Parliament recognises that transport is fundamental to our society and to having a socially just and economically vibrant Scotland. We have driven forward changes to transform transport delivery and transport infrastructure across the country. We have created regional transport partnerships, and we have provided national concessionary travel to older people, young people and people with disabilities. We are delivering ambitious road and rail developments and we are placing even greater emphasis on public transport solutions.
Last year, we launched the national transport strategy, which provides, for the first time, a single comprehensive national statement of our transport priorities and plans for the future. We will soon determine the projects that will deliver that strategy, but today we are providing the process for authorising those projects. We need to ensure that the process that we use to deliver projects is appropriate, effective and efficient in terms of time and cost.
We must give a better deal to promoters, to objectors and, certainly, to MSPs as they carry out their appropriate role of scrutiny and take up their rights to object and comment. We want the bill to strive to improve process efficiency, but not at the expense of compromising scrutiny, transparency, fairness or the primacy of Parliament. The debates and discussions on the bill, including the debate this afternoon, have rightly focused on those matters.
Following detailed interrogation, the bill has not been found wanting. It will improve scrutiny through use of public examination. It will improve transparency and fairness through greater provision of public information and participation. It will strengthen the primacy of Parliament by ensuring that all transport developments that are of national importance will now be subject to the affirmative procedure. This is a good bill that focuses on improving a process that has been subject to an old private bills procedure that many of us have found to be demanding at all times. I commend the bill to Parliament.
That the Parliament agrees that the Transport and Works (Scotland) Bill be passed.
As the minister said, the bill is quite technical and is not one to set the electorate, the media or even the heather, on fire. The people who will welcome it most are those who have sat through consideration of the Edinburgh tram bills, the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill, the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill and so on.
However, we welcome the fact that, because of the so-called front-loading of the process, members of the public who are interested in a particular major project will be able to get involved at a very early stage. We also welcome the onus that is being put on developers to involve many people and at an early stage.
I thank the committee clerks and all those who were involved in the bill. The SNP will vote for the bill at decision time.
The Transport and Works (Scotland) Bill is the first bill in which I was involved from start to finish, as a member of the Local Government and Transport Committee. For me, the bill was an interesting introduction to the legislative process at its various stages, even if—as Maureen Watt commented—the subject matter was somewhat dry; it was hardly likely to set pulses racing or, as she said, to set the heather on fire. I echo her words of thanks to the bill team and committee staff who brought the bill to fruition and assisted us, as committee members, in our consideration of the bill's principles and detailed provisions.
The present private bill procedure has, among the general body of members, few friends in Parliament. That is in part because the MSPs who have the keenest interest in a given project have been excluded from membership of the relevant bill committee because of the significance that the project would have had for their constituency, but it is also because of the potential for conflicts of interest to arise and because of the quasi-judicial role that we have been asked to play. Accordingly, the new procedure will be an improvement even if, from the standpoint of promoters or the taxpayer, it will be no less expensive.
I say that because the new procedure makes the responsibility and accountability of ministers for such projects far more explicit than does the present process. Whether or not a project proceeds, it is—and it should be—fundamentally a matter for political decision making. The
As I said at stage 1, all the major rail and tram projects that will be making substantial calls on the public purse over the next few years have already been approved or are in the process of approval before the end of the parliamentary session under the present private bill procedure. Those projects carry a price tag of £2.5 billion and rising. Of course, they now have to compete with the considerable financial demands—or potential financial demands—of a new Forth crossing. It will be interesting to see whether all of them survive the comprehensive spending review that has been conveniently scheduled for after this year's election, and the scrapping of the Barnett formula by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his accession to office. I strongly suspect that some hard financial decisions will have to be taken in the next couple of years and that the gravy train will shortly hit the buffers.
Accordingly, when it comes to major transport projects, the bill and the new procedure may gather dust on the shelves. However, it is right that we should learn from our experience of the current procedure, put the measure in place, and watch this space to see what happens—if anything.
I am very pleased to endorse the bill. I am also delighted that we have reached stage 3. There was overwhelming cross-party consensus on the bill at stage 1. I gather that there was not much change to that consensus at committee at stage 2, except for a minor skirmish with Donald Gorrie. We have had more minor skirmishes today, but no blood has been drawn on either side.
When the bill is enacted, we will no longer need the complexity of a full act of Parliament to build a canal, railway, guided busway, certain roads or harbours. I have only one caveat to add to what has been said, which is that post-legislative scrutiny is a responsibility and, indeed, a challenge for Parliament. Given the significance of transport infrastructure to our economy, to our built environment and to social inclusion, we must monitor the effectiveness of the legislation. I do not envisage that the bill will gather dust because it will be vital to our nation in the period ahead. We need to monitor its effectiveness. We think we have it right, but let us check and see.
The bill will modernise the process for authorising major rail, tram and inland waterway developments, which was designed in the 19 th century. At the moment, such developments are dealt with by private acts of the Scottish Parliament. That is an archaic system: I, for one, was astounded that, when Westminster created the Scottish Parliament, we inherited a system that, if I may use a phrase that is in vogue at the moment, is not fit for purpose.
The bill will implement the commitment that was made in May 2005 to place the Scottish ministers at the heart of an order-making process, thereby avoiding the need for private bills and the establishment of unpopular private bill committees. That move was unanimously supported by Parliament.
The bill will modernise and improve the system. It will ensure that a full and thorough appraisal process will take place with the involvement of the community, local MSPs and, if appropriate, the Scottish Parliament. However, there will be no need to create private bill committees. The bill will also give local authorities, national park authorities, navigation authorities, Network Rail, regional transport partnerships and people who would be directly affected by compulsory purchase orders the right to have their objections heard at an inquiry.
To critics of the bill—if there are any—who say that it will remove parliamentary scrutiny, I say that it will certainly remove unnecessary parliamentary scrutiny, but it will also mean that decisions that the Minister for Transport takes on projects of national importance will be subject to parliamentary approval. That process must be right. In addition to the methods of parliamentary scrutiny that the minister mentioned, we have the system of members' business debates, in which MSPs can debate such issues and hold ministers to account. Indeed, Maureen Watt will hold a members' business debate immediately after decision time tonight in which she will address an issue in respect of the legislation on seatbelts.
That is all very well. Members' business debates certainly address issues, but they really do not hold ministers to account. They are obliged to respond, but they are not obliged to take action.
I will give Phil Gallie an example: I held two members' business debates last year on the campaign to save the Aboyne maternity unit; today, the Minister for Health and Community Care announced that the unit has been saved. Phil Gallie should not tell me that
There is broad support throughout Parliament for the bill. I am sure that, when we come to the vote, the motion will be agreed to and the bill will command overwhelming support from colleagues.
I am happy—actually, I am ecstatic—to speak in the debate after my experiences of the current private bill process. This morning, we had a debate in which I argued that bridge tolls are unfair to Fife. The fact that local members could not be involved in private bill committees has meant that members from Fife have had an onerous task because of the locations of many of the projects for which there have been private bills. The Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee included Ted Brocklebank, Christine May and me; Helen Eadie and Scott Barrie have also been on private bill committees.
There is a belief that members were dragooned on to private bill committees. It is true that, once word got out that they were not good places to be, most members gave them a body swerve. However, I confess that, in my naivety, I volunteered myself to Bruce Crawford, who was the Scottish National Party's chief whip, for the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee. I told him that I had been most places in the Parliament—I had been a business manager, a whip and a committee member—so I would like to see how a private bill worked. I have never been known for making sound judgments and that was certainly not a sound judgment: the committee went on and on and on. The Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill showed the sheer complexity and technical nature of the long-running saga of the Borders railway.
I am pleased that the system has been streamlined, because it is unfair to expect MSPs to involve themselves in the technicalities that we encountered. On one side were the promoters with their technical advisers, and on the other side was the committee with its technical advisers. Although I pay tribute to all members who have been on private bill committees in the past, I am sure that they would acknowledge that the process was extremely onerous, difficult and time consuming.
I welcome the Transport and Works (Scotland) Bill. I would have liked it to include some parliamentary involvement in the new process, but we are where we are. It is certainly a heck of a lot better than the previous system, and I have no hesitation in giving it my support.
In speaking in support of the Transport and Works (Scotland) Bill, I want first to thank the clerks to the Local Government and Transport Committee, as others have done, for their advice and support during consideration of the bill. I want also to thank both those who gave evidence and my fellow committee members for their contributions.
The Parliament has recognised a problem with the requirements under the private bills procedure that we had to follow and there has been a degree of consensus on establishing a more modern approach to authorising public transport projects. That is especially important because both parties in the Executive—Labour and the Liberals—have ambitious plans for investing in our public transport infrastructure. Projects for the Larkhall to Milngavie line, the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, Edinburgh trams, the Borders rail line, the Glasgow and Edinburgh airport rail links and the Bathgate to Airdrie line either have been completed or are in the process of being completed. The last of those projects is close to my heart and I hope that proceedings on the bill to provide for it will be completed before Parliament breaks for the elections.
Mr McLetchie made a mischievous point in trying to claim that future Prime Minister Brown would be some sort of threat to the income of the Parliament. Let me point out to Mr McLetchie that if it were not for the actions of Chancellor Brown and the doubling in cash terms of the budget of the Parliament in the eight years since devolution, many of those ambitious public transport projects could not have proceeded.
I welcome the fact that Mr McLetchie fully expects Mr Brown to be the next Prime Minister, as many in the country do. Many years may he serve in that role—I am sure that that will continue to be positive for this Parliament.
The bill sets out a more modern and efficient set of procedures for permitting new tram and rail lines to proceed, and it replaces the cumbersome private bills procedure. Mike Rumbles was right to point out just how antiquated that procedure was—it dated back to Victorian times. One reason why it was not updated is that there was no expectation in the past few decades in Britain that we would embark on a major new expansion of railways. The Parliament is to be commended for embracing the opportunities to enhance our public transport infrastructure.
I am sure that, as has been remarked, all members who have served on private bill
Of course, the final responsibility for approving a project will lie with ministers or the Parliament, depending on whether it is a national or more regional or local project. The vast majority of the more regional or local projects will have been subject to democratic accountability through local authorities or regional transport partnerships before final permission is requested from ministers.
It is important that we have upfront consultation, because the bill is not about denying people their opportunity to object to a project if they have legitimate concerns. The emphasis on upfront consultation and notification of people who will be close to a project is important and we will need to monitor that closely.
It may be that, given the range of projects that we are currently committed to, not as many new projects come forward in the course of the next few years, but I have no doubt that members and political parties will promote further projects in the years to come. Therefore, I believe that the bill will serve Scotland well by ensuring that any future major public transport projects are able to be considered in a modern and efficient way.
I agree totally with what the minister said about the importance of transport. He stressed the importance of the new strategy that the bill will provide for delivering public transport projects. As Bristow Muldoon mentioned, the bill presents us with a modern and efficient system.
I was involved with the bill through my membership of two committees—the Local Government and Transport Committee and the Subordinate Legislation Committee—but I will speak first from a Local Government and Transport Committee perspective.
I can mention only a few of the issues that are raised in the committee's stage 1 report. It stated:
"The Committee supports the principle that applications for transport developments should be 'frontloaded'"— front-loading is an issue that we have heard quite
"so as much consultation takes place, and as much information is provided to those potentially affected by the project, as possible, in advance of the application being made. The Committee considers that this will provide significant benefits in helping to improve the quality of applications. The Committee notes the broad support among witnesses for the policy of frontloading applications, but wishes to highlight two points".
Those two major points, along with a number of other issues, were taken on board by the minister and we are satisfied that the issues that we raised have been dealt with.
The stage 1 report continues:
"the Committee notes concerns which have been expressed about the potential costs on promoters, if promoters have already been carrying out good practice in relation to pre-application activity, then they may not see a significant increase in costs under the new arrangements ... While the Committee sympathises with the burden of work which objectors have to carry, nevertheless it is of the view that it would not be appropriate for public finances to be utilised to provide financial support for objectors to a particular project. The Committee has recommended that as much information should be provided to those potentially affected by a project as possible, and the Committee further recommends that reasonable time is permitted to allow objectors to present their case. The Committee hopes that this will go some way towards striking a reasonable balance between promoters and objectors"— striking that balance has always been the big issue.
Basically, the committee recognised
"the importance of the correct balance being struck between enabling those with a vested interest in a proposed transport infrastructure project the opportunity for their views to be heard through an inquiry and the importance of a transport project being able to proceed in a timely manner. ... The Committee heard from a range of witnesses who argued that the right to require an inquiry should be extended to include other organisations. The Committee therefore welcomes the Minister for Transport's commitment to extend the right to call an inquiry or hearing to navigation authorities, Network Rail and regional transport partnerships".
Moving on to the Subordinate Legislation Committee perspective, I want to mention one issue on which we were given an assurance from the Executive that I would also like to be put on record. On section 27 of the bill, our report on the bill as amended at stage 2 states:
"The Committee noted that subsection (6)(aa) enables orders etc under the Act to sub-delegate functions. It recognised the need for this type of sub-delegation but was concerned that it could be interpreted as including a power to confer a power to make subordinate legislation.
... In correspondence to the Committee, the Executive confirmed that it has no intention of using the power conferred by section 27(6)(aa) to empower the making of subordinate legislation. However, the Committee was concerned that any future Executive would not necessarily take this view. The Executive also considered that a court would not read this section as sufficient to authorise
... The Committee also sought clarification of the reference to 'any enactment' in section 27(6)(b) and whether this would include the Act itself.
... Similarly to the position that it had put forward in relation to a point on the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill, the Executive considered that 'explicitly stating that the power does not extend to amending the parent Act would cast doubt upon the meaning of numerous provisions in existing Acts of the Scottish Parliament.'
... The Committee did not doubt the stated intention of the Executive in relation to these powers but agreed that the attention of the Parliament should be drawn to the assurances received in oral evidence from the Executive at the Committee's meeting on 6 February".
I am pleased to speak today to ensure that we get assurances on those points on record.
In summary, I gather that the Scottish Parliament's staff costs will decrease by £85,000 and that 280 MSP hours will be saved per project, which I am sure is to be welcomed. I anticipate that removing the requirement for a private bill for a transport-related project will result not only in a saving in staff costs but in a notional saving in MSPs' time. However, that saving will not be concrete, as I am sure that MSPs will utilise the saved time to conduct other pressing business. We should support the bill.
I am not quite sure which aspect of ECHR is to blame, but I am sure that there is an aspect of it that is to blame.
In his opening speech, the minister spoke about the private bills system as being arcane. I am probably the only member of the Parliament who has run an enterprise that was set up under the old private bills system at Westminster; I am referring to the Lanark and Galloway hydroelectric schemes. The private bills that set up those schemes, which were passed some 80 years ago, dealt with issues in such a way as to protect the public today from what some members—not me, of course—would refer to as the excesses of privatisation in the power industry. Those private bills have been valuable in protecting the public.
In amendment 16, Maureen Watt attempted to deal with the restricted involvement that parliamentarians will have in the new process. Although I have some sympathy with her in that regard, sadly we could not have agreed to her amendment because, as the minister pointed out, its shortcomings would have had consequences. However, Maureen Watt was right to speak about the involvement of MSPs.
As someone who is about to leave the Parliament, I might be approaching the issue from a position of self-interest. I loved all the hours that I spent as a member of the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill Committee and I am still enjoying my time as a member of the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee. I believe that the purpose of MSPs is to ensure that the interests of individuals and constituents are protected. I will come to constituents shortly.
I just want to finish my point.
We are here to guard people's interests and I believe that, in many ways, the private bill committees have done that.
I am disappointed by what has happened to the guarantees that were given to the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill Committee on the provision of a shuttle bus to serve the Western general hospital. In my view, we got a commitment that such a service would be provided and would be continued, but it seems—if what is written in the papers is to be believed—that the promoter is going back on that commitment. I ask the minister to examine the statements that were made in meetings of the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill Committee and the guarantees that were given and to ensure that the shuttle bus that was promised is delivered for people who want to use the Western general.
I did not say that. The bills on the Lanark and Galloway hydroelectric schemes go back about 80 years. If my recollection is correct, we did not have the Scottish Parliament at that time. Both systems have value. There is credit for the Scottish Parliament in the way in which we deliberated on the bills. That contradicts Mike Rumbles's speech, because he expressed disappointment that the bills were considered under parliamentary procedure.
I cannot let Bristow Muldoon's comment about Chancellor Brown's largesse pass without
We can see that in a different light if we consider the balance of debt, the balance of trade and personal debt. I have great concerns about the UK economy. David McLetchie asked whether we will we be able to sustain the level of spending that has been committed, and that question applies irrespective of which Government takes us forward.
As David McLetchie also said, the bill panders to the European Union to some degree. When the minister spoke to amendment 11, his comments were gobbledegook worthy of any European commissioner. I wonder where his ambitions lie.
Some serious issues have been picked up. The bill will certainly speed up some important transport projects that affect the well-being of the country's economy. To that degree—and with the silver tongue of David McLetchie persuading me that the bill is a good thing—I will join in and support the bill at decision time.
That is probably a bit unfair on poor Mr Adam, Presiding Officer.
Before I comment on the brief debate that we have had this afternoon, I advise the Parliament, for the purposes of rule 9.11 of standing orders, that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Transport and Works (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.
I welcome the comments that were made during
Phil Gallie was not on such good ground when he talked about the economy. Last night, I listened to a Radio 4 programme presented by Giles Brandreth, whom the Conservatives will know well as a former colleague in another place. He interviewed former Chancellors of the Exchequer including Norman Lamont—we stress the first syllable in Shetland, unlike people in London—or Lord Lamont, as he is now. He was asked some rather pertinent questions about how he dealt with the psychological and political pressure of black Wednesday. I am afraid that some of us still remember that. I am sure that Phil Gallie remembers it, so when it comes to economic management—
Of course, the minister is quite right to refer to black Wednesday. However, in support of Norman Lamont, I should point out that it was caused by our commitment to the exchange rate mechanism or what might have been described at the time as the localised euro. That action was taken against my better judgment—although I have to say that it received Liberal support.
Well, I suppose that we should bear in mind what happened at the following election.
However, I should get back to the issue in hand, otherwise I will never get to it. I publicly thank the many interested individuals, public bodies, private corporations and associations that responded to our consultation exercise and freely gave of their time at workshops and bilateral meetings. Their contribution and advice were genuinely appreciated. We are making legislation on behalf of people across the country, and it has been improved by finding solutions and discussing them with people and practitioners in this area.
I also thank my officials Frazer Henderson, Andrew Brown and Catherine Wilson, not least for putting up with me on this bill. They certainly deserve a lot of credit for that. Moreover, given the nature of the business, the draughtsmen and the legal team have done an awful lot of work, and I hope that the illustrative draft secondary legislation, which was provided to the Local Government and Transport Committee early in Parliament's consideration of the bill, was genuinely helpful.
Many people in the Parliament have also done a lot to ensure the bill's success. In particular, I thank Sylvia Jackson, her Subordinate Legislation Committee and their officials for their considered scrutiny. In response to a point that she raised
I also thank Donald Gorrie and his colleagues on the Procedures Committee for their interest, and Bristow Muldoon and the Local Government and Transport Committee for their scrutiny and, in particular, for their supportive and comprehensive stage 1 report, which made the bill's passage so much easier.
Finally, on Trish Marwick's comment with regard to her experiences on the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee, I think that Phil Gallie made a fair point. Members are here to scrutinise—in, at times, an awful lot of detail—the minutiae of proposals. After all, we are spending taxpayers' money and such work is key to why we are here and why this place exists. I hope that, with this bill, we have managed to get the balance right in moving forward from a process that appears outdated when set beside modern parliamentary conventions.
One very good feature of the private bills process was that, with the support of parliamentary officials, objectors came to understand the process and found out how best to represent themselves at our meetings. Will the minister guarantee that, when the bill is passed, those who object to proposals receive a measure of support to ensure that they fully understand and engage in the new streamlined processes?
The member makes a fair point. I referred earlier to the consultation that we carried out when we were drafting the bill. In that consultation, we felt it important to take a lot of advice from people who had been through—or who were going through—the private bills process, particularly in relation to proposals involving transport infrastructure, to ensure that any front-loading of the mechanism covers such matters. We will have failed if we do not get those aspects right, because people must have confidence in the system.
I hope that we have achieved a consensus this afternoon and that Parliament will support the motion at decision time.