It gives me great pleasure to open the stage 1 debate on the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill. I refer members to my entry in the register of members' interests, because Asda, which I will mention later, has sponsored Christmas card competitions for me.
The long journey to get to where we are today started with a constituency case more than four years ago. My constituent was a disabled driver who, due to the nature of his disability, required to park in the marked disabled bay outside his front door in order to access his home. Let me introduce you to his neighbour—a man who, for reasons best known to himself, decided that he should regularly park in the disabled bay. He caused untold misery for my constituent, who became afraid to leave his home in case his bay had been taken by the time he got back.
Naturally, I asked the council to help, but there was nothing it could do. I asked the police to help, but equally there was nothing they could do. The bay was advisory, so they were unable to enforce it. Not one to be deterred, I put the neighbour on the front page of the local newspaper for two weeks running, but still he would not move. Clearly, it was time for something else to be done.
Throughout the time I was making enquiries, and during the consultation on and the development of the bill, I was inundated with people's stories and experiences. I will share just two of them, or we will be here all night, but the two stories are indicative of the problems that disabled drivers face. They come from Nan McMurdo, whose husband Ian is a former colleague.
Nan is about to park in the last remaining disabled parking bay outside Tesco. A young guy shoots into the space in his bright red BMW. She lowers her window as the young lad sprints gleefully from his Beemer, and she explains that she really needs his space, to which the lad responds with the quite magnificent, cheery expression, "Sorry, missus. I'll no be a minute. I'm just going for a loaf." The next story is on Nan's birthday. They have arrived at a local hotel to celebrate. The only
I understand perfectly Jackie Baillie's desire to ensure that disabled people are treated fairly and I fully support what she is trying to do. Will she reflect—and encourage planning authorities to reflect—on the fact that appropriate numbers of parking bays should be allocated for disabled people when new retail developments are built? To allocate too many can encourage the type of activity that Jackie Baillie describes, particularly if people see a large number of empty bays in an otherwise full car park.
I am happy to take that point on board. I agree up to a point. However, at the moment, it is clear that there are not too many disabled parking bays, because disabled people are not able to park in designated bays. If we have a new culture that ensures that there is enforcement, perhaps spare places will indeed be available.
We often see people jumping into the supermarket just to collect a paper. When it is raining, we see people trying to get as close as possible to the door so that they do not get wet. Whatever the reason, the consequences for a disabled person of not being able to access a suitable parking space can be severe. As Eleanor Hind from the Fair Deal transport working group put it quite succinctly to me, "If you want my disabled parking space, please have my disability too." Some have suggested that the problem is really quite marginal. One comment that I confess left me slightly bemused was in a paper to the Scottish Government by the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation, which said:
"the current system of advisory disabled parking bays works well and is cost effective and there is little evidence of significant abuse of the system".
That, however, is not the real, everyday experience of disabled people.
Let us consider some of the evidence. In a recent survey, the baywatch campaign found that one in five disabled bays in supermarkets was being abused; a mystery shopper exercise conducted by Capability Scotland put the figure higher, at 44 per cent; and a survey conducted by the previous Scottish Executive suggested that 44 per cent of all designated parking bays were being abused.
This is therefore not a marginal issue. Of the 1 million disabled people resident in Scotland, 96,000 are registered wheelchair users and almost 230,000 are registered blue badge holders. At present, almost 85 per cent of disabled parking bays are advisory, which means that anyone can park in them without risk of being penalised. Local authorities simply rely on other drivers' goodwill not to park in designated places.
This essentially simple bill, which aims to prevent parking places for disabled people from being occupied by those who do not need them and are not entitled to use them, draws on existing road traffic and parking procedures and requires councils to be proactive in their approach to managing disabled parking. It is important to set the proposal in a wider context. Disabled parking provision must be improved in three ways: first, by preventing the abuse of disabled parking bays; secondly, by reforming the blue badge system to stop its abuse; and, thirdly, by improving the process for local authorities. The bill attempts to make a small contribution by delivering on the first of those three counts, but it is for the Scottish Government and the UK Government to deal with the other two. Frankly, such matters are too complex for the stuff of a member's bill.
The clear and simple fact is that the abuse of disabled parking is a quality-of-life issue. The problem is profoundly upsetting for the disabled people who experience it and we can—and must—solve it. We can no longer ignore the overwhelming sense of injustice, frustration, powerlessness and, yes, anger that is out there.
That sense comes not just from the disabled community. As a result of the volume of weekly customer complaints that it was receiving about disabled parking abuse, Asda was spurred on to set up its own enforcement regime, which duly received an unprecedented 93 per cent approval rating. Customers were telling Asda, "It's not just that I agree not to abuse the spaces—I also think nobody else should abuse them".
How would members feel if the disabled space in front of their house were continually blocked by a driving instructor who was using it to let clients practise their reversing? Is that a hypothetical example? I think not. What of the frustration—fast becoming fury—that they would feel if their space were to be pinched by an able-bodied neighbour and they were forced to drive around for two hours before a spot near enough to home came up? The extent of this problem is well documented.
In all, the bill does 10 basic things that link directly to the right of disabled people to be treated equally. It places a duty on councils to promote proper use of disabled parking places; prevents them from creating more unenforceable on-street places; and requires them to identify all on-street
The bill also standardises the application process for new on-street disabled bays across Scotland and requires councils to identify all off-street disabled parking places that they manage and, where appropriate, to begin the process of making them enforceable.
In many ways, that is the nub of the issue. What is the point of designating spaces for disabled people if there is no power to enforce them? The Local Government and Communities Committee heard evidence of the scale of the abuse that, as a result of which, Leonard Cheshire Disability concluded:
"the age of just relying on politeness has ended and the age of enforcement has come."
The bill also stipulates that councils proactively contact car park owners to seek an arrangement to promote enforceability. It requires councils to contact developers of land to seek such an arrangement where new parking is planned. If the owners do not want to come under the local authority's enforcement powers at that point, the council must make contact again in two years to encourage them to adopt enforcement measures. In addition, the bill requires councils to report to ministers on their performance under the legislation and, in turn, it requires ministers to report to the Parliament.
Will the bill work? Yes, because, in short, it introduces enforceability to the overwhelming majority of disabled parking places when 85 per cent are currently unenforceable. So the driving instructor, the thoughtless neighbour and those who are determined to abuse those parking places should watch out.
Enforcement is the key. The bill is that simple. It will use existing enforcement regimes—civil and criminal. Whether it is enforced by the police or by local authority traffic wardens does not really matter, because it will be enforced. People's attitudes change when education and awareness-raising alert them to the consequence that their actions have for disabled people. For those who persist, a fine will change their behaviour.
The recent and rapid success of Asda's scheme, and schemes such as the one at Braehead shopping centre, are testament to what we can achieve. Within a week of Asda commencing its enforcement regime, it reported a 60 per cent improvement in the availability of disabled bays. Frankly, that is astonishing.
Let me touch briefly on finance—I am sure that I will have to return to it. I am content with the committee's recommendation that, should my bill be passed, the Scottish Government will negotiate
Why does the process of designating a bay cost £119 in Fife and £466 in Glasgow? I confess that the higher cost of paint in Glasgow remains a mystery worthy of Arthur C Clarke. There is clearly much to be gained from sharing good practice to secure best value.
Before I finish, I express my gratitude to all the organisations that have supported my bill. Given that I am running out of time, I will not thank them individually. I also thank the many individuals, disabled or not, who have voiced their support and flooded my constituency office with postcards.
I thank in particular the people who have helped me from the start of the process: Liz Rowlett of the Scottish Disability Equality Forum; Alistair Watson of Strathclyde partnership for transport; Jim MacLeod of Inclusion Scotland; and Euan Page of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They have helped to shape the bill.
I thank the Local Government and Communities Committee, which gave robust scrutiny to the bill. I am not sure that I should say that I enjoyed our sessions, but I did. Of course, I also thank the non-executive bills unit, which has held my hand throughout the process—do not let go, because it is not over yet. Finally, I thank my staff and my two interns, Scott Smith and Julia Floren, who have vanished under the sea of postcards that people have sent in.
Let me draw to a close with the words of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which wrote in evidence to the committee that the bill
"represents a straightforward, practical and cost effective means of making a real difference to the lives of disabled people across Scotland, removing a persistent barrier to disabled people's participation in society."
In other words, this is unambiguously the right thing to do. Such opportunities are rare in politics and ought not to be missed. I hope that, come decision time, the whole chamber will unite so that we can take a small but important step in the right direction for disabled people in Scotland.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill.
The Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Jackie Baillie MSP on Monday 2 June 2008. The Local Government and Communities Committee was confirmed as the lead committee in consideration of the bill at stage 1 by vote of the Parliament on Wednesday 11 June 2008.
In all, 28 individuals and organisations responded to the committee's call for written evidence. The committee took oral evidence on the bill from witnesses at meetings in September and October 2008. Extracts from the Official Reports of the meetings and the associated written submissions are before members today in the committee's report. On behalf of the committee, I thank all those who willingly gave their time to give evidence and to participate in the process. I hope that I will be allowed to make a particular reference to the committee clerk, Martin Verity, who has prepared his last stage 1 report, as he will retire later this year. I am sure that all members wish him a happy and long retirement. [Applause.]
The evidence that we received showed that approximately 4.5 per cent of the Scottish population hold a blue badge parking permit, which translates into 230,000 people. As has been mentioned and I am sure will be mentioned again, the baywatch campaign in its most recent survey found that one in five parking bays is being used by drivers without a blue badge. That figure has remained depressingly constant over the years. The same survey found that more than a third of car parks have no accessible bays free for disabled shoppers because of the level of abuse. In evidence to the committee, Alex Thorburn of the Dumfries and Galloway access panel reported that his surveys of the local hospital car park regularly found that 50 per cent of accessible bays were taken up by non-badge holders. On one occasion, the figure rose to 75 per cent.
For someone with an impairment, the situation is more than an irritant and inconvenience; it represents a significant obstacle to undertaking the most mundane but important tasks, such as going to the shops, visiting the post office or attending the hospital. The need to act is outlined clearly in the evidence that the committee received. Jackie Baillie mentioned the written evidence from Leonard Cheshire Disability, which illustrated the organisation's full support for the bill. It stated:
"For too long disabled people have had to rely on the courtesy and consideration of other drivers not to 'take' their reserved parking spaces, but we have all heard and seen news stories which depict the hostility other drivers now show each other when it comes to gaining a parking space."
We also heard from Jackie Baillie about that. The submission concluded:
"Therefore the age of just relying on politeness has ended and the age of enforcement has come."
The committee, while noting that the blue badge scheme is a United Kingdom scheme and is not within the scope of the bill, nevertheless believes that a wider approach to the issue of disabled persons' parking is required and that abuse of the blue badge scheme should be tackled. That may have further benefits in tackling crime generally. The evidence that was presented to the committee confirmed that people who break the rules in one part of their life are likely to break rules in other illegal ways. Research shows that those who are careless and thoughtless enough to take up a disabled parking bay are more likely to have a criminal record and that about 50 per cent of them have a history of traffic violations. Of the cars found abusing disabled spaces, one in 10 were in an illegal condition, whether through defective tyres or outdated road tax. That being the case, enforcement of disabled parking spaces may be an efficient and cost-effective way of targeting active offenders and illegal vehicles. Consequently, the committee calls on the Scottish Government to consider how the results of the Department for Transport's review of the operation of the scheme in England can best inform policy in Scotland.
One key proposal of the bill regarding on-street disabled persons' parking places that resulted in significant responses in evidence and subsequent debate is the requirement for each local authority to conduct a one-off audit of existing disabled parking spaces within 12 months of the act coming into force. There was wide variation in the estimated scale of the task and the possible resources required, perhaps reflecting the diversity of the local authorities that gave responses. While taking into account the difficulties that local authorities have in conducting an audit of their existing advisory disabled persons' parking bays, the committee agrees that a year after the act comes into force would normally be a reasonable length of time in which to have completed that exercise. The committee is also of the view that where exceptional circumstances prevent such an exercise being completed in time, the minister should be able to approve an extension.
The bill would require local authorities to seek to negotiate enforceable parking arrangements with owners of private car parks to which the public have access. It is the committee's view that the procedures for such negotiations should not result in an undue burden on those involved. The committee believes that working in partnership could bring benefits to those companies and have a significant effect on reducing the abuse of
I am sure that it is a commendable scheme and I have relatives who have benefited from disabled parking there. However, we did not take evidence from Braehead; we took it from Asda. I do not mean to exclude or offend anybody, but I mentioned Asda because it is in our committee report.
Although Asda takes a softly-softly approach, if people persist in offending behaviour, the wardens have the ability to issue a £60 penalty to motorists who do not comply. Just like at Braehead, Asda shares the income from penalties with local charities.
There are lessons in expense to be learned. Asda claims that the scheme costs £500 per store per year. More important, rather than being viewed by a nuisance by customers, the enforcement schemes have received a 93 per cent customer endorsement rating. I see no reason why other supermarket chains are not following Asda's example. What are they waiting for?
The committee accepts the Finance Committee's view that more accurate costs could have been provided for the bill. We also endorse that committee's view that the overall estimate of £1.7 million for promoting and implementing orders throughout Scotland is subject to significant doubt. The committee heard evidence about a wide range of costs associated with the implementation of the bill's provisions. Dundee City Council reported that it could convert 1,000 advisory bays into enforceable ones at a cost of £196,000, while South Lanarkshire, with just 100 more bays than Dundee, believed that conversion would cost £1 million. Glasgow City Council, which has 4,500 advisory bays, thinks that it will cost it £2.1 million.
The committee agrees with the member in charge of the bill that some of the higher estimates of the work and associated costs might be avoided by adopting best practice. Only a thorough examination of the probable cost of implementing
On the basis of the report before Parliament, the committee recommends that the general principles of the bill be approved.
I congratulate Jackie Baillie on the progress that she has made with the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill to date. I am grateful for the opportunity to put forward the Government's position on the bill.
We welcome the bill, because we, like everyone who has spoken so far—and, I expect, everyone who will speak—in the debate take the issue of the abuse of disabled parking bays extremely seriously. We share Ms Baillie's commitment to helping disabled people throughout Scotland to have access to parking.
Following a request from Ms Baillie, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has lodged a financial resolution, which, if agreed to, will allow the bill to progress to stage 2.
Although the bill does not affect blue badge regulations, it does affect blue badge holders. It should make it easier for them to park in disabled parking spaces, as it will ensure that on-road disabled parking spaces are enforceable, which should discourage abuse of them.
I share the concerns that Jackie Baillie and Duncan McNeil raised about the abuse of the blue badge scheme. We need to take action to identify the abuse, to confiscate badges where there is abuse and to publicise the disabled parking strategy. I do not want that to be left to a UK initiative. Will the minister specify what the Government will do to tackle abuse of the blue badge scheme in Scotland?
At this stage, it might be helpful if I say that, although the blue badge scheme is a UK scheme, we have the powers to create the regulations that apply in Scotland. It is not our immediate intention to have a radically different regime in Scotland, but I hope that, as the bill progresses through Parliament, Hugh Henry will see that we are committed to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.
To that end, we are working closely with the Department for Transport. Officials, along with
I note from the committee's report several references to possible minor amendments. One of those relates to the timetable for reviewing advisory spaces within each local authority. Although the committee feels that the timetable is reasonable, it suggests that, in exceptional circumstances, ministers could approve an extension. Should Ms Baillie wish to lodge an enabling amendment, it is likely to receive Government support.
I note, too, that the report clarifies that the proposed changes to the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (SI 2002/3113) are reserved and, therefore, do not fall strictly within our legislative competence. However, I think that there are issues there that we can examine further.
The report comments:
"The Committee agrees that it is reasonable to expect that local authorities will be able to identify owners of private car parks".
I would be astonished if the overwhelming majority of owners of such car parks did not wish to co-operate. In any event, they have duties to discharge under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. A regime in which there is clarity about who may use disabled parking spaces in privately owned car parks and about the steps that may be taken to ensure that those spaces are used by entitled people is in the interests of car park owners as well as disabled people.
The bill would require authorities to produce annual reports. I believe that that introduces necessary transparency.
As the financial memorandum makes clear, information is not currently being collated or is not widely publicised in a number of areas. As I have said, I share the Finance Committee's concerns about the degree of uncertainty in the financial memorandum, to which others have referred. I understand why Ms Baillie has robustly defended her estimate of £1.7 million. I recently passed on to her a copy of a paper by the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, which also argues that that figure is very uncertain.
Several references have been made to the discrepancy in the figures. We cannot ignore that,
I am pleased to participate in the debate. I am sure that members who follow me will join me in congratulating Jackie Baillie on introducing the bill and on all the work that she has done to bring the bill to this stage. I thank her particularly for giving the Parliament a piece of legislation to deal with. Legislating is one of our central reasons for being here and sometimes I wonder why the Government is strangely reluctant to put its policies to the legislative test. However, today we are dealing with legislation, which I will discuss.
I thank all the people who contributed to the Local Government and Communities Committee's consideration of the bill by providing written and oral evidence. I joined the committee after it began taking evidence, but reading the written submissions and the Official Reports of meetings brought me quickly to the salient points that needed to be addressed.
Before examining specific issues, I will consider the bill's aim. As we have heard, the bill's policy memorandum tells us that
"The main policy objective of the Bill is to prevent disabled persons' parking places being occupied by those that are not entitled to use them by seeking to ensure that enforcement action can be taken."
I suspect that, after hearing that, any reasonable person might ask why we need legislation to provide what appears to be a small benefit to disabled people. However, the benefit is not small—it is critical to many disabled people's lives. From Leonard Cheshire Disability's briefing, we learn that 66 per cent of respondents to its "Disability Review 2007" survey
"said that they needed a car because of barriers to public transport linked to their impairment."
Having a car is important, but so are being able to use it and finding an accessible parking space.
The Leonard Cheshire briefing tells us that disabled people do not fully use their cars because they cannot always find an accessible parking space. Too often, that is because people who have no blue badge abuse the spaces that are made available. Jackie Baillie gave us examples, and all of us have heard people say, "I'll be only a
"The Bill will make all permanent disabled street parking places enforceable."
The bill's main burdens will fall on local authorities. We should not apologise for that. I am sure that I am not the only MSP who has consistently been approached by constituents who have difficulties in accessing disabled parking places. Sometimes the problem is that a council is reluctant to designate a disabled parking place, because it knows that the disabled bay will be difficult to enforce. The bill would remove that concern.
If I have time, I will come back to enforcement, but first I will say more about the role of local authorities. The bill would require local authorities to conduct an audit of all disabled parking places in their area, to ascertain whether the places are still needed, before beginning the process of obtaining an order to make legally enforceable all the spaces that are deemed necessary. Local authorities would be able to remove spaces that are no longer needed. As the minister said, the committee agreed that it would be reasonable to expect that work to be carried out within 12 months of the bill's enactment but thought that the bill should be amended to allow ministers to oversee an extension if there was a particular reason why a local authority could not carry out the work within 12 months. That indicates the reasonableness of the committee and of the member who introduced the bill. I accept that the whole exercise would never have been high on a local authority's agenda. However, authorities should have been paying attention to disabled parking, so the issue should not be entirely new to them.
Perhaps the most contentious issue in the bill is finance, in particular the costs on local authorities. Like Jackie Baillie and the minister, I find it difficult to understand why local authorities quoted such wide variations in the cost of establishing a disabled parking bay. The oft-quoted West Dunbartonshire Council said that it would cost £12.20, whereas Fife Council said that the cost would be £119. The committee did not get to the bottom of those discrepancies, but perhaps an unintended consequence of the bill will be the sharing of good practice among local authorities, which might help councils to save money.
The bill responds to the needs of a significant number of people in Scotland. It has great support from parliamentary committees and from many constituents—I thank Jackie Baillie for updating us on people who have contacted her about the bill. I am sure that the Parliament will agree with the conclusions in the stage 1 report and allow the bill to pass to its next stage.
I commend Jackie Baillie for her sterling efforts to introduce the bill in the Parliament and for addressing an issue that is of importance and concern not just to people with disabilities, who are directly affected by the problems that she identified, but to all of us who sign up to the promotion of an inclusive Scotland and the lowering or elimination of barriers to participation in our society for all citizens.
In an ideal world the bill would not be necessary. If common courtesy, respect and sensitivity to people's needs were more prevalent in society we would not need laws to enforce disabled parking bays or spaces, and social norms and peer pressure would combine to ensure that disabled parking facilities were not abused.
There are voices that want Parliaments and Governments to legislate for and regulate every conceivable circumstance in every aspect of our lives, but such an approach is neither morally superior nor practically effective. One of this Parliament's weaknesses has been the temptation to fall into the something must be done trap and the indulgence of using legislation to send a message. I am one of those people who think that if we want to send a message we should use the Royal Mail and not waste a Parliament's time.
Accordingly, and irrespective of sentiment, we have a responsibility to judge legislative proposals entirely on their merits. In making such a judgment I always ask myself three questions. First, does the problem justify legislative intervention? Secondly, are the proposed measures likely to achieve the desired result in practice? Thirdly, is the likely cost of the measures proportionate to the benefits that they will bring?
On balance, there is justification for legislative intervention in the matter that we are considering, although not necessarily or exactly in the manner that is proposed in the bill, which could be fine tuned at a later stage.
As we heard from Jackie Baillie, there are about 230,000 blue badge holders and 96,000 wheelchair users in Scotland. We know from survey evidence and anecdotal evidence from the individuals and organisations that appeared before the committee that statutory provisions are
There was an unsatisfactory evidence session with the minister and his officials at which it was put to him, in accordance with the evidence presented by several local authorities, that an alternative and more cost-effective approach to enforcement would be to amend the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 to allow councils to designate enforceable disabled persons' parking places in the same manner as bus stop clearways are designated. That would require legislation at United Kingdom level.
It is fair to say that the minister's desire to promote a Scotland-first solution rather got in the way of reasoned judgment, and the committee was duly grateful to Jackie Baillie and her advisers for untying his legal knots and making it clear that the matter was indeed reserved. Having finally established that, I am inclined to the view—like several councils that gave evidence—that a UK-wide reform would be preferable, but I recognise that that is not on the table and that it would be unfair to delay or defer action in Scotland indefinitely.
We then come to the issue of private car parks to which the public have access, principally those operated by supermarkets and shopping centres. We heard evidence from Asda and others about the initiatives that have been taken to use the civil law of contract to create for their car parks an enforcement regime that does not involve the statutory designation of bays in a way that would give rise to fines and penalties. Although it appeared that the legality of the rights of recovery using that mechanism has not been fully tested in the civil courts—members will be aware that in Scotland the wheel clamping of cars on private land has been ruled illegal—it is fair to say that such voluntary measures have proved effective and acceptable to customers, as Duncan McNeil pointed out. Indeed, Asda went out of its way to emphasise that it much preferred to manage parking problems with its customers without involving the civil authorities.
Although there is no compulsion on supermarkets and other car park operators to designate their bays as enforceable bays, the bill requires councils to identify all such car parks and to write to their operators at regular intervals to invite them to participate in a designation process. I thought that the evidence on the merit of that approach was equivocal. On the one hand, the importance of disabled bays at supermarkets and shopping centres was rightly stressed. On the other, Jackie Baillie sought to minimise the impact
Finally, we come to the third of my tests: is the benefit of improved access to disabled bays proportionate to the cost to the public purse? Frankly, the evidence on that question was all over the place. I am not entirely convinced by Jackie Baillie's figure of £1.7 million; equally, I am in no doubt that some councils substantially overegged the pudding in their cost estimates and, in doing so, did the argument on costs no favours at all. I hope that the matter can be resolved and that we can be given more robust figures and estimates in later stages of the bill.
We all know that public finance is about making judgments about priorities. Mr Swinney may have to say no to councils' demands for more money for the bill because it is one of the uncosted funding pressures not referred to in the historic concordat for which he will be expected to stump up. Some people think that it is more important to provide free school meals to the children of people who can well afford to feed them than to provide 230,000 disabled badge holders with proper access to parking places. No doubt we will hear more of that tomorrow. On balance, the jury is still out on costs, about which we will hear more later. However, I will vote for the bill at stage 1 and recommend that my Conservative colleagues do the same.
A number of important questions remain to be answered before the bill is finalised, but I end on a positive note by welcoming it in principle and by welcoming the steps that are being taken to address a serious problem. I hope that we will end up with a piece of legislation that will improve quality of life for many disabled people in Scotland.
I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group and to support the general principles of the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill. As a member of the Local
Approximately 4.5 per cent of the Scottish population—in other words, more than 230,000 people—hold a blue badge parking permit. Disabled persons' parking places enable disabled people to carry out day-to-day activities and to maintain independence. Being able to park near their homes and facilities and services is essential for daily living and life fulfilment. Without easy access to supermarkets, libraries and health centres, disabled people can feel isolated and excluded from society.
There are no official figures on the abuse of on-street disabled persons' parking spaces, so we can only guess at the scale of the problem. Those in private car parks tend to be advisory and not legally enforceable, so availability is dependent on the courtesy and consideration of other drivers. As we heard in committee, Asda is leading the way in the private sector and is helping its disabled customers by enforcing disabled parking spaces. It was clear that Asda's customers support that action. Of course, larger organisations can enforce disabled parking spaces, but smaller organisations often lack the resources to take such action.
The aim of the bill is to make on-street and off-street disabled persons' parking places legally enforceable, which will prevent their misuse by drivers who are not entitled to use them. Currently, local authorities have the right to designate permanent advisory disabled persons' parking spaces. In the majority of cases, that has proven to be satisfactory but, unfortunately, it has failed in others.
The bill will require each local authority to conduct, within a year of its enactment, a one-off audit of existing on-street disabled persons' parking places to establish whether they are all necessary. Each local authority will also be required to identify every advisory off-street disabled persons' parking place within its area and begin to prepare designation orders. In addition, every two years, local authorities will have to make attempts to secure agreement to the creation of enforceable parking places. Those could turn out to be huge and bureaucratic tasks, particularly in the first year of implementation. Witnesses who gave evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee had various views on that point. Disability campaign groups thought that
That may be the case, but the evidence varies widely and, in many cases, the true picture may not be ascertained until after the bill is enacted. That is not helpful at this stage of the discussion. However, wherever the truth lies, there can be no doubt that the additional administrative burden gives real cause for concern.
I am also rather concerned about what the financial consequences for each authority of implementing the bill's provisions would be at a time when finances are already severely stretched by this Government. The main costs are expected to fall on local authorities. There will be significant set-up costs in the first year, when local authorities will be required to identify all existing on-street and off-street advisory parking places for disabled people. The costs of that exercise will depend on the number of places that are identified. That will be followed by the on-going costs of meeting the bill's requirements, which include implementing designation orders and altering road markings and signage.
The total national cost of implementing designation orders for all existing advisory on-street parking places in Scotland is estimated to be £1.7 million, based on an estimated number of parking places and on an average cost of £125 per place. The sum of £125 is little different from Fife Council's figure of £119, which Jackie Baillie mentioned earlier, but both figures are way short of a £200-plus estimate that we heard at committee, so the total cost could be grossly underestimated. The Finance Committee and the Local Government and Communities Committee concluded that the total figure
"is subject to a significant degree of doubt."
Glasgow City Council's written evidence indicated that it might have
"over £2,000,000 in set up costs alone".
West Lothian Council stated that it believed that it would not be able to meet the costs from "within existing resources" and that the true costs have been significantly underestimated
"by as much as a factor of ten."
The City of Edinburgh Council suggested that
"the total ... cost of implementing Designation Orders ... estimated at £1.7 million ... could be exceeded in Edinburgh alone".
After listening to the evidence and questioning the witnesses who were brought before the committee—including Jackie Baillie—I am content that the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill is worthy of continuing on to stage 2, and I look forward to taking further evidence at committee. I assure Miss Baillie and other members that the Liberal Democrats will support her member's bill at stage 1 today.
In evaluating the stage 1 debate on this member's bill, it is important that I acknowledge—as other members have—Jackie Baillie's contribution in championing the key principles behind the bill. It is worth reinforcing the point, as other members have, that Jackie Baillie deserves credit for her substantial work in introducing the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill.
My role, as a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee—which I joined in September 2008—has been to examine the proposals, especially with respect to the evidence-gathering sessions. I will talk in depth later about the committee report's detailed findings. It is important that we look carefully at the reasons for introducing the bill. Anyone who has even scant knowledge of the issue knows that there has been an on-going problem with the blue badge scheme because non-badge holders abuse disabled parking places. However, as the committee report states, there are no official figures on abuse of on-street disabled persons' parking places. The blue badge scheme is all about assisting disabled people to travel independently, but the baywatch campaign found that one in five disabled parking spaces is abused by non-disabled drivers.
In evidence, supermarkets and private car park operators said that they are not opposed to the bill. As other members have mentioned, Asda has led the way by introducing a fines system for people who abuse disabled persons' bays. Far from the system being unpopular, Mr Mason of Asda highlighted in his evidence, as other members have mentioned, that 93 per cent of Asda's customers support the system of fines being extended.
The committee report details clearly that there is an on-going debate about advisory versus enforceable disabled parking bays. There is also a
"in conducting an audit of their existing advisory disabled persons' parking bays," but the committee
"agrees that a year after the Act comes into force should ... be a reasonable" timeframe for "completion of this exercise." In our evidence-gathering sessions, we spent a considerable amount of time hearing from witnesses, which was a useful exercise in fleshing out some important points that needed to be addressed. As others have highlighted, there was much discussion on the £1.7 million cost that was identified to the Finance Committee. I assert that much more clarification of the costs is required from local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. It can be argued that budgets for measures that are already in place should be prioritised by having recourse to the best practice that has been established under disability discrimination legislation that is already on the statute book.
As the committee's report notes, only 21 local authorities responded to the member's consultation. Bearing in mind that there are 32 local authorities in Scotland, I do not think that that is an especially helpful response rate. Furthermore, the responses showed a significant variation in respect of the financial costs that are associated with the bill, as other members have highlighted. In paragraph 166, the committee's report states clearly that
"the overall estimate of £1.7 million ... is subject to a significant degree of doubt."
Indeed, to my mind, the argument that was made by one local authority seemed more like a potential money-grab for funding for the anticipated one-off cost rather than an attempt to embrace service delivery for disabled people in its community.
As several witnesses stated in evidence, the bill will impact on the wider debate inside and outside Parliament. The committee's report, and research that has been conducted by other organisations, suggest that the bill will have a significant crossover with the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the disability equality duty, which has applied to all local authorities since it came into effect on 4 December 2006. Leonard Cheshire Disability's written submission notes that, in undertaking their functions, public bodies in Scotland are required to
"have a 'due regard' to promote disability equality".
Public bodies are, under existing legislation, under a duty to encourage participation by disabled persons in public life. Given that context, the bill will help to underpin the concept of independent living in a practical sense rather than in the abstract. The bill is not some glib and well-meaning statement of intent. The Equality and Human Rights Commission's written submission gets to the heart of the matter. It states that the bill will help by
"removing a persistent barrier to disabled people's participation in society."
I welcome the general principles of the bill and the Local Government and Communities Committee's stage 1 report. I thank the committee members, clerks, those who provided written and oral evidence and all those who have tried to ensure that the bill makes a meaningful contribution to tackling this area of social exclusion.
In concluding, I welcome the fact that the Government is in favour of the general principles of the bill. I urge all members to assist the bill's passage through Parliament and I look forward to its becoming an act.
I add my thanks and congratulate Jackie Baillie both on introducing the bill and on the progress that it has made so far.
Many of us will have had a feeling of déjà vu when Jackie Baillie described the cases that first got her interested in the issue. Many members will have shared my experience of having constituents come to their surgeries to tell about the difficulties that they or their families have had in using disabled parking bays. Sometimes those difficulties have occurred when they have been out shopping. However, as Jackie Baillie said, often they occur when they return home and attempt to park in the advisory parking bay outside their house only to find that it is occupied by someone who has no right to be there. Therefore, the bill is indeed welcome.
I had the opportunity to discuss the bill proposal with users of the Possil and Milton Forum on Disability, which has a long name and an even longer track record of working with and enhancing the lives of disabled people in my constituency and across the north of the city of Glasgow. The meeting was well attended by people of varying ages and with a wide spectrum of disabilities. All of them were extremely supportive of Jackie Baillie's proposals and made a number of suggestions that they feel would help to make their daily lives a little bit easier as car users and people whose families help to transport them. The
In addition—perhaps in conflict with my colleague Hugh Henry—the group suggested that there should be guidance on the number of disabled parking bays that a supermarket or store is required to provide. My constituents said that although supermarket car parks often have hundreds of parking spaces, the proportion that is allocated to disabled shoppers is sometimes inadequate. They are particularly concerned about that because they feel that the more unscrupulous retailers would use implementation of the legislation as a rationale for reducing the size of the disabled parking bays that they provide so that they do not take up more space. Of course, my constituents might be wrong about that.
On a slightly more contentious note, my constituents also feel that the proposed £30 penalty for inappropriate parking is too little, and that a more appropriate fine would be £60. They suggest that the fine should increase every 21 days if it is not paid immediately, although that might be taking it too far. They agree that the money that is raised by fines that are issued by local authorities should be retained by local authorities and used to implement further work for disabled people.
My constituents identified one more issue, although it might be a matter for the Government rather than for the bill. They said that a high-visibility advertising campaign should accompany the introduction of enforcement, so that from the outset, all drivers will be aware of the new rules and of how they apply to them. My constituents also take the view that in time, the measure would become self-policing, so the enforcement element would fall by the wayside.
As members will have gathered, my constituents gave serious consideration to the consultation and the processes that are involved in a bill. Although some of their suggestions fall outwith the bill's scope, they are a fair representation of their views.
I was interested to read about the costs and difficulties that some local authorities predict if the bill is passed. I am sure that more work will have to be done in connection with that evidence so that the bill can receive substantial and robust financial backing. I can speak only of my experience of my local authority in connection with traffic regulation orders, where the promotion of TROs—particularly for controlled parking zones—has been pursued with what can only be described as zeal. A great
Another important element of the bill is the clarity that it will bring: it will mean that a common approach will be taken throughout the country, and that those who claim ignorance will no longer be able to do so. The legislation will be clear, consistent and, above all else, enforceable.
I thank Jackie Baillie for introducing the bill for Parliament's consideration. I am happy to participate in the debate as an MSP, as a councillor on Glasgow City Council and as the disability reporter to the Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee.
Legislation on disabled people's parking places is long overdue. Reliance by local authorities and other public bodies on the courtesy and consideration of non-disabled drivers not to take reserved parking spaces could be seen as a basic abrogation of their DDA duties. It should be redundant to say that disability is not a lifestyle choice. For many people, the use of a car is the only way in which they can access education and employment. For people in rural areas who do not have regular and reliable access to public transport, it is often the only way of reaching shops and ensuring continued social contact.
Therefore, abuse of disabled parking spaces by non-disabled drivers is an abuse of disabled people themselves. Such abuse is most often carried out by people who, in a non-driving situation, would be horrified to have it pointed out to them that they were behaving in a discriminatory manner. However, until everyone can be trusted not to indulge in the—shall we say—slight transgression of stopping a wee bit closer to the shops because they have a lot of bags to carry or have children with them, or because it is raining, we must protect disabled parking spaces, because there are disabled people who have all those reasons for parking closer to the shops, as well as a disability to manage.
That being the case, we must consider legislation that will protect the rights of disabled people to use designated parking facilities and which will impose penalties on those who abuse those facilities. The only way of doing that is to create enforceable bays, which are cost effective to implement and operate. Many calls are made on local authorities' finances for delivery of a wide range of services, but their service-provision duties are to all their citizens, both those who are able bodied and those who have disabilities. It is therefore incumbent on our councils to work together to establish best practice in areas such as the one that we are debating.
The estimated costs of creating cost effective and enforceable parking bays that are patrolled by local enforcement officers who have specific knowledge of areas where non-disabled drivers abuse such spaces should not vary as widely as they do—from £12.20, which is the figure that West Dunbartonshire Council quotes, to £400 in Glasgow. To ensure compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and effective mainstreaming of opportunity for disabled people in the general population, our councils must actively co-operate in addressing such wildly varying quotations for the implementation of viable and enforced disabled parking bays in our cities, towns and villages.
Emphasis must be placed on councils' duty to deliver on the disability equality scheme and on their action plans to meet it. No additional administrative burdens are being imposed. Councils already have a disability equality duty, as well as a duty to demonstrate their delivery of it. There needs to be a standardisation of enforceable disabled parking bays, as the complex system of advisory bays has failed to deliver and proved to be open to abuse.
As the debate has demonstrated, there is good will on all sides to deliver a legally enforceable system. I understand that some of the costs and operational figures that have been presented might make some members balk but, in some cases, the figures are because the necessary will is lacking among the people who made the estimates.
It will be up to us to promote a legislative agenda that will result in the publicly funded bodies in question delivering on their duty to all our citizens, both those who are able bodied and those who have disabilities. We are all aware that the financial consequences of implementing the proposals have not yet been fully evaluated, but I wish to register my support for the aims of a much-needed bill.
It is a privilege to participate in the debate. Like other members, I congratulate Jackie Baillie on her commitment to delivering the bill, on her tenacity, compassion and humanity and—critically—on her absolute understanding that we need to commit ourselves not only to tackling inequality, but to spending time understanding the challenges and then working on the solutions, detail by grinding detail. We need not only to look for headlines, but to make significant headway. When it comes to the capacity to understand the issue and then address the details, Jackie Baillie has it in spades.
I also congratulate the visitors to the gallery, including the disability groups that have come to listen to the debate—a debate that has been shaped by their campaigning on the issue. Just as important, they have contributed to a greater understanding of how disability is experienced, how services for people with disabilities do not fully meet their needs and how those services should be better organised in order to meet those needs.
On a personal note, I particularly congratulate the parallel transport liaison group from Glasgow, whose representatives are here today. It is a group with a challenging name but a powerful message. It brings together users, carers and Glasgow City Council, and is supported by voluntary organisation Fair Deal. PTLG provides a forum that liberates people who have learning disabilities to speak for themselves on the issues. When, as a fresh-faced younger MSP—not the haggard old hulk members see before them today—I was asked to chair that group, I found myself in a rigorous and refreshing place—a place where the fact that I cared was not the issue. What I could do to promote PTLG's agenda on transport issues was what mattered. However, I am troubled that in these financially difficult times, an organisation such as PTLG may have its funding cut. We must understand that addressing the needs of disability is about not just service provision. It is also about support for those who tell us what that service provision should be. I urge the minister, in considering the financial concordat, to reflect on that and to enter into dialogue on those softer budget areas that may become vulnerable in hard times.
The issue of disabled parking spaces seems such a simple one: people lack mobility and need to park close to the shop, the doctor's surgery, the hospital, their homes and so on. We create spaces for people who have disabilities and no mobility in the expectation that those who are blessed with mobility will not use them. It should be simple and for many people it is. It is a simple rule: no ifs, no buts, no maybes—people who are not disabled
The need for legislation exposes, at best, a lack of awareness about the challenge that faces people who lack of mobility and why disabled parking spaces are needed and, at worst, a cavalier and distressing indifference—if not hostility—to the people who are entitled to such spaces. It is as if it is perceived that people in wheelchairs have stolen a march on those who have no mobility problems. We need to reflect on what that attitude says about our society.
Although the legislation is small in the order of things, and will not do everything, it will make a significant change. We ought not to make good the enemy of excellence in dealing with the legislation. The need for it speaks of something troubling and selfish in our society. It appears that those who choose to be selfish want to rationalise and justify the legislation away by talking not about their actions but about abuse of the blue badge scheme. Of course, if there is abuse of the blue badge scheme, it impacts most on those who are disabled, so it should be dealt with. Such abuse should certainly not be a cover for people who believe that their need to park is more important than the needs of others. I look for agreement from the minister that his Administration understands its responsibility for tackling that broader and disturbing attitude to disability.
The practical steps to address inequality are not what we do when everything else is done. It is not just what we care about, but where money is spent. I accept that resources and funding decisions are critical. We need clarification from the minister on the importance of equality impact assessments of the single outcome agreements, which shape and determine local government priorities—
I am, fundamentally, making a point about the bill—we must will the resources to deliver on our aspirations. I ask the minister to clarify whether equality impact assessments are necessary for single outcome agreements, as Mr Swinney has said, or whether they are not, as local authorities have said. With regard to our equality duties, the concordat must not—whatever approach is taken—signal deprioritisation by local government of its equality responsibilities.
Finally, the bill is a testimony to those who have shaped it, but it is also a testimony to this Parliament. Its being passed would confirm that it is possible for people in our communities to pose challenges, identify problems, offer solutions and demand that we act. In this small bill, we are being true to our belief that active engagement in our communities is the real politics to which we aspire. I urge members to support the bill at 5 o'clock.
I, too, congratulate Jackie Baillie on progressing her bill so far. Any member who has pursued a member's bill will know that it is a long journey simply to reach the point of committee scrutiny, never mind a parliamentary debate at stage 1. I believe that the principles of the bill deserve to be commended, and I hope that all members will find it in themselves to support it this evening.
As other members do, I regularly receive complaints from constituents about misuse and abuse of disabled parking bays. I agree with Jackie Baillie that the issue is about quality of life. Although I have received many complaints over the years, it has been only in the past couple of years—since my mum became a blue badge holder—that I have appreciated the impact that abuse of spaces can have on a person's quality of life. She has benefited from the scheme when I have been taking her to places. The extra provisions that the bill will make for protection of disabled parking bays is extremely important.
I will raise three issues, which I hope will contribute to improving the overall provision of disabled parking bays for individuals, and the specific impact that the bill will have. There appears to be a lack of logic in relation to how local authorities currently apply advisory restrictions to use of disabled parking bays. In my constituency, Falkirk Council applies an advisory notice—in particular to on-street parking in the town centre—that applies only from Monday to Saturday. As one of my constituents put it to me, his disability lasts seven days a week, not six. Consequently, when he is shopping in the town centre on a Sunday, most of the disabled parking bays are taken up by individuals who do not qualify for a blue badge.
I am sure that members will appreciate that at this time of year, Sunday is a normal trading day in most town centres. Interestingly, Audit Scotland recently advised Falkirk Council that it should charge for its parking areas on a Sunday because it is a normal trading day. There is an issue of consistency with regard to how authorities apply advisory notices, so we need to ensure that legislation allows local authorities to deal with such matters consistently. Disability is not something
The second issue is linked to the bill itself—it concerns the random approach that appears to be taken in deciding how many disabled parking bays there should be within local authority-owned parking areas. I will give an example from my constituency. The car park in Meeks Road has 337 spaces, five of which are designated for disabled people. Close by, in Melville Street, there are 67 spaces, five of which are designated for disabled people. Clearly, the Melville Street car park has a much higher proportion of spaces for disabled people. When the matter has been pursued with the council, however, there appears to be no logic in how it decides how many disabled parking bays to provide. If we are to provide that disabled parking bays can be enforced so that they are not abused, we also need clearer guidance on how local authorities determine how many disabled parking bays should be provided in car parks.
If the legislation is to be effective, then a further point needs to be addressed, on which I will give an illustration from my constituency. One of my constituents qualifies for a blue badge and also qualifies under the local authority's scheme to provide a designated disabled parking bay outside their house. Another constituent moves into the street who also has a blue badge and qualifies for parking under that criterion, but does not meet the council's criteria for having a disabled parking bay outside their house. Inevitably, we end up with a fight over the disabled parking bay. The council is unprepared to address the matter, and the police cannot address it because, as far as they are concerned, even though there is an advisory notice, any blue badge holder can use the space.
That problem illustrates the disjointed way in which we decide whether people can have a blue badge and whether they should be able to get a designated disabled parking bay through their local authority. Greater consistency in how local authorities address such issues will help to improve the provision of parking bays for disabled people throughout Scotland.
I support the general principles of the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill and I congratulate Jackie Baillie on introducing it. I am glad that the Scottish Government supports the bill's general principles. I commend the lead committee and the two other parliamentary committees for their scrutiny of the bill thus far.
When I read the evidence that was considered in committee, I was struck by several aspects. First, Glasgow City Council stated in evidence that it receives only about 100 complaints a year from disabled drivers about abuse of advisory disabled parking bays by able-bodied drivers. I find that figure surprisingly low, given that I have received such complaints regularly in my three years as an MSP and my 18 years as a councillor in Glasgow. Perhaps the number of complaints is low not due to a low incidence of abuse of bays but because injured parties see no point in complaining, given the absence of enforcement.
The quantity of complaints from disabled drivers about the abuse of advisory bays by non-disabled drivers is one thing, but the quality of such cases can be distressing. One of a number of my constituents who await the enactment of the bill is a single parent of two severely disabled children. Her neighbours constantly park in her advisory bay, often leaving her to park several hundred yards away. I will not tell members my opinion of that family's neighbours because I do not want to resort to unparliamentary language, but the case raises another point that requires clarification as the bill proceeds. The single mother is not a blue badge holder. Glasgow City Council's social work department approved her request for an advisory bay due to her children's disabilities, and rightly so. I hope that the bill will accommodate the retention of such local discretion.
The main message is that, because so many of our fellow citizens are so selfish about advisory and indeed mandatory disabled parking bays, the age of enforcement has come.
I turn to the implementation costs that councils will face. I read Glasgow City Council's evidence on the matter and, given my personal experience, I am not surprised by its estimate of the cost of implementing the bill in the first year, which is £2.1 million. Even if that supposedly high figure is prorated across Scotland, in which case councils' set-up costs for implementing the bill might come to about £5 million, that would be a price well worth paying. In any case, a large proportion of the costs—principally set-up costs—could be non-recurring after the first year and could be capitalised to a great degree.
To be fair, Glasgow City Council supports the general principles of the bill. As David McLetchie mentioned, some councils—including Glasgow City Council—suggested a cheaper and easier way of achieving some of the bill's requirements, albeit with the use of reserved legislation. However, we should not be doctrinaire about how best to right long-standing wrongs.
I hope that Parliament approves the general principles of the bill tonight and that we subsequently use the remaining parliamentary
For me, the bill is about ensuring that everyone in Scottish society is treated with the same respect and dignity, no matter who they are. If a person found it more difficult to access or leave their home, to use local facilities, to visit local shops or to go and see their friends simply because of the colour of their skin, their sex or their religion, the Parliament would rightly be outraged. We should not stand for it. It should be no different for people with mobility issues, and the bill addresses equality of access for those in our society who are disabled. For that reason, I will support the Disabled Persons' Parking Places (Scotland) Bill later this afternoon. I commend Jackie Baillie for the bill.
My comments are based on my experience as a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, which took evidence on Jackie Baillie's bill. On the cost of the obligations that will be placed on local authorities should the bill be passed, the financial memorandum says that £1.7 million is required to implement designation orders on existing disabled bays throughout Scotland. However, as we have heard, Glasgow City Council estimates that around £2 million will be required in set-up costs alone, with £2.1 million required to repaint its 4,500 advisory bays. I am not sure where Glasgow City Council is getting its paint from, but the figure suggests that it does not exactly drive the best deal for my constituents and hard-pressed council tax payers. Perhaps the paint is purchased from the home decoration department of Harrods—along with some gold-handled paint-brushes—or perhaps the costs have simply been inflated. John Wilson made some pointed remarks about that, with which I associate myself.
If the bill is to progress, it is vital that we get some more robust figures from local authorities, so that the obligations that are placed on them can be properly costed and planned for. As is noted in the committee's report, Euan Page of the Equality and Human Rights Commission stated:
"there should be no additional administrative burdens on local authorities as a result of the Bill, because this should be part of their ongoing work under the Disability Equality Duty."
If authorities have not been doing that work, why not? If legislation is needed, it is because it is time for legislation.
On enforcement, I too will mention Asda—we have heard a few people mention Asda today; I promise that none of us is sponsored by it. It gave
After Asda gave evidence to the committee, I took the opportunity to meet Asda and Town and City Parking at one of Asda's Glasgow stores. I saw a system that was operating very well. In the first 10 months of 2008, Asda fined a total of 185 motorists among its five Glasgow stores. That model may be a template for the owners of other private car parks in responding to the new obligations that the bill will place on local authorities to contact the owners of private car parks with a view to enforcing disabled bays.
On on-street parking and enforcement, it is important to ensure that people know that the bill will not mean that there is a police officer or warden lurking around every corner. However, it should be easier to enforce the legislation in town centres and on high streets, if that is appropriate, given the likelihood that police officers and wardens will be present anyway. When the legislation is abused, I expect it to be routinely enforced and fines levied.
The situation is more difficult in remote and rural areas. It is also unrealistic to expect there to be a warden or a police officer lurking around every corner if a bay is abused on housing estates and schemes throughout Scotland. Therefore, it is important that the general thrust of the legislation is about not only access and equality for disabled individuals but changing people's attitudes and behaviour.
We need more idea of the guidance that will be given to those who will enforce the disabled parking scheme. For example, in local communities, might a sensible way ahead be for a community warden to chap at the door of someone who parks in a disabled bay, to warn them that they could be fined in future, rather than levying a fine there and then? We must ensure that light-touch enforcement is used when that is appropriate and that firm enforcement is used when that is appropriate. We must get the balance right.
I would like to hear more about what guidance will be issued but, all in all, I am happy to agree to the general principles of the bill.
As I expected, the debate has produced a great deal of consensus among all the parties and the members who have spoken. I, too, congratulate Jackie Baillie on introducing the bill.
We all have anecdotal tales from our constituencies and regions of the serious inconvenience that the problem has caused constituents. Duncan McNeil commented on the selfishness that exists in our society. Some of that is based on people thinking that someone is not disabled unless they can see a disability. When, despite the presence of a blue badge, apparently able-bodied people are seen using disabled parking spaces, it is assumed that they are misusing the service—I have seen that happen, in particular to my own late parents. We need to find a way of changing our attitudes towards what constitutes "disabled". For the most part, it is our society that disables people. People may be differently abled, but what causes major problems is the way in which our society is structured.
To return specifically to the bill, the variable cost issue, which several members have mentioned, reminds me of an incident in my own region when an individual with a parking bay outside their house who asked for it to be repainted was offered the paint to do it themselves, because the council had neither the time nor the enthusiasm to provide someone to do it. It is not clear what the councils are doing. Bob Doris made some telling remarks about the cost of paint—it is clear that B&Q is not a popular destination for Glasgow City Council.
Patricia Ferguson referred to vehicle sizes. Many privately owned car parks have wider spaces, but many of them do not take into account the fact that, often, the people using them are not transferring from their wheelchair to a car; they are in a wheelchair and have another driver. It is common for vehicles with drop-down tails to be boxed in by inconsiderate able-bodied drivers, to the extent that people cannot get back into their vehicle. We need consistency in the size of spaces. There should be an obligatory standard size—I include in that width and length—because the sizes of bays cause major problems. In fact, not far away from Ms Ferguson's constituency office, considerable problems have been caused—I speak from personal knowledge.
I am pleased that, in general, the minister supports the bill. We need to clarify the costs. Many members spoke in support of Asda's approach, which is good, although we would be
As my colleague Jim Tolson rightly pointed out, the Liberal Democrats fully support the general principles of the bill, although we have concerns about the variability in the financial estimates. I will not take up any more of the Parliament's time reiterating points that other members have made. The issue has been well discussed and many good points have been raised. I congratulate Jackie Baillie again. We will support the bill at decision time.
I congratulate Jackie Baillie on introducing any kind of legislation. As her colleague Mary Mulligan mentioned, we have had a legislation-light session of Parliament. I am sure that some new members have been here for 18 months and are not entirely familiar with the bill process. I thank Jackie Baillie for making progress on that, at least. However, I qualify that statement by suggesting to the Government that returning to the approach that the Labour Party took in the first two sessions might be a slight overreaction.
I welcome the bill. As I am not a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee and did not go through the evidence until I read the committee's report, I have been informed by today's debate. One of the more interesting figures that we have heard is that 4.5 per cent of the population of Scotland hold a blue badge. That figure is much higher than I expected it to be—it means that all of us will know someone who has a blue badge and many of us will be related to someone who has one. The issue touches us all in many ways.
Some time ago, my mother, who is now a blue badge holder, found out a bit about the misuse of parking restrictions when she and my daughter went shopping—as it happens, at an Asda store. They used a mother-and-child parking space, and my mother was horrified because my daughter
An early part of the debate centred on the abuse of disabled parking spaces and why that has become necessary. I was interested in Jackie Baillie's story about a young man driving a red BMW, and equally interested in Hugh Henry's speed in jumping in to intervene, which made me wonder whether he owns a red BMW too. However, he made a sensible point. Perhaps there are too many disabled spaces in some modern supermarket car parks. A problem may exist if that causes people to take a blasé approach and abuse such spaces. I do not support Hugh Henry's position, but there is an issue that should be addressed.
Duncan McNeil's extremely well-researched speech has been the most informative and interesting in the debate. He spoke about the problem of the obvious abuse of disabled parking spaces and used a phrase that will stick in my memory and which has already been repeated: he said that the age of courtesy or politeness is over and that the age of enforcement has begun.
The Conservatives firmly believe that the bill is necessary. Of course, we are the party that habitually believes that legislation should not be the first port of call and should not be used unnecessarily to force people to behave in a particular way. However, we have had disabled parking spaces and blue badges that show that a person is entitled to use a disabled parking space in Scotland for a long time. The experiment has now run its course; the time for legislation has come.
I was interested in Duncan McNeil's suggestion that evidence that has been presented may show that those who abuse disabled parking spaces are more likely to offend in other ways. That indicates to me that we have a broader problem in Scotland. The failure to enforce what we may see as relatively trivial legislation simply encourages people to take a poor attitude towards observing the law at any level, which does not serve our society at all. For that reason, I support what has been proposed.
David McLetchie set out the Conservatives' position and his three tests. His first test was whether the problem justifies legislative intervention. What I have said so far indicates that we believe that legislation is appropriate. However, he qualified what he said by saying that amendments to the bill may be necessary to ensure that things are dealt with in an appropriate way.
David McLetchie's second test was whether the proposals are likely to achieve the desired
The final test is the cost of the proposed remedy. We must consider the costs in detail, as they are a problem. Several members have discussed the wide range of estimated costs to local authorities. There is an expectation that something to deal with the abuse of disabled parking spaces can be achieved legislatively at a reasonable cost throughout Scotland, but a problem must be addressed, as different local authorities have come up with wildly differing cost estimates. As the bill progresses towards stages 2 and 3, the Conservatives will need to have a much clearer view of what the costs will be. We look forward to those costs being discussed in another forum.
In conclusion, the Conservatives accept that the bill is justified and so will agree to its general principles at 5 o'clock.
As expected, the debate has been well informed. Members have emphasised the reasons why we need to pass the bill, the uncertainty in our discussions about finances, what the bill will do, and, of course, what it will not do. I will return to the uncertainty about finances.
I refer back to the issue of enforcement. It is clear that although many local authorities have been happy to establish disabled parking bays—both on-street and off-street—it has been impossible to enforce them without having recourse to a penalty. The bill provides for that enforcement. That is the right and logical thing to do, given that we have seen clearly the abuse of parking spaces that has occurred because there has been no enforcement. However, I am sure that there will need to be further discussion of Patricia Ferguson's point that, as her constituents commented, perhaps a £30 fine is not sufficient penalty. Perhaps we will return to that point.
The debate covered private car park owners being encouraged to designate and enforce disabled parking places. The committee heard from Graeme Taylor of National Car Parks Ltd that NCP supported the principles of the bill 100 per cent. The committee also heard from Asda about its good practice in relation to enforcement, to which other members have referred. Any suggestion that the bill is failing because it does not include private parking facilities has clearly
I return to the issue of finance. As expected, many members have said that it was difficult to get a handle on exactly how much the bill would cost, because of the differences in the submissions from local authorities throughout Scotland. Without wishing to appear profligate—excuse my pronunciation of that; I knew that I should not attempt to say it, but members know what I mean—I must agree with Charlie Gordon that the bill is the right piece of legislation and we should support it whatever it costs us. It will not be an enormous amount and it will be worth every penny that we spend.
David McLetchie asked whether it would have been better if the measures in the bill had been part of UK legislation. I suspect that, on this occasion, I will agree with him. That probably would have been better, but there is no opportunity for us to take forward the measures as part of UK legislation. I do not think that people in Scotland would forgive us if we were to miss the opportunity to pass a piece of legislation that can make a difference to their lives. I appreciate that David McLetchie has agreed, too, that we should go our own way on this occasion and proceed with the bill.
Patricia Ferguson made the telling point that it is all very well for us to debate the bill and go through the various stages, but without the necessary publicity to ensure that people in our communities know what we are doing, the bill will not be worth the paper that it is written on. I ask the minister and the member in charge of the bill to say in their winding-up speeches how they envisage that message being taken out to communities throughout Scotland to ensure that people know that enforcement is possible and that there will be retribution should they park in spaces in which they are not entitled to park. It is important that we make that as clear as possible to as many people as possible.
A number of members stressed the need to standardise the approach to disabled parking bays. Bill Kidd and Michael Matheson said that there was inconsistency in the way in which local authorities had identified parking bays and sought to ensure that they were reserved. One of the advantages of the bill is that it should bring about standardisation, so that, no matter where people are in Scotland, it will be easy for them to understand the regulations before them.
Jim Tolson mentioned the administrative burden on local authorities, which we should not dismiss. We should recognise that, given the disability equality duty, there is already an onus on local authorities, so part of the administrative burden should, if anything, be reduced. The Equality and Human Rights Commission provided information to members about the requirements that the disability equality duty places on local authorities, which include several steps to ensure that opportunities are made available to people with disabilities. The bill sits nicely alongside the duties that local authorities already have.
No one has spoken against the bill today. Across the parties, we have recognised the bill's moral substance. Even our legislative sceptic, Mr McLetchie, acknowledges that we need legislation to enforce the obligation. Given that, I am safe to say that the bill will pass stage 1. I look forward to reflecting on all the issues that members have raised in this constructive debate as the Local Government and Communities Committee considers the bill further at stage 2.
The debate started with exactly the right tone. Jackie Baillie related her bill to the interests not of parliamentarians, but of disabled constituents, who led her to intervene by introducing the bill. She referred provocatively to big flash cars. If only big flash cars alone committed the offence that we wish to eliminate, we would be on our way. We could just persuade our colleagues at Westminster—the consensus among the parties on my left and my right is clear about seeking support there—and ban all big flash cars. As the minister with responsibility for climate change, I might have something to say about that another time.
That homes in on the point that the bill is not dry. It is about the lives of people—as we heard, 4.5 per cent of people in our population have a blue badge. I guess that, as our population is likely to age, that proportion will increase rather than decrease. The bill raises an important matter for Parliament and for legislation.
Every member who participated said something relevant and interesting. One or two comments might have stretched the debate's boundaries, but that will not prevent me and the Government from noting them in other places and considering appropriate responses beyond what the bill requires.
Hugh Henry did not receive universal support for what he said, but we might think about the number of disabled parking places that should be available as a proportion of places at an appropriate time.
Various members quoted the statement in the committee's report that politeness needs to be replaced by enforcement. It is a great sorrow to wrinklies such as me that politeness has been replaced by ill manners and unpreparedness among too many people in our society to acknowledge others' needs.
Johann Lamont was correct to challenge the minister but, in reality, she challenged us all to say that we are determined to deal with disability issues. All levels of government of all political persuasions are committed to engaging on such matters and to addressing the needs of people with disabilities.
David McLetchie made the familiar point—it is familiar to me because I, too, have made it from time to time—that legislation ain't always the answer. It is more important to make changes in the operation of society and less the case that changing laws in itself delivers such changes. The two aspects must go hand in hand when appropriate, but the test is whether we change the experience of the relevant people.
The ever-festive Michael Matheson made an interesting point, which was timely and relevant in the context of the upcoming Christmas season, when he talked about the six-day bays in Falkirk. He drew well on the experience of his constituents. I think that Mary Mulligan talked about inconsistency throughout Scotland; the example from Falkirk Council perhaps demonstrates an incoherent rather than an inconsistent approach. Perhaps I have not heard the whole story; there might be more to it than we heard in the debate.
Charlie Gordon made an interesting point about youngsters with particular needs who have able-bodied parents. There is something quite important in what he said; I cannot pretend to understand fully how the blue badge scheme works in that regard, but I will take the matter away and think about it.
A number of members said that people who abuse disabled parking bays are more likely to be criminals. In that context, I was particularly interested in Alex Johnstone's speech and I hope that his sister is not of that character—if I understood him correctly, he was talking about his mother's daughter—
In any event, Alex Johnstone will be answerable for his remarks to a higher authority—a woman.
I reiterate the Government's warm welcome for the initiative, and to all members who spoke in the debate I give thanks. Some technical issues remain to be considered. For example, under
We heard that there is a high cost per bay in Glasgow, which seemed counterintuitive, because we would expect that in an area where there was greater density of bays the amount of walking—to put it crudely—that the man or woman who inspected the bays needed to do would be less than would be the case in, for example, Aberdeenshire, where I live, which is one of the most rural areas of Scotland. However, sometimes intuition does not work. It might be that the estimated costs are high because it is thought that it will be necessary to make a single order for every space. That will probably not be the case. I hope that there will be a good exchange of best practice between councils, to ensure that we secure not only a more robust understanding of the costs but costs that are much more acceptable to us.
Hugh O'Donnell made me think about the word "disability". The debate is not about disability. Rather than focusing on that rather negative word, we are talking about enabling people and restoring abilities through positive action; given the opportunity to do that, it would be grotesque and unfair if we were to deny an ability to someone who is capable of benefiting from our making access to it possible. I wish the member good speed.
I start by thanking all members for their contributions to the debate and for their kind comments.
The issue has been one not just for me but for several members before me. I recall Duncan McNeil holding a members' business debate on baywatch—the campaign and not the television programme, I hasten to add, although we were slightly confused for a few minutes when he announced it. I also recall the Equal Opportunities Committee inquiry in 2006 into disability and transport, education and lifelong learning. We have done the work together as a Parliament, rather than it being just about me.
I will try to pick up on all of the points in the debate, although I apologise in advance if I do not manage to cover them all. I am happy to talk to members in the days and weeks to come.
I associate myself entirely with Johann Lamont's remarks about why we should pass the bill and, in particular, on the funding of organisations such as Fair Deal. They have campaigned long and hard for the rights of disabled people, not just in a philosophical way but in a practical way that has made a real difference to them. It would be a shame if their funding was threatened.
Let me proceed to the substantive points that members have made. Duncan McNeil, John Wilson and several others mentioned the blue badge scheme. I am pleased to note that the UK Government has announced an overhaul of the scheme in England. Measures include the immediate confiscation of misused badges, a £10 million data-sharing system to crack down on badges that have been stolen or forged, and the use of new technologies, such as barcodes, from which I believe we could learn.
However, we should not conflate the two issues of the blue badge scheme and the abuse of disabled parking. Rather than attempt to explain that myself, I will quote directly from the evidence to the committee of the Equality and Human Rights Commission:
"We must make a clear policy distinction between the issue of tightening up the blue badge scheme to make it less open to fraud and misuse and dealing with people who persistently make fraudulent use of blue badges, and the issue of people's choices about how and where they live their lives being curtailed because the number of designated parking spaces is inadequate."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 2 September 2008; c 1068.]
I recognise that there is abuse of the blue badge scheme, and members throughout the chamber will welcome the minister's comments about working alongside the UK Government to ensure that we crack down on that abuse in Scotland.
I thank the minister for the Government's support. Regrettably, the bill does not ban big, flash cars. The minister may want to consider amending the bill at stage 2 to do that, but the bill currently unites the chamber and I would not want him to upset the nice balance that we have achieved.
A couple of aspects of the paper from the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland suggest to me that the paper is perhaps not as robust as we need. I will deal with cost and—if I dare—I will start with the painting of lines. For Perth and Kinross Council, that costs about £30, compared with Glasgow City Council, which gave evidence to the committee that it costs £66 to paint lines. That figure has now risen to £87 per
Equally, the paper makes no mention of income. We know that enforcement in decriminalised areas generates a surplus, so we need to treat the latest piece of information with the critical capacity that members have. It would be easy for me as an Opposition member to tell the Government to give councils a blank cheque, but I think that it is incumbent on the Parliament to secure value for money, so we should be critical in our approach.
Like David McLetchie, I believe that councils should take a positive approach to encouraging private car park owners, but contacting the owners by letter is our minimum expectation. I take as a compliment the fact that the minister believes that I alone can negotiate with COSLA on the Government's behalf. However, the Scottish Government is the paymaster and has thousands of civil servants who are much more skilled than I am, so I respectfully suggest that it take the lead, as the committee recommended. I am more than happy to work with it to ensure that we drive down the figures so that they are more robust.
I have no doubt that we are on the same side but, as I said, I take it as a compliment that the minister thinks that I am more able to negotiate with COSLA than the entire Scottish Government and all its civil servants. I do not want us to divide on that, but it merits further discussion on how to move forward.
I will stick with costs for a moment, because many members raised that issue. The example from Fife is not imaginary; it is a real cost of £119. Fife Council subsequently confirmed it again. Therefore, members must ask themselves why there is such a disparity. If Fife Council can create a disabled parking space for £119, we need to understand why other local authorities cannot. David McLetchie gently suggested that some were perhaps overegging the pudding. I ask members to remember the claim that it would take two men in Highland Council 12 years to identify their 400-odd bays as opposed to two men in Glasgow one year to do 4,500. The Parliament needs to examine carefully what it is being told.
Patricia Ferguson mentioned the size of bays. When they become enforceable, bays will be subject to minimum standards, which is a helpful consequence of the bill.
On fines, we are using the existing enforcement regime, which is a matter for the local authorities and courts. In the main, fines are £60 but reduce to £30 if paid within two weeks. It is worth pointing out that, under the legislation that provides for those fines, the courts can apply penalties of up to £1,000.
Mary Mulligan and Patricia Ferguson discussed awareness. I agree with them on that and I hope that the Government will run a public information campaign, as it does for many other issues. I am happy to discuss with the minister how best we do that.
I will reflect on Michael Matheson's comments about consistency of approach. He is right about that. He will be pleased to know that the bill will deal with Falkirk Council's restrictions on advisory bays and that regulations will apply at all times.
I was going to say that I was conscious of time, but I have more time, so I will keep going.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Michael Matheson highlighted two constituents of his who are both blue badge holders but only one of whom is getting a disabled bay. I know from casework that that happens elsewhere and am keen to promote consistency, so I would be happy to discuss the matter with him.
Bob Doris raised the expectation that there will be reactive enforcement in residential areas but rightly pointed out that there would be proactive enforcement in public areas.
I thank the non-Executive bills unit, which does a lot of work behind the scenes that helps members' bills get this far. I also thank all the organisations that helped to shape the bill but that I did not have time to mention earlier: Inclusion Scotland, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Fair Deal, the Profound and Multiple Impairment Service, COSLA, various councils, including West Dunbartonshire, which have shaped much of my thinking, Asda, the Braehead shopping centre, National Car Parks and many more besides.
The bill is a simple measure with the potential to make a huge difference to the lives of disabled people. I hope that, tonight, the Parliament will take an important step forward for disabled people in Scotland by agreeing to the general principles of the bill.