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Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th October 2019.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary. It is good to get off to a good start by supporting some of my amendments, especially as they were lodged quite late in the day. We had to respond fairly quickly after the Government lodged a large number of amendments on the national transport strategy on the Tuesday evening before the midday deadline the next day. We read through the Government’s amendments and they were warmly received by the Conservatives. There is a lot of good stuff in there. In the final hours, we sought to amend what was proposed and tinker with it slightly to see whether we could improve it constructively in any way.

I thank the Government for responding to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s concerns about the lack of a transport strategy in the bill. The bill is a transport bill and, although there will certainly be a lot of political back and forward and discourse today, we have to remember that it is, in effect, a bill of many smaller bills and that its purpose is to make improvements to transport in Scotland. The national transport strategy sits at the heart of that.

For the sake of brevity, I will not speak to all the amendments in the group. However, I would like to speak to the ones that the cabinet secretary has asked members to reject.

Amendment 38A says that it is okay to have a vision. I appreciate that the strategy is a long-term one, but I would like to see in it measurable policy objectives that are linked directly to the outcomes. Yesterday, we talked about the national islands plan and stakeholders’ feedback that it had lots of warm words and aspiration but lacked substance. We have an opportunity to avoid doing exactly the same with the NTS. The Government should introduce measurable policy objectives, and I would like them to be put in the bill. The key word is “measurable”. We and members in future sessions need to be able to look back and see whether the Government has kept to its outcomes. I appreciate that something so wide ranging will potentially span multiple sessions and Governments, but that should not let any future Government get out of having their performance measured and monitored. Therefore, I ask members to support amendment 38A.

I turn to the other amendments in the group, and specifically amendment 38E. I have asked the cabinet secretary to take into account

“access to further and higher education via public transport” as a key component of the national transport strategy. We commonly get feedback on how important transport is for people to get to their place of education. We took evidence on that in relation to the south of Scotland enterprise agency, and I am sure that my colleague Liz Smith has taken a lot of evidence on it over the years. Good access to decent public transport is vital for young people who are looking to go to college, university or indeed their place of work, and I would like the Government to put that into the bill.

I am pleased that the Government supports my amendments 38D and 38E. I thank the cabinet secretary for taking them, and amendment 40A, on board.

Amendment 38F seeks to add to the transport strategy a requirement on “economic development and growth” in relation to some specific metrics, which I think are commonly used ones. Including that would enable us to consider how we can use transport to boost the economy. Ultimately, what is transport? It is about getting people from A to B—from their home to their place of work or study, and vice versa. I do not see why we should not put that into the strategy. It might end up there, but I would like the requirement to be up front in the bill. Again, the objectives that I have specified are measurable ones so that the Government of the day can be held to account.

I turn to a few of my other, smaller amendments. I hope that my amendments that focus on the elderly and the disabled will be well received. I have had some communication with Age Scotland, which has actively contacted members, and I thank it for its support for the amendments. I hope that the Government will reflect on that support outside this building.

I am pleased that the Government is willing to come back to the Parliament and make a statement on the contents of the strategy. In addition to that, however, I hope that we will give it the place that it deserves, as there is a place for proper debate about the contents of the strategy. I know that the cabinet secretary is always willing to listen to ideas from across the Parliament, and I hope that we will move forward in that positive mood with the rest of the stage 3 consideration of the bill.