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Transport (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 10th October 2019.

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Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I close for the Scottish Conservatives on the Transport (Scotland) Bill with a sense of disappointment, as we will not be able to vote for it. Fundamentally, it is a good bill, improved by the extensive amendment that has taken place. We believe that low-emission zone schemes are a good thing, and that they could prove fundamental in tackling climate change. We are supportive of local franchising, but believe that it should be done in a considered manner, with local authorities being clear with their electorates about what the long-term impact on local public transport links and council budgets will be. We support smart ticketing, but feel that ministers could have taken a more ambitious approach. And I am pleased to see Parliament taking action on tackling obstructive parking, which is detrimental to local residents and particularly affects people with disabilities or visual impairments. Those are positive provisions that could have a significant impact on our transport framework.

However, we cannot vote for a bill in which a car park tax has appeared. I choose my words, because of course the provision was not there originally. Questions have to be asked about a process that sees Parliament agree to the principles of a bill that then has an entire tax regime inserted into it.

Incidentally—to pick up on Jamie Greene’s point of order from earlier, which was spot on—I have four minutes to speak on primary legislation to which hundreds of amendments were lodged, into which a whole new tax was inserted without evidence to support it, and on which the final debate has been significantly curtailed. If there is no time for interventions and challenges, can we really say that we are debating?

The car park tax is a measure that has simply not been thought through, with no economic analysis or consultation with businesses or stakeholders before it was proposed. Yesterday, Murdo Fraser flagged that although the amendment that introduced it looks like a Green amendment, it appears that the idea was first put on the table by the finance secretary. That makes sense, because it appears from Mike Rumble’s comments that if evidence been taken at stage 1, we would have learned that the tax does not lead to the behaviour change that is, apparently, the underlying principle. In fact, the evidence suggests that it might lead to increased congestion. The clear implication is that it is revenue generation dressed up as green virtue signalling.

As Edward Mountain said, that is, of course, the answer to why the Government is so keen to get the provision through, and to say that it is a local authority power. It allows the SNP to make ever more swingeing cuts to local authority funding and to say, “Well, we gave you the power to raise taxes on your people, so you can’t complain.” Although, as Alexander Burnett pointed out yesterday, it is not necessarily “your people”, because, for example, many people in Aberdeenshire drive to work in Aberdeen, where any parking levy would be collected and spent.

As Pauline McNeill said in her powerful contribution, the people who will be affected are those who, perhaps because of shift patterns or the nature of their work, may not have a safe, reliable and affordable public transport alternative. They have no option but to use their cars, and yet, for the privilege, they will get hit with a tax of £500 per year.

Mike Rumbles was right to say that it is the SNP’s right to team up and vote it through. However, that is why we lodged amendments to exempt various groups. I find it utterly shameful that not one—not one—SNP member agreed that we should exempt the police from a tax on doing their job, and that not one felt that teachers or, for that matter, school caterers or teaching assistants should not have to pay, even where they drive in from outside of a city because the public transport is insufficient. Yesterday, Gillian Martin intervened on me. I know that she knows, and cares deeply, about the lack of teachers in the north-east, yet she voted not to exempt them. Not one SNP member felt that we should exempt the military or Royal National Lifeboat Institution volunteers. That is staggering, because, surely, they cannot believe that an RNLI volunteer should pay £500 per year to save lives at sea.

This is a good bill, but in one of its most fundamental, far-reaching and prejudicial provisions, it falls woefully short. For that reason, we cannot support it at decision time.