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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 Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the committee’s clerks; I also thank the parliamentary clerks who helped to draft amendments, which was quite an onerous process. I thank my staff members, who have had many late nights drafting amendments at stages 2 and 3. I also thank the cabinet secretary and his team for their fairly constructive approach throughout the process.

A large number of external organisations have taken great interest in the bill, for the obvious reason that the bill’s contents are of great interest to people outside this building. I have met many external organisations and councillors, and even members of the public have contacted us in great numbers with their own views and concerns about the bill.

Overall, I think that the bill process has been positive; equally, I am disappointed in the final direction that the bill has taken. There is a lot to be positive about in the bill. The Scottish Conservatives support a lot of the measures in it, and I will address some of those.

First, I have perhaps shifted from where I stood on low-emission zones when I joined the Parliament, because I now see the good in them. I have gone through a journey in understanding what they will do to improve air quality in our cities. We tried to amend the bill as best we could to get it into better shape, but I wish the cities that choose to set up low-emission zones the very best. I hope that, in the future, there will be no need for LEZs because they will have fulfilled their objectives. I hope that we all share that aspiration.

Through the bill, we have worked to improve parking in our towns and cities. Pavement parking is a scourge in our towns and needs to stop, and I hope that the bill will address that. However, I voiced concerns about the approach that is taken in the bill. The plans to ban pavement parking completely that were presented to us seemed impractical and unworkable, and, following stage 3, I am not convinced that people outside this building will fully understand the consequences of the ban. Further, I am not entirely convinced that local authorities are aware of the exemption process and how it will work, nor am I confident about the enforcement that will take place. Where on earth are all the cars going to go once they are moved off the pavements? I do not have an answer to that question—I am not sure that any of us do. That is a problem that the bill presents.

Bus franchising is another major aspect of the bill. I support local authorities having the ability to run bus services if they choose to do so. Again, Conservative members have had what might seem to be a surprising shift in opinion from the views that we have expressed historically. We supported Labour on the issue at stage 2 because that seemed the right decision to take. However, as I said yesterday, we also created a bit of a mess in the bill at that stage. I hope that the end product is provisions that allow those who currently operate in the commercial environment to be able to do so fairly and transparently, but which give local authorities the extra power that we all, I think, want them to have.

Alas—this is my final point, given the short time, unfortunately, that I have to speak—I come to the workplace parking levy, on which there has been a lot of debate. The Conservatives lodged a series of very sensible and reasonable amendments to exempt a series of workers from the tax, but every single one of them was voted down by the Government. The Parliament did not endorse the policy at stage 1, and I would not have signed up to it if it had been in the stage 1 report. I accept that the issue was always going to be controversial, but I do not think that taking the approach that has been taken is how good law is made. It has undermined the parliamentary and committee processes and, structurally, it is not how bills should be presented.

It is with huge regret that I say that, because of the inclusion of the car park tax, Conservative members will vote against the Transport (Scotland) Bill at decision time. Given everything that I have heard from members of the public in the past 24 hours, those who support the car park tax today will rue the day that they did.