24 June 2009

S3M-4464 Climate Change (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 24 June 2009

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


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