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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 Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee produced its stage 1 report on the bill, we were heartened by the cabinet secretary’s response

. We felt that there had been major improvements to the bill, such as the changes that were made to ensure that our local authorities would be able to establish their own bus companies in such a way that they would not be subject to running buses only on unprofitable routes. What company has ever been set up on that basis? Michael Matheson responded in the right way and amended the bill.

I worked with the cabinet secretary to see whether we could reach a reasonable compromise on pavement parking. We did, and the Government supported my amendments to ensure that a minimum width of 1.5m would be left clear. That is a real improvement—I say, as I said yesterday, well done to the cabinet secretary for listening, taking note of and supporting the correct action to improve the bill. That is how legislating in the Parliament is supposed to work.

Improving the Transport (Scotland) Bill was going very well until 20 completely new sections, on the workplace parking levy, were just dumped on us at stage 2. To use a familiar analogy, the bill process seems to have been a game of two halves. We all have our differences on the need for the new levy. The two nationalist parties want it, and the non-nationalist parties do not want it. [


.] I have no time for an intervention—we are short of time.

It is absolutely right and proper to lodge amendments to take that new measure out of the bill completely, and equally it is right and proper for the two nationalist parties to vote against those amendments. The attempt to remove the measure from the bill failed. Once that had happened, we moved on to other amendments on the subject, with the aim—in the opinion of Liberal Democrat members—of making a bad measure better. However, every single amendment—every single one—to the 20 new sections of the bill was voted down. All Opposition amendments were voted down by the two nationalist parties. Here is my point. No amendments were even lodged by back-bench nationalist MSPs to improve those 20 sections of the bill—those MSPs would not even seek to amend the bill themselves.

It is apparent to me that there have been two approaches to the bill. First, the Scottish Government recognised that it was not the fount of all knowledge and was amenable to amending the bill. However, when we came to the 20 new sections, on the workplace parking levy, suddenly the bill could not be improved. That is amazing—the Government is obviously infallible.

It is a disappointment to me to see such naked tribalism in action. I well remember the first three sessions of Parliament, from 1999 to 2011, when although parties had major differences, they could at least work together to produce good law. I was not here in the previous session; I am glad that, if I had to miss one session, it was to be that one. Why? It is because I was told, and I could see from afar, that pushing through legislation without full scrutiny and amendments produced bad law. Here we are again, it seems. This time, it is the two nationalist parties pushing through the workplace parking levy without amendments that are making bad law.

There are good measures in the bill, such as enabling our local authorities to set up unfettered bus companies to run profitable routes as well as unprofitable ones; a much-needed ban on pavement parking; and the creation of low-emission zones. Those are all very good things, but the Liberal Democrats cannot support the creation of a bad law, and we will vote against the bill at decision time.

The Labour Party’s saying that it is against the workplace parking levy and then voting for it at decision time says everything about the Labour Party. Far be it from me to intrude on personal grief in the Labour Party, but the correct course of action would be MSPs voting against the bill at decision time and asking the Scottish Government to bring back a new transport bill with the good measures that we could all have supported.