10 December 2009

S3M-5379 Climate Change [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 10 December 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Climate Change

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5379, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on climate change. I point out to members that time is not on our side, so they should stick to their time limits.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson:

I begin by welcoming Cathy Peattie to her new portfolio and thanking her for the considered and interesting contribution that she made in her first speech on the subject. I extend my thanks to colleagues around the building for working with me to enable me to lodge a motion that reflects shared aspirations and belief. That was a good start.

As many have said, climate change is the biggest environmental threat that we face, and 2009 is crucial. We might not have only two weeks to save the world but, as Alison McInnes said, we have two weeks to start to change the world. We have had a mature and useful debate on an enormously complex issue that has generated a lot of good comment. We have disagreed on the detail—that is to be expected—but we are united in common purpose. That is a good foundation on which to build as we go to Copenhagen, not just to talk to people but also to listen to people, because we do not and could not have a monopoly on all the answers.

We laid the groundwork with our world-leading Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, and we now have to press ahead with the practical solutions. We have an excellent story to tell about the greening of our energy supply. We launched our 10 energy pledges, and we are comfortably on track to meet our targets to meet 31 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2011 and 50 per cent by 2020. We are pursuing international partnerships for the Scottish European Green Energy Centre and the saltire prize, which is the largest Government innovation prize in history. We are making Scotland a centre for the key technology of carbon capture and storage, and we have been consulting on energy efficiency and low-carbon vehicles. Mention has been made of the climate challenge fund, under which a panel of people outside Government has ensured that 198 communities have benefited from awards to date.

The purpose of today's debate is to restate for the Copenhagen audience the all-party consensus on the need for strong action. I very much look forward to welcoming Patrick Harvie, Rob Gibson and Cathy Peattie to Copenhagen. I believe that they will be able to come to the reception that we are hosting on Monday evening. I certainly hope to see them there to meet many other people from other countries.

I cannot agree with everything that Patrick Harvie said in his contribution. It is not entirely inappropriate that the nickname for the US dollar is the greenback. We have to help the United States to understand how to live up to that appellation. Turning our back entirely on the free market is unlikely to leave us with the economic resources that will be necessary to deal with climate change. Patrick Harvie said that ever-increasing mobility must stop—I paraphrase his comment—but in the case that we have wholly greened our transport we can of course take a different way forward. Until we have done that, however, moderation has to be our watchword. We are, of course, counting the cost of infrastructure developments, even now.

Patrick Harvie: I welcome the minister's comments on my contribution on mobility, but I note that he has still said nothing on my question on aviation, which I have put to him twice and to the First Minister once. Does the Scottish Government accept the recommendation by the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee on restrictions on aviation growth?

Stewart Stevenson: Aviation represents 4 per cent of our emissions and the figure for the United Kingdom is 6 per cent or so. We strongly support, in particular, the provision of alternative travel arrangements for people through high-speed rail. There is a degree of unanimity about that, even if there are some different views on the detail. Andrew Adonis's support for that way forward at Westminster is a welcome breath of fresh air.

I want to respond to a number of Sarah Boyack's comments. I agree that having Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama in place is probably helpful internationally as they represent two key nations that have to look at the issue differently from the way in which it has been considered in the past.

Copenhagen cannot simply address the needs and aspirations of the developed world but must find ways of supporting countries that are less able to do that for themselves. It has to ensure that we support their needs in a whole variety of ways.

Our procurement process, which I think Sarah Boyack referred to, increasingly provides access for small companies across Scotland and therefore economic opportunities in our communities. The sustainable travel budget has risen over the period of our Administration. Bus and train budgets are enormous and, of course, the council tax provisions that we put into the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill place a duty on councils. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is working hard on that, and Alex Johnstone made reference to the measure in his speech. The centre right is probably in a minority in the chamber, but it has a legitimate voice and contribution to make. I welcome Alex Johnstone to the debate. He can join our team any time.

The conference of the parties in Copenhagen will talk about targets but must, of course, also talk of delivery. Alison McInnes made that key point. There is also the need to raise public awareness. Until I came into office, I confess that my engagement on the issue was pretty modest. It was a serious wake-up call. I am awake; we must now waken the whole of Scotland.

Rob Gibson talked about the Salter ducks and highlighted the potential for tidal and wave energy in Scotland. Pauline McNeill said that she would have liked to have seen me in Glasgow on Saturday. I am afraid that Lachlan Murdoch McIntosh—my best man—and his wife Jan Reekie were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in a village hall in Crail that day. I simply had to be there. I believe that the champagne was from sustainable sources; members do not need to worry about that.

Pauline McNeill mentioned New Dehli. Following my visit to the city in the now-rather-distant past, I am glad to hear that things are getting better and that the three-wheeled tuk-tuks are now more environmentally friendly. I share her aspiration on high-speed rail.

Bill Wilson and other members spoke about Scotland being on the UK delegation. We have a good relationship with UK ministers. I have been to the past two environment council meetings as part of the UK delegation. The Bella Center in Copenhagen, where the COP15 meeting is taking place, is extremely crowded and so we will be ensconced round the corner in a very comfortable place, from where we can speak to people from across the world

In speaking about flooding episodes, Nanette Milne highlighted an important and fundamental issue. Non-scientists do find it difficult to deal with the scientific debates on the issue, but it is not beyond any of us to understand the very real world impacts that we have seen in Cumbria and the north-east of Scotland. We can understand the issues.

I recently met Yvo de Boer, who is leading the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He is interested in what we are doing, as others around the world are. A senior official will be on the United Kingdom delegation and, if the bullying that he inflicts on me from time to time is anything to go by, I am sure that Scotland's voice will be heard by Ed Miliband. The BBC survey is hugely encouraging; it shows that two thirds of Scotland's people not only understand the issue but are up for it. As a result of our participation in Copenhagen, we will, of course share, copy and change.

In her references to India, Pauline McNeill talked of standing at the gates of the Taj Mahal, which reminded me of one of the most inspiring set of words from Shah Jahan—words that are appropriate in this context. In commissioning the design of the Taj Mahal, he had these words inscribed on the side of the building:

"Happy are those who dream dreams and are prepared to pay the price to make them come true".

We have a shared dream of a world that is unaffected by the problems of climate change. We share the responsibility to deliver to our successors a world that is better than the one that we inherited. Let us join together on that ambitious mission.


S3M-5379 Climate Change [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 10 December 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Climate Change

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5379, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on climate change. I point out to members that time is not on our side, so they should stick to their time limits.


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

This year is a landmark year for climate change. The 15th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—COP15—is meeting in Copenhagen as we speak. As the Danish convener of the summit said in her opening statement,

"This is the time to deliver. This is the place to commit."

In Scotland, of course, we have already made commitments and begun the task of delivery. We know that we have a moral duty to act, because climate change will affect the poor, the vulnerable and developing countries first and worst. We were strongly reminded of that last month, when the Scottish Government, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency hosted a conference on climate change and human rights, at which we heard about the social impacts of climate change on the peoples of developing countries.

Beyond the moral and environmental case, we in Scotland also see the low-carbon economy as a vital opportunity for Scotland and for Scottish jobs. Scotland is a small, developed nation, and our strategy is that we should set an example to the industrialised world by acting as a model of best practice in tackling climate change. We hope that strong action by Scotland will influence other nations to agree an ambitious climate change treaty.

On 24 June 2009, the Scottish Parliament, with the strong backing of civil society in Scotland, unanimously passed the industrialised world's most ambitious climate change legislation: the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Our statutory targets are to reduce emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050, which covers all recognised greenhouse gases and international aviation and shipping. All-party and public support for the 2009 act, including from the business community, was and remains vital. The 2009 act is designed to give certainty to industry, business and the public about Scotland's low-carbon future.

Even before the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill was passed, we had published our climate change delivery plan to set out the scale of the transformation required in energy generation, energy efficiency, transport and the rural economy. We are now developing the detail of our report on proposals and policies, to be published next summer.

On Tuesday, the First Minister gave further impetus to our implementation by announcing the convening of the 2020 climate delivery group, consisting of influential people from business and civic society who wish to help Scotland to meet its ambitious climate change targets.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I welcome the contribution that I am sure many of the 2020 group members will make. However, could the minister explain a little more clearly what the relationship between Government and that group will be? The United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change is the advisory body that is listed in the legislation and which the Government chose to stick to. What is the relationship between the two?

Stewart Stevenson: The 2020 climate delivery group has no legal status of any kind. It consists of a group of people who have come together to help us to work our way through the issues. We very much welcome the contribution of time and effort that the climate delivery group will provide. As members will recall, the 2009 act gives us the facility to designate who will provide us with legal advice. For the time being, that will be the UK Committee on Climate Change, which is the only body that will provide the advice that will formally be part of the parliamentary process. However, I very much welcome the additional support that we will get from the climate delivery group.

We published a carbon assessment of our spending plans in September and we will now do that annually. That integration of carbon assessment into the key budget process is another world first.

Of course, some impacts of climate change are already on the way, so on Tuesday the First Minster also launched the finalised version of "Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework". Scotland is one of the few countries to take a strategic approach to resilience to climate impacts.

As further evidence of Scotland's commitment to respond to our global responsibilities on climate change, I am pleased to announce today that we will establish the 2014 climate change saltire fellowships. The fellowships will deliver on a commitment that was made as part of our Commonwealth games bid to set up and deploy a carbon emissions reduction fund. The fellowships that will be supported by the fund will be targeted at climate change mitigation and adaptation measures in Commonwealth countries, particularly those that are least able to deal with the impacts of climate change. Talented individuals from Commonwealth countries will be able to come to Scotland to share in our cutting-edge knowledge on climate change adaptation and mitigation. The fellowships will be rooted in knowledge and skills transfer in areas where Scotland is strong, such as renewable energy technology, carbon capture and storage, community action on climate change, forestry and climate change policy and legislation.

I have a second announcement. Scotland is a nation with a record of supporting others in their development. Although our first priority is to focus our efforts on developing our contribution to low-carbon development at home, we recognise that developing countries urgently need capacity-building support through knowledge exchange and financial assistance to make low-carbon energy possible in their countries, too. In support of that, a range of Scottish organisations from across industry, Government, academia and civil society have come together to co-operate with the efforts of the United Kingdom and the European Union to establish a global framework for low-carbon energy supplies. The partnership will work together to support those international efforts by offering expertise and capacity and by pulling together packages for funding support where necessary. Assuming that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process is able to agree a legal and financial framework for low-carbon mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries during 2010, the Scottish partnership stands ready to work with our UK, European and global partners on a series of practical actions to deliver on those.

Finally, to prove that we are committed to taking action on the ground, I am delighted to announce that, on 27 March 2010, the Scottish Government will again support earth hour. Earth hour is an important symbolic event that brings together organisations and individuals worldwide to demonstrate their commitment to addressing climate change. To spread the reach of earth hour across Scotland, we will work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress to promote next year's event. We will switch off all non-essential lighting in our buildings, promote the initiative to our staff and involve non-departmental public bodies and agencies in supporting earth hour as a visible sign that we are committed to change.

Through our actions and through those further announcements, Scotland is building a world-leading climate change framework and staying at the leading edge of international thinking on climate change. We think that it is vital to let the world know about Scotland's stance to inspire others to take similar strong action. Therefore, we have had a full programme of engagement in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit. In September, the First Minister wrote to the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, to tell him about the level of commitment from Scotland. We have been commended by European commissioners, the White House and the governor of California. I attended the UN climate conference in Barcelona, where Scotland's programme was the subject of much international interest. As well as being a spur to action by other countries, Scotland's framework can be a practical model for other nations. The Basque Government has translated the act, so it will now be available to the whole Spanish-speaking world. The fact that Scotland is now a full member of the climate group puts us on an equal footing with key world players.

We will, of course, work closely with the UK Government on climate change. We would like to have been on the UK delegation to Copenhagen, in line with the arrangements of other EU nations such as Spain, Belgium, Germany and Denmark, which will have representation from their devolved Governments, but I will be in Copenhagen all of next week to ensure that Scotland's climate change ambitions are widely promoted. As opportunities present themselves, I will, of course, work closely with the UK delegation, as appropriate.

On Monday, I will host a Scottish event for the international audience on Scotland's climate change framework, the low-carbon economy and Scottish society's support for action. We will speak to other world leaders at the climate group's climate leaders summit the following day, as well as holding a range of ministerial bilateral meetings. We will report back to Scotland from the United Nations conference centre via a telepresence link.

I hope that, by endorsing the strong position on climate change that is set out in the motion, Parliament will challenge the countries of the world to look to what Scotland is doing and to ensure that we are not alone in setting such targets. I intend us to take that strong message to the international community at Copenhagen next week. Let us all wish all the nations that are engaged in the summit the very best in their deliberations, and let us hope for a successful and appropriate outcome.

I move,

That the Parliament, having agreed unanimously on a 42% target reduction in Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050, agrees that MSPs and Scotland as a whole must focus on the practical implementation of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009; urges that all countries bring forward the most ambitious commitments appropriate to their circumstances early in the talks; looks to participants in Copenhagen to reach a legally binding agreement at the earliest opportunity that will prevent world temperatures rising by more than 2°C, and notes that a failure to do so would threaten vulnerable countries with, for example, inundation and desertification.


S3M-5378 Concessionary Travel Scheme [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 10 December 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Concessionary Travel Scheme

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5378, in the name of Charlie Gordon, on concessionary travel.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson:

Alex Johnstone referred to bankers arriving at work in Edinburgh on the bus, having used their concession cards. Thank goodness I left banking to join politics in order to improve my reputation. It has proved to be a wise move under the current circumstances, although I will not get a bonus to pay any tax on.

I am grateful to the Labour Party—to Charlie Gordon, in particular—for raising the issue. It is a timely debate, as Scottish Government officials will shortly meet the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK to discuss concessionary travel and a range of bus-related issues that concern the scheme. Those discussions will cover the rate at which we reimburse—currently 73.6p in the pound—and how we can maintain the scheme with its current access parameters, which are widely valued.

No one who has spoken in the debate has failed to make a point of some interest and engagement. The motion has been drafted badly and is gratuitous in some of its language, but I am not going to be petty about its wording because I whole-heartedly support the point that underlies it. It is on that basis that I will recommend to my colleagues that we support it.

Similarly, I recommend to my colleagues that we support the Liberal Democrat amendment. In both cases, I do so on the basis that I am not, at this stage, being asked to spend any more money: I am being asked to consider things, and that is what I wish to do.

John Park rightly highlighted the achievements of Bert Gough, of Fife Council, on producing the first ever concessionary travel scheme. I welcome the efforts that were made by a previous generation of politicians, albeit that they were of a different political flavour. He followed a similar track to that which was taken by Jimmy McGinley, the SNP leader of West Lothian Council in 1980, when the first Christmas bonuses were introduced. No party has a monopoly on good ideas.

John Park suggested that one way in which Fife Council should consider the officers' proposal that is currently before it in relation to its rail service scheme would be to increase fares from 50p to £1, and Ted Brocklebank suggested that there could be a return fare of £3. That is quite interesting. I will merely note that the SNP and Liberal Democrats made no similar suggestions during this debate, and that the SNP and Liberal Democrats are in power in Fife. It is interesting that the parties that make up the opposition in Fife Council are taking the position that they have taken. We will see how that debate plays out.

Cathy Jamieson pointed to some effective activities in her constituency, such as those that have been undertaken by Coalfield Community Transport, which is one of a wide range of bodies that are engaged in such activities. Alison McInnes mentioned one of the two community bus services in my constituency, so I must make up the deficit by highlighting the achievements of Banffshire Partnership Ltd, which supports people in the north of my constituency to a good degree.

Cathy Jamieson and others referred to fraud in the system, and we acknowledge that there has been some. I think I am correct in saying that there have so far been four references to the procurator fiscal, but I will check that figure after the debate—there may well be more to come. I should say that many people think that fraud is going on because they see a ticket being issued for the whole journey, but in many cases that is simply just a result of the agreement that exists between Transport Scotland and the bus company about how things will be done. As we complete the introduction of the machines that will read cards, we will move to a position of greater certainty, in which fraud will be much more difficult. We will also be able to gather more data about how people travel, which will enable the bus companies and Government to fine-tune the way in which things work.

Ted Brocklebank made the point that Fife extends beyond Levenmouth. I was brought up in Cupar, so I can acknowledge the veracity of that statement. Indeed, at the weekend, I had the happy experience of visiting Crail to attend my best man's ruby wedding anniversary celebrations. I know Fife well from personal experience. Ted Brocklebank also talked about Barnett consequentials. At the moment, we believe that they will amount to about £20 million, which will be welcome, if modest.

Karen Gillon took the opportunity to suggest that we do not look to the south much. I say to her that I will copy good ideas from wherever they come. On road safety, for example, I have rejected some proposals from my officials because I know of work that is being done in England. We have now joined a number of pieces of research that are happening south of the border, which represents efficient partnership working. We now expect that the UK Administration will join an initiative that we have taken in that regard. This is some of the non-glamorous stuff that people do not usually hear about: officials and ministers take every opportunity to work together, and they do so extremely well.

On bus stations, the situation in Edinburgh is quite complex. A number of bus companies have chosen not to use the bus station. I have raised the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council and I will examine the Aberdeen situation, as well.

Nigel Don rightly took us back to a previous debate on deafblind companions, which is certainly a subject that bears further consideration. Without naming it, he referred to the club 55 promotion that ScotRail have been running since, I think, the beginning of September and which ends this week. That scheme is, of course, funded by the rail companies, but it suggests what the marginal rate of carrying a passenger might be.

Another scheme is operated by the Association of Train Operating Companies, under which those of us who are over 60 can purchase a card. I paid £60 for my card, which gets me a third off fares for three years. I point out that that personal expenditure benefits the public purse—when I make my ministerial rail journeys, the public gets the benefit of the £60 that I spent on my own initiative. Again, that shows that there is an inclination on the part of the rail companies to do the right thing.

Grannies are safe on buses, and I think that they are probably safe on trains in Fife. Let us see whether that is the case.

This has been a good debate. The only people who have earned my sympathy during this debate are, of course, the drivers of Bannerman's lorries.


S3M-5378 Concessionary Travel Scheme [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 10 December 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Concessionary Travel Scheme

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-5378, in the name of Charlie Gordon, on concessionary travel.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

For the avoidance of doubt, I report to Parliament my interest in the scheme by displaying my old person's bus pass, which I have used on ministerial business some 200 times so far, thus saving the public purse some money. [Interruption.] It is a bit incestuous, as Mr Johnstone has just pointed out, since my budget is paying 73.6 per cent of the cost, but I can at least claim to have saved 26.4 per cent that would otherwise have been paid.

I start by congratulating Charlie Gordon on a well-informed and well-researched contribution to today's debate. I welcome the opportunity to lock horns with him on a subject of significant interest for the first time since his appointment. I also encourage him to greater efforts. Had he added a mere 30 further words to his lengthy motion, he would have filled the entire page of the Business Bulletin instead of leaving me just a little space.

Charlie Gordon: Is the minister aware that I took a leaf out of the book of his colleague, Angela Constance?

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed, but I think that Leonard Cheshire probably also had something to do with the drafting of the motion.

This is a serious matter, and it is good that we are having this discussion. Charlie Gordon quite properly delineated much of the history of how we got here. At the time, I commended the previous Administration on the introduction of the national scheme, and I continue to support it as a minister. One of the good things that we have been able to do in the review that we have just completed is to say unambiguously that we will continue to support the scheme in the form in which it has been introduced. The scheme has clearly delivered an enormous number of benefits to people across Scotland. It is a national scheme with absolute certainty of provision. That helps the bus companies with planning because, right across Scotland, they know the rate that they will be getting. In that respect, the scheme is much better than the one south of the border, which is off-peak only, has different rates of reward across England, and is difficult to administer.

We note that in yesterday's pre-budget report, the Chancellor said that the English scheme will be amended by aligning eligibility with the forthcoming changes in the state pension age. So, in future in England, people who are aged 60 will not be entitled to enter the scheme. For the avoidance of doubt, that is on page 110 of the pre-budget report. So the gap between the excellent scheme that we have in Scotland, which we are committed to sustaining and maintaining, and what is going on south of the border will widen.

Karen Gillon (Clydesdale) (Lab): Will the minister reflect on yesterday's debate, during which members of his party were trumpeting on about other parties and the Parliament doing things better? Instead of looking at what others are doing, will he look at how we are failing to support people who are on low-component disability living allowance?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a perfectly reasonable point, but I point out that I congratulated her party and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats when they introduced the scheme, which we continue to promote and which we have extended to cover disabled ex-servicemen. The scheme has always been better than the one south of the border and our focus should be on establishing how we can sustain and maintain that scheme. I am happy that we have been able to do that.

Our scheme enables older and disabled people to continue to travel for free throughout Scotland, at any time, on any scheduled bus route, for any number of journeys. In these difficult economic times, in particular, the scheme delivers huge benefit to many families and pensioners. It also maintains social cohesion. Charlie Gordon talked about the 158 million journeys that were made. By the way, I will not pick at the numbers; Mr Gordon basically got them right. He made only one mistake and I cannot resist the temptation to correct it. Reimbursement is made on the standard fare, not the average fare. There is something quite important in that, however, because the bus companies have, not unreasonably, tended to raise standard fares at a slightly greater rate than other fares, which has ensured that they protect the revenue from the concessionary bus scheme. That is part of the on-going discussion that we are having with the CPT about reimbursement rates.

Our 73.6 per cent reimbursement rate is substantially more generous than the rate in England and Wales. It still incorporates an allowance for the start-up costs of the scheme, which is why we have commissioned consultants to examine whether the rate properly meets the test that companies should be no better off and no worse off. Charlie Gordon discussed the marginal cost of carrying extra passengers and pointed out that the present scheme, in essence, takes into account the full cost. There is a proper debate to be had on that. The CPT says that its members have put on extra capacity and used the opportunity to invest in new buses. There is merit in that, but we have to consider getting the balance right. In establishing the right reimbursement rate for the future, we need to reflect the fact that the start-up costs are out of the way. We will have discussions on that.

Three years on, with the review completed, we can see how successful the scheme has been, but we can also see the nature of the challenge that we face. The previous Government and the present one should be proud of the scheme, which delivers much for the people of Scotland.

Reference was made to ferry and rail discounts that are provided locally. It is still open for local authorities to provide support to holders of the card, or otherwise, as they see fit. Before the national scheme, six of the 16 schemes throughout Scotland provided support to people who were on the lower rate of disability living allowance. We do not know what the future of DLA will be, as it is one of the benefits that are being considered for reform or abolition. I hope that whatever follows provides appropriate support for people with disabilities, as that is important.

The current scheme comes in two parts: a care component and a mobility component. The mobility component, which is paid by Westminster, is important. Some people have suggested that we might more readily be able to structure support for people who are on the lower level of DLA by transferring the funding for the mobility component to Scotland. That could allow us to fund different ways of supporting people who are on DLA. However, the Government is not yet engaged on that matter, although the issue has been raised.

Our population continues to be an ageing one. I hope that many of those older people remain, as I do, relatively fit and in possession of a bus pass, and therefore able to travel to meet friends and family. Charlie Gordon possibly stretched the use of parliamentary terms when he used the word "geek". Thankfully, the Presiding Officer did not rule that that is unparliamentary language—I wear the badge of geekdom with pride and will continue to do so. Charlie Gordon gave a bit of a hostage to fortune by suggesting that there might have been a cock-up in the establishment of the scheme. I would be more gentle and say that some long-term effects of the scheme have emerged over time. He made the good point that 42 per cent of car owners use the scheme to reduce their driving. I include myself in that, albeit that I probably do too much driving, even now.

When we debated community transport and demand-responsive transport in March 2006, my motion welcomed the formation of Transport Scotland as a way to promote new ideas. That continues to be the case. We have considered the options for including community transport in the existing scheme. One or two providers that run scheduled services can qualify. However, the issue is complex. If we made such services free, I am sure that they would be well used, but that would require a significant increase in capability and capacity in the community transport world.

If Mr Gordon in his closing remarks indicates that, at this stage, he is not asking for additional money to be spent, I will consider my position in relation to the amendment in my name. However, for the moment, I will move it.

I move amendment S3M-5378.2, to insert at end:

", and considers that if the Labour Party wishes this to be the case, it should bring forward a costed proposal to the Budget to show where the resources will be taken from to pay for this."


19 November 2009

S3M-4738 Deafblind Scotland

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 19 November 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...

Deafblind Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-4738, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on Deafblind Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the work of Deafblind Scotland, based in Lenzie, which seeks to enable Scots who are both deaf and blind to receive the support and recognition that they require to be equal citizens; notes with concern the difficulties faced by deafblind people in freely accessing public transport due to the varying restrictions placed by local authorities on concessionary travel for guide communicators who provide professional communication and guiding support, and believes that cooperation among all relevant bodies will ensure that deafblind citizens can enjoy full access to public transport.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I echo members' thanks to Margaret Mitchell for giving us the opportunity to talk about this important subject. I also thank her for explaining why red matters. She is wearing a red jacket and I see that many of our visitors in the public gallery are doing the same. I now know that red is the colour that is most easily seen by people with some residual eyesight. The next time that I am engaged in a deafblind event, I might at least wear a red tie, although Charlie Gordon should not believe that that would have any political implication.

Margaret Mitchell and Jim Tolson referred to the dramas in committee room 5 this afternoon. I was aware of the event, but I am afraid that ministerial duties did not permit me to go. However, from the accounts of those who visited the event in Parliament today, I know that it was an excellent opportunity to ensure that we are aware of the issues that affect deafblind people. At the outset, I concede that, without the debate, the issue would not have come into my in-tray in any significant way. Thus far, it probably has not.

There has been some question about numbers. I say to Ms Scanlon that the minister is a polymath, but not yet an omnimath. Therefore, I do not have the exact number of deafblind people. Margaret Mitchell said that there are just under 3,000 registered deafblind people, but she reasonably pointed out that, as it is merely recommended that local authorities should look for people in the category, there can be little doubt that the figure is an understatement. I undertake to consider further whether we can do something on the number of people who are affected, to ensure that we have an accurate, helpful and factual basis.

Cathie Craigie properly said that elastic is not part of the budgetary process. She is of course correct but, at the end of the day in politics, we make choices and we can never spend money on everything that we wish to; we have to choose.

Nigel Don made the reasonable point that, when the weather is poor, travel can be difficult for those of us with no impairments, which illustrates the difficulties for some people in every day of their travelling life. I absolutely accept that. He also made a point about £15 tickets. I point out that, when he reaches 60, he can buy a card that will get him a third off other tickets and another £2 off that £15 ticket, which will take it to £13. Interestingly enough, that is a wholly commercial offering by the rail companies—no public money is involved in the provision of those tickets. This year, the offer is extending for about three months or perhaps slightly longer. There is certainly scope for the rail companies to consider how to bring more people to the railways without involving public money.

Mary Scanlon referred to there being four schemes. My notes suggest that there are 15 schemes that support blind people on the rail network—there were previously 16—although they are variable schemes with different ranges of offerings. For example, there is a scheme in Highland, which will interest Ms Scanlon, and one in the Lothians. Strathclyde partnership for transport, which covers a significant number of local authority areas, also has a scheme.

I am somewhat aware of the mental health issues for the deafblind. Members will have heard me talk before of a period—45 years ago, I hasten to add—when I worked in a psychiatric hospital. One of our patients was a deafblind patient, but they had a range of more severe problems. I am aware of the issues in that respect.

As Angela Constance made clear, many of the rail schemes provide benefits beyond the council boundary in question. Charlie Gordon made an important point when he said that some parts of Scotland have few bus services.

Why should local authorities, rather than central Government, provide such support? The answer is partly because local travel varies in different local authority areas. Members have heard me say before that there are no trains in my constituency, so a train benefit may be of some, although not much, use to people there. It is perhaps often more important for people on the islands to have supported ferry travel. Some people on the islands commute by aircraft—they go by air from the outer isles in Orkney to Kirkwall for the shopping once a week. That points to why local delivery and local decision making can make a great deal of sense.

Charlie Gordon suggested that I convene a meeting of stakeholders. I will certainly consider that suggestion further, because I want to be seen to be taking the subject seriously. I make the general point that Deafblind Scotland recently raised the whole issue that we are discussing with the Scottish rail accessibility forum, and my officials from Transport Scotland are engaging with local authorities on consistency of approach when they consider the provision of discounted rail travel for companions for blind passengers. Some work is going on and I will certainly keep on top of it. If we can see that it will make a real difference, I will certainly consider picking up Charlie Gordon's suggestion.

Our Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme is pretty widely recognised as delivering a huge benefit, although, I have to say, at significant cost to the public purse, which presents its own challenges.

Probably three years ago—it was before the last election—I had the pleasure and privilege of being invited by the Grampian Society for the Blind to attend a blind driving day, at which I was blindfolded and invited to drive a car round a racetrack. Of course, to do that I had to have someone sitting beside me, giving precisely the sort of support that we are talking about but in relation to the very temporary handicap that was inflicted on me. That experience enabled me to see how difficult it was. Even with that assistance—with a trained person helping me—it was a very substantially challenging undertaking. So I ask members please to be aware that I have some limited insight from personal experience of the difficulties that are experienced by people who are deafblind.

The debate has given me, and the Government generally, considerable food for thought. Given that Mary Scanlon said that she would talk to health ministers directly, I will not pick up the point that the Presiding Officer allowed her to make in that regard.

I am grateful for this useful opportunity to debate an important subject.

Meeting closed at 17:43.

05 November 2009

S3M-4986 Level Crossings (Fatal Accident Inquiries)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 5 November 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Level Crossings (Fatal Accident Inquiries)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-4986, in the name of Willie Coffey, on conduct of inquiries into fatalities at level crossings. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament regrets the continuing loss of life at railway level crossings, most recently at Halkirk in Caithness and, in January 2009, at Gatehead in Kilmarnock and Loudoun; notes the large number of organisations involved in the investigation of rail accidents and incidents in Scotland, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the British Transport Police, Scotland's eight police forces and the Office of Rail Regulation, and considers that, following the Review of Fatal Accident Inquiry Legislation being conducted by Lord Cullen, a modernised system of fatal accident inquiries can contribute to greater coordination and scrutiny of any inquiries, including the implementation of any recommendations, by whichever agency, following such tragic incidents.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Like others, I thank Willie Coffey for lodging the motion that has given us the opportunity to debate the issue. I should also highlight the substantial quality of the research and engagement that he demonstrated in his speech. No one who is here tonight or who reads the debate afterwards will fail to learn something that was not in the ministerial brief or in their own research. In the way that he has dealt with the issue, Willie Coffey has set an example that others should follow.

Like others, I utterly regret that fatal accidents occur. I echo the statements of other members in expressing the sympathies of myself and my colleagues—and of Parliament generally—for the friends and families of those who lost their lives in the fatal accidents at Halkirk recently and at Gatehead in Kilmarnock and Loudon earlier this year. Of course we note that the emergency services responded to those accidents in the professional manner that one would expect.

Willie Coffey mentioned the welcome report of Lord Cullen, who has a track record of producing substantial reports on matters of concern involving safety. It is certainly of interest that such modest submissions were made to Lord Cullen's deliberations from a range of bodies that might be thought to be substantially engaged in such issues.

I am sure that my colleague Kenny MacAskill will examine carefully the issue of FAIs and that action will be taken. The paucity of information that was available to Willie Coffey when he was researching the subject suggests that there is a case for action.

Jamie Stone talked about the recent accident at Halkirk. There was also an accident there in 2002 but, as it is the subject of court action, I will say no more about it. Other court issues may yet be associated with the accidents that have occurred. Jamie Stone asked the fundamental question why there should be barriers and exemplified the problem in saying that. The £1.2 billion profit is, in a sense, merely the public's money coming back round the system. Network Rail is a not-for-profit company, therefore it is difficult to talk about profit in the context of that company, although the balance sheet and the annual reports show it.

Rob Gibson highlighted the issues in Dingwall and asked about speed cameras. I will seek to follow up that question. He also highlighted the trauma that is experienced not just by the families of those who are killed or injured at crossings, but by the people who are employed on the railway. ASLEF has, I think, suggested that there should be a slowdown, which would result in the slowing down of people's journeys. That is an important issue, as one of the key things that we want to see is the speeding up of rail journeys. Anything that slows down journeys is something that I regret.

Charlie Gordon, who is an old railwayman—perhaps I should say a railwayman of long standing—made the clear point that signs and signals should be adhered to. Of course, no one disputes that. However, as part of my modest personal research, I asked my wife, who has been driving for 35 years, whether she had ever driven across a level crossing. She said that she had not. It is not that she has avoided them; she just happens not to have done that. I wonder whether the unfamiliarity with level crossings that some drivers experience contributes to near misses or accidents. The flashing red light is unfamiliar, whereas the steady red light is something with which people are familiar. A range of issues around the psychology of how level crossings are controlled should be considered further.

Charlie Gordon made the particular point that safety should trump finance. I think that we all agree on that. In the Government, "spads" means special advisers, but signals passed at danger are part of railway folklore. I think that I am correct in saying that, following some focus on the issue, the number of signals passed at danger is on the decline, therefore I do not think that train drivers should really come within our sights as contributors to the difficulty. I do not think that there is a culture of train drivers crossing lights perniciously.

Dave Thompson talked about Bunchrew. It was particularly interesting to hear that it took some time to persuade Network Rail that the fault existed. That leads us neatly to the complex mixture of people who are involved. The procurators fiscal, British Transport Police officers, the Office of Rail Regulation and the rail accident investigation branch all have a memorandum of understanding. However, the number of communications that are required in a quadripartite memorandum of understanding is great, with 18 different communication paths between the four organisations, and the complexity increases every time that someone is added to it. There is a high degree of co-ordination, but there is clearly difficulty involved in that.

I very much welcome the review that is currently being undertaken by the rail accident investigation branch, which has a special set of skills in relation to the safety of automatic open level crossings. We will wait and see what it has to say. It will certainly be time to consider then whether there are opportunities for further reviews.

Perhaps we could consider some of the things that happen in the marine and aviation environments. There is an intense focus on safety in aviation. In my flying career, I had to make an emergency landing in a light aircraft because of an equipment failure. It is interesting that, although that was the first failure in that aircraft type around the world—many tens of thousands of that aircraft type were produced—it nonetheless led to a mandatory change in all 20,000 of those aircraft in every country of the world. That was based on a single incident in an aircraft that had not had an incident in 30 years of operation. We should commend to ourselves that approach to safety.

I thank Willie Coffey for lodging the motion. I will continue to engage with members as matters develop. The issue is not subject to party dispute or debate. Railways are the safest part of our transport network, but they are still capable of improvement. We all agree that safety on our railways is vital.

Meeting closed at 17:46.

07 October 2009

S3M-4851 Aberdeen Crossrail (Kintore Station)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 7 October 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]
... ... ...
Aberdeen Crossrail (Kintore Station)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-4851, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Kintore station and Aberdeen crossrail.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the announcement that passenger numbers at the reopened Laurencekirk station have exceeded estimations by around 80%; notes that the decision by the previous Scottish Executive to reopen the Laurencekirk station followed a long community-based campaign; believes that a reopened Kintore station would be similarly successful; expresses its concern that progress on the Aberdeen Crossrail project has stalled under the current Scottish Government, and would welcome funding being brought forward to reopen Kintore station as part of the Aberdeen Crossrail project.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I join others in thanking Mike Rumbles for bringing his motion to Parliament. I agree that Parliament should acknowledge that the number of passengers who use Laurencekirk station has exceeded the initial estimate: 36,000 were estimated, but the number of people who are likely to use the station is 70 per cent or—as the motion states—80 per cent greater than that. I acknowledge Alison McInnes's point that that would not have happened without the groundwork that the previous Administration and previous transport ministers undertook. Of course, I encountered difficulties that any transport minister of any political view would have encountered in relation to land acquisition and the problems that are associated with bringing an old building into service. However, we are there, and no member will disagree that the station has been a success.

The project was developed with strong cross-party support and funding at all levels. The final piece of the jigsaw at Laurencekirk station is the car park, which opens today or tomorrow—I cannot remember exactly when, but it is certainly this week—with support from Aberdeenshire Council and Nestrans. The station reopened, after 42 years of closure, in May this year. In a sense, the consensus among politicians was of no great importance—the important point was that there was a cross-community campaign for the station to be reopened.

Similarly, there is substantial support for reopening the station at Kintore. As an MSP for the north-east of Scotland, I share Mr Rumbles's interest in that. I am enthusiast for rail and a regular user of rail services in the area and have jotted down that the only station between Inverness and Aberdeen that I have not used as a minister is Insch station—although that statement is subject to review, as I may find that I have used it. I am familiar with the area and have made approximately 750 journeys on our railway network as a minister.

Many members who are here this evening were present for the meeting that I had with Kintore and district community council—Mike Rumbles, however, was not able to attend that meeting. I am sure that there was a good reason for that, just as there was a good reason for my inability to attend the meeting of 12 September.

Mike Rumbles: It would have been nice to have been invited.

Stewart Stevenson: I believe that Mike Rumbles was invited, but that is another story. There was communication with his office several days before the meeting.

Mike Rumbles: No.

Stewart Stevenson: Instead, we arranged a different date just a few days later.

In expressing their opinions, the members of Kintore and District community council demonstrated a balanced view at that meeting.

The community certainly wants improved transport links for Kintore, but the council was clear that the work should be done only if there is a case that justifies it, based on objective analysis of passenger numbers. The community council's view—this is the view that we should all have—was that investment in transport infrastructure is important, but we need to do the analysis and make the right investment. Kintore looks to be a pretty good option, I have to say, and we are of course doing the work, with Network Rail, to ensure that we have a solid case and a clear understanding of the cost.

We must consider two options. The railway at Kintore is single track, and we could put a platform there at relatively modest cost to support a single-track operation. However, if we do that, we need to ensure that we do not design out the option of providing for a two-track operation at a later date. That forms part of what we need to consider.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): Does the minister accept that the strategy that has been so successful for Laurencekirk, with campaigning and the making of a business case for the station, is the strategy that is most likely to be successful at Kintore, and that in the current era of spending restraint, such a strategy is most likely to be successful at any other points along the line, where stations may be built in the future?

Stewart Stevenson: That is self-evident. If community demand is demonstrated, it gives credibility to estimates of patronage, and it builds the case. It is important to qualify the matter about the estimating tool—estimated patronage levels will be raised at all the stations that one might consider throughout Scotland, so the ranking of any particular station is not necessarily changed. Nonetheless, we should have accurate figures.

Alison McInnes: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: Am I likely to get more than seven minutes, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You might.

Alison McInnes: If the minister is thinking of reconsidering how to measure patronage, surely there should be a way of factoring in local issues at the same time, rather than using another nationwide system.

Stewart Stevenson: I was not seeking to suggest that we are doing something on that based on a nationwide system; I was making the general point that, if we change the model, it is likely to affect all estimates everywhere. I am not posting a recipe for delay, by any means.

Richard Baker raised the question of funding for the Aberdeen western peripheral route. I say from memory—this is subject to confirmation, so I will e-mail the member if I am wrong—but I believe that the written answer that was published in June this year to question S3W-24477, in the name of Nicol Stephen, addressed the issue of funding for the AWPR, and indicated that there has been no change in recent times.

Nanette Milne stressed that a station should be opened at Kintore only if there is demand. Nobody could possibly disagree with that.

Alison McInnes's contribution was extremely helpful and constructive. She highlighted the structure plan for Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. It is a very good plan that has been produced according to a very good process. I note that one of the things that are contained in it is protection of a corridor. It takes the long-term view that it might, at some point, be possible to construct a case for a station and a new railway to Ellon. There are some interesting ideas in that plan. Alison McInnes spoke about happiness. I am reminded of an old saying—although I cannot remember whose it is:

"Always be happy, but never be satisfied."

That is absolutely on the money as far as this issue is concerned. As Alison McInnes recognised, the incremental approach enables us to make progress as funds become available.

On a matter of general concern, of course we are supporting the north-east through improving services between Aberdeen and Inverness. We have increased the number of services that run up to Inverurie and patronage is beginning to grow, which enhances the case for Kintore by showing that there is increased and genuine demand in the area. I hope that there will be further growth in the area, because that will give us the step change that I want.

I note and encourage the cross-party support that underpinned delivery of the reopened station at Laurencekirk. I urge members to try to find consensus and not to create the false discord that has been slightly apparent from time to time during the debate. It is sensible for us to consider Kintore as the next step, and to ensure that we have an objective case and can find the funds to do the work. We continue to do the work that is necessary on that.

Meeting closed at 17:40

17 September 2009

S3M-4861 Road Safety Framework [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 September 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Road Safety Framework

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4861, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Scottish road safety framework.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson:

This has been a useful debate. As I indicated at the outset, I am prepared to accept all three amendments—I could, of course, pick at some of their wording—because they all reflect the concern that is shared by all parties in the Parliament to ensure that we make our roads safer and that we make people's use of those roads safer.

Road safety is not an issue that we can build our way out of by forever improving our roads. Indeed, it is pretty clear that an increasing proportion of the accidents on our roads are related to driver behaviour and that, increasingly, the engineering interventions that we make on our roads should be about protecting people—who are often confronted by unreasonable driver behaviour—from the consequences of other people's accidents by giving them roads that give them exits or soft options that minimise the effects of poor driving.

We have had some good speeches that have highlighted a number of important issues. Des McNulty talked about the visually impaired and the use of shared surfaces. Like him, I think that there are some important issues there. The idea of clearing a space and making it shared is a good one, if we can find ways of providing areas in which people who are visually impaired can be protected and of allowing people to recognise the different needs of others.

The concept of shared surfaces often relates to the reduction of speeds in urban areas. Charlie Gordon touched on that in what was, as ever, a thoughtful speech. He said that we should use measures that affect the way that people use our roads to improve safety. I have every sympathy with that approach.

Des McNulty also mentioned the need to work with Westminster—we do, of course. We have had a number of good ideas from Westminster, and it is clear that Westminster sees merit in what we have done, much of which is reflected in what it is doing. We are working on slightly different timescales, but we are certainly working to a shared objective.

Mention was made of the Swedish objective of zero road deaths, but it is worth making the point that, although important work is being done and good progress has been made in Sweden, there is not the same degree of cross-body working that exists in Scotland, which was introduced by the previous Administration and has been sustained by this one. Indeed, the Swedes are having to have a rethink, as the progress that they had made is not being sustained.

Alex Johnstone, among others, introduced the subject of rural road deaths. Those of us who represent areas in the north-east of Scotland have particular concerns about the relationship of that issue to young drivers. It is suggested that two thirds of accidents are caused by driver error. Inexperienced drivers in their first year of driving—members should note that I said "inexperienced" rather than "young", although it is inevitable that young drivers will be inexperienced—are as much as five or six times more likely to have an accident as other people are. We must have a special focus on them.

Alex Johnstone and Alison McInnes spoke about school buses, which is not just an issue of legislation. Technology can help, but we must educate and show true leadership. Alison McInnes said that we need targets—of course we do—and pointed, quite properly, to the fact that children from the lowest socioeconomic groups are at significantly higher risk.

The budget of Sustrans is being sustained, and we are working on driver training with the Driving Standards Agency at Westminster. It is clear that some roads need new investment, and I welcome the work that Stuart McMillan has been doing in his constituency to help identify where such investment is appropriate.

Like many members, Jamie Stone spoke about his constituency. He highlighted the fact that road junctions present particular challenges, which they do. Dave Thompson returned to the subject of drink-driving limits. I am glad that the Liberals reflected the position that we have taken in their amendment.

Charlie Gordon got the school jotter out of the back of his pants and talked about kerb drill. It is right that we need some flair and imagination of the kind that has meant that, even at his great age, the road safety education that he received at school is still at the forefront of his mind. We must keep doing such work.

We would all be astonished if anyone had risen to their feet today to oppose road safety and, of course, we have not been astonished.

We have had an excellent debate. Much more has been said than I can summarise in the six minutes that I have been kindly allowed. We will read the Official Report carefully and seek to respond accordingly. We will, of course, continue to work with partners.

I hope that we achieve unanimity when we vote.


S3M-4861 Road Safety Framework [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 September 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Road Safety Framework

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4861, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the Scottish road safety framework.


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the parliamentary debate on Scotland's road safety framework to 2020. The framework was launched on 15 June this year, and it sets out our road safety vision of a steady reduction in the number of those who are killed or seriously injured, with the ultimate vision of a future in which no one is killed on Scotland's roads and the injury rate is much reduced. It is an ambitious vision, but it is in keeping with those countries in Europe that are leaders on road safety.

To support that vision, we have set the first-ever national Scottish road safety targets, which experts agree are needed to focus action and maintain the reduction of death and serious injury. We are asking our road safety partners to help us to achieve those targets through their own local and organisational contributions.

Scotland has made considerable progress in achieving—indeed, exceeding—the current Great Britain road casualty reduction targets, and I recognise the validity of the Labour amendment, which reflects the achievements of previous Administrations. However, the risk of death and injury is still unacceptably high, and more needs to be done, particularly with regard to children and young drivers, and rural roads, which the Liberal amendment addresses.

The new Scottish targets are challenging but reflect our focus on driving down fatalities as well as serious injury for all age groups, and specifically for children. We are, of course, only too aware that setting targets is relatively easy, and that actually achieving them will require enormous effort, co-operation and perseverance. There is a strong commitment to help to achieve the targets from our existing dedicated road safety partners, with whom we have excellent partnership working arrangements.

To help achieve the targets, we have set out a range of high-level commitments in our framework. We have made a start in turning some of our commitments into action with our road safety partners. A strategic Scottish road safety board will meet for the first time in October, with a further annual general meeting—which I shall chair—taking place in December. That group is representative of the key delivery partners and will advise on how best to take forward the commitments in the framework.

We have committed to match fund the purchase of new roadside breath test equipment with police forces in Scotland by March 2010. That important new equipment will give additional data to help us to get a better profile of a drink driver and to help to inform enforcement, education and publicity for drink-drive campaigns. The amendments that are before us refer to that, and seek a reduction in the limit—a matter that we have consistently supported and which I am pleased to see is before the Parliament again today.

We have provided modest support to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to enable its production of a website for the Scottish occupational road safety alliance, which was launched on 10 September. It is intended to raise employers' awareness of the need to have a policy on the management of occupational road risk, because the professional driver, as well as the domestic driver, must be part of the solution.

A range of initiatives is under way to strengthen the safety of children who travel to school on school buses, including a proposed new school bus sign that has been designed by Aberdeenshire Council, which is also running a campaign to heighten awareness for drivers and schoolchildren around the pick-up and drop-off points for school buses. When the results of that work have been evaluated, we will share them with road safety partners in Scotland.

As yet, we have not seen much progress on the idea of banning the overtaking of school buses. I recognise that there are still some significant questions on that subject. However, we should continue to discuss the idea to ensure that we do not miss the opportunity to pursue something that is thought to deliver some benefits in other jurisdictions.

Route safety groups have been set up for each of the trunk road routes, with participation from relevant road safety partners such as local authorities, police forces, emergency services, safety camera partnerships and so on. Transport Scotland's pioneering patrol service, the trunk road incident support service, which aims to cut jams at some of Scotland's traffic hotspots, has been extended to tackle hold-ups en route to the Forth road bridge. Those are all examples of initiatives in which road safety partners are working together to help to deliver reductions in the number of deaths and serious injuries on Scotland's roads.

Gavin Brown (Lothians) (Con): It might be too early to say, but is there anything in the budget about which we have just heard that will have either a positive or negative impact on the road safety framework?

Stewart Stevenson: The budget does, of course, support the objectives of the road safety framework. I note that the Conservative amendment calls for funding to be focused on black spots. We are prepared to accept the Conservative amendment and we expect members on the Conservative benches to engage appropriately to see what we can do on that subject.

The framework signals our willingness, where we have solid evidence to back up our proposals, to advocate more restrictive measures than exist in the rest of the United Kingdom. That does not mean that we are not joined up with the UK Government on road safety. We are working extremely well together. I had a warm and supportive letter from Paul Clark after our framework was published.

I accept all the amendments on behalf of the Government and hope that we will have a good debate. The framework sets out a shared commitment to educate and inform, to engineer, and to enforce traffic laws. We seek to encourage partnership working and evaluate what works and how best to invest in road safety, but it ain't just about the Government, the Parliament and partner organisations. It is the responsibility of every road user. I hope that the framework will galvanise all of us, as politicians of whatever party and as individuals, to go safe on Scotland's roads.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication on 15 June 2009 of Scotland's Road Safety Framework to 2020; notes the road safety vision for Scotland, which is in line with other leading road safety countries, and further notes the road safety targets, priorities and commitments and the support of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland to tackle road casualty reductions in Scotland over the next decade.


24 June 2009

S3M-4464 Climate Change (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 24 June 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...

Climate Change (Scotland) Bill
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-4464, in the name of John Swinney, on the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill. ... ... ...

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I thank John Swinney for the name check in his opening remarks in the debate. I also thank members around the chamber for their warm words. The contributions of a large number of parliamentarians can be seen in the bill, and those parliamentarians have been informed by widespread action and lobbying from outside the chamber.

The bill is complex, and I quite enjoy engaging with complex bills. Quite early in my business career, I was told that when a person did a job well, their reward was that they got to do it again; but I hope that the cabinet secretary does not have anything immediately in mind in that regard. We shall see.

Alex Johnstone congratulated the clerks to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, and I would like to congratulate the bill team, whose efforts on occasions could only be described as heroic. The team responded to ministers but, in addition, and through the process of engagement that we have sought to create, they responded to members of other political parties, and tried to support them. The process has been a model for how the Parliament can work. It is very much how we, as a minority Government, would wish to go about our business, now and in the future.

We ended up with a substantial area of common ground, and we now have a substantial set of proposals to which we can compare our views with satisfaction. Alex Johnstone tried to compare himself with an orang-utan; I have agreed with his wife that I will ensure that, at least in circumference, that comparison will not be true.

Cathy Peattie made a particular contribution by being here on her ruby wedding anniversary. I am only three weeks—no, four weeks, no, five weeks—away from mine. [Laughter.] But with Gavin Brown, I am waiting to see whether the most important delivery of the day has happened. He has been on tenterhooks, waiting to find out whether his next child has been delivered today. We have drawn people in from aa the airts; we have created a priority for this bill, and people have respected that.

Patrick Harvie raised questions in relation to devolved and reserved matters. However, on this particular subject, there is common purpose between the United Kingdom Administration and ourselves. That is not least because we have to be part of the UK's efforts. Our success will be part of its success.

Patrick Harvie also talked about direct action. I counsel him, very severely, that we have to behave responsibly, and that we have to take the people of Scotland with us. We must turn this legislation—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Order. There is an awful lot of background noise and I would prefer less of it.

Stewart Stevenson: We must turn this legislation into real action.

Patricia Ferguson referred to Allied Vehicles in her constituency. Within the past week, I was delighted to drive one of its electric vehicles. It is interesting to note that battery technology is probably the technology that is not yet up to the mark. A lot of work will be done on that. In Scotland, we have biotech industries and some electrical engineers, and that will probably help. Patricia Ferguson also mentioned Malawi—a topic that brings home the whole idea of social justice that is at the heart of what we are trying to do.

Today has largely been a day in which we have looked inwards. However, we must now look outwards towards Scotland's comity, to countries around the world, and to the United Nations conference in Copenhagen in December. Most of all, we must look outwards to the poor and disadvantaged in Africa, India, China, Brazil and other countries all round the world.

The bill is not an economic bill, although it will have economic effects. It is not legislation to gather dust on the shelves of hundreds of lawyers; it is a moral step we take that will be important for the world.

When I had dinner with Ian Marchant a couple of weeks ago at the business delivery group, he gave me a copy of Douglas Adams's "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Ford Prefect had come from another world to look at the earth, and he was working on an entry in the guide that said that the earth was "harmless". After vigorous research, he converted that assessment to "mostly harmless".

Through this bill, let us turn the earth and humans' efforts on earth into something that is mostly harmless. Let us also remember that the answer to everything in the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy is one that is relevant to today. The answer was 42.

11 June 2009

S3M-4044 Larbert (Heavy Rail Freight)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 11 June 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 08:45]

... ... ...

Larbert (Heavy Rail Freight)
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-4044, in the name of Michael Matheson, on Larbert rail damage. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the serious problems being experienced by residents in the Larbert area as a result of heavy coal freight being introduced to the line; understands that this is having a damaging effect on their quality of life as well as their properties; regrets that to date Network Rail has refused to introduce a speed restriction for freight trains on the line, and believes that the problems being experienced by residents in Larbert are unacceptable.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I will first deal with a few of the points that have arisen.

In reference to a written answer in which I said that I became aware of the issue on 6 February 2009, questions have been raised about whether previous ministers knew about the matter. I answered the parliamentary question, which asked specifically when the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change knew about the matter. I answered only in those terms. Under the protocols that exist between successive Governments, I have no knowledge as to the knowledge state of previous transport ministers, who had different job titles. That might not add light to the matter, but it explains that particular point.

Dr Simpson: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Let me develop a few other points first.

In any event, that matter is not one for which I can be held accountable one way or the other.

It would be useful to acknowledge that the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway and Linked Improvements Bill Committee said in its May 2004 report:

"It is important to note that the scope of the Bill includes only the construction of a railway between Stirling and Kincardine (via Alloa) together with associated works. It is not within the scope of the Bill for it to be amended to include matters that pertain to the operation of the railway (for example the speeds of trains or the times at which they should run)."

Having said all that, let me pose an obvious question. Do the minister and the Government think that there is a problem? The minister and the Government are perfectly prepared to acknowledge that there is a genuine concern being expressed by all members who have participated in the debate. Therefore, I want to speak in some positive terms about that.

I hasten to add that I speak as someone who, for 30 years, lived 10m from the main Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line, along which a goods train travelled at 3 o'clock every morning—I suspect, however, that that train was of lower weight than those that we are concerned with today. Of course, different people will react in different ways and will make their own accommodations with the circumstances that they are in, so I will not draw on my own experience to make any points.

I hope that the parties with whom the remedies most simply, readily and immediately lie and the parties who have, by their actions—which are legal and legitimate, within the framework in which they operate—caused us to be here are listening to the debate. They should take notice of the real concern that has been expressed by members on behalf of their constituents. I am talking, of course, of DB Schenker, Network Rail and, to some extent, Scottish Power.

Dr Simpson: I do not want to get into who knew what when, but the freedom of information inquiries make it clear that the officials knew about the situation in September 2008, so there is a gap there.

The minister is quite right to say that we need to find a solution. Will he call a meeting of the agencies involved to try to get them together in order to agree how to alleviate the situation? Everybody is denying responsibility and saying that they will not take action.

Stewart Stevenson: We and Transport Scotland are taking action. Transport Scotland has reviewed the information that Falkirk Council has gathered and believes that there is scope for further research to be done, and work on that will begin next week. We are not using that as an excuse for delay; we simply want to ensure that we have an absolutely standardised approach to understanding what the issues are.

Michael Matheson: Is the minister indicating that Transport Scotland will undertake assessment work in the Larbert area as a result of the findings of Falkirk Council's assessment work?

Stewart Stevenson: Transport Scotland is doing work along the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, but there is scope for further work in Larbert. However, we have to remember that the existing line in Larbert is covered by long-standing provisions. Of course, we should also bear it in mind that the issue in Larbert exists because of the trains that are running on the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line.

Michael Matheson made three suggestions: reducing speed, as there is a clear relationship between speed and the disruption that is caused to people's sleep and quality of life; renewing the track; and having DB Schenker consider the equipment that it uses. It is important that those issues are addressed. Neither Transport Scotland nor I have any direct powers in that regard, apart from the general power to do what Dr Simpson suggested and get people around a table and knock heads together. We are engaged with the parties concerned, and we will remain so.

If we are talking about ministerial responsibility, I would point out that the ministers who are responsible for the railway network, who might have undertaken some consultation, are Tom Harris and Andrew Adonis at Westminster. However, I am not really going to finger them, because we are looking at long-standing issues, and—alas and alack—the responsibility for the framework under which railways operate and the licence that is granted to Network Rail by the Office of Rail Regulation does not lie with this Parliament and is not within the remit of this Government. However, I agree that there is a problem and that we need to gather more information. We already have a considerable amount of information on Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine and the effect on individual properties, but we can certainly do more to gather information in the Larbert area.

I congratulate those who have gone out and sought to ensure that we are examining the quality of the rails. Some work is already being done to consider whether the freight wagons are of the appropriate quality. The important and interesting thing that has come out of the debate is that different companies are using different kinds of wagons. We should definitely put that into the mix in understand the matter.

We should be absolutely clear that the Government understands the issue. We would certainly like to see what DB Schenker and Network Rail, in particular, can do. A number of members mentioned the speed limits. Network Rail has the power to impose speed limits only in limited circumstances. There might be a case for differential speed limits related to the weight of the train. That might be one way in which Network Rail could usefully examine the matter. I also understand that there are some signalling issues, which cause further disturbance, and Network Rail could usefully examine those.

The debate has been useful. We have not come to a conclusion and there is more to be done on the subject, but the gathering of information is key to understanding the mitigations that the parties who are responsible for creating the problem and fixing it will have to undertake. We will play our part in ensuring that they understand their responsibilities and live up to them.


07 May 2009

S3M-3963 Climate Change (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 May 2009

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Climate Change (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
Resumed debate.

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): For the sake of people in the public gallery, I should explain that the next item of business is a continuation of yesterday's debate on motion S3M-3963, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the general principles of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill. Speeches should be no longer than six minutes. ... ... ...


... ... ...


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I am fully girded for the occasion.

I welcome the scope of the debate over the past two days, which has been of good quality. At least part of every member's speech has taken us forward and usefully informed the debate. I was particularly taken by Des McNulty's concluding remark that one of his key aims is to ensure that we keep it simple at stage 2. As the minister who has the pleasant duty of taking the bill through stage 2 on the Government's behalf, I heartily subscribe to his view and hope that we can deliver on it.

The debate has been unusual as, at least in this parliamentary session, it is unique in that four ministers have contributed to it. That does not just indicate the day-to-day engagement of those four ministers, but generally reflects the fact that every minister—like every member and everyone in the wider community—must be their own climate change champion in their own circumstances. I want to work with other members of the Parliament to put flesh on those bones and identify common ground and ways of taking things forward that sustain the very positive tone of today's debate.

Although we find ourselves able to support the Labour amendment, we cannot support the Liberal Democrat amendment because of its reference to the public duties. We are prepared to continue to discuss the subject, but we must recognise the very real sensitivities of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and local councils on this matter. Although we might be able to find some convergence and strike the right balance, the Liberal Democrat amendment does not do so and, as I say, we cannot support it.

The support for the bill's general principles that, unless I am very much mistaken, we will see at 5 o'clock this afternoon is but the first step in the process. Discussions will continue through stages 2 and 3, and we will have to do a great deal more work to justify what we all want: legislation and actions that will act as a beacon for others. I certainly think that challenging the EU to step up to the mark on a 2020 target of 30 per cent is an ambition that we all share.

As I turn to the points that have been raised during the two days of debate, I have to say that I expect that I will not deal with them all, but we will look very carefully at the Official Report and get back to members directly on any significant matters.

A discussion that I had with Mr McNulty and Ms Boyack after yesterday's debate suggests that we might have a greater common understanding on the annual targets that we will put in place in secondary legislation next year and the need for those to form the core of what ministers will be accountable for over the coming period. Within a couple of years, we will have set targets that take us halfway to 2050. That will certainly be a substantial set of commitments.

Ms Boyack described the provisions on public duties as vague commitments. We are looking at them again but, as I said earlier, we want to be very careful about how we progress in that respect.

Alison McInnes urged us to take early action. Earlier, I pointed out that we are building on action that has already been taken. This is a continuum of activity that transcends the transition from the previous Administration to this Administration and, indeed, will continue after many of us are no longer on this earth to see it in operation.

I sensed a suggestion that we might be able to disregard expert advice, but something that each and every one of us has to cling to is the need to use expert advice to determine the figures. The very moment politicians start to pluck figures out of the air, however well they might justify doing so by selecting what might have been stated elsewhere, they give future generations of politicians a hook for reneging on, moving back from or being less ambitious with commitments.

Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (LD): Will the minister advise the Parliament on whose expert advice he has set the interim 2020 target?

Stewart Stevenson: The 34 per cent and 42 per cent figures came from the UK Committee on Climate Change. If things go to plan and we are able to set targets in June 2010, advice from that committee might give us a different answer. We will of course respect that. The fact is that, in this situation, information is evolving and understanding increasing.

With regard to the debate on how Parliament will scrutinise the Government's efforts, Alison McInnes made the interesting suggestion that we consider the model that was adopted for the national planning framework in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006. We are looking at the text of the 2006 act to find out whether we can lift it and put it into the bill. Should we conclude that we can simply incorporate the wording of the 2006 act in the bill, it is more likely that we will do so at stage 3, given the tight targets for stage 2. We are looking seriously at that approach—it is not yet a commitment, but we are doing the work to see whether it is possible.

Patrick Harvie and I had a wee exchange on the subject of the Maldives, which is seeking to go carbon neutral. That is extremely admirable but, having looked into the subject, I make the point that aviation is not included in the Maldives' ambition. Given that tourism is the country's main industry, its situation is not quite the same as Scotland's; that illustrates the point that every country must find its own salvation. Patrick Harvie also referred to aviation and shipping; it is important that we continue to look at those issues.

Alex Johnstone commended the 34 to 42 per cent approach as one that would find favour with Conservative members.

Patrick Harvie: The minister will be aware that not everyone commended the 34 to 42 per cent approach that the Government has decided to take. Regardless of whether annual targets are included in the bill or in secondary legislation, how is a minister to set them after the bill has been passed if the Government has not yet decided—and will not decide for several years—whether it is aiming for a 34 per cent target or a 42 per cent target?

Stewart Stevenson: That is to misunderstand. Both the 34 per cent and the 42 per cent figure, together with the up-to-date advice that the Committee on Climate Change will provide next year, will inform the annual targets that will be set—there is an absolute linkage.

I must make some fairly rapid progress. Charlie Gordon came up with the best question of the debate, as he often does, when he asked:

"what are you actually gonnae dae?"—[Official Report, 6 May 2009; c 17120.]

That is absolutely focused and on the money. Once we get the bill out of the way, we must focus on delivery and on ensuring that we get the outcomes that we want.

Liam McArthur advocated a bottom-up approach to developing initiatives, which is commendable. However, I suggest gently that that is a little at odds with the idea that we should direct centrally, through public duties, what happens.

Lewis Macdonald spoke about the target of 11 per cent that has been set for heat from renewable energy. That is part of an overall 20 per cent that includes a range of other things—we are aiming to do a little better than the UK as a whole. That is reasonable.

I can tell John Scott that we are conducting a rural land use study, information on which we will provide shortly.

I am pleased to hear that Peter Peacock has the carpentry skills to build his own house. When I am building my next house, he can help me.

The community on Eigg that Rob Gibson mentioned was supported by the Scottish Government, under the excellent Scottish community and householder renewables initiative. We look with continuing interest at what is happening on Eigg.

This has been an interesting and engaging debate. It is the beginning of what will be a continuing engagement for years to come. Some years ago, John F Kennedy said that man can solve any problem that man creates. We must hope that John F Kennedy was correct, but there is no absolute certainty in that regard.

Yesterday, when we were discussing the electrification of the whole of Scotland's rail network, one of the senior Government directors said to me, "Surely we will have to have battery-powered trains to go to Kyle of Lochalsh and places like that." The good news is that some battery-powered trains are already operating in England. We will copy a good idea, wherever it comes from.

I support the motion in my name.

Stewart Stevenson
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