Cabinet (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 7th December 2006.

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. Miss Annabel Goldie (West of Scotland) (Con): To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Scottish Executive's Cabinet. (S2F-2599)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

At next week's meeting the Cabinet will discuss issues that are not only important to Scotland but the responsibility of this Parliament.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Earlier this week, the Scottish Executive, or what passes for the remains of it, announced its national transport plans. I say, "plans", but the announcement amounted to yet another glossy brochure that said nothing at all. The Executive committed to delivering the existing programme—how bold is that?—taking forward another strategic review and publishing yet more plans. Can the First Minister tell me what specific new proposals—or proposal; one will do—he has?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

There were significant new proposals, particularly in relation to buses, in the plans that were announced earlier this week, which will be welcomed by people across the length and breadth of Scotland, who want improved bus services. I congratulate the Minister for Transport for negotiating those arrangements and for making sure that they are going to happen.

I want to make this absolutely clear. If Annabel Goldie does not believe that it is bold to build new trains and new railways, for example between Stirlingshire and Fife, the Borders and Edinburgh and Airdrie and Bathgate; or that it is bold to support a new tram system for Edinburgh, which will reduce congestion and make life easier and more convenient for everyone in the city; or that it is bold and important for us in the 21st century to have a rail link between our capital city and its airport—perhaps she shares the SNP's view on that; or that the many other actions that are being taken on roads, on increasing direct flights in and out of our airports, on improving bus services and on improving freight on our railways are bold measures, she has a funny view of transport strategy and transport policy.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Miss Goldie did not ask for a history lesson on proposals that are already in the public domain; Miss Goldie asked for a specific new proposal. Let me give the First Minister a true reflection of the Scottish Executive's transport record. The Executive froze the extensive Conservative programme and then reinstated bits of it—big deal. Scotland wants to know about the First Minister's stance on big issues such as a fast rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow and, perhaps most important, the Forth road bridge. Will he tell us exactly what he plans to do about a new Forth crossing and when he plans to do it?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I have made it clear that those, from Fife and elsewhere, who use the Forth bridge will not be left without a crossing. I make it very clear indeed to Miss Goldie and others that the Executive's current plans to invest in new railways, roads, direct flights in and out of Scotland, improved bus services, freight transport by rail, trams in Edinburgh and, in particular, a railway from our capital city to its airport, are commitments that are looking forward, because they are not in place at present. Of course they are commitments for the future and they are all budgeted for and will all be put in place. Only by re-electing those who are at present responsible for that programme will Scotland move forward on transport, because it is clear that the Conservatives and the nationalists would not be committed to the same improvements in Scotland's transport system.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Rather than say every week that he has made his position clear, why does the First Minister not just actually make his position clear? After eight years, I would have thought that the Executive would be beyond publishing expensive brochures that promise only more expensive brochures. The 2002 transport delivery plan promised a car park and a roundabout and we thought that we were short-changed then, but the 2006 version does not even give us that. Ten years ago, the then Conservative Government had identified and secured ground for a crossing over the Forth. Is it not about time that the Executive stopped waffling and got on with the business at hand, including immediate work on a new crossing for the Forth?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As I said in the past in answer to a similar question, those who think that we can design a bridge without first carrying out a technical survey are losing the plot completely. Let there be absolutely no doubt that we will not leave the people of Fife or the east of Scotland—in particular, those of the north-east—without the ability to cross the Forth. Anybody with any common sense would be able to work that out.

The important point is the commitment in the transport strategy to the direction of travel—funnily enough, that might just be important in a transport strategy. We set out clear objectives to improve journey times and connections, to reduce emissions and to improve quality, accessibility and affordability. It is important to have those objectives at the core of our transport strategy, unlike the Conservative's so-called transport strategy back in 1997. It is precisely because of those objectives that we commit to spending 70 per cent of our investment in transport on public transport and commit not only to the new railways from Stirling to Fife, in the Borders and from Airdrie to Bathgate, but to the investment in trams, our airport rail links, new direct flights in and out of Scotland and new bus services. There is also the improvement in the quality of bus services to which we also committed this week. All those issues matter in Scotland, which is why our transport strategy is grounded in reality and practical action, not just in the warm words of the Tories from 10 years ago.