– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:36 pm on 27th June 2007.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:36 pm, 27th June 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-243, in the name of John Swinney, on transport. I call Mr Swinney to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament endorses the Government's transport priorities and notes that the Government party proposed during the election campaign not to proceed with the Edinburgh Trams and current EARL projects, but planned an additional crossing for the River Forth.—[John Swinney.]

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I call Wendy Alexander to speak to and move amendment S3M-243.1.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 3:05 pm, 27th June 2007

I suspect that, as the debate progresses, nobody will be in any doubt that the statement that has just been made was simply a cover for killing the Edinburgh airport rail link and trams projects. In response to a question from Derek Brownlee, Mr Stevenson made it clear that every other element of the previous Administration's programme remains in place. When I asked about the new priorities, the minister cited the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which, as he admitted, is already in the programme. He then mentioned the study on electrifying the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail line. Therein lies the sleight of hand—the costs of electrifying that line would fall not to the Executive, but to Network Rail's capital programme. The Executive would not have to make any payments until after 2012. The same applies to the Forth road bridge. Let no one be in any doubt that EARL and the trams projects are being killed because the Executive cannot make its sums add up in this session. Any Glasgow to Edinburgh line or Forth road bridge costs will fall in the next session.

Today's debate is about the Parliament's will and whether Edinburgh deserves the proper infrastructure for a capital city. The Scottish National Party has simply lost the argument on EARL and the trams. The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change claimed that the costs were out of control, but they are not. It is telling that the minister did not mention the costs of the projects in his statement. He claimed that he had been vindicated, but he is, in fact, dangerously exposed by briefing against his department and claiming that costs are out of control. The Auditor General for Scotland made it clear—as Mr Stevenson made it clear in his statement—that the real issues relating to EARL are management issues; they are not money issues. Those management issues are for the Executive to fix.

In recent weeks, the Executive has spent money as if it were confetti, and its claims do not wash. It stands condemned of short-sighted self-interest. All the Opposition parties are acting in the interests of the country; the Government's motion, on the other hand, puts party above country. It has been left to the Opposition parties to put the capital first.

Many people in Scotland wanted to give the new Administration the benefit of the doubt. They knew that the SNP's style in opposition had always owed more to the art of condemnation than to compromise, and more to noisy public protest than to quiet negotiation, but many Scots hoped that power would change that. For a little while, we heard promises such as:

"The days of Scottish Government imposing its will on the Parliament are behind us".

It was said:

"My pledge to the Parliament today is that any Scottish Government that is led by me will respect and include the Parliament in the governance of Scotland".—[Official Report, 16 May 2007; c 25, 36.]

That is what the First Minister said. [Interruption.]

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

The First Minister also said:

"we need a Government that is prepared to listen to the Parliament."—[Official Report, 23 May 2007; c 68.]

Such promises will turn to dust today.

In his conclusion, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth might reflect on his own statements. He once mentioned speaking to

"people who cannot believe that, although the Parliament voted for something ... the Executive is able to wriggle out of implementing the will of Parliament.—[Official Report, 15 March 2001; c 592.]

The cabinet secretary is wriggling out of the will of Parliament today. There will be a post-Parliament press conference when the SNP loses the vote. How graceless can things get?

The motion oozes party prejudice and geographic grudge. The cabinet secretary has told us that the costs are out of control. However, encouragingly for Scottish public life, Audit Scotland simply would not be cowed into validating that untrue claim. The Auditor General concluded that the trams projects show clear corporate governance; well-defined project management; sound financial management in reporting; good risk management procedures; and a procurement strategy aimed at minimising risk. Yet, prejudice still prevails. The minister still wants to cancel the projects, washing more than £100 million down the drain to satisfy party prejudice and geographic grudge. So much for the protestations of prudence that we have heard.

The Auditor General states that the Edinburgh airport rail link project remains within the cost envelope of £650 million, as previously stated, with a rise of less than 4 per cent over earlier budget estimates. That is hardly out of control. I pay tribute to the other Opposition parties for their willingness to come together with us in supporting the same amendment. We do not want to burst the budget; we want the leadership that can properly be expected from a Government.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Does Wendy Alexander accept that there must be constraints on the ability of other parties to commit the Government—or to infer that the Government should be committed—to financial commitments outwith the budget process?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

If the cabinet secretary had one shred of evidence that costs were out of control, the word "cost", in respect of EARL or trams, would have appeared in the statement today.

On EARL, because we believe in prudence, we have given the Executive the summer to sort out the governance issues before returning to the chamber. That is entirely reasonable for anyone whose true interest is the delivery of the project. However, we will not allow the SNP to dress up cancellation as prudence or value for money. The truth is that Audit Scotland is telling the Executive that the costs are currently within the financial envelope, and Transport Scotland has told it that EARL has the highest cost benefit ratio of any infrastructure project, including every one that has been mentioned today. Yet the Executive still holds out, refusing to go ahead with the current project.

The Executive is simply wrong on the merits of the schemes. At stake is the future of our capital, which is the powerhouse for Scotland's economic growth. Scotland's capital should not become the victim of the SNP's increasing inability to make its own sums add up in the Parliament. The ministers have known definitively for a week that there is no smoking gun, yet they will not rethink their opposition to the projects.

There are still a few hours left before the vote and, no doubt, SNP members are considering their tactics for their press conference. I ask them to ponder the following. Five weeks ago, our new First Minister promised:

"Our job in the chamber is to lead and to persuade".—[Official Report, 23 May 2007; c 60.]

The Executive has not succeeded in persuading anyone—not the business community; not the Auditor General; not the Parliament.

The Opposition parties are not offering any blank cheques. If we agree to the amendment, the cost of the trams will be capped and the ministers will return to us with a delivery strategy for EARL. If they do not, they will set themselves on a collision course with the parties in the Parliament and send a signal to the people of Scotland that, in the Parliament, it is the Opposition parties and not the Executive that speak for Scotland. Sidelining Parliament just because the Executive can is not smart; it is simply smug and will, ultimately, be self-defeating. The ministers should listen to the siren voices on their own side. Today is the day when, if the Executive does not start listening, it will start losing—now and in the future.

I move amendment S3M-243.1, to leave out from "endorses" to end and insert:

"notes that the Edinburgh Trams project and EARL were approved by the Parliament after detailed scrutiny; further notes the report of the Auditor General for Scotland on these projects and, in light thereof, (a) calls on the Scottish Government to proceed with the Edinburgh Trams project within the budget limit set by the previous administration, noting that it is the responsibility of Transport Initiatives Edinburgh and the City of Edinburgh Council to meet the balance of the funding costs and (b) further calls on the Scottish Government to continue to progress the EARL project by resolving the governance issues identified by the Auditor General before any binding financial commitment is made and to report back to the Parliament in September on the outcome of its discussions with the relevant parties."

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 3:14 pm, 27th June 2007

Of course, we would not be having this debate had the Conservatives not pushed for it during the debate that we had some weeks ago. I am sure that those who are in favour of Parliament making decisions will congratulate us on that.

Notwithstanding the minister's statement, it is difficult to support an Executive motion that endorses the Government's transport priorities when we do not know precisely what those priorities are. Simply publishing the Government's view on each individual project is not the same as indicating which ones are the priorities. That is no different from what the previous Administration did.

On that great day of consensus some weeks ago, when the SNP accepted the amendment to its motion that said that it would not act arbitrarily, it also accepted that all future major transport projects would be properly costed, evaluated and prioritised. When priorities are being set, we have to state which projects rank above the others; it is simply not enough for the Government to say which projects it supports and which it opposes.

We welcome the publication of the Auditor General's report, as we welcomed its invitation. The report is a useful piece of work that provides Parliament and the public with additional information with which to judge the performance of two important transport projects. We therefore commend the Government for inviting the Auditor General to undertake the work, and we commend the review team for producing a comprehensive document in a tight timescale. The more information that we have on any transport project, the better.

At the time, the Audit Scotland review was not universally welcomed; indeed, some condemned it. Today's colleague, Tavish Scott, made the terrible allegation that the cabinet secretary was using the report as a means of trying to find the evidence to support a political decision. I merely point out that in Wendy Alexander's amendment, which I and Tavish Scott support, we are using the Audit Scotland report to support a political decision.

Perhaps the Liberal Democrats have changed their position from that of some weeks ago, when they said that all the projects should go ahead as planned; today's position—that EARL should not go ahead until the problems that were identified by the Auditor General have been sorted—is because the Auditor General indicated that there was precious little planning as far as EARL was concerned.

We will support Wendy Alexander's amendment for several reasons. We support the notion of a cap on the Executive's contribution to the trams. As Wendy Alexander said, there must be no blank cheques. By supporting that amendment, Parliament has the opportunity to send the message that we are in favour of the trams project, but not at any cost. We can also send a signal to TIE and to the City of Edinburgh Council that we will not support a bail-out if they fail to control costs. The Auditor General did not find evidence to suggest that costs are spiralling out of control, but it is up to the promoters to ensure that that remains the case.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Does the member agree that it would be only fair that any additional costs that might be incurred by a delay in either project until autumn should be borne by the Executive?

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

I do not agree with that point in relation to the trams, because I see no reason for there to be a delay on the basis of the Auditor General's report and, unless the issues around EARL can be resolved, I can see no reason for it to continue. The issues have to be addressed and they are serious enough to suggest that, until they are resolved, the project should not proceed, which is what the amendment suggests.

I do not think that the fact that a significant sum of money has already been spent on the trams is in itself sufficient reason for saying that the project should continue. However, the promoter needs to take a long, hard look at the project, given what the Parliament is likely to say today. If the promoter cannot finance the construction of the project within the budget it is allocated, it will bear responsibility for the public money that has been spent.

In the light of the Auditor General's report, it would be reckless to support EARL without seeking to have the issues raised. The report does not kill off EARL; it gives the Government the opportunity to rescue the project and today's amendment provides the Government with the opportunity to come up with options for how EARL could be maintained. There is no objection to Transport Scotland considering alternative methods provided that, in doing so, it does not prevent the existing project from sorting out the issues that were raised by the Auditor General.

All responsible parties in the Parliament accept the need for a new Forth crossing and recognise the scale of the budget that that is likely to require. It would be irresponsible of any Government not to consult properly both on the alternatives for the crossing and on the methods of financing it. We support a new Forth crossing and hope that in procuring one the Government will not put ideology ahead of value for the taxpayer.

Winning today's vote is not the same as forcing the Government to proceed with either EARL or the trams project, but neither is the Government's losing today the same as ending the prospects for a new Forth crossing. It is for the Government to decide what it will do in the light of how Parliament votes today, just as it is for us to decide what we will do in the light of how the Government responds to today's vote.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 3:20 pm, 27th June 2007

I thank Wendy Alexander and offer qualified thanks to Derek Brownlee for working together with us on this important issue. The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative parties are prepared to put aside political differences to work constructively for Scotland.

I agree with the points that Mr Brownlee made on the Forth crossing. Liberal Democrat members support the work that is being and will be done on the crossing. However, we, the Labour Party and the Conservatives will not be deflected from our purpose this afternoon of pinning down the SNP on an issue that it said it would bring back to Parliament. It has not had the courage to do so. [Interruption.] SNP members are shouting, but Mr Swinney should read his motion, which is not about EARL and trams but about many wider issues. Mr Swinney, Mr Stevenson and Mr Salmond said that they would bring EARL and the trams project back to the Parliament, but they have not had the courage to do so. [Interruption.] I ask for quiet from SNP members.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Order. The member has only six minutes.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

On EARL and trams, the SNP has dug a hole for itself. Originally it supported both projects. Then SNP members changed their mind and pledged to scrap them. After the election, realising that the Opposition parties were not playing their game, they backtracked and started to spin themselves into costs being out of control. Messrs Salmond, Swinney and Stevenson claimed on the record that costs were running out of control, but they refused to publish any evidence to prove that.

As the hole got deeper, they commissioned Audit Scotland to find a justification for their position. I accept Derek Brownlee's mild remarks on that point, but the problem for Mr Swinney is that Bob Black did not play ball. The Auditor General concluded that there was no evidence that costs were out of control. I am sure that Mr Swinney is writing down something useful, but he should write down that the Auditor General repeated to the Audit Committee this morning that the cost estimates were robustly prepared. I hope that Mr Swinney will quote those comments back to me when he winds up.

Because the SNP would not publish the evidence to support its cost assertions and blamed Transport Scotland—the Government's own agency—for that, I asked the permanent secretary for an explanation. His letter to me this morning states that Transport Scotland provided incorrect figures to ministers. The permanent secretary tells me that those figures were corrected within a day, so presumably ministers have now been assured by their officials and by the Auditor General that the estimates are sound. Should one day's uncertainty kill a project? No. However, Alex Salmond has pronounced. A day after the publication of Mr Black's report, he kept on digging—he is already halfway to Kirkcaldy. Perhaps the SNP should keep Mr Ewing's policy of tunnelling under the Forth.

The main argument that ministers are now making concerns the management of EARL. Let Parliament be clear about Audit Scotland's report. The Auditor General could have said that governance on EARL was irretrievably broken; he did not. He could have said that the matters that he identified could not be addressed; he manifestly did not. He could have recommended that the project stop because of procurement; he did not. He found no evidence for a recommendation to stop the Edinburgh airport rail project.

Any capital project at this stage in its delivery has governance issues and EARL is a complex project. What, therefore, is the SNP's plan for rail links to the airport? Perhaps in Mr Swinney's winding-up speech, which I am sure will be entertaining and robust, he will elaborate on that plan. I am sure that Mr Swinney accepts that procurement and governance will be issues no matter what the proposal. The SNP has been disparaging about the work that the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee did on the alternatives.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I will give way happily to Christine Grahame, because she was a member of that committee. She will confirm that the committee found a quarter of the benefits at half the cost of the current proposal. So, the SNP alternative produces much less value for money.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

As Tavish Scott is aware, two out of five members of that committee voted against the bill proceeding any further—Jamie McGrigor and me.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I am happy to accept that, but I notice that Christine Grahame did not agree with my central proposition about the value-for-money exercise.

A rail link from all over Scotland to Edinburgh airport is a good project for Scotland. Today, when the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism gave evidence at the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, he spoke sensibly about the importance of infrastructure. Jim Mather quoted the four lessons of success of the Irish Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, who advises as much investment as possible in infrastructure. In Dublin, that now includes an airport rail link.

The SNP is wrong in its assessment of such projects' value to Scotland. Alex Salmond has made much of building a consensus in Parliament and on this issue, there is one: it just does not include the SNP. Let us be clear—if Parliament supports trams and EARL today, and the SNP stops the projects, Alex Salmond will defy the will of Parliament and no amount of spin will get him out of that hole. I urge Parliament to support the amendment in the name of Wendy Alexander.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to the open debate. Speeches will be a tight six minutes because I wish to call many members to speak.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 3:27 pm, 27th June 2007

I declare an interest: my business, which is Scotland-wide, delivers to and services the motor industry.

I know how important trams are to many members in the chamber, but as this is a transport debate, I will speak about a couple of other areas. Although I am in the motor industry, my pet subject, strangely enough, is undergrounds. Why would someone in my industry be interested in undergrounds? The simple, straightforward reason is that undergrounds provide the ability to move folk underground at a time when an increasing number of vehicles are on the roads. We need to make room for a more efficient way of moving people about.

Again, because of my type of business, I have to be abroad a lot. I have been to a number of places and looked at their underground services, which are quite different in many parts of the world. I use the example of Santiago in Chile; although its economy is not exactly cutting edge, it has one of the finest underground services that members could imagine. The number of people that that service can move is quite fantastic.

I was able to go to Prague with the tartan army. That was just—

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Will you confirm whether this speech is relevant to the debate?

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Mr Paterson, I was about to say to you that we are talking about the Edinburgh trams, the EARL project and an additional crossing over the River Forth. I wonder whether you are straying a bit away from that subject. I will listen very carefully to what you have to say over the next minute or so.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I will need to ask for guidance. The Business Bulletin says that this afternoon's business is a transport debate. I am clearly talking about transport.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The motion is quite specific. However, I ask you to carry on. I will listen to your next couple of sentences.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I must point out that the first words of the motion are:

"That the Parliament endorses the Government's transport priorities".

The member's point is that underground is a priority.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The motion goes on to be quite specific. I have said three times—[ Interruption. ] Do not speak to me from a sedentary position. I have said three times that I will listen to what Mr Paterson is about to say. I said that members have a tight six minutes, and he has now lost three.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I will just have to miss out the comments on my forays abroad that prove my point that underground systems are very efficient and should be constructed in Scotland.

When, as a member of the Local Government Committee in the first session of Parliament, I asked representatives of the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority about underground services, I was greeted with the same sniggering and sneering. People in Scotland do not seem to think that they are capable of bringing an underground service to fruition. However, the Glasgow underground system, which is the second oldest in the world, is about to undergo improvements. I am sure that people who were around when it was first opened would see no difference in the present service.

One issue that I think is quite apt in this debate is the M8—or, as I call it, the biggest car park in the United Kingdom. The M8 is the UK's most congested motorway.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I do not think that the M8 was mentioned as a priority of the SNP Government. In any case, as I understand it, this debate is supposed to be about the major priorities of the SNP transport policy, which are to cancel the Edinburgh trams and EARL. Many members want to speak on that subject.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I suppose that one could argue in the loosest sense that those projects will take traffic off the M8. Mr Paterson, I wonder whether we could keep things a bit tighter, please.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

Well, we are talking about a transport strategy and opportunities that might arise if these projects fall. For example, more money will be available for other areas. Surely—

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

For goodness' sake.

Surely if resources became available for the M8 to be expanded, that would benefit Glasgow and Edinburgh. I should be allowed to speak about that subject. The fact is that, if we could open up the M8 to three or four lanes, that would be the best investment that we could make in Scotland. Everyone in Glasgow and Edinburgh would benefit from such a move.

Indeed, I have an awful strong feeling that the people of Edinburgh want something material that will benefit them instead of a straight tramline that goes nowhere. I believe that, if those people knew that they would benefit from investment in improvements in the M8, they would support the SNP today.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 3:34 pm, 27th June 2007

It has taken us some time to reach this point, but I want to state my support for the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative amendment to the SNP motion. The projects are absolutely vital to the sustainable economic progress that is encapsulated in the cabinet secretary's portfolio. They reflect years of consultation and development and are vital to the capital's future development—which is, in turn, vital to the future of Scotland.

In the early days of the Parliament, those of us who were in the Executive were criticised for our lack of ambition because, at that time, we were not proposing trams. Over recent years, a revolution has taken place in transport funding but, for all that, John Swinney will still face challenges in managing his responsibilities. He inherits a budget that has increased massively since the Parliament's early days. His challenge is to retain that level of expenditure through the spending review.

The three projects that are mentioned in today's motion are all crucial for Scotland. Although they are at different stages, have different management structures and stakeholders and face different financial challenges, the Government cannot run away from managing and delivering them. That it takes years to develop major transport infrastructure does not fit easily with the four-year term of office that we have as members of the Parliament, or with the recycling of transport ministers that takes place.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Not just now, thank you.

I hope that the SNP will listen to the voices of members from all round the chamber on the trams project and EARL.

Transport connections in the east of Scotland have been improved, with crossrail and phase 1 of the Waverley project. Plans are progressing for an interchange at Haymarket and there are park and rides around the city, but they and all the developments that Stewart Stevenson mentioned are simply not enough. An excellent bus service is not enough for the capital's future—more strategic investment in capacity on the key corridors in the city is needed. Our roads in the city and across central Scotland's motorway network are grinding to a halt, so the trams project and EARL are vital if we are to achieve modal shift.

Over the past decade, we have created 50,000 jobs in Edinburgh. The future development of the city region will require mass transit, which means trams. The Auditor General's report highlights the robustness of the approach that has been taken to management of the trams project. The explanation for the enthusiasm of business for trams in Edinburgh is that businesspeople know that if we want to create 35,000 new jobs in our capital, we will need the infrastructure to service them and to get people from their houses to those employment opportunities. We must do that by delivering reliable, high-quality services that connect with other types of public transport.

Parliament has discussed the National Audit Office's report on several occasions and the lessons from it have been learned and built into the trams project. The proposals that we are discussing seek to integrate bus, rail and car. More can be done on cycling.

The business case has yet to be produced, but we cannot stop the trams project now. Are the ministers seriously suggesting that we should stop it and wait until we have the business case, which would mean losing months of progress? I ask the ministers to reflect on the fact that we are at a critical point in the process. In his statement, Stewart Stevenson expressed regret that a great deal of money has been spent on trams without a metre of track being laid, but no one would build an office block without putting in secure foundations. The whole point of the money that is being spent is that it is needed for the preparatory work for the laying of the tracks.

Today's debate is a useful reality check for ministers. If they think that the trams project is a difficult scheme, they should wait until they manage the Commonwealth games project, if Glasgow's bid is successful. Managing the trams project will be good practice for that. The key questions are whether it stacks up and whether it is well managed. The Auditor General gave it a clean bill of health.

I ask John Swinney to listen to what members who have debated the topic for years, and people outside Parliament, are saying. He should listen to the business community, to the further and higher education institutions that need to be connected to the tram system and to residents and environmental groups in Edinburgh, who are all asking us to proceed with the trams project.

Stewart Stevenson was wrong to say that if we proceed with the Edinburgh projects, he will be in charge of "boom and bust" in transport. He has the opportunity to manage for the long term. That is his inheritance—it reflects the fact that the Scottish Parliament has worked with the UK Labour Government, with the result that our spending on public services has more than doubled. That represents a massive opportunity, which Parliament must seize.

It is not acceptable for the Government to exercise prejudice by selecting two from a raft of projects and to condemn Edinburgh to years of congestion then grinding to a halt by putting a stop to new developments that are crucial to the city's development. We must tackle congestion and provide improved connectivity and increased capacity in our rail infrastructure: the trams will link in with those objectives. The Edinburgh projects are ambitious, but they are achievable and they represent value for money. In other words, they perform the very tasks that Stewart Stevenson set out in his statement.

We cannot allow the new Government to condemn our capital city to grinding to a halt, nor can we allow it to condemn Scotland's sustainable economic future by cancelling the EARL and Edinburgh tram projects. They are vital if our city region is to remain competitive with the rest of Europe, which is why I urge every member to think seriously about voting for the amendment, which commands support not only across the chamber but outside it.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 3:40 pm, 27th June 2007

I regret that we are debating the two separate transport projects under a single motion. The arguments for the two projects are different and neither project is contingent on the other.

Public support for the trams project is overwhelming, as members will have seen in a research report earlier this month. There is support for the project from businesses, from local employers and from people who would use the tram service to commute. There is support across the political spectrum and, with the exception of the SNP, all political parties have consistently supported the tram scheme. There is also support from sustainable transport organisations and non-governmental environment organisations. Given that level of broad support for the tram scheme, it is time just to "Get on with it!", to quote the Evening News. The project is on course and does not have the complex governance problems that the Government claimed it would find. I fear that raising issues around diversions in the project for utilities is close to clutching at straws.

On the EARL project, there is less consensus, not necessarily in Parliament, but outside it. Sustainable transport organisations and environmental organisations in Scotland oppose EARL. There are options other than that scheme and difficult management issues in the scheme have been identified, so the issues around EARL are different.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I seek clarification from Patrick Harvie. Previous contributions from the Greens on EARL were based on the Greens' fundamental opposition to transport links to airports because they would feed the increase in the use of airports. However, the Greens' amendment, which was not accepted for debate, seemed to suggest that the Greens prefer an alternative airport link project. Will the member clarify the basis of the Greens' opposition to EARL?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am happy to do that. Mr McNulty is simply misinformed. We do not have a fundamental objection to public transport routes to airports. In fact, we supported the Glasgow airport rail link, albeit that we did so with not a great deal of enthusiasm, but we came down in favour of it.

The answer to Des McNulty's question, like the answer to Tavish Scott's earlier question, hangs on something that Chris Harvie said in his question to the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change. Chris Harvie talked about peak oil, and about our need in the 21st century to burn less of the stuff, full stop. We will be unable to afford, financially and environmentally, to burn more of it. Therefore, a project such as EARL, which is contingent on continued dramatic expansion in aviation, is unsustainable and unjustifiable. However, a smaller-scale project—in the context of a reduction in the expansion in aviation that we must find a way of explaining to ourselves—which Tavish Scott might feel had a less favourable cost-benefit ratio, would become much more justifiable.

The EARL and Edinburgh tram projects are different and exist in different contexts, so it is a shame that we are debating them together under a single motion. However, even without our amendment, which proposed to remove the call in Wendy Alexander's amendment for work to continue on EARL, many of us feel that the EARL project is so fatally flawed that it will kill itself off without the need for a parliamentary motion.

I acknowledge that only one political party—the Scottish Green Party—currently rejects the expansion of aviation on which EARL hangs, and recognises the unsustainable nature of the project.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

No, thank you.

Because of that situation, there is a case for saying that Parliament has endorsed EARL and that work on it should proceed. Given that argument, I will certainly not want to throw the baby out with the bath water, so I will support Wendy Alexander's amendment. [Applause.] Oh, it is nice to have an effect, isn't it?

On the need to recognise the will of Parliament, I ask members to listen to this, whatever side of the argument they fall on: members of all parties should remember that one day they may find themselves trying to run a minority Administration and that the precedents that we set now will apply at that time. Anybody who wants minority Government to be workable should acknowledge that there are questions that we have not even begun to articulate about how the budget process can work under a minority Administration and still reflect the democratic will of Parliament.

If we are willing to put the country ahead of our parties, as Wendy Alexander rightly calls on us to do, we can resolve those questions. The best thing the Government can do to strike the right tone for that debate is to accept that, on this first and most contentious occasion, it must bite the bullet and build and pay for the Edinburgh trams.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 27th June 2007

Today's debate and decision will have a major effect on Scotland's transport network and on how Scotland is governed. The question of how we will proceed with a minority Government is pertinent. If we agree that the criteria of there being sound justification and a robust business case, which the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change mentioned in his statement, are those on which we should move, we must acknowledge that some previous projects did not meet those criteria. Our manifesto said that we would remove the tram and EARL projects so that reconfiguring of Scotland's transport priorities could be undertaken. That is the key to much of what I will say.

There are large areas that have unmet need, none of which was addressed by the previous Government, which went from project to project without a strategy. The ability to deliver the EARL project has already been called into question—the amendment acknowledges that the Auditor General's report reveals that the project has many flaws. That said, it is important to consider the alternatives, which the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill Committee could not discuss, such as the Turnhouse rail airport integrated link—TRAIL—project, the Dalmeny loop and the potential for a siding or a short loop beside the existing railway that would go past the airport. Those projects would cost a lot less, fit into a transport strategy and help to speed up the journey time between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

I welcome the minister's commitment to the proposals for electrification of the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am not taking an intervention from Sarah Boyack.

The circumstances of the tram proposals are a problem. As a member of the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill Committee, I saw a proposal for the circular route of tramline 1. However, only a small fraction of that proposal is to be delivered. We will not get until later—and then only if the figures stack up—the part of the line that would include the social inclusion area at Granton. We will not get the tram proposals that Parliament approved; we will get a travesty of them. That is what the Opposition is asking us to sign up to today.

On the ability to pay, United Kingdom ministers have already turned down tram projects in Leeds and Liverpool, and the extension of the Manchester system on the basis that it could not be guaranteed that the costs would be kept down. Therefore, given Parliament's budget constraints, it is prudent for our Government to take stock and to ask Parliament to have a care in doing the job.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party


Does Rob Gibson agree that one of the difficulties with EARL and the trams project is that, if we invest in those projects, many worthy projects in Scotland will be denied money? For example, the Glasgow crossrail proposal would cost approximately a quarter of the cost of either of those two projects and would, if progressed, open up the north, south, east and west of Scotland.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

That is exactly the point that I am making. That kind of project, which could help us all, was not part of the project-by-project approach that we had in the past.

We should listen to people from other parts of Scotland. In the north, we have been virtually excluded from the transport strategy. I will mention three aspects of that.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party


The Sutherland Partnership's transport group has talked about the need to fulfil the potential of Sutherland's railways for growth in passenger and freight services. We need extra train services to the far north, increased use of rail for moving timber, and shorter journey times brought about through rail infrastructure improvements, which I say should include the Dornoch rail link. However, we cannot deliver those projects, because they were never thought about earlier. Transport partnerships are submitting plans to the minister that are far from being ambitious enough to be part of a strategy.

The contradictions in the ways in which members from the north have been behaving are shown up by their attitude towards the proposed new Forth crossing. In a column in the John O'Groat Journal, Jamie Stone took Fergus Ewing to task for saying that the number 1 priority of the SNP was a new Forth road bridge. Jamie Stone claimed that that would "scupper all the improvements" in Highland constituencies.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Not yet—I will finish quoting first. Mr Stone continued by saying that Mr Ewing

"would do well to remember the Highlands—a good distance from the Firth of Forth and the central belt."

Despite that, Mr Stone will be voting for these projects in Edinburgh and not for projects in the north of Scotland. How interesting.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

The member may like to consider why I wrote to the minister, Stewart Stevenson, a month ago to ask that previously agreed improvements to the A9, such as those at the Ord, would be continued. Five weeks later, I have received no reply. Why is that, if what the member says is so true?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I think that we will see that Stewart Stevenson will be able to deliver that kind of project, and I look forward to the Scottish Government doing just that.

"From the point of view of Scotland—and Inverness—cancellation is certainly the best option."

So said the Inverness Courier yesterday. The editorial continued:

"So we urge all our area's MSPs, of whatever party, to vote against the Edinburgh schemes as currently proposed tomorrow."

That is the view from outside Edinburgh, and that is the view that suggests that we do not yet have a Scottish strategy. This Government is likely to create such a strategy, despite having inherited a mess.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:51 pm, 27th June 2007

Three weeks ago in the chamber, the decision of the Scottish Executive to invite the Auditor General for Scotland to report on the Edinburgh trams project and the EARL project was scorned and criticised by the parties of the former Executive—particularly by the touchy Mr Tavish Scott, who seems unduly sensitive about the pet projects that, until recently, fell into the domain of his leader Mr Stephen and himself, as the ministers who were responsible for transport. By contrast, the Scottish Conservatives fully supported the invitation to the Auditor General. Not only did we argue, quite correctly, that an incoming Scottish Executive is entitled to review the spending priorities of its predecessor, but we argued that, in the case of these two major projects, nothing was to be lost and everything was to be gained by the review. We said that the ultimate decisions would be better informed as a result. We were right and the Scottish Executive was right. The parties of the previous Executive were wrong. I say that in relation both to the Edinburgh trams project and the Edinburgh airport rail link project.

The Auditor General has given a clean bill of health to the management of the trams project. That is good news. Any sensible person would say that it was well worth a fortnight's wait to have that confirmed. The terms of the Auditor General's report enable us to proceed with greater confidence in that major project. I hope that the report will also go some way towards countering mounting public concern. There is absolutely no doubt that public support in Edinburgh for trams has waned significantly over the past two or three years. Although the project once enjoyed widespread if—some might say—uncritical support in the capital, I now find, as an MSP with an Edinburgh constituency, that opinion is very evenly divided.

One reason for the waning in support has undoubtedly been a severe loss of confidence in the outgoing Labour council, which was recently confirmed at the ballot box. However, let us not forget that the project as originally conceived in the two bills that were passed during the previous session for tramline 1 and tramline 2, has been scaled down considerably. That has been euphemistically described by the promoters of the scheme as "phasing". We now have phase 1a, phase 1b, phase 2 and phase 3. However, there is not a penny piece in the pot for the later phases.

It is interesting that although the project has been scaled down, the financial contribution of the Scottish Executive has not. The contribution was set by the previous Executive at £375 million, index linked, and the promoters of the scheme were supposed to find the balance that would be required to complete the two lines in their entirety. However, as we know, that will not now happen.

However, there has been no corresponding pro rata reduction in the financial commitment of the Scottish Executive. Instead, it was confirmed that the full funding allocation would be made available to the City of Edinburgh Council for the construction of phase 1a from Leith to the airport. We simply cannot go on like this in relation to the trams project, which is why, on publication of the Auditor General's report last week, the Conservatives said that not a penny more of public funding should be committed by the Scottish Executive to the project. It is, in our view, time to volley the ball back into the court of TIE and the City of Edinburgh Council, and to make it clear to them that as promoters of the scheme it is their responsibility to bridge any funding gap, and that they alone are responsible for deciding whether to proceed with the project and how that gap will be funded.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I do not disagree with David McLetchie on that. Does he agree that, given the importance of the trams project to the waterfront area and the great deal of work that has been done there on building homes, there is also a part to be played by the private sector in Edinburgh?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

I agree entirely with Margaret Smith on that, and I very much hope that TIE and the council will be able to obtain financial contributions from that source for the extension of the scheme.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am interested in Mr McLetchie's line of argument about the need for the project to be delivered as people expect it to be delivered. If a cap is applied to the project in the fashion that he envisages, would it be legitimate for TIE or the City of Edinburgh Council to come back with a proposal that had been scaled back from the one that we have before us?

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

No, I do not. We have got to the end of the line—if I can put it that way—in relation to scaling back. The responsibility now lies with the council either to commit or not to commit to delivering the project as currently envisaged, on time and on budget. If it cannot do so, it should not go ahead.

In relation to EARL, the Auditor General's report has disclosed a disquieting state of affairs. No responsible Government or political party could vote to proceed before the issues relating to the governance and management of the project have been properly addressed. The second part of the amendment echoes what the Conservatives said when the report was published; namely, that those issues have to be resolved before we go any further with EARL and before any more public money is committed to the project.

As members know, the Conservatives were critical of aspects of the EARL project, particularly whether it represented value for money, given its price tag. We pressed the promoters for further information about alternatives, such as the Turnhouse option. As a result of our efforts, such information was made available to Parliament. At the time, that constructive approach to EARL was in stark contrast to the Scottish National Party, which professed support for a rail link to Edinburgh airport but failed to specify the nature of its alternative. I understand that the Government will make alternative proposals. Although it is belated, that is welcome. The necessary pause while the governance issues are resolved is, equally, an opportunity for other options to be considered. The Conservatives will give that fair consideration when those options are presented. I support the amendment.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 3:58 pm, 27th June 2007

I was one of the members who very much welcomed the talk of new politics after the election, which was variously described by ministers as including the Parliament, co-operating with other parties, and deploying rational argument instead of mere assertion. We will see how the Government includes Parliament later on in the day, but there was precious little sign of rational argument against the tram and EARL in the statement today. There were only some spurious points about Glasgow to Edinburgh rail electrification and a new Forth bridge, both of which Labour supports, but neither of which will involve any capital expenditure in this parliamentary session. I suppose that the Government tried out those new spurious arguments because its old spurious arguments were blown out of the water by the Audit Scotland report.

On trams, emphatically nothing in the report said that the cost of the trams was running out of control, as the transport minister rashly put it a week or two ago. Indeed, Audit Scotland said that there were sound arrangements in place to manage the project.

Of course, Audit Scotland made different points on EARL but, in our amendment, we take on board the recommendations for governance arrangements that are proposed in the report.

In flapping about to find arguments about the trams—in the past few weeks in particular—the Government has continually confused EARL and the trams. It has also rolled up the costs of phases 1a and 1b of the trams project although it is phase 1a for which Parliament has given money and there is £45 million more than is required for the completion of that phase. It has also ignored Audit Scotland's evidence that there is a series of measures in place to keep the price of the trams project under control, including fixed-price contracts. All that it has been able to refer to in the past week or two is the cost of utilities diversion, but there are significant contingencies in place for that. Indeed, nobody with more experience of digging up Edinburgh can be found than the company that has been awarded that part of the contract.

I am astonished that the Government is ignoring all the evidence and the long list of supporters of the trams that TRANSform Scotland sent to us in its briefing today. It is also ignoring the long list of countries that have developed trams—countries that, in other circumstances, the SNP has been pleased to praise. I mentioned the example of Dublin to the First Minister three or four weeks ago. I seem to remember that he said that he would examine the trams there, so I hope that he will do that quickly. I remind members that the tram network in Dublin was built only two years ago and is now being developed. The trams there are becoming longer and more frequent, and new lines are being developed, some of them with the help of the private sector. Congestion in Dublin is down and economic development that is directly attributable to the trams is up.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

On ignoring evidence, does Malcolm Chisholm remember that, when he was a member of the first Scottish Executive, it approved the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line at a cost of £13 million? It has been announced today that the project will cost between £80 million and £85 million. The previous transport ministers—Tavish Scott and Sarah Boyack—would not take interventions from me earlier in the debate, so will Malcolm Chisholm apologise on behalf of the previous Executive to the constituents who moved into my area but will be unable to use the link until next July?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

There is a valid discussion to be had about that point, but it is of no relevance to the point that I am making about the Edinburgh trams project. We cannot say that inevitably there will, because there have been cost overruns on one project, be cost overruns on the other. The people who are involved in developing the Edinburgh trams project have learned the financial lessons of other such projects. They have also learned the lesson of the necessity of integrating trams with buses, which is at the heart of the proposal.

Buses alone, which seem to be the SNP's favoured option, will not in themselves solve Edinburgh's congestion problems. We all know that Princes Street and Leith Walk, both of which are in my constituency, are already at saturation point with buses. We need trams to complement buses in order to stop Edinburgh and Leith from grinding to a halt in the years to come. That might not happen tomorrow, but we must look to the future.

Trams are also catalysts for investment, jobs and regeneration. The pace and scale of the waterfront development in my constituency will be curtailed if the trams do not go ahead. They will bring jobs to the people and connect people to the jobs.

The other crucial issue is the environment and climate change. I praise the new Government for the emphasis that it has placed on climate change, but it is utterly inconsistent to speak of that and to scrap a project that will reduce emissions, run on renewable energy once the Government's policies on renewable energy have been implemented and is proven across the world to be the most effective way of getting motorists out of their cars.

Today is a defining day for the Parliament. It is a defining day for being serious about climate change, congestion in Edinburgh and economic development throughout Scotland. It is also a defining day for the new politics and responsible minority Government. For all those reasons, I hope that the Government will accept Wendy Alexander's amendment.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 4:04 pm, 27th June 2007

I welcome Stewart Stevenson's comments about the new Forth crossing—that has obviously shocked him so much that he has had to leave the chamber. I am pleased that the Government has decided not to make a quick decision on the basis of the recommendation to have another bridge close to the existing crossing. When I met the minister last week I made the case for a tunnel further upstream and pointed out the need to stream traffic across the river Forth and the great impact that another bridge at Queensferry would have on my constituents. It is only right that not only my constituents, but people in Fife and West Lothian have the chance to be involved in a consultation on what is probably the most important transport project for our country.

I heard what the minister said about being committed to the Borders railway. However, I remember that the SNP was once committed to trams and the Edinburgh airport rail link, so I take his statement with a pinch of salt.

I will focus the rest of my remarks on trams and EARL. We need modal shift in Edinburgh, which the trams can help to provide, and we need integration and a robust approach to Edinburgh's congestion problems, which the two projects would also provide. Whether we like it or not, buses are not enough.

Over the past few weeks, the SNP has scaremongered that costs were running out of control and even enlisted the independent Auditor General in an attempt to prove it. It then spun the Audit Scotland report on trams and EARL to suggest that it said something that it quite clearly does not say. The Auditor General said in the report, and repeated at today's meeting of the Audit Committee, which I attended, that the financial management of both projects is sound. I can only imagine the disappointment of Messrs Stevenson and Swinney when they read what the Auditor General said about the trams project:

"Arrangements in place to manage the project appear sound with:

• a clear corporate governance structure for the project which involves all key stakeholders • clearly defined project management and organisation • sound financial management and reporting • procedures in place to actively manage risks associated with the project

• a clear procurement strategy aimed at minimising risk and delivering successful project outcomes."

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I repeat that we still support the Borders railway.

Did the Auditor General not say to the Audit Committee this morning that unless and until the main organisations involved in the rail link, including Network Rail and Edinburgh airport owner BAA, were fully signed up to the project, its progress would be uncertain? As yet, there is no sign that Network Rail and BAA are fully signed up.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

The minister will have to live in anticipation of what I will say next on that.

On trams, Audit Scotland made it clear that

"unless work progresses to plan, the cost and time targets may not be met."

The Government's approach is therefore hardly prudent, given that the Audit Committee heard today that every month of delay costs the taxpayer £4 million.

As I said in a previous transport debate—I am happy to send Derek Brownlee a copy of that speech—it is not about signing a blank cheque, but about monitoring the project and taking it through the final business case, having the City of Edinburgh Council and TIE work within the budget given to them and making progress on the delivery of a modern transport system for our capital.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat


Anyone who listened to the Auditor General at the Audit Committee today could be in no doubt about the robustness of the trams project. Many of the key issues about contracts, tender contracts and the funding in place for phase 1a were well covered in that exchange.

I have supported the airport rail link, which is a nationally important project, but we accept that, given Audit Scotland's comments about governance and procurement, it is right that those issues should be re-examined. That is what the Opposition amendment allows the Government to do. Surely ministers' role is to try to tackle the sorts of problems that have arisen, which are not insurmountable. I stress a crucial point: I expect ministers to get BAA and Network Rail to the table and to tackle the issues, not to run away from them.

It is worth remembering that the Audit Scotland report confirms that the financial management appears sound, but that the rail link project is

"at a relatively early stage".

It is only weeks since the bill was agreed by Parliament. If the SNP is going to re-examine and stop every major transport project every time there is a problem, we will never see another Forth crossing, the Borders railway or the dualling of the A9. The Opposition amendment represents a sensible, balanced way forward. It is time for the SNP to accept that it did not win a majority of seats and that the Opposition parties are united against it in supporting the proposals that we, too, took to the Scottish electorate and for which we secured greater support.

It is time for the SNP to listen to and respect the will of Parliament. A few weeks ago, the SNP won a famous victory, possibly because many Scots felt that it was time for a change, time for a new politics. What they have got instead is old politics in which, for some MSPs, the only good idea is one that they have had themselves and the arguments of robust commentators, independent auditors, free spirits on the SNP's back benches and civic Scotland are to be treated with contempt and ignored.

I hope that, tonight, Parliament will vote for a better transport future for our capital city and defeat the Government. I hope that Parliament will endorse progress on these important projects for the good of Edinburgh and Scotland and will ensure that the will of Parliament prevails. It's time!

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:10 pm, 27th June 2007

That woke me up.

I welcome the commitment by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change to the re-establishment of the Borders railway by means of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006. Of course, I am concerned about the statements about other issues relating to funding, but I and members of other parties have been raising those issues for some time. For example, on 15 June 2006, Derek Brownlee asked a parliamentary question about the increase in the cost of the Airdrie to Bathgate line. The question was:

"To ask the Scottish Executive whether any of the factors which led to the reported increase in cost of the Airdrie to Bathgate rail line could recur in the construction of the Waverley line and, if so, what these factors are and what the financial impact might be."

In the interests of fairness, I will quote Tavish Scott's whole answer. He said:

"The increases in cost estimate associated with Airdrie to Bathgate are a result of scheme refinement and clarification issues in the early stages of scheme development. The scope of the Borders railway is more defined and therefore further cost increases from such refinement processes are not anticipated, apart from those which may come about from amendments to the bill by the bill committee."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 16 June 2006; S2W-26449.]

That is a fairly recent answer. I am, therefore, delighted that Transport Scotland is undertaking a review of the situation because there have been issues about whether the funding structure that was in place for the line would deliver. Indeed, when David Mundell asked the Liberal Democrat minister with responsibility for transport, Nicol Stephen, whether the Executive would fund any shortfall in the final cost of the Waverley line over and above the £151 million that had already been identified, Nicol Stephen replied:

"Responsibility for identifying and securing any additional funding required for the project rests with the bill promoters."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 2 June 2005; S2W-16645.]

That was the Liberal Democrat position. It is most unfair of the Liberal Democrats to criticise us. We have been in Government for only 42 days; they were in Government for 2,921. I have a feeling that it is reminiscent of Oliver Hardy looking at Stan Laurel and talking about another fine mess.

There is a huge amount of good will towards the Borders railway in this chamber—there has been since 1999—but we must examine the financing of it. I invite the minister or the cabinet secretary to meet me and councillor David Parker to discuss the issues and lay to rest any fears that might be being falsely spun—heaven forfend—by the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Does the member accept that the authorised administrator, as announced by the previous Administration, is to be Transport Scotland, which is the responsibility of transport ministers? Given that the authorised administrator is, indeed, the Scottish Executive, why should Borderers be asked to fill a gap the size of which we have not been told? Why should Borderers be asked to pay for what the authorised administrator—

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Rather than stirring up mud, Jeremy Purvis should wait for the due diligence that is being undertaken by Transport Scotland to show him what the actual position is. I repeat, if there is a funding deficit, it certainly was not created by those on this side of the chamber; it will have existed before we took office. That is the issue. There is no one who is more committed to the Borders railway than I am, but if there is a funding gap, Liberal Democrat ministers were in charge of it.

It is a falsity to say that, if we do not proceed with the Edinburgh airport rail link, the Borders railway will stop. In fact, if we proceed with the particular airport rail link that is being proposed, we might not have money in our pockets to pay for other transport schemes. The EARL project is a specific link; it is not simply a surface route to Edinburgh airport. It is a link that diverts the River Almond, the Gogar burn and goes under a live runway and there are indemnity issues associated with all that.

I sat through the committee proceedings. At the end, hand on heart, I could not say that the evidence showed that the project should be funded for £650 million, £1,000 million or whatever the sum would turn out to be. I know that members agree that, when projects involve spending such large amounts of money, the private bills procedure is not the right way to proceed because there is simply not the scrutiny of funding that there ought to be. The scrutiny is wholly inadequate.

I acknowledge Patrick Harvie's fair comments on the Edinburgh airport rail link, but I do not see how he can vote for the Labour amendment. During the debate on the motion to pass the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill, Chris Ballance said:

"we do not support the Edinburgh airport rail link. We remain absolutely unconvinced that it is a priority as a way to connect Edinburgh airport to the rail network or as a missing link in the national rail network."—[Official Report, 14 March 2007; c 33148.]

I do not think that it is enough for Patrick Harvie to say that the project will wither on the vine and die. He should come clean. He should say that he has been stitched up and that he wants to vote against the amendment.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The member is in her last minute.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You are in your last minute.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I apologise to Patrick Harvie.

In conclusion, the Edinburgh airport rail link simply must not proceed. Despite what David McLetchie said, I do not know how the projects could be capped. Would we start building the railway or trams and then stop at some point? We should come clean and say that the Edinburgh airport rail link project is a disaster. We need a surface link. I thank the minister again for endorsing the Borders railway.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 4:16 pm, 27th June 2007

The two Edinburgh tramline bills were introduced in January 2004. While our new First Minister was relaxing at Westminster, MSPs were working hard for the future of Scotland. There was extensive consultation during the two years that followed and overwhelming support was expressed by the public and in Parliament. The bills were passed in March 2006 and royal assent was given to the Edinburgh Tram (Line Two) Bill in April 2006 and to the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill in May 2006.

That support continues. Some 77 per cent of students at Telford College would use the tram, more than half of them leaving cars to do so. At the Scottish Gas headquarters at Granton, 81 per cent of staff would use the tram, 63 per cent of whom currently drive to work. Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce announced that an online poll of its members showed that 75 per cent were in favour of the tram. In the Parliament, 84 MSPs voted for line 1 and only 17 voted against it. For line 2, 88 voted in favour and only 20 voted against. There was support from throughout the chamber—from Labour, Liberals, Tories, Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and independents. The supporters included two SNP members—Rob Gibson and Alasdair Morgan. A majority of members supported the tram.

We have had more than a year to work towards implementing the acts. The project is robust and financially secure, as John Swinney demanded, unless the Executive has made it otherwise. By last month, £79 million had been spent. Cancelling the project now would be an enormous waste of public funds and an affront to public aspirations. However, our minority Executive is attempting to overturn the result of the democratic process, not in an up-front, principled, democratic way, but by avoiding votes that would be lost, by creating uncertainty through delay and by using that uncertainty and delay to undermine the project. That is shabby treatment of the public and those who have worked hard to make trams a reality. It is also another example of a policy that is inconsistent with the Executive's avowed concern for the environment.

If the Executive does not respect the wishes of Parliament, the Executive does not deserve respect. If we are heading in the direction of chairman Salmond developing his dictatorial tendencies, it is the Parliament's duty to assert democratic control. Parliament must protect the democratic process and must not allow a minority to derail the trams. Otherwise, what will happen next? Is anything safe from the clutches of nationalist mismanagement?

It should be noted that the SNP's conversion to dictatorship from the Executive has been somewhat sudden.

With regard to the Presiding Officer's ruling that the Executive does not have to accept the views of Parliament except for acts, motions of no confidence, tax-varying powers and so on, I note that the question has been raised before. I recall what happened in 2001 when the Executive did not feel bound by a vote when it was defeated on a casting vote against the status quo. I also recall the outcry—the stushie—from folk such as Alex Salmond, John Swinney, Fiona Hyslop, Nicola Sturgeon, Kenny MacAskill, Richard Lochhead, Linda Fabiani, Bruce Crawford, Adam Ingram, Shona Robison, Fergus Ewing, Michael Russell and many others, including a certain Mr Alex Fergusson, who signed a motion stating that

"Parliament agrees that it is the national representative body of the Scottish people, with responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the people on devolved matters, and therefore, in keeping with Scotland's democratic tradition, demands that the Scottish Executive implement all such decisions of the Parliament".

I also recall it being said that

"We are not interested in the Executive's 'having regard to' or listening to Parliament; we want the Government to tell us how it will implement the will of Parliament."—[Official Report, 15 March 2001; c 590.]

That was from John Swinney. I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now—the Executive should implement the will of the Parliament.

Legally, the Alex Salmond for First Minister party, which appears in the motion to have been—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Order. Is the member going to address the motion in the near future?

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You are beginning to stray from it. You should come back to it in your last minute.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

I am not straying. Morally, the Executive should support the legislation. It was passed by the Parliament, and it should be supported. I have no confidence in an Executive with such blatant disregard for democracy, the will of the people and the will of the Scottish Parliament. I support the amendment in Wendy Alexander's name.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 4:21 pm, 27th June 2007

I point out to Cathy Peattie that the Presiding Officer, regardless of who it has been, has never voted against the status quo. He has always voted for the status quo, which is why the Government was defeated when it was.

I welcome the minister's commitment to a new Forth crossing. He is well aware that I am not concerned about whether it is a bridge or a tunnel, but that whatever is chosen is started and completed as quickly as possible. I continue to be concerned that there will be a gap between 2013, when the bridge is likely to be closed to heavy goods vehicle traffic, and 2016, when the new crossing is expected to open.

I recognise that the delay can be laid exclusively at the door of the previous Executive. In November 2005, I asked:

"Does the First Minister recognise or even acknowledge the strategic importance of the Forth road bridge for the whole of Scotland?

"Does he understand that, at the very least, the bridge is facing frequent closure for repair, that heavy goods vehicles are likely to banned from it from 2013 and that the Executive needs to have a plan B in place? Will he therefore give an undertaking that the work on the case for a new Forth crossing will begin now?"

The First Minister said:

"It would be particularly stupid of us to start to carry out the work on a new Forth road bridge... That is a particularly daft suggestion and we will not take it up."—[Official Report, 17 November 2005; c 20862.]

That is the reason why there is likely to be a gap between 2013 and 2016.

Notwithstanding the tardiness of the previous Executive, I hope that, in summing up, the cabinet secretary will give some comfort on that matter. I urge him to take the opportunity to give confidence to the businesses from the east of Scotland that the gap can be closed. We cannot have a situation in which there is no Forth crossing for HGVs between 2013 and 2016.

Let me turn to public transport options on the bridgehead. We need better and cheaper train journeys from Fife if we are to reduce both the pressure on the bridge and carbon emissions. Until the rail prices are reduced and there is a more frequent service from Edinburgh to Fife and northwards, there will be continuing pressures on whatever crossing is built. Whether we keep to the existing bridge, build a new bridge or build a tunnel, there will always be pressure at that point unless we do something about the number of commuters going in each direction. That is why I urge the minister to look seriously at what can be done to ensure that the rail operators reduce fares. It costs over £14 a day for a return ticket from Markinch to Edinburgh. That is simply out of many people's reach. I understand why people take their cars to work in such circumstances.

The question whether an incoming Government should be allowed to determine its own priorities has been thrown up several times today and in previous weeks. Margaret Smith said that we are engaging in the old politics and that we will have our way, regardless. I refer her to what Sarah Boyack—who is not in the chamber—once said. In 1999, as the Minister for Transport and the Environment in the incoming Labour-Liberal Executive, Sarah Boyack made a statement in which she ditched the previous Conservative Government's commitment to improvements to the Preston roundabout on the A92 to Balfarg, which is in my constituency, and reduced the A8000 from trunk road status. There was a debate, but the majority Government held no vote on whether what was proposed should be implemented.

I was the convener of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill Committee, not one member of which was convinced of the robustness of the funding and the business case for the Borders railway, which is why we insisted on the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications coming to the committee and giving commitments. It is important to keep commitments.

I welcome the minister's statement and the debate.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 4:26 pm, 27th June 2007

For transport specialists like me, this is a significant day. We are debating the Edinburgh trams schemes and the Edinburgh airport rail link—two major transport projects. It is also pleasing and—I admit—surprising, that we have been given more details about the Scottish Government's transport project priorities.

The Auditor General's report on the two Edinburgh projects was the subject of extensive questioning and discussion in this morning's meeting of the Parliament's Audit Committee. We agreed to note the report and we noted the Auditor General's previously planned review of major capital projects, which will appear on the committee's future agendas. That said, any views that I express in this debate are not necessarily the Audit Committee's views.

The ministerial statement that preceded the debate has tended to overshadow it, which was clearly the Government's intention. The Government intended a pre-emptive strike—or perhaps I should say a pre-emptive smokescreen. To be fair, Labour supports much of the Government agenda that the minister outlined in his statement. I refer to the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link, the Glasgow airport rail link—although I am disappointed by the year-long delay in that project—the Waverley station improvements, the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine—

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

It may be helpful to the member to know that, by consolidating the GARL and signalling improvement projects, the overall work between Glasgow and the airport will be completed sooner. We regard that as an important guarantee that there will be no disruption as a result of work on that line in advance of 2014, which is an important year for Glasgow.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

I am grateful to the minister for that clarification.

We have a shared agenda on the completion of the M74, the M8 link at Baillieston to Newhouse, the M80 Stepps to Haggs project, and, of course, the Aberdeen bypass. Like the Government, we support a new Forth crossing and electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail line, but those schemes do not impact in a major way on the Government or on this parliamentary session. The new Forth crossing is at least nine years away and electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh line could be funded by Network Rail under its United Kingdom responsibilities, albeit that there would be a revenue impact—not a capital impact—on the Government's programme. Therefore, the Government's counterposing a new Forth crossing and electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail line against the EARL and Edinburgh trams projects is a smokescreen.

That leaves the question why the SNP Executive really wants to cancel EARL and the Edinburgh trams. I presume that it is because it wants to spend the money on other things. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but what other things are they? The ministerial statement that preceded the debate did not tell us. The statement highlighted the projects that I have detailed, which were already being undertaken by the previous Government. It also mentioned projects that could be funded in other ways or that will be funded far in the future. The statement mentioned other trunk road projects, the details of which we were told had been placed on Transport Scotland's website; however, at 2.30 pm today, no such details were available on that website. A ministerial smokescreen is one thing, but a minister misleading the Parliament is quite another.

The question remains: what does the SNP Executive want to spend the money on if it cancels the Edinburgh airport rail link and the Edinburgh trams? Parliament has not yet been given the answer to that question, but it appears that Rob Gibson, who has left the chamber, may know. He made an unashamedly pork-barrel contribution to the debate. There is evidence, too, of double standards and pork-barrel politics in the Government's continuing support for the Borders rail link. There, evidence of financial shortages is being set to one side, whereas false condemnation is being made of the two Edinburgh projects.

I respect the minister and the cabinet secretary as parliamentarians and as individuals; however, for the sake of our country's economy, they must maintain a strategic approach to their ministerial responsibilities. They must not let themselves be overwhelmed by pork-barrel considerations; they should remain conscientious adversaries and recognise that they have not yet made the case for the drastic change that they want to make to schemes that have been agreed by the Parliament.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat 4:32 pm, 27th June 2007

I am pleased to sum up on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The outcome of the debate will be of great significance to Scotland's transport future. I am, however, disappointed that, after promising us a dedicated debate on trams and EARL, the SNP did not have the courage to allow that but, instead, tried to obscure the matter with a general debate on transport issues. I am also disappointed that SNP back benchers such as Gil Paterson took time away from other members who wanted to speak on the Edinburgh projects.

The minister has outlined his transport priorities, which, frankly, are unambitious. In the chamber a few weeks ago, I predicted that no transport project, however far advanced it was, would be safe with the SNP. Well, the minister has certainly proved me right on that. He has informed us that there is now some uncertainty about the Borders railway. He has informed us of a year's delay on the Glasgow airport rail link. He has also informed us that the Aberdeen western peripheral route—a project in which he should have a keen interest in driving forward—will not be delivered until around the end of 2012.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

The member should reflect that the delay was predicted before this Administration came into office and that we had nothing to do with it.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

I cannot accept that. My latest information, when I stepped down from the north-east Scotland transport partnership, was that the project was still on target for 2011.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Does the member share my surprise at the extra year's delay in the western peripheral route, given the fact that, only two weeks ago, the minister told me that there was no review and no prospect of delaying the route? Is not that extremely disappointing?

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

I share Richard Baker's disquiet.

The minister has also said that he will scrap the key capital city projects of trams and EARL. What has he promised us in their place? He proposes uncosted, ill-thought-out proposals for investment in buses with no indication of a timetable for implementation. I am a great supporter of buses as a means of transport—buses are one of the most flexible systems we have—but, as Malcolm Chisholm pointed out, we have the opportunity to use trams and buses to even greater effect in Edinburgh, complementing each other to cut congestion and bring about the kind of modal shift that we can only dream about with buses.

We are more ambitious than the SNP. We want Scotland to have a world-class transport system that is fit for the 21st century. In government, we increased transport spending to record levels and put 70 per cent of that £1 billion spend into public transport. That investment was welcomed throughout Scotland. Certainty was needed to give Scotland the sustainable transport system it required. That is why national, regional and local transport strategies were developed and why they must be given due regard.

The Auditor General's report acknowledges that the Edinburgh projects

"have been through the Parliamentary approval process to obtain statutory authority to proceed and have been developed in response to national, regional and local transport strategies."

That is more than can be said for the SNP's transport plans. The Government is being thrawn over the Edinburgh transport projects, and showing an obstinacy that is born out of over-generous promises made during the election—promises that the SNP did not think it would have to deliver.

As Tavish Scott said, the SNP has dug itself into a hole with a series of ludicrous U-turns and misinformation. It has wasted time and untold amounts of money with its futile attempts to justify its unpopular political decision. As Sarah Boyack said, trams are more than just an improvement to public transport—they will give rise to new jobs, new homes and many new opportunities. They are critical to delivering 35,000 new jobs in the city, and a comprehensive transport infrastructure needs to be in place to ensure that the current bus system can cope. The trams will link new communities and make a major contribution to much-needed community regeneration.

City business leaders believe that halting the trams projects would undermine economic growth and inward investment, and threaten other infrastructure proposals that are predicated on the trams going ahead. For example, we know that Telford College and Scottish Gas based location decisions on forecasts about the trams.

I am not sure that the minister has been reading the same report as me. He said that there is a litany of unfinished work and incomplete governance, but the report I read concluded that the trams project demonstrates a "clear corporate governance structure" with

"clearly defined project management and organisation ... sound financial management and reporting" good risk management procedures and a

"procurement strategy aimed at minimising risk and delivering successful project outcomes."

In so far as there are any problems, the report says that they are largely caused by uncertainty about whether the new SNP Administration will allow the work to go ahead. The stated utilities diversion work risk would exist in any large project.

On EARL, the report concluded that the project demonstrates sound financial management and reporting, costs

"based on a thorough estimating process", sound project management arrangements and good risk management. Because EARL is at an early stage, the estimated cost and time targets remain uncertain and more progress needs to be made before definite conclusions can be reached. There are issues to be addressed, but the project's foundations are unassailable.

Contrary to the claims from the SNP's front bench that costs are overrunning and out of control, the Auditor General concluded that

"The cost and time targets for the Edinburgh trams project have been developed using robust systems".

The Government has no evidence from the report to cancel the projects and it must commit to funding immediately. No major transport project is without risk, but the risks must be managed. Is the Government saying that it is not up to the job? Margaret Smith reminded us that the SNP's election slogan was, "It's time." It did not tell us that it meant that it is time for uncertainty, time to backtrack and time to unravel. It is time for the SNP to show that it understands that the new politics it has been so keen to talk about works both ways.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

The SNP must recognise that the will of Parliament is to allow these well-developed projects to continue without further delay. It is clear that a majority of members will support the amendment tonight. It will remind the Government that it is a minority Government and that it has a moral responsibility to act on the majority view of this Parliament.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:38 pm, 27th June 2007

Tonight, I and the Conservatives will vote for the amendment in the name of Wendy Alexander—although I suspect that our reasons differ slightly from some that have been given during the debate. The black-and-white attitude towards who is to blame and who is not does the Parliament little credit. A great deal of the disappointment that is being experienced by those who believe that funding difficulties are ahead is caused by the ambitious projects that were put in place by Liberal Democrat and Labour ministers without the necessary robust financial and scheduling applications.

We must thank the Executive for making a statement today, but I will take this opportunity to criticise elements of it. Three weeks ago, the Parliament passed a motion—comfortably—that asked the Executive to come forward with a costed, evaluated and prioritised programme for transport projects. There has been some effort to achieve a costed evaluation, but I am not convinced that there has been prioritisation.

Today, we heard an attempt by the minister to toss projects into two bins, one marked "priority" and the other marked "not a priority". I hoped that we would get—I still want to see one—a genuine prioritised list, in which one item is prioritised over another and we can see which is at the top and which is at the bottom. I do not believe that we were given such a list today.

In general terms, we must take into account an issue about which we are all beginning to learn—the fact that, over the past 10 years, costing and timing major public projects of this nature has become a much less exact science. Consequently, Governments of all kinds have begun to fear the prospect of costs running out of hand and schedules running over time. In today's debate it has been suggested that, in the eight weeks since the First Minister was appointed, the minority Government that the SNP is running has been responsible for a lot of those cost overruns and time delays. That cannot be case, and some of the blame must pass to the predecessors of the current Government and Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Does the member agree that the delay on the priority of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, which the minister announced today, is outrageous and will cost an absolute fortune? Two weeks ago, in an answer to Richard Baker, the minister said that there was no delay to the project; now, he is blaming the delay on someone else.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

In the long term, the proper prioritisation of projects will help to prevent further delay.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I must move on to other aspects of the debate.

We have a robust report from the Auditor General on the trams project and the Edinburgh airport rail link, and we must take the issues it highlights seriously. The Conservatives have always said that there should be no blank cheques. I welcome the fact that the amendment makes it clear that no additional money from the Scottish Executive should be committed to support the Edinburgh trams project.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Not at this stage.

We have grave concerns about the nature of the Edinburgh airport rail link and the current weakness in the project's governance. Consequently, we welcome the fact that we have an amendment that demands that there be proper delays to ensure that we overcome some of those governance problems before any further resources are committed to EARL. It has been interesting to hear SNP members, especially Rob Gibson, put forward arguments for cheaper alternatives to the project. Where was Rob Gibson when the Conservatives proposed exactly that during consideration of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link Bill? We will not tolerate a pick-and-mix attitude to priorities—there must be structure to the process.

The phased development of the trams project allows us to say that we do not want any more to be spent on it. The project may be reaching the end of the line—we must be careful to ensure that we understand the technicalities behind that.

Under recent Governments, transport projects have been characterised by delays, expense and failure to prioritise. We must not allow that to continue with the replacement Forth crossing. I welcome the fact that the motion contains a commitment to initiate the project and to get work on it under way. It is disappointing that the previous Executive failed to make appropriate commitments in that way. I welcome the commitment that the Executive has made and ask it to ensure that the Forth crossing is at the top of its list of priorities, as it is of ours.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 4:44 pm, 27th June 2007

There was some sympathy for Mr Swinney when, a few weeks ago, he was appointed to his new job. A lot of people felt that the job of chief drone to Mr Salmond's queen bee in the SNP Government would test even Mr Swinney. We can see today that the reality of the competition between political imperatives arising from manifesto commitments and where Mr Swinney would like to be—presenting sound finance and prudent government—is like a string being stretched too far.

Four weeks ago, Mr Swinney spoke in the chamber about a strategic transport review process. He gave every impression that it would be a serious, detailed and systematic examination of all the transport projects. Today, Mr Stevenson said that that process has now come to an end. What has come out of that four-week review? Not very much, really. The substance of what was announced in today's transport statement is pretty much the same as the substance of what was in previous transport commitments.

We learn that there is a delay in the Aberdeen western peripheral route, I think a station on the Airdrie to Bathgate line has been removed—although that was not mentioned in the statement—and there was a statement about a commitment to electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route but, essentially, the projects that existed before are those that the SNP is now endorsing.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I am slightly puzzled by the reference to the Airdrie to Bathgate line. There is no removal of any station.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Perhaps the minister should look at what Ms Hyslop has said in the Evening News on that issue. Anyway—

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

There is no removal of a station; it is exactly—

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Let us deal with the issues before us. There is no substantive change, but there has been an attempt to use the Auditor General to remove two projects that were previously in the package. The justification for that is essentially supposed to concern value for money, but the reality is that the Auditor General's report provides no such justification.

The Auditor General does not say—as Mr Stevenson does—that costs are out of control. He does not say that there is no basis on which the projects should proceed. In relation to EARL, he says that there are governance and management issues that need to be addressed—which is the responsibility of ministers. On the trams project, he says that effective systems are in place. On what basis does the Government want to subtract those two projects? As Charlie Gordon said, what does the Government want to use the money for? I do not think that there was any honesty in the statement from the minister on what any diversion of the £1.1 billion or £1.2 billion is to be used for.

We expect ministers to address the chamber honestly and to state what they are going to do. I challenge Mr Swinney to state in his winding-up speech what he will do when the amendment is agreed to at 5 o'clock—which it will be. We do not want another statement after 5 o'clock. We do not want a statement to the press at a quarter past or half past 5; we want the Parliament to be told what the Government's intentions are. Ministers know the political arithmetic, they know the reality and they know the substance of the issue. What exactly is the Government going to do? Parliament and parliamentarians should hear ministers' response first.

The Government has made much of its ambitions for Scotland, how it wants to promote sustainable growth and its ideas about a new beginning for Scotland. Can it be sensible that its first major decision on projects that cost very significant amounts of money is in effect to remove projects that are crucial not just to the future of Edinburgh, but to the future of Scotland? The trams and EARL will deliver significant economic benefits to Edinburgh. Those benefits were identified in the analysis that was done in the Parliament—in the systematic work that was carried out during 200 hours of parliamentary scrutiny. Evidence was taken from all the experts, who gave their verdict on the projects; Mr Swinney's verdict is different, but he has not justified it.

It was clear from the statement that the way ahead will be defined by the criterion of value-for-money, but although the funding package proposed by the Waverley railway partnership will not be sufficient to deliver the Borders railway, and although its opening will not be achievable by 2011, we have been told that that project will go ahead. Will Mr Swinney make it clear what will happen if the project does not meet the three remaining funding conditions set by the previous Administration? When will he let us know that? When will he give the Parliament the honest answers and the straightforward rationale and justifications that it needs from a minister?

I make it absolutely clear that none of us in the Parliament has a monopoly on wisdom and that none of us is the sole voice of Scotland. The responsibility of the whole Parliament and all the parties in it is to ensure that the best decisions are made. Such decisions are based on evidence and systematic analysis not just of cost control, but of the engineering elements and the economic benefit arguments. That process, which has been carried out on these two projects, cannot be set aside for short-term political gain or simply because the opinion of the likes of Mr MacAskill, who previously favoured the projects, suddenly shifts against them. How are we to proceed in Scotland if people see politicians making judgments and decisions that are based purely on short-term, rather than strategic, considerations?

Tonight, this Parliament will make the correct decision on the basis of the evidence that we have all been given on these projects. We need to take Scotland forward, but we need to do so on an agreed basis, with proper justifications and with evidence-driven policies. Particularly in this epoch of a minority Administration, the responsibility of the whole Parliament is to ensure that that Administration does not play politics with our—by which I mean Scotland's—money.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 4:52 pm, 27th June 2007

In closing this debate, I want first to give Parliament some more details about the Government's investment programme beyond what Stewart Stevenson mentioned in his earlier statement. In the next month, the Government will deliver its input into Network Rail's high-level operating statement. Obviously, that information will be subject to further discussion and debate. One of the priorities that we inherited from the previous Administration, the strategic transport projects review, is under way and will report next summer.

I must also reiterate a point of great significance that was made by Mr Stevenson and with which we must all wrestle. There has been a lot of talk today of how we all have to be part of these decisions and how we must all be aware of the contractual pressures in major transport projects in Scotland. Mr Stevenson said that, with the congestion of projects that are coming forward, we will have to wrestle with the significant factor of construction inflation. Although he made clear our determination to go ahead with the contract for the M74 extension, he also pointed out that we must wrestle with the fact that we have only one bidder for the contract and that we must demonstrate that it provides clear value for money. That will be a major test for the Government and the processes over which we preside, and will form part of what we take forward in relation to the programme.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am interested in the minister's comments on Stewart Stevenson's statement, in which he indicated that the main issue was prioritisation. However, from what I can see, the Government has taken out two major projects without putting anything else back in. Does that mean that it is significantly cutting investment in public transport in Scotland?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

No. I do not know how much of the debate Mr Smith bothered to take part in, but Mr Stevenson made it clear that some major strategic projects that would really deliver connectivity in Scotland, such as the electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail line, are a greater priority for this Administration than they were for the Liberal Democrat and Labour Administration.

The speech that I enjoyed the most was that of Sarah Boyack, in which she told the Government that we had a number of difficult issues to resolve in relation to transport projects, but that they would be as nothing compared with the complexity of the issues that we would have to deal with in relation to the Commonwealth games in 2014. I am glad that she believes that the Government will be around for such a long time.

Today we draw to a close the process of examining the transport projects that we inherited, as we said that we would do. Stewart Stevenson outlined the Government's transport programme. I thank the officials of the Executive and of Transport Scotland for their assistance in developing that work over the past few weeks.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Can Mr Swinney confirm that, in that official examination, the EARL project had the highest benefit cost ratio of any project in the entire Scottish transport programme? Given that it was at the top of the list on benefit cost, why is it the one that he has chosen to kill?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

One of the problems with the EARL project, with which Wendy Alexander is so heavily associated and about which the Auditor General has raised such fundamental questions of governance and progress, is the fact that we do not even have trains that can operate compatibly with the recommended system. That sounds like a pretty elementary problem with a major project, and it is one that we inherited as a result of the previous Administration's approach.

It is clear from the debate that, as Mr Gordon said, we must have imaginative major strategic projects. We have set out our arguments on the electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow line and we want improvements in capacity to be made on the links to Fife. This Government wants a link to Edinburgh airport, but we want a link that is sensible and not one that is unsustainable.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I note what the cabinet secretary has said about the plans for the existing rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Can he confirm whether those plans represent the extent of his thinking or whether his mind is open to the possibility of a fast rail link between those two important cities?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Government will progress the electrification project as a major priority, but we are obviously prepared to consider other suggestions as part of the process of consensus government of which we are all part.

I turn to the Auditor General's report, which has been the object of great controversy in the debate. If I had followed the advice of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats some weeks ago, I would not have invited the Auditor General to examine the Edinburgh transport projects. The Auditor General said that EARL was

"unlikely to be delivered by the target date of the end of 2011", and that it had

"no clear governance framework" and

"no procurement strategy in place".

He went on to say that the EARL project board

"did not meet between April 2006 and February 2007 and has met only twice since then. Its membership and role is no longer agreed between the main stakeholders and there is no date for the next meeting."

I know that people think that, as a cabinet secretary with extensive responsibilities, I am very busy, but what was Tavish Scott doing when EARL was hitting the buffers?

We cannot ignore the evidence that the Auditor General's report has identified.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

Where in the Auditor General's report does it say that the costs are out of control?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

You have about a minute left, Mr Swinney.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am glad that Mr Scott intervened on that point. One of the points that Wendy Alexander made was that the Auditor General's report was about management, not money. What a ridiculous proposition. Unless tight management is in place, the money will never be under control—that is why the EARL project was heading for the rocks.

On the trams project, the Auditor General highlighted TIE's own assessment that phase 1B of the project—the section to Granton—was not affordable within current funding. Mr McLetchie pointed out that the tram project has been constantly scaled back. The danger with the project is that there is an unwillingness to deliver it as the people of Edinburgh expected it to be delivered when it was launched; there is also a lack of focus. That is why people are concerned about the whole issue.

Cathy Peattie said that we should support legislation that Parliament has passed. Parliament is not, even on the current spending plans, supporting the legislation that it passed, because the legislation that Parliament passed was for a tram scheme that was more extensive than the scheme that is being put in place. Members should not lecture us on that issue. We are determined to ensure that projects work. I am happy to support the motion in my name, which sets out the Government's commitments on these important issues.