver. I recently reported to Parliament on the reletting of the ScotRail franchise. As the First Minister made clear this afternoon, we want not only to maintain but to extend existing services.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Thank you, but not at the moment. I have limited time—less than I thought I was to be allocated—so I must make some progress. I will take some interventions later.

More investment is being made in rail. A new rail link to Edinburgh airport, with a target date for completion of 2010, will give direct access not only from the city centre but from Stirling, Fife, Dundee and the north-east, and from Glasgow and Newcastle. A new rail link to Glasgow airport, with a target date for completion of 2008, will give a major boost to business and tourism in Strathclyde. Another project is the reopening of the Airdrie to Bathgate rail line, for which the target date for completion is also 2008.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

I am grateful to the minister for his comments on the Airdrie to Bathgate railway line. I appreciate his confirmation, given the comments that were in The Herald yesterday. Can he assure me that the reopening of the Airdrie to Bathgate line remains a central plank of the Executive's policy on the provision of public transport in Scotland? Can he confirm that the technical feasibility study is on track to report in the spring of 2004?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

That is my understanding of the situation. For several projects, the crucial issue is to maintain the momentum and keep the projects on target and on track.

We want to support the construction of the Borders rail line, which will bring significant social and economic benefits to an area that for too long has had too few public transport links.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

Does the minister agree that the Waverley line will bring social and economic benefits to my constituency as well as to the Borders? Can he reassure my constituents and me that the partnership agreement contains a firm commitment to taking work on that line forward? Will he agree to meet me to discuss transport issues in Midlothian?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am happy to meet Rhona Brankin to discuss that. All that she says is correct.

The target date for completion of the Waverley line is 2008.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am halfway through the time allocated for my speech and about one tenth of the way through my speaking notes. I must make progress.

The Larkhall to Milngavie line is another line for which we await the outcome of final development work by Network Rail. We continue to support feasibility studies for the Aberdeen and Glasgow crossrail projects and we are working with the Strategic Rail Authority to redevelop Waverley station, to cope with ever growing demand. I also look forward to new trams running on Edinburgh streets.

Those measures amount to the most significant and ambitious expansion of Scotland's railways for decades. It is crucial that we not only plan for major new investment, but that we give confidence that we will deliver.

The Parliament has before it a bill to re-open the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, which would reconnect Alloa to the rail network; provide a more efficient route for coal from Ayrshire to Longannet; and benefit the rail network as a whole by taking freight trains away from the Forth bridge, which would pave the way for additional rail services between Fife and Edinburgh. I want not only to support the principles of the project, but to help to develop it. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the Executive will provide the full £30 million of funding that Clackmannanshire Council seeks for the project, provided of course that the Parliament sees fit to approve the private bill in due course.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I welcome the minister's announcement about the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, but will he advise members whether a tolling arrangement will be imposed on it?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

There is no such intention. The line's target date for completion is the winter of 2005-06, so we will make speedy progress.

The bus is the most widely used form of public transport. The historic decline in bus passenger numbers is being reversed, which justifies the scale of our investment in bus services. We invest more than £180 million a year in buses through grant, subsidy and concessionary travel schemes. We will extend free local off-peak travel by introducing a Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older people and people with disabilities. We will also progressively introduce a scheme of concessionary travel for young people, starting with those in full-time education and training. We also plan to encourage new bus services by piloting kick-start routes to create better-value and new services.

Our biggest investments over the next few years will be in buses and trains.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am sorry—I cannot take any further interventions because I am short of time.

The growth in car traffic and congestion threaten not only our economy, but the environment and public health. Global climate change must be addressed now if we are to avoid serious difficulties in future decades. We must reduce our dependency on hydrocarbons. Cars will continue to play a role in our transport system, especially in rural areas, but we must focus their use on journeys where there is no practical alternative. I am particularly committed to getting freight off our roads—our freight facilities grants are helping to achieve that.

The improvement of people's health is a priority for the Executive. A crucial element of that is promoting healthy transport choices—choices that are healthy for the user and for others. As most journeys are short local journeys, a simple solution is more walking and cycling. We will develop a range of initiatives to encourage more walking and cycling and we will do even more to create a safe environment for our children by introducing 20mph zones around schools and continuing our support for safer routes.

Ferries are vital for many rural communities. We have made major improvements to ferry services and have introduced three new vessels, but we recognise the continuing need for new investment. A new vessel was introduced on 5 June on the Sound of Harris route, which allowed the existing vessel to be redeployed to the new Sound of Barra route. Another new ship is due on the Mallaig to Skye route in July. We will continue to work with Caledonian MacBrayne to deliver future investment.

In many parts of the Highlands and Islands, air services are literally lifeline services, yet costs—for local people and visitors alike—are high and reliability can be poor. That is why I am working to reduce the cost of lifeline air links by suitable use of public service obligations to improve services, increase frequency and reduce costs.

Too often transport services for road, rail, ferries, waterways and air have been planned in isolation and we need a more integrated and modern transport system

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Minister, I have to protect time for bank-benchers.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am on the final page of my speech and I will conclude.

A key element of all our plans will be a wide consultation on our proposals for a strategic transport authority. I was going to say more about that but I am out of time. We will conduct that consultation over the summer and I will make sure that members receive a copy of the consultation document so they can inform themselves about the issues.

The partnership agreement clearly sets out our transport priorities and our commitment to reliable, safe and sustainable public transport. They will be good for the economy and for the environment. The key issue is delivery, and I am determined to deliver.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the proposals set out in A Partnership for a Better Scotland for a reliable, safe, efficient and sustainable transport system to connect Scotland and encourage economic growth; recognises the importance that the Scottish Executive attaches to delivering improved public transport services by increasing investment and establishing a strategic authority, and recognises that the public transport system must serve the environmental, health and educational needs of people of Scotland.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 3:51 pm, 12th June 2003

I welcome the new minister and the commitment that he made to the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line; I am sure that that will be well received within and without the chamber.

The election has passed and the coalition has produced a statement in the form of its partnership document. We cannot disagree with the coalition's democratic right to deliver that agreement, or with its contents in relation to transport. I doubt if there are any intentions in the agreement that do not have the universal support of the chamber. I confirm that the minister will have our full support in seeking to deliver and he is correct to emphasise delivery.

We have two caveats, the first of which is that this time, the Executive must deliver. The previous parliamentary session was plagued and marred by discussion, debate, studies and consultations, but very little was delivered. Whether in road miles or rail track miles, the Scottish public was short-changed. We must make progress and we must deliver—for the sake of the Parliament as well as that of the Executive. I welcome the fact that the new minister was not one of the serial spinners who were given ministerial appointments during the previous parliamentary session and he is entitled to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Secondly, we must make progress and there are two key ways to do so. Minor changes can be made at little cost. As the minister is aware, not all benefits are dependent upon substantial capital investment. For example, there must be proper enforcement of bus lanes and other road traffic regulations. The bureaucracy that plagues local authorities must be eased so that they can deliver on that. If the minister is not prepared to take on board support for re-regulation of the buses, which we believe is a prerequisite, the Executive and the Parliament must consider how to improve quality contracts because they are not delivering at the moment. The minister also spoke of walking and cycling; modest support for those could go a long way.

The major aspect remains that the Parliament's existing powers are unable to deliver. If we accept what the minister said about having to deliver on the transport plans, that raises the question of how we are to do that.

We understand that the minister has a budget of £3 billion to spend over the next 10 years. When the claims on that budget have been quantified, they appear to amount to almost £2.33 billion. That will leave £700 million to fund the annual ScotRail franchise and the yearly maintenance of our roads network—both are sadly deteriorating and, as has been stated before in the chamber, have been underfunded—for the next 10 years. I suggest that there is a great danger that those figures do not add up.

I appreciate that the minister did not have time to elaborate on the concept of the Scottish strategic transport authority, but we believe that it is essential and a prerequisite for making progress.

The first five items referred to by the minister as high-level commitments are all rail projects. Each has a substantial cost and each falls within the ambit and remit of the Strategic Rail Authority. If we are going to create a transport authority to deal with Scotland, why should it deal only with the national concessionary fare scheme? Why should it not be given charge of the purse strings that are currently held by the SRA? Why should it not be the democratically elected Parliament and Government that decide who holds the purse strings and controls expenditure on rail projects in Scotland, either directly or through the transport authority? That would mean better accountability to the Parliament and it would allow the minister to give instructions, as opposed to giving directions and guidance as he does at the moment. We need the powers of the Strategic Rail Authority in respect of the internal Scottish rail network to be given to the Scottish transport authority so that we can better deliver.

The same applies to flights. I appreciate the minister's comments on the Highlands and Islands. We fund Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and are responsible for it. Why, then, should we not be responsible for the civil aviation safety regulations and the Department for Transport security regulations, because those regulations are impacting severely on the cost of landing and fares? If we wish to increase usage and reduce costs—which is imperative if we are to increase usage—this Parliament should have those powers. That is not constitutional change for constitutional change's sake: it is a matter of allowing the Executive and the Parliament to have a better, democratically accountable, transport network, and to have the powers to deliver the same.

We welcome the minister's comments. We will support him, but he must deliver, and to deliver, he needs powers. This is not a constitutional debate; it is about delivery and taking the powers to deliver what our people demand and are entitled to expect.

I move amendment S2M-130.3, to insert at end:

"notes that the delivery of tangible improvements within defined timescales is essential; recognises, furthermore, that in order to achieve these an integrated and inter-modal public transport network is required, and therefore calls for the transfer of the legislative and financial powers to the Parliament that are necessary to address fully rail and aviation services in addition to bus and ferry services in order to ensure the delivery of the network sought."

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 3:56 pm, 12th June 2003

I will speak quickly. I also welcome Mr Stephen to his role, and, on a personal level, I echo his comments about Mr Gray. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today's somewhat truncated presentation was, I am afraid, the usual jam tomorrow, smoke and mirrors on funding, and very careful language when it comes to commitments. Once again, the commitment to the Borders rail link is to examine the funding. It is the same language that we heard before—to look at, to investigate, to have studies—but the funding measures do not exist.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I will not take any interventions as I have very little time.

Although we welcome the fact that the minister made a commitment to the Stirling to Alloa line, he is starting to underline the strategy of the previous Executive, under which we were to have a 10-year plan, then it was a report and then, in the last days of Mr Gray's tenure, it developed into daily press releases with funding announcements and photo opportunities flung in. I am afraid that, given the basis on which Nicol Stephen made that announcement—welcome as it is—it looks as if we are going back to that strategy. We need the minister to set out clearly his priorities because, as has been identified in the chamber and by commentators, there simply is not enough money to meet all the commitments. He will have to set priorities and tell us what they are.

I agree with one thing that the minister was quoted as saying in the press this week, which is that the public will not

"believe the Scottish Executive's promises on major new infrastructure projects" until they are built. That is the case. Unless we hear more details and more precision, that scepticism will remain on this side of the chamber. We need a firm commitment on the Borders rail link. We need to know where the funding is coming from for the Waverley station upgrade, which is the project that can do the most to increase capacity on our railways. What about the funding for the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which will do more for the bus traveller in Aberdeen than any other initiative? That is why our amendment calls for a detailed statement.

I was disappointed not to hear more about the strategic transport authority, which the minister said he was going to announce to us. I look forward to receiving the detail. However, I hope that the authority will not be presented as the panacea for all our transport ills, as was previously presented to the chamber. In the past, the minister's predecessors stood in the chamber and said that the creation of Network Rail would solve all our transport problems. That was after his Labour predecessors told us that Stephen Byers would solve all our transport problems. Then there was the ScotRail franchise, which, as we pointed out at the time, could not be delivered within the time scale that was set out. I would be grateful if the minister would tell us in his closing remarks what the likely extension of the time scale will be.

I hope that the strategic transport authority will not be presented to us as a simple solution. Hard cash is the only solution to Scotland's transport difficulties, which is why the Conservatives remain committed to an additional investment of £100 million a year in our transport infrastructure.

I move amendment SM2-130.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"believes that only a fully costed programme of investment in transport infrastructure with detailed start and completion dates, rather than platitudes, will deliver the improvements to public transport that the travelling public and Scottish business so desperately need and calls on the Scottish Executive to present such a programme to the Parliament forthwith."

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 4:00 pm, 12th June 2003

I, too, congratulate Nicol Stephen on his appointment to his new role. I agree with comments that have been made about his predecessor Iain Gray and his role in developing the transport plan that Mr Stephen has inherited.

Mr Stephen rightly recognises the need to move forward from the plans that have been put in place to the delivery phase. In many areas of policy, but particularly in respect of transport, the Parliament needs to implement policies through which people start to experience real improvements in the transport systems that they use day in, day out. People need to experience such improvements. I agree with much of what Mr MacAskill said in that regard, although I would not go as far as to agree with his views about greater powers being required in order to deliver.

Delivering on transport is essential if the Parliament is to deliver on any of its aspirations. It is essential in order to achieve economic growth, which is central to the Executive's plans, tackle congestion and create a sustainable transport system. It is also essential in respect of social justice.

I will give an example from my area where a successful approach has been taken in the past. The existing Bathgate to Edinburgh line was initially developed in the 1980s in response to many economic problems that West Lothian was suffering in the mid-1980s. It has been a great success in developing the West Lothian economy and giving opportunities to people from that area to travel into Edinburgh and access employment in the Edinburgh area. It has contributed greatly to allowing people to travel into and out of Edinburgh without having to use their cars and the number of people who have used it has exceeded all expectations. On the basis of that experience, I welcome the clear commitment that the Executive has given and that Nicol Stephen has reaffirmed to the further expansion of the Bathgate line to the west, which will create new opportunities for the people of West Lothian to travel to Glasgow as well as opportunities for travel from North Lanarkshire to West Lothian and Edinburgh. That commitment will enhance opportunities.

Most of the projects that have been committed to in the Executive's programme are correct projects that try to expand our public transport system. However, I want to flag up an area in which we have been subject to justified criticism: there is not enough emphasis on walking and cycling. Such activities can play a role in developing a sustainable transport system and in ensuring that the health of the people of Scotland improves. This is an opportune week to mention that issue, given the reports relating to obesity and its costs to the national health service. In taking on his new role, I encourage the Minister for Transport to try to ensure that such modes of transport are given more priority than perhaps they were in the first four years of the Parliament. I also encourage him to recognise the role that they can play not only in respect of transport, but in developing health.

As we move forward, it is vital for the minister to consider the bus industry, which is extremely important in creating opportunities for people, particularly by connecting many of the poorest communities to employment opportunities and the whole social infrastructure. A number of concerns were raised with me in the previous session when I was convener of the Transport and the Environment Committee and by constituents about how bus companies still far too regularly make changes to their timetables that impact on communities and users—I know that a number of MSPs, such as Rhona Brankin, have raised that issue. Perhaps there is a need for the Local Government and Transport Committee and the minister to review the way in which the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 works and the way in which users, local authorities and bus companies work together, so that bus systems can be developed.

I recognise that we are fairly constrained for time in the debate and I do not wish to take time from other members. However, I say to the minister that, over the months and years to come, we will judge his and the Executive's performance very much on the aspiration to deliver. Only once we deliver improvements in the transport system will the public give the Parliament and the Executive credit for having the correct policies. It is not good enough just to have the ideas—we must deliver them on the ground.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

As Mr Muldoon said, the debate is very tight—in fact, it is oversubscribed. I ask for speeches of four minutes maximum.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:05 pm, 12th June 2003

I am pleased to welcome Nicol Stephen to his new role as the Minister for Transport. As the Liberal Democrats' new transport spokesman, I look forward to working with him.

Transport is a very important area that reflects many aspects of our public life. It is an important part of our economy, it is important for employment and it is important for the environment. For that reason, it is important that we have this early debate on transport, albeit that it is somewhat truncated.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto for the previous Scottish parliamentary elections contained a bold programme for transport. I am delighted that that programme is reflected in "A Partnership for a Better Scotland", which contains some important transport projects: delivering the rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports; reopening the Airdrie to Bathgate railway; and reopening the Kincardine-Alloa-Stirling rail link. I welcome especially Nicol Stephen's announcement of funding for that last-mentioned project, which—as he rightly said—will take some of the pressure off the Forth rail bridge and help to improve rail services for passengers from Fife to Edinburgh, which is extremely important.

The partnership agreement also refers to construction of the Larkhall to Milngavie line and the redevelopment of Waverley station, which is important for the development of rail services for Fife and for commuters from Fife, as well as for the south and west of Scotland. Waverley station must be redeveloped and the Strategic Rail Authority must realise that that is a crucial project—I am certain that the minister will ensure that the SRA is put under pressure to support it alongside the Scottish Executive.

The Borders rail link is also an important project. It is obvious that Mr Mundell did not hear the minister state quite clearly that it is intended that the Borders rail link be open in 2008. That was not just a bit of waffle, but a clear commitment by the Executive. The link is absolutely vital.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Does the member agree with Liberal councillor Jane Ann Liston that the money that has been proposed for the Borders rail link should be diverted to St Andrews?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The member should read what Jane Ann Liston said. She said that if legal problems resulted in a delay in construction of the Borders rail link—a big "if"—the money could be diverted to St Andrews, instead of being wasted. She did not say that money should be spent on a link to St Andrews rather than on the Borders rail link. In future, Tricia Marwick should get her facts right before she intervenes.

It is extremely important that we make the investment in rolling stock that will enable us to deal with some of the serious problems of overcrowding on our rail network. That money will start to come into play from this October, which is to be welcomed.

It must be recognised that the Executive is making major investments in the public transport network. That must be contrasted with the amendments from the Conservatives and the SNP. Once again, the Conservatives offer nothing. The £100 million that they say they want to invest in the public transport infrastructure is for building more roads; it is for covering Scotland with more tarmac, rather than for investing in our public transport network.

Kenny MacAskill of the SNP should learn that some of the problems of the rail network in Scotland are caused by problems south of the border, rather than by problems north of it. The cuts to Virgin Trains rail services north of Edinburgh that came into effect in May resulted not from problems in the rail network in Scotland but from problems in the rail network south of Birmingham. We cannot solve those problems if we are not involved in discussions about the strategic rail network as a whole. Scotland must remain part of those discussions and part of the Strategic Rail Authority. If we do not, the impact of rail services south of the Border on Scottish services will be forgotten. Under the SNP's proposals, we would end up with a worse rail service. The SNP would like to think that we can live in isolation, but we do not.

Let us support the Executive and the minister in this ambitious programme for public transport in Scotland.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 4:09 pm, 12th June 2003

I must declare a passing interest in that I travel from Fife to Edinburgh, mostly by public transport.

I want to concentrate on transport in and around Fife, especially the rail network. I turn first to the problems at the Forth bridgehead. In peak hours, the capacity of the Forth bridge is exceeded and tailbacks are getting longer. If there were ever a case for getting cars off the road and people on to public transport, that is it.

Why are the alternative public transport facilities not used by more people? Quite simply, it is because the public transport options from Fife to Edinburgh are inadequate. The trains are unreliable and, at peak times, packed. The rail bridge needs millions of pounds to be spent on it because it has been neglected for years—I would welcome a statement from the minister about when he expects essential work on the Forth rail bridge to be completed. The idea that was put forward by Helen Eadie that the Forth bridge could be knocked down is daft and dangerous—the rail bridge is a vital artery to the north, connecting Dundee and Fife with Edinburgh. For many years, the train fares from Fife to Edinburgh were kept deliberately high to suppress demand for rail travel because it would have cost far too much to meet the genuine demand, but we are now paying the price for that short-sightedness.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Does the member accept that intervention of that sort is what one would expect given that nationalised companies and the Government control roads as well as railways? Does she also accept that it would be better to separate the bodies and have some of them being run on a for-profit basis?

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

We need an integrated network. We are paying the price for the short-sightedness of previous years.

We cannot have more trains and carriages on the Fife circle because the platforms are not long enough. We have been promised that that work will be done but have not been told when. Markinch station is supposed to be a hub station, but it has no disabled access, no toilets, no closed-circuit television cameras and—apart from during a couple of hours in the morning—no staff. A new station has been promised, but Railtrack went into liquidation and we are still waiting for the work to be done.

For many years, in the face of opposition from Fife Council, I have campaigned for the reopening of the Leven to Thornton line. Levenmouth is the largest conurbation in Scotland that is without direct access to a railway station. The line exists and there is demand for a station, which would once more open up the area to tourism and allow people in an unemployment black spot to access jobs throughout Fife. However, without the support of Fife Council, no progress has been made on the station. Will the minister consider the case for the reopening of the Leven to Thornton line?

The problem with the previous Executive was that it had no vision. An excellent case has been made for a fast ferry service between Burntisland and Granton—the crossing could take as little as nine minutes. The car users of Fife are still paying tolls on a bridge that was paid off years ago and the profit from the tolls is now allegedly going into public transport. The fast ferry service must be supported and the infrastructure must be put in place. There is no mention of the fast ferry service from Granton to Burntisland. I ask the minister to consider the issue and to find out how quickly such a service could be set up.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 4:13 pm, 12th June 2003

I am pleased to be able to make my first speech in Parliament on two issues that are of increasing concern to my constituents in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. The first concerns the much-vaunted integrated rural transport policy, which was beloved of the previous Scottish Government and will no doubt be equally beloved of this one.

Last week, I attended the annual general meeting of the Castle Douglas branch of the Dumfries and Galloway Elderly Forum—not, before anybody suggests it, as a paid-up member. One member who lives in the village of Twynholm spoke about a regular bus journey that he has to make to Dumfries. It involves his taking a bus that is operated by one company to Gatehouse of Fleet to connect with another company's bus that travels to Dumfries. That would be fine if Gatehouse of Fleet were not 15 minutes in the opposite direction to Dumfries from Twynholm, and if Twynholm were not a mere one minute away from the A75 trunk road, along which the bus has to travel to Dumfries. That gentleman has to travel for half an hour and wait for between 20 minutes and half an hour in each direction for absolutely no good reason.

With an integrated transport policy like that, it is no wonder that the percentage of my constituents who are car owners must be among the highest in the country. Putting that problem right is hardly rocket science and I hope that the Government will get some sense into those policy areas. I wish only that my expectations matched my hope.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

It will be brief.

Given that the last Conservative Government privatised the rail industry and deregulated the bus industry, and that Brian Monteith is still enthusiastically in favour of that approach, can Mr Fergusson tell us exactly how the £100 million he proposes to spend every year would change the life of the constituent that he just mentioned?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Our proposal would change his life hugely for the better, but we do not have time to discuss that today. I am sure that we will have time to do so as we go on.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

That £100 million would complete the A75, which Ms Boyack ignored when she was Minister for Transport and Planning.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Exactly—the A75 would be brought up to scratch for a start.

My second point concerns the recent announcement that Stena Line, which operates ferries to and from Northern Ireland from Stranraer, is to join with P & O to operate a single port at Cairnryan for both companies. Cairnryan is only about five miles from Stranraer harbour, on which is located Stranraer railway station. However, there is no rail link from Stranraer to Cairnryan and that will put enormous pressure on a desperately fragile road infrastructure, which—I point out to Ms Boyack—would be hugely improved under our transport plans. The Stena Line plan would also put almost intolerable pressure on the small village of Cairnryan.

I urge the minister to undertake an investigation into the possibility of restoring the rail link between Stranraer and Cairnryan. It is not a great distance and such a link could have a dramatic impact on how freight is transported to the port—a subject that is close to the minister's heart, as he made plain in his introduction—and on the quality of life for the residents of Cairnryan village. Such a rail link would also be entirely in accordance with the wishes of the First Minister, as he made clear during today's question time. Further, establishment of that rail link would send out a clear signal to the ferry companies—whose continued presence is absolutely vital, as the minister will be aware, to the region's economy—that the Government is committed to their continued presence.

Because this is my first speech in this session, I am happy to offer the minister a win-win situation for himself and for my constituents. I trust that he will have the good sense to grab the opportunity that the commercial decision by the ferry companies affords him.

I support the amendment that is in the name of my colleague David Mundell.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 4:16 pm, 12th June 2003

I welcome the many commitments on public transport in the partnership document, particularly those on the rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports and the feasibility study on a Glasgow crossrail system. I, as a Glasgow MSP, will not be alone in pressing the minister for further assurances on that issue in the future. I welcome in particular the concessionary fares schemes, which formed the best financial decision of the previous Parliament. I look forward to the new concessionary fares scheme for young people.

In the few minutes that are available, I want to make several observations about recent experiences in my constituency in relation to bus services. The number 83 bus was taken off its established route without any consultation of the elderly community in Broomhill, which the bus served. The removal of the service meant that literally hundreds of elderly people were stranded and could not make the journey to, for example, the post office and the local hospital because they simply could not climb up the steep hill from the new bus stop to their homes. There was no consultation of local communities on the variation of that bus service and no assessment of what the communities need in the way of bus services. I am glad to say that following a successful campaign and a positive response from the bus operator—which I shall not name—we have returned the service. However, I am afraid that not all such scenarios—there have been many others—have been as successful as that one. I am sure that I am not the only MSP who has experienced such an issue.

I am exercised about such developments in our bus services because, as members have said, we are talking about some of the poorest communities, which rely on bus services as their only mode of transport. Those communities suffer the most. Transport is a social inclusion issue—I know that the Executive believes that, but it must match detail to its commitments in the partnership document to ensure that the commitments work.

It is a fact that the poorest Scots are more likely to use the bus as their main mode of transport. Only 28 per cent of Scots in the upper social classes use buses as their main mode of transport, which is something that must change in the future. It is a startling fact that bus and coach fares account for £200 million of household expenditure, whereas car use accounts for £2.31 billion of such spending. That is quite a contrast.

What needs to be done? I will take a particular interest in ensuring that we get better bus services in the lifetime of this Parliament. In my opinion, communities should as a matter of law be consulted about variations in bus routes. Before there is any variation in a bus route, a bus operator should be required to notify not only a traffic commissioner, but the communities that the bus route serves. I believe that key services such as hospitals, clinics and out-patient departments should be served as a priority. I hope that the new strategic transport authority will take up a statutory obligation to provide for the gaps in bus services. That would be a good reason for having a national transport authority, and I believe that such a duty should be statutory.

I had wanted to say a lot more about that, but I have scored a lot of my speech out, although I am sure that other members will pick up some of the points. I will make only two more points before I close.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

On the integration of information on public transport, it is fundamental that people get basic information about how different modes of transport relate to one another if we expect the general public to give up their cars and use public transport. I am afraid that, at the moment, we are a million miles away from that.

Park-and-ride facilities must be included in that package. As a motorist, I believe that, if we are to shift people's mentality, we have to give them choice. They must be able to use the car, the bus and the train—perhaps even all on the same day. They must be able to make a journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh, know that they can get off the motorway, know that they can get on a train and know that they can park before they get there. That is basic stuff, but those are some of the issues that we have to tackle.

In my last 10 seconds, I will say a word on the ScotRail franchise. The new franchise must deliver improvements on overcrowding and time keeping. Lack of information is a frustration to every commuter in Scotland and there must be improvements, so I hope that the Executive will press very hard for that.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I will use just the last second, if I may, Presiding Officer.

People stand in utter amazement on the platform at Waverley station as the 6.30 train decouples while most commuters want to get on it. They all stand on the train. That has to end and ScotRail must explain to people why it makes such crazy decisions.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green 4:21 pm, 12th June 2003

I hope that during this session the Green group will be able to persuade the Executive to start using "sustainable" meaningfully. "Sustainable" does not mean "nice"; it means an activity that can continue indefinitely without depleting resources. Strictly speaking, the only sustainable transport methods are walking and cycling, which are barely mentioned in the partnership agreement. Indeed, the main news in relation to cycling is that the public transport fund, which funded half of local authority expenditure on cycling, is being abolished.

It is outrageous that the motion should congratulate transport policy in the week in which the Royal Mail has announced its plans to abandon its historic rail service. What representations has the minister made to his Westminster colleagues to address the VAT anomaly that has caused this disaster for pollution and congestion?

The minister will be judged not on his rhetoric, but on whether in four years' time we have more bus services, more rail services and less congestion. I welcome the rhetoric: the Executive clearly wishes to show a commitment to public transport, even if waiting for delivery is like waiting for a bus in Peebles. We even have Tory colleagues lodging motions calling for new railways, which I support.

The Greens have won the arguments for public transport, but the trouble is that the roads keep coming and, with every road that is built, congestion gets worse. David Mundell complained that the transport policy outline is "jam tomorrow". The problem, I suggest, is that there is actually jam today—congestion jam. How much freight does the Executive intend to shift from road to rail in this session? What plans does it have to tackle the short journeys that are at the heart of traffic congestion in cities? What are the plans and targets for road traffic reduction?

There is much mention of roads and trains in the proposals—MSPs travel, by and large, by car and train—but there is very little mention of measures to increase bus services; I notice only one. Revenue support for bus services is much lower than it is for rail and every week we receive letters from constituents about threatened or lost bus services. We heard about some of the difficulties earlier. What is the point of new concessions for buses when the services do not exist in the first place?

Let us consider investment in bus services throughout Europe. The proportion of total bus revenue from subsidies and grants in Austria is 70 per cent; in Belgium it is 68 per cent; in Italy and Holland it is 60 per cent; In Denmark it is 48 per cent; in France and Greece it is 45 per cent; in Germany it is 38 per cent; in Spain it is 33 per cent; in the United Kingdom it is 32 per cent and in Scotland it is 29 per cent. The figures are abysmal.

If the minister really wants a more public transport-friendly policy, which I believe he might well want, the key to that must be a review of the Executive's civil service staffing for transport, and a change in the road culture that informs the thinking at Victoria Quay. It is not enough to move freight from road to rail; the minister must also move civil servants from roads to public transport.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 4:25 pm, 12th June 2003

I, too, want to talk about rail travel, because it is the most environmentally friendly and safest mode of transport for passengers and freight.

Let me first knock back Iain Smith's argument that Virgin Trains services in Scotland having been reduced as a result of the congestion around Birmingham New Street station means that we should not have our own strategic rail authority. It puzzles me that it is possible to get a train from Oostende to Vienna successfully, going through some of the busiest cities in west Germany without having to have one Government or one strategic rail authority in charge in all the countries on the way.

Rail services have suffered great disinvestment since the early 1970s. One need only examine the west coast main line—the main line through the western part of the south of Scotland—which has had no real new investment since electrification was completed at that time. I will not even blame the Conservatives for that, because I noticed this morning that Phil Gallie was effectively criticising or disowning every living former Tory Cabinet minister. He has done that job for us.

The point is that there were penny-pinching Treasury restrictions on investment, which demanded an unrealistic rate of return on every rail investment. The very successful Inter-City 125s have celebrated their 25th anniversary—they are still the mainstay of much express rail travel in this country. Even in the early days of those trains, British Rail could not order as many of them as it needed, because the Treasury would not let it. The backlog will take many years to make up, and the Government has a difficult job on its hands.

The occasional high-profile success in returning freight to rail is trumpeted to us. Generally, however, the picture is very bad. The irony is that, the more successful we are in increasing passenger services or in increasing their speed, as Virgin Trains did recently, the less space on the network there is for freight trains. That is a particular problem for the west coast main line.

As Chris Ballance said, it is especially disappointing that the Government, in the shape of the Royal Mail, is not giving the lead that it should give. We expect about 500 jobs with the freight rail company, English Welsh & Scottish Railway, to be lost if the Royal Mail proceeds with its plan to shift all of its operations on to road, which will mean 50 job losses in Scotland. What message does it send to the rest of industry, which we are trying to attract to use the railways, when a Government body—a firm owned by you and I—decides to transfer totally to road? As Chris Ballance mentioned, the Post Office cannot reclaim VAT because it is a Government body, so its internal road service costs nothing in VAT, whereas there is an extra 17.5 per cent on rail services, which it cannot reclaim. Those are the economics of the madhouse, and we should do something about them.

I welcome the minister's commitment to cycling, but statistics such as the number of cycle lanes that exist can be misleading. We need look only at Edinburgh, where the many non-mandatory cycle lanes all provide very convenient places for people to park their cars. The Executive has not done very much to encourage the people who use bikes daily, rather than as a fashion accessory that they can trot out at weekends.

It will take many years to develop the rail network that we need. Hopefully, that will include a substantial amount of rebuilding or reinstatement of old railway lines. Alex Fergusson mentioned the old military line that goes up to Cairnryan. Lots of projects to reopen such lines will not be justified in the short term, but we need to preserve from building development and so on the formations that exist so that, in future—when we have and want to use the money—they are still there to be reused.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 4:29 pm, 12th June 2003

I welcome the Minister for Transport to his new role. I feel quite new to this myself, because over the past year or so I have been the ministerial parliamentary aide to the First Minister and, as such, have been bound by ministerial code and prevented from participating in debates in the Parliament. Although I enjoyed being in the post, I am pleased to be free from those restrictions and able once again to take part in important debates such as this one. I am also now in a position to be able to criticise the Executive on matters where I think that it has got it wrong and I assure members that I will do so when I see fit.

It just so happens that this afternoon will not be one such occasion. That is not because I think that everything in the garden is rosy when it comes to public transport, but because I believe that, on the whole, the new Executive appears to be putting in place realistic and achievable plans to make progress and build on the previous Administration's achievements in public transport.

Access to public transport is fundamental to many aspects of people's lives. As Pauline McNeill said, it is related closely to developments in health, education and leisure and to allaying environmental concerns, placing social inclusion and the overall standard of living at the heart of any strategic development.

Recently I spoke to an elderly man in my constituency who told me of the simple pleasure that he gets from receiving his concessionary bus pass, which saves him enough each week for him to have a few extra pints and a couple of extra bets on the horses. That is good, because it has enhanced his quality of life and, more important, he is getting out of the house more and for longer. He is able to be in the company of others and catch up with his friends, breaking up the loneliness of sitting at home watching the rubbish on daytime television.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I wonder how the idea that getting out of the house to go to the pub and the betting shop fits into the Government's development of a healthy Scotland.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

My constituent has a social life and concessionary travel has encouraged him to participate in an active life, which gets him out the house and keeps him healthy. There is no harm in having an extra couple of pints if it keeps someone going.

What I described might seem a simple, and possibly questionable, benefit, but it is shared in different ways by the 350,000 elderly people in Strathclyde and the more than 1.1 million elderly and disabled people throughout Scotland who have gained from the concessionary bus pass. It is a good thing, and we in the Labour party are justly proud of it. The benefit will be increased when the Executive announces more spending over the coming months and years.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Does the member agree that although the concessionary fares are welcome, we now have to work on making bus companies more receptive to the needs and wishes of the users of the service? They do not respond to them at all just now.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

I agree entirely. We have to strike a balance between the private sector and the public sector. We have to consider our road-building programme. Far too often, we see areas resembling car parks rather than free flowing areas that help our commercial sector—the Raith interchange, the Shawhead junction and the Auchenkilns roundabout in Lanarkshire, for example. We cannot have a repetition of the situation in Bellshill some time ago when a delegation of representatives of a large American company packed up and went home after being stuck in a traffic jam outside their hotel on the Bellshill bypass, taking with them the possibility of 200 jobs, because they could not see the infrastructure supporting their needs.

There are major issues to consider. We have to build on the A8 and extend the M74, because we must create wealth to finance our public services.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP 4:34 pm, 12th June 2003

Somebody said earlier that our roads are overcrowded. I feel sad and irritated that the chamber is not overcrowded today, given the importance of our transport and how we get about and the impact on our lives.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

I address my remark to everyone.

The importance of sensible progress in relation to how we get about—

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

Can we not do "Where's Wally" and just get on with it, please?

The importance of sensible progress in relation to how we get about should never be understated. If any other activity caused as much havoc, difficulty and ill health as does the ever-increasing traffic, there would be a furore. There can be no excuse for getting our transport system even slightly wrong, given the hindsight and the information that are available to us.

Ever-increasing car use blights and divides our communities and pollutes our country and the rest of the planet. Long-term harm should be treated as an emergency for us to deal with right now. The facts and figures make scary reading and it would appear that, tragically, the health aspects are neglected. Health and the environment are inextricably linked and the Parliament should treat them accordingly.

This morning we debated Europe. In Europe, traffic accidents result in about 120,000 deaths and 2.5 million injuries a year. In Scotland, the figures pan out to about 347 deaths and more than 19,500 injuries. One accident that results in death or injury is too many; those figures are diabolical.

Air pollution is also a problem. We must play a part in reducing global greenhouse gases. A range of pollutants comes out of cars and into our communities; I am sure that members are well aware of them. According to the "Six Cities Study", residents of polluted towns face a 37 per cent higher risk of developing lung cancer than residents of less polluted areas. That higher risk has already been mentioned. Ozone irritates the eyes and can affect the respiratory system, lead can impair our children's mental development and benzene is linked with cancer.

Children who live near heavy traffic suffer most and are at greater risk of being involved in accidents. Such children live in built-up communities or play in playgrounds or go to schools that are near busy traffic and motorways.

We need to consider how we can create a shift in mode. Half of all trips cover a distance of less than 2 miles and 70 per cent of them cover a distance of less than 5 miles. A quarter of car trips cover a distance of less than 2 miles and 56 per cent of them cover a distance of less than 5 miles. A catalytic converter would not even kick in over such distances.

Traffic divides and wrecks our communities, degrades our environment and is neither helpful nor useful. It is inevitable that poorer people are being forced into cars because of bad and inappropriate planning.

The minister should look at the past, consider the present and address the future. We should consider cycling and walking projects, safe routes to schools, greener planning and home zones. The 20mph zones and the "twenty's plenty" campaign have been mentioned. I suggest that we move to make those limits mandatory rather than advisory because, as soon as motorists realise that they do not have to do something, they no longer do it. Those zones are in the most vulnerable areas where our children play.

I hope that many members will join me in supporting the idea of a sustainable transport fund, which would enable money to be spent sensibly on the situation on our streets, rather than being used to contribute to their overcrowding.

I return to the M74 northern extension. If members think that the area is like a car park now, they should go to Pollok to see what has happened as a result of congestion on the M77 and surrounding roads. That will show them that the future is more car parks. An injection of part of the £500 million that is intended for the M74 would be an excellent beginning and a great gift to our children.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Before we move to winding-up speeches, I apologise to those members who were not called. Sylvia Jackson has four minutes.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 4:38 pm, 12th June 2003

I welcome Nicol Stephen to his new post and I welcome two of the statements that he made. The first was about access from Stirling to Edinburgh airport and the second was about the investment of £30 million in the Kincardine-Alloa-Stirling rail line. However, I hope that, as the relevant bill progresses through the Parliament, he will be sympathetic to the community concerns in my constituency and in Ochil about the number and timing of the trains that will carry freight along those lines.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the member for giving way. Will she join me in paying tribute to our former colleague Richard Simpson, who, together with George Reid and me, campaigned steadfastly to bridge the funding gap? The reason for the Tories' churlishness might be their failure to turn up for any of the meetings in Clackmannanshire, where the local council was the lead authority, or for the seminars on that important line.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

Keith Raffan makes a good point. Indeed, I remember those meetings. Thanks must go to Richard Simpson.

Other important commitments in the partnership agreement build on what has happened. Mention has been made of the concessionary fares scheme, which is to be extended. The expansion of the rural transport initiative was also mentioned, but I think that the minister did not have time to give details of how that will happen, so perhaps he could include that in his summing up. The scheme for 20mph zones around schools is also to be extended, as is the safe routes to schools initiative. Rosie Kane made a good point about some councils being a little apprehensive about introducing the 20mph zone. Perhaps the minister will comment on that.

I also want to highlight the maintenance of non-trunk roads, which has been one of my issues over the past four years. Forgive me for raising this, but I know that the survey from the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland will soon be available. I also know that the partnership agreement commits us to

"Ensuring sufficient resources are available for the non-trunk road network".

I gather that we will know the full figures from the SCOTS survey when it is made available via the web browser next week, so I urge the minister to put into action a long-term plan as soon as possible. For 2001-02, the bill for bringing the roads in the Stirling Council area up to standard was £60 million.

The second road maintenance issue that I want to raise is service tracks. Considerable difficulties are caused by the fact that utilities and statutory undertakers do not leave the roads in the proper condition, which contributes to the general deterioration in the condition of roads. At the moment, it is difficult to impose penalties and centralise control of utilities that want to enter a local authority area, so I call on the minister to consider how the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 might be revisited.

In conclusion, three important points have been made today. First is the important aspect of sustainability, which both the Green party—obviously—and Bristow Muldoon highlighted. I know that Stirling Council is undertaking a programme of sustainable employee transport initiatives to encourage council employees to walk, cycle and so on. Secondly, members mentioned the importance of monitoring and evaluating initiatives. Thirdly, emphasis has been placed on the need for genuine consultation, which Pauline McNeill mentioned in her speech.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 4:43 pm, 12th June 2003

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. It is disappointing that there are not more members present, but it is rather churlish for people to point the finger at Rosie Kane's leader for not being here. It is clear that members of all parties, including my own, have not attended the debate. Indeed, as 50 per cent of the SSP group is in the chamber, the SSP has a higher proportion of members attending than any other party group, including my own.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Sorry. Mr Swinburne is a party group all of his own—long may it stay that way.

I welcome the minister to his new post. For a number of years, we have debated with each other in education debates, but I assure him that I am not dogging him. I was disappointed that we did not manage to reach question 14 at question time, but perhaps this is not the time to press that matter.

I have listened to the debate with interest, but I have found it a rather surreal event. It has been an almost out-of-body experience—which is something, considering my body. There have been so many commitments but so little money to back them up. At times, the Parliament seems to live in another world and in a parallel universe in which transport can be delivered without any expectation of how the costs will be met.

We have had commitments without funding. The details of the Borders rail link need to be explored, pinned down and defined. A number of members have mentioned Waverley station, yet it is clear that the Waverley station project has been shelved. I see no prospect of the project coming back to us under its previous guise; it will have to be started again. The proposals for the shopping mall that would have helped to subsidise the overall project have been written off. When we talk about supporting the changes at Waverley station, I feel that we are kidding ourselves—unless we have proposals before us that we know are genuine, have a time scale and can be funded. We need something that will look far more substantial and that will stand up to greater analysis than, for instance, the Scottish Parliament project.

There are many significant areas to deal with in transport, including walking and cycling. We have to consider whether people on motorbikes should be able to access bus lanes. We have public and private transport—cars and railways and buses—but it strikes me that there is often confusion over what is private and what is public.

Forgive me, but I am an old trainspotter and I see benefit in trains. I support the Borders rail line and I support the Stirling-Alloa-Dunfermline rail line. There—I have said it. I actually want more railways. However, the way to achieve more railways is through partnership and by acknowledging that companies that earn profits must be part of that partnership. They can and often do provide better transport facilities for the public and individuals—as long as they work within the regulatory structures and the subsidy structures that are set up by Government on behalf of the public.

If we are to achieve the transport system that the public want, we must recognise that for-profit companies are part of the transport future. They respond to the market and to what customers want. They can help to deliver the improved infrastructure that we need. I will support my colleague David Mundell's amendment to the motion.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 4:47 pm, 12th June 2003

We agree with the Executive's commitment to put in place an integrated transport system. The difficulty is that our public transport networks are still very far from being integrated, reliable or efficient. Many people's experience is of disintegrated, unreliable and inefficient public transport.

For an example of the absurdity of the current system, I refer Brian Monteith to Perth railway station. Companies involved in activities in and around the station include ScotRail, Traincare, Network Rail, Spacia, Network Rail train operating company estates—which may or may not be about to go into Spacia—First Engineering and Serco. At a very basic level, that means that it is impossible to get the pigeon mess cleaned up or a broken window fixed because no one knows for sure whose responsibility it is and no one wants to take responsibility. How on earth does that reality mesh with either Brian Monteith's vision of a wonderfully privatised service or with the promises that the Executive makes? The truth is that it does not.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I was not being especially idealistic. It is clear that, after privatisation, freight transport by rail improved and numbers went up, and private transport by rail improved and numbers went up. Investment in the railways also improved and the number of accidents actually decreased. That is what happened. I share Roseanna Cunningham's concern that there were flaws—the way in which railway stations are managed was one of them. However, let us agree on something: the flaws can be picked up on and amended, but privatisation was working.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party

With respect, the reality of the experience was quite the opposite.

Another disincentive is the timetable mishmash. During the debate on the Executive's programme for government, I highlighted the apparent impossibility of achieving a truly integrated transport system when the major operators are prepared to assert openly that they take no account of one another's timetables when drawing up their own. That means that buses do not feed into railways in any sensible way, a fact that extends total journey times considerably. The timetable mishmash is a major barrier to use of the system and, as Michael McMahon said, it also impacts directly on economic development.

Despite the Executive's commitment in the partnership agreement document to timetable integration, I am still waiting for a clear indication of how that is to be delivered in reality. Perhaps the minister will enlighten us on the matter before the end of business today.

Of course, transport is one of those policy areas for which some responsibility has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and some has been reserved to Westminster. If the Executive parties will allow me to give them the benefit of the doubt, I think that that might be where the problem lies. Scotland's transport network needs a strategic overview and a decent level of investment, neither of which can be provided properly by the Executive with the current powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The reality is that the United Kingdom invests less than the European Union average of its gross domestic product in transport infrastructure. The UK is the worst in the whole of the EU in respect of support for public transport. That means that the UK has among the highest public transport fares in the EU, with a typical trip in the UK costing 15 per cent more than in Germany, 60 per cent more than in France and nearly three times as much as in the Netherlands. That is hardly indicative of a move towards a sustainable transport system. No wonder the latest statistics show that bus use fell by a quarter in the preceding decade and that rail numbers are down by 2.4 million on the previous year. Meanwhile, year on year, there were 3 per cent more cars on the roads.

Although the commitments that the Executive has made are all welcome, the vast majority of them are urban based. That is a concern for those who live in the vast rural areas of Scotland. There are many, mostly rural, communities in Scotland that actively seek the reopening of passenger railway stations. Indeed, the Highland Rail Partnership is undertaking an appraisal of four such stations in my constituency, only one of which relates to a line with a current service. I assure the minister that he can look forward to further communications on the subject from me.

It will be a major challenge for the Executive to respond to that demand, because any response will have to involve new track. I do not see where the investment for new track in the rural part of Scotland will come from, yet that is where it is needed most.

In the face of demand, we continue to read about the threat of wholesale cutbacks in rural Scottish rail services. The Executive must commit to opposing such cutbacks at every opportunity, even when the cuts emanate from the Department for Transport down south. To be frank, to do anything else would make a mockery of any commitment to increase the use of public transport and to decrease the reliance on cars.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 4:52 pm, 12th June 2003

The debate has been very valuable albeit all too brief. I look forward to a full debate on transport in which all members who want to contribute have the opportunity to do so.

I start by thanking Kenny MacAskill for his welcome support and for his many positive words. However, my focus over the next four years will be on improving public transport and not on reopening and renegotiating the Scotland Act 1998. My efforts will be focused on delivering our current priorities, using our current extensive powers and our current significant and growing funds.

David Mundell talked about funding commitments and made comments about rail services and the importance of public transport projects. I ask him whether the Conservatives delivered any of that. Was our rail network safe in Conservative hands? Does he believe that, if the Conservatives were to return to power, his party would deliver on public transport, given its background and track record on the issue?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I will mention Brian Monteith later in my remarks and I might give him the opportunity of intervening at that point.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The opening of Gartcosh railway station has been substantially delayed. Given that final confirmation of full Scottish Executive funding is critical to the project's progress and that a request for additional challenge funding has been sitting with the Scottish Executive for some time, will the minister assure me that the funding will be forthcoming to allow the station to open—I hope—early next year?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I cannot give the member a funding commitment this afternoon. However, I assure her that I expect to be able to take a decision on the matter very soon.

Tricia Marwick raised various issues, key of which was the Fife rail service. The Scottish Executive is investing in rolling stock that will allow longer trains to run on that route and tackle overcrowding. Furthermore, the Executive and the SRA are working together to ensure that necessary platform extension work is delivered on the Fife circle line.

As for the Levenmouth branch line, it is up to the promoter of a local transport project to develop and promote the reopening of such a line. That applies to some of the other proposals that have been mentioned this afternoon. The Scottish Executive considers each local transport project on its merits on a case by case basis.

Alex Fergusson's anecdotes helped to prove the point that we need more reliable and integrated public transport services. He mentioned an interesting proposal to move ferry services to Cairnryan instead of to Old House Point, which would make it easier to extend the railway line. But—[Interruption.]

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Minister, I want to interrupt you for just a moment. If members are holding any conversations that absolutely have to take place, they should take them outside the chamber.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Given the minister's intimation that he will not seek any more powers from the Parliament, will he tell us how much has been guaranteed by the SRA for investment in rail infrastructure?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I am convinced that there will be very significant investment from that source. Indeed, we have existing commitments from the SRA. I will meet Richard Bowker next Monday to make the case for additional funding and will continue to press for it.

I thought that Kenny MacAskill's intervention was going to be about the Cairnryan rail link. However, on that subject, I should make it clear to Alex Fergusson that it would up to Dumfries and Galloway Council to develop any such proposals.

I agree with Pauline McNeill that choices are important. Indeed, investment in bus services and, in particular, park-and-ride services is also important, which is why we are spending £80 million on grants and subsidies for bus services and another £100 million on concessionary fares.

In the impassioned final second of her speech, Pauline McNeill mentioned ScotRail and problems with the trains. The number of rail passenger journeys that originate in Scotland grew from 55 million in 1991 to 65 million in 2001. We need to improve services and expand capacity, and are committed to the biggest-ever investment in new rolling stock. In fact, that investment is significantly ahead of anything that the Conservatives delivered. Over the next 18 months, 22 new Turbostar trains will come into service along with six new trains that we have helped Strathclyde Passenger Transport to fund.

Roads are important not only to car users but to bus passengers, cyclists and others. I am determined to deliver vital road projects, particularly where real safety or environmental improvements can be made. This week, we received good news about a significant decline in the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Compared with the mid-1990s, there has been a 27 per cent fall in that figure for adults and a 38 per cent fall for children. Despite the increase in car use that we have witnessed, the total number of deaths and serious injuries has fallen from more than 10,000 in 1970—

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I never thought that I would say this, but I really want to hear the minister.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Well, that is helpful. I ask members to be a little more quiet.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I will keep going. As I was saying, despite the increase in car use, the total number of deaths and serious injuries has fallen from more than 10,000 a year in 1970 to just over 3,500 in 2002.

I say to Chris Ballance that I recognise the importance of making representations about Royal Mail's decision. I believe that that decision is extremely disappointing and I will make representations on the matter.

On Rosie Kane's point about local authorities having the power to make the advisory 20mph speed limits mandatory, I say that those powers exist. We are working at ways of having such limits more often and in more places. Those mandatory powers need to be encouraged and I want to see that happen more often.

I will mention how pleased I am to see Brian Monteith participating in yet another debate. All that would be needed to seal my delight would be to have Cathy Jamieson sitting to my left and Mike Russell up in the gallery.

Investing in public transport will deliver improvements for passengers and provide the capacity and a quality service to attract new passengers. One of the aims of our investment is to break down the barriers that prevent people from using public transport. Many people tell us that they would like to use public transport more, but—and there are lots of reasons why they do not do so. We are determined to make the choice easier. It will be easier for the elderly person, who now has access to concessionary fares. It will also be easier for parents to let their child cycle or walk to school because we will have safer routes to schools.

Reopening railway lines will make rail travel a much more convenient option in all parts of Scotland. Reducing the cost of flights to the Highlands and Islands will give people better access to essential services and boost the local economy. Similarly, the introduction of new ferry services will help to bring the islands closer to vital markets. If we want a thriving Scottish economy, strong communities and a sustainable environment, we need an efficient, safe and reliable public transport system. I want the Parliament to be remembered for delivering on those issues.