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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

This is a short group on low-emission zones. It comes back to an issue that we discussed at great length at stages 1 and 2: what is the purpose of a low-emission zone?

At stage 2, there were amendments on this issue. I and the Labour Party presented further detail on what, for the avoidance of doubt, should be in the bill about the purpose of a low-emission zone. In its feedback at stage 2, the Government suggested that what we were proposing was perhaps overly prescriptive, and I accept that. It was perhaps unwise to put into the bill the technical standards and the emissions that low-emission zones should seek to reduce; there are better places to put those stipulations. That said, I still think that is important to push amendment 135 at stage 3, which would put into the bill an overarching message about the purpose of a low-emission zone. The reason for that is the avoidance of doubt among the general public about the purpose of a zone.

Like many others in the chamber, I want low-emission zones to succeed, but they will do so only if the public understand what the purpose and benefits of the zones are and if they have measurable objectives. Amendment 135 clarifies that

“The purpose of a low emission zone ... is to reduce transport-related emissions within and in the vicinity of the zone.”

It is not just the cities that operate a zone that will see a reduction; we also hope to see improvement in areas on the periphery of cities that operate such a zone. I have intentionally taken out any form of prescriptive data on what scientific evidence would define such a reduction. There are other ways that the Government can address that.

Amendment 137 follows on from that and states that the Scottish ministers should set out a report—basically, an updated scientific report—that states what should be included in the emission specification and standards for a low-emission zone. That is my new approach, which has the support of many organisations outside Parliament. Many of us have been speaking to organisations such as Friends of the Earth Scotland, which I thank for their involvement on the issue. I know that they wanted us to push the Government harder to be more specific about what sort of emissions we want to see reduced in Scotland, but I felt that I needed to take some of that out in order to have the best opportunity to have an amendment agreed to at stage 3. I hope that those organisations support the fact that we are debating the matter this afternoon and that the Government will include an overarching objective for low-emission zones.

We will not support amendments 49 and 55, in the name of Colin Smyth. I will let him speak to those and comment later. My understanding is that they introduce an automatic trigger that means that a local authority will have to set up a zone if there is a reduction in air quality, but I do not think that an automatic trigger is the way to do it. Low-emission zones should be set up with the purpose of targeting problematic areas. Automatic triggers will prove onerous to local authorities outside our bigger cities, which do not have the infrastructure to operate such schemes. We know that there can be small zones within local authority areas that have air quality issues; we have often talked about that in Parliament. Colin Smyth’s amendments would require local authorities to set up a low-emission zone to combat such air quality issues, but there are other ways that they could do that. An automatic trigger is not the way to do it, so we will not be able to support Mr Smyth.

I am happy to support amendment 54, in the name of the cabinet secretary.

I move amendment 135.