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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 John Finnie John Finnie Green

The bill is a very positive piece of legislation. As other members have done, I thank the committee’s staff, the civil servants, those who have provided briefings and all those who have contributed to our work on it—not least the long-suffering Archie Stoddart, one of the Scottish Government’s transport officials, who I hope will now get his life back.

At the outset of the debate, the cabinet secretary said that the bill is all about strategy and framing. That is how it should be seen: we are responding to climate breakdown and a global emergency over the state of our climate, and the bill is but one small part of that response.

The creation of the low-emission zone is a positive step. It is not just a paper exercise but will address the plight of the several thousand folk each year in Scotland who die because of poor air quality. As I keep saying in the chamber, that is not a matter that is restricted to our major cities. The town that I live in has a zone with poor air quality. The approach should be quite the reverse of encouraging people to come into town centres: we should be encouraging them to keep their vehicles out of them.

Such an approach is partly about providing good public transport. I know that a lot of people campaigned in different ways, and my colleague Colin Smyth has just mentioned some of them. I thank everyone who contributed to the Scottish Greens’ better bus campaign. Especially during our consideration of the amendments to the bill at stage 3, there was a lot of discussion about how the mechanics of the bill played together, and criticisms have been levied. In relation to buses, there was a situation to which the Government responded. I appreciate that it felt that it had to carry out checks, but we are not in a position in which all the parties in the chamber support our local authorities having the opportunity to run buses. The previous situation, in which there was no commercial profit to be made, was never going to be an attractive option, so that is a positive step.

My colleague Jamie Greene was very frank and honest in saying that he had gone on a personal journey in relation to the progress of the bill. I understand that: I am a car owner, too. The idea that some of these policies attack car owners is incorrect. We cannot have a situation in which everyone is content to say that although there is an emergency the status quo should prevail. I suspect that many members will now go on similar journeys.

Of course, the Scottish Greens would like to see a lot more folk going on free journeys through the extension of concessionary travel to people aged under 26. I have often mentioned Lothian Buses moving into East Lothian and arresting the decline in passenger numbers there by targeting young people.

We need to get people into the habit of using public transport. We also need to encourage people to get involved in active travel. I am therefore pleased at the support from members on all sides of the chamber for road orders, which Age Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities both want. I appreciate that—as we know—the cabinet secretary will undertake a review in that area.

In the short time that I have left, I will keep my comments positive. I could have said many negative things about the conduct of the debate, but it is important that all of us in the chamber, regardless of the position that we take on certain matters, understand and respect that other members have strongly held views.

I urge members to have a look at the work of the UK Parliament Transport Committee—I read a news report just before I came to the chamber. It said:

“Ministers consider pay-as-you-go road pricing to fill car tax black hole.”

The committee is also looking at charging for emission zones and introducing something called the workplace levy. Let us see what happens with those options. There is nothing new in what we have done in the bill, and it is fairly modest, but I think that it is a good piece of legislation. I will leave it there.