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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 20 December 2017

Agenda: Alcohol and Drug-related Deaths, Portfolio Question Time, Energy Strategy, Ferry Services Procurement Policy Review, Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Dogs (Illegal Trade, Irresponsible Breeding and Adoption)


Portfolio Question Time

Marine Plastic Pollution

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to tackle plastic pollution in Scotland’s seas. (S5O-01614)

The Scottish Government recognises the seriousness of the global challenge of plastics in our seas. In conjunction with over 40 actions that we identified in our marine litter strategy, we have prioritised tackling marine plastics in our programme for government with four commitments. We will establish a deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates and reduce littering; we will establish an expert panel to consider environmental charges for disposable items such as coffee cups; we have committed £500,000 to begin to address litter sinks around the coast and to develop policy to address marine plastics, which will involve working with community groups; and we will host an international conference in 2019 to discuss improving our marine environment and protecting our wildlife, focusing on marine plastics.

With the rest of the United Kingdom, we are introducing a ban on the manufacture and sale of rinse-off personal-care products containing plastic microbeads, which is expected to be in place on 9 July 2018. We have also recently pledged our support for the global ghost gear initiative to ensure that the issue of lost or abandoned fishing gear, which is often made of plastics, is addressed around the world.

It is clear that the UK Government is taking the lead in the fight against the scourge of plastic waste in our oceans. I am sure that we all saw the scenes in the documentary “Blue Planet II” that highlighted so vividly the damage that plastic pollution causes to marine life. Will the cabinet secretary commit to working with the UK constructively, in the light of the ban on microbeads, and consider how charges on single-use plastic items could reduce waste?

I thank Maurice Corry for that follow-up question, although I think that he will find that Michael Gove is on record as saying that there is a lot that England could learn from the more ambitious approach that Wales and Scotland take on environmental issues.

Of course we support any initiative that the UK Government wants to take forward in this respect. I hope that it will follow us in a number of the things that we are discussing. I am aware of the recent statement by Michael Gove on this issue—I am conscious that he is asking for a task force to look at environmental taxes. Maurice Corry will know that such taxes are not devolved to this Parliament, which is why we were careful about using the words “charges” and “levies” rather than the word “taxes”. I welcome any moves on this. It is a global problem and it will require a global effort.

As an MSP who represents east and west coastlines, I think that urgent action is required to reduce ocean plastics. Given that the Government has taken a lead on changing behaviour, such as through the plastic bag charge, does it agree that urgent action is required to crack down especially on single-use disposable plastics, such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery, which all have environment-friendly alternatives?

Yes, I do, which is why we indicated in the programme for government that we would look very closely at single-use items. Coffee cups are the example that tends to be most often given, but a great many other items that are made of plastic can have an enormously damaging effect on our seas, as we all saw if we watched “Blue Planet”. All the options that are open to us should be looked at very carefully. That is why we flagged up the issue in the programme for government. We are considering a number of options that we can take forward in that context.

I recognise the work that the Scottish Government, Zero Waste Scotland and others are doing on the serious issue of marine litter, particularly plastics.

Last week, along with members of all parties, I attended the #CleanBeachesScotland reception; it was truly inspiring to see what art can do to support communities and others in their work on the issue. The Marine Conservation Society, Fidra, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and harbourmasters from my region and elsewhere were involved, along with others. What work can the cabinet secretary highlight to ensure that all partners are included and involved as we go forward?

We are in almost constant dialogue with just about all potential stakeholders. I, too, am struck by the extent to which the issue has become something that people understand at almost every level in society. Even before “Blue Planet”, we were aware that many young children in schools, for example, were coming to an understanding of the damage that marine litter is causing. For example, Sunnyside primary school has set up the ocean defenders project and has begun work on its NaeStrawAtAw campaign. The plastic straw is one of many items that we could be looking at.

We are working with absolutely everyone. The work of the organisations that the member flagged up is incredibly important, and it needs to be backed up by Government and global action, because, however strongly people feel about the issue and whatever work they do locally, without global and Government back-up our response will continue to be insufficient.

I hosted an event in Holyrood last August on behalf of eXXpedition, which was an all-female round-Britain expedition to highlight plastic pollution in our seas, so I am delighted that the Scottish Government is working hard to decrease such pollution. Will the Government fund further research into the impact of toxins that are found in plastic entering the food chain and how it can be reduced?

The member will have heard my comments about the work that is beginning on single-use items.

Marine Scotland science has researched the uptake of toxic pollutants from microplastics and their bioavailability to species in the food chain. Marine Scotland is also working with the marine alliance for science and technology for Scotland to co-chair the microplastics group, which includes Heriot-Watt University and is researching the impact of toxins from microplastics—in a sense, that is an answer to Claudia Beamish’s question, too. The member can be assured that we are aware of the problem and are working to see what can be done to decrease pollution.

I call the constituency member for Sunnyside primary school, Ivan McKee.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I am glad to hear the cabinet secretary recognise the work of Sunnyside primary school’s ocean defenders, in my Glasgow Provan constituency, and their NaeStrawAtAw campaign. Does she agree that their work shows that not just constituencies that have beaches but everyone has a role in marine conservation?

That is very important, because there is a tendency on everyone’s part to assume that coastal communities somehow have more responsibility. The truth is that it is not necessarily populations in coastal communities that create the biggest problem for our seas. The health of our seas and oceans is essential for everyone’s health and welfare, whether they live on the coast or inland.

I reiterate how impressive Sunnyside primary’s NaeStrawAtAw campaign is, because it sends out exactly the right message. It highlights a single-use item that is unnecessary and wasteful, it flags up that the use of such items is behaviour that must change, it is innovative and creative, and it is coming from young people who, of course, are our future. We are looking hard at where and how we can legislate to reduce single-use items such as the one that Sunnyside primary school is flagging up, and I hope that we can count on continued support from members across the Parliament as we move forward.

Registration of Local Authority-owned Land

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in light of concerns raised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities regarding local authorities not being able to register all of their properties on the land register of Scotland by 2019. (S5O-01615)

Perhaps that question might have been more properly put to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, who is responsible for the land register of Scotland.

However, I advise Liz Smith that progress is being made by public sector bodies, including local authorities, to meet the 2019 target. A number of local authorities have voluntarily registered land assets, and Registers of Scotland has established a team of advisers who are dedicated specifically to supporting that task. We recognise that the target is challenging, and we remain committed to working with local authorities on the matter.

I note the cabinet secretary’s comment about to whom the question should be addressed. Nonetheless, COSLA has highlighted that resources issues can lead to delays, which means that the 2019 deadline will likely prove to be too much of a challenge, given the number of titles that need to be added to the land register. Will the Scottish Government—the cabinet secretary’s colleagues, if necessary—provide assistance to local authorities to progress with that?

I am aware of the comments that COSLA has made on the matter. Members should be aware that the Scottish ministers introduced in June 2015 a 25 per cent reduction in fees for voluntary registration, which reduced the costs of registration for local authorities. Registers of Scotland has also extended its keeper-induced registration programme to include publicly owned land. That means that the majority of—if not all—local authority housing stock will be entered in the land register by Registers of Scotland with no cost or resource implications for local authorities. The 2019 target is challenging, but we hope to get as many areas of Scotland as possible there by that target date.

Question 3 has not been lodged.

Reintroduction of Beavers (Legislation)

To ask the Scottish Government when it will bring forward legislation regarding the reintroduction of beavers. (S5O-01617)

As Graeme Dey will be aware, I set out the position on that on 11 December in answer to a written question. The date on which beavers will receive protection in line with the European Union habitats directive, and placed on the list of protected species, depends on the completion of the strategic environmental assessment process. The SEA was published for consultation on 12 December. It is expected that that process will be completed and that a Scottish statutory instrument will be laid in the first half of 2018.

What progress is being made on developing an accompanying practical management regime? Will that be available for scrutiny alongside the secondary legislation? Will a scheme be in place to compensate anyone who is affected by serious and verifiable damage that has been caused by beavers?

Good progress is being made on the development of practical management arrangements, which were part of the agreement that was made at the start of the process. Our intention is that those arrangements should be sufficiently responsive and robust to prevent damage from occurring in the first place. However, officials intend to discuss shortly with farmers and other land and fishery managers what sort of financial support might be appropriate where damage has occurred and is attributable to beavers. Documents that set out the management regime and the associated financial arrangements will be made available for scrutiny alongside the secondary legislation when it is laid.

Is the cabinet secretary aware of the Trees for Life assessment of beaver release in Strathglass, in my region? Could I meet her to discuss that issue further?

I am always happy to meet David Stewart to discuss whatever subject he wishes to raise with me. I am aware of the campaign that Trees for Life is running and am conscious that there are issues that relate to beavers in David Stewart’s part of the world. I expect that that is exactly what he wishes to talk to me about, and I would be happy to meet him.

The cabinet secretary is aware of the illegal release of beavers in the River Tay catchment area, which is, in its own way, a wildlife crime. What steps is she taking to stop and discourage illegal releases of beavers and other animals in the future?

As John Scott may remember when I made the initial announcement, I made it very clear that I will not tolerate continued illegal releases. People need to remember that illegal release is a criminal activity that must be treated extremely seriously.

I am conscious that we have two major beaver populations, one of which is there officially, while the other arose from an unauthorised release. Needless to say, the one that arose from the unauthorised release is causing the greatest difficulty. That shows that, without proper planning and management, release of any animal can create problems that are difficult to manage in the longer term.

We will take decisive action if there are unauthorised—or illegal—releases. I hope that John Scott takes my word for it absolutely that we mean what we say in that regard.

Brexit (Environmental Legislation)

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding the impact of Brexit on environmental legislation. (S5O-01618)

We are in regular contact at both ministerial and official levels with the UK Government on the potential impacts of the decision to exit the European Union.

In November, I met Mr Gove, Ms Griffiths, who is the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, and officials from the Northern Ireland Executive, and set out Scotland’s commitment to the core EU environmental principles of precaution, prevention, rectifying pollution at source and the polluter pays principle. We met again last week, when I reaffirmed Scotland’s ambition not only to carry over the status quo, but to keep pace with Brussels to limit any potential divergence in standards.

The Scottish Government is carefully considering whether gaps could arise in existing domestic monitoring and enforcement powers that would need to be addressed to ensure that Scotland maintains high standards of environmental protection. I have asked the round table on environment and climate change for its views on where potential gaps may arise, and to provide a range of options on how best to fill them.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her kind and comprehensive reply. Here is the political bit. Is the cabinet secretary confident that the UK Government has the ability—or the desire—to deliver what is being dubbed “green Brexit”? What are the envisaged potential impacts of Brexit on Scotland’s environment?

I think that it is fair to say that the quality and depth of engagement by the UK Government since June 2016 makes it very hard to judge its readiness or commitment, so it is impossible to be absolutely confident in answering that question. I cannot tell how far the ambition for a green Brexit is shared among UK ministers, but the Scottish Government remains committed to engaging constructively, so at meetings with UK ministers I continue to press on matters of concern for Scotland’s environment.

Brexit must not provide an excuse to lower environmental standards. Current environmental standards should be maintained, and where it is in our interest to set higher standards, we should be absolutely free to do that. To be fair to the UK Government, I say that recent dialogue with it has been more constructive. However, there are unanswered questions, not least in relation to the devolved powers that are exercised in the framework that is provided by EU law. Furthermore, there is no clarity about what future engagement in European agreements and institutions—or, indeed, on funding guarantees—will be agreed.

Marine Plastic Pollution

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce plastic waste in the marine environment. (S5O-01619)

The member will have heard my response to his colleague at question 1. This answer is on those same terms. I am heartened by the significant interest in marine issues that is being shown not just by Tory members, but by all members in the chamber.

What assessment has the Scottish Government made of Seabin technology, which is a floating debris-interception device that is powered by an underwater pump? That technology is being trialled in England and 16 other countries. I do not wish to take away any of the focus on the prevention of plastic waste entering our seas in the first place, but does the cabinet secretary believe that use of such technology could play a significant role in reducing waste in harbours, marinas and shallow coastal waters?

That sounds like a promising piece of technology. We are embarking on a marine litter sink project. Arrochar, because of its proactive community engagement, has been identified as a case study area and work is being carried out there. I will ask whether that group is considering Seabin technology: it may already be part of what it is looking at.

Air Pollution (Birth Defects)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to a recent study that found that air pollution can increase the risk of birth defects. (S5O-01620)

I am aware of the study to which the member refers. The Scottish Government recognises the impact that poor air quality can have on public health, especially for the young and old and those with pre-existing conditions. For that reason we have, in partnership with others, developed the “Cleaner Air for Scotland” strategy, which sets out a series of actions for Government, Transport Scotland, local authorities and others to further reduce air pollution across all areas of Scotland.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that Scotland has the opportunity to be a world leader in reduction of air pollution, particularly through steps such as the introduction of low emission zones?

I certainly hope that Scotland can become a world leader in this, as in other things, where possible. The air quality issues that we face in parts of Scotland are principally local in origin, but transboundary pollution is also an issue. We will continue to play our part in reducing the impact of Scotland’s emissions, recognising our international responsibilities and working in partnership with other countries to learn from and share expertise with them. That is something that I am very keen to do whenever I can.

Rural Economy and Connectivity

We move to rural economy and connectivity questions. Question 1 has been withdrawn.

Rail Services (Renfrewshire South)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to improve rail services in the Renfrewshire South constituency. (S5O-01625)

The Scottish Government is committed to improving rail services in Renfrewshire South. Through the ScotRail franchise, we have delivered enhanced passenger facilities including new waiting shelters, customer information screens, cycle parking and new ticket vending machines at stations in the constituency. In addition, the car park at Johnstone station was expanded in 2015 to provide a further 80 spaces. Finally, more than £475 million is being invested in Abellio ScotRail’s rolling stock, which will deliver major enhancements to train facilities and increase seating capacity by 23 per cent by 2019 to support growth in our railways.

I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to investing in rail services in Renfrewshire South. However, my constituents are concerned that improved services could be threatened by the United Kingdom Government’s proposal to cut funding for Scotland’s railway by £600 million. When I raised the issue with the cabinet secretary for finance, he informed the chamber that the UK Government had failed to give a satisfactory explanation. Is the minister able to update Parliament on whether there has been any progress on the matter and on what support, if any, he has had from other parties in the chamber?

There has been a further update from Her Majesty’s Treasury, but it still leaves a shortfall of more than £400 million. That is £400 million short of not what the Scottish Government is asking for or demanding but what the industry has asked for directly—what the industry has told us that it needs for maintenance, operations, renewals and enhancements on the network in the future.

I have to say that I am disappointed by the response by some in the chamber. I was not surprised by the Tories’ response, in which, of course, they defended their Westminster colleagues, but there has been no response from some of the other parties. It has been almost three months since I wrote the letter to Labour’s transport spokesman, and I have received not a single response. He never writes; he never calls. All members, regardless of party affiliation, should join with the Scottish Government, and they would do well to stand up for Scotland’s railways against these savage Tory cuts.

Food and Drink Exports (European Union)

To ask the Scottish Government how much Scotland’s food and drink exports were worth in the first nine months of 2017, and— (S5O-01626)

I call the cabinet secretary, Fergus Ewing.

HM Revenue and Customs estimates show that Scotland’s overseas food and drink exports in the first nine months of 2017 were valued at approximately £4.3 billion—in other words, £4,300 million—which represents an increase of around £500 million, or 13 per cent, compared with the same period in 2016. Forty-two per cent of those exports, worth around £1.77 billion, were to the EU; indeed, almost 70 per cent of food exports alone were to the EU.

I must apologise to the member—I think that I cut him off in mid-flow.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer. Will he advise Parliament of the value of Scotland’s farmed salmon exports and which countries are the best importers of Scottish farmed salmon? Does he share my concerns about such exports being held up at borders because of a hard Brexit—a result that the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation says would be a disaster?

The member is correct. Salmon exports are extremely valuable. They were worth £483 million in the first nine months of this year, which is a quite staggering increase of 56 per cent in value from that in 2000. With France being the number one destination, the EU remains the biggest single regional market for our salmon, as it imported £215 million-worth in the first nine months of this year.

I share the concerns that Mr Torrance expresses. A hard Brexit risks access to Scotland’s biggest overseas regional food and drink export market and could risk increasing the cost of exporting to the EU. The Scottish Government position remains clear that the whole of the United Kingdom should remain in the single market. If that is not possible, Scotland should—like Northern Ireland—be entitled to a special arrangement. That will be essential in order to maintain a successful and sustainable aquaculture sector in Scotland and, indeed, for similar food sectors. Mr Torrance can be absolutely assured that I and my colleagues will continue to make such points to the UK Government at every available opportunity.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a member of a farming partnership that produces food.

The figures that the cabinet secretary gave replicate the latest figures, which are from 2015. They show that £1.8 billion of Scotland’s exports went to the EU, whereas £4.1 billion—which is £2.3 billion more—went to the UK. Does he believe that the UK single market in 2018 will remain more important to Scotland’s food producers than that in the EU?

Of course all markets are important, which is why, in working with Scotland Food & Drink, we will do even more to build up further trade in the UK market. However, at the moment, the threat to the existing market is to that in the EU, which is because of Brexit. The SSPO has put forward a very clear set of concerns regarding issues such as

“automatic ‘inheritance’ ... continuation of bi-lateral rights and obligations for the UK under existing International Trade Arrangements with Third Party (non-EU) countries ... clear and reliable legal redress and dispute resolution mechanisms ... a definitive position on the jurisdiction of courts ... a clear and definitive position on arbitration mechanisms ... continued harmonisation of UK and EU laws”

and others that I cannot mention. None of those questions has been answered, and we are very close to Brexit, so the threat to the market that Mr Mountain seems to think is not of concern is of huge concern to salmon producers. The UK market will continue and we will build on it further.

Cross-border Rail Services (Meetings with Secretary of State for Transport)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss cross-border rail services. (S5O-01627)

Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, met the Secretary of State for Transport on 3 July 2017. I am currently in an exchange with Mr Grayling regarding cross-border matters of mutual interest. Later today, I will sign off a letter in relation to the east coast partnership.

I thank the minister for that answer. When ministers next meet the Secretary of State for Transport, I ask them to raise the concerns of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who now use Lockerbie station in the south of Scotland. As a direct result of the United Kingdom Government’s current franchise and delays in awarding new franchises, those passengers from Lockerbie see more trains pass through the station than actually stop there. They still do not have a direct early-morning service to Edinburgh, there are no services to the capital between 10 am and 2.30 pm, they regularly suffer from overcrowding and they even find themselves banned from booking seats from Lockerbie to Edinburgh during busy periods. Will the minister raise the plight of those passengers and fight for extra services from Lockerbie station?

The member raises a good point. Just as a bit of context, it is probably worth noting that, as the member alludes to, cross-border franchises are specified and awarded by the UK Government’s Department for Transport. We have generally a good relationship with the DFT and we look to input there where we can. I will certainly take the points that the member has raised, and if he wants to formalise them and add to them in terms of a future west coast partnership franchise, I will certainly take that up. It is probably worth saying at this point that it is because of this Government’s direct intervention that there are stops at Lockerbie and Motherwell on the west coast main line that were not there before. Wherever we can make an input to strengthening those services, the member has an absolute guarantee and reassurance from me that we will make that case to the UK Government.

Any cross-border services will require extensive community buy-in, and outreach will therefore be needed to ensure transparency and accountability. How is the Scottish Government engaging with stakeholders and community groups to ensure that any cross-border rail services meet their expectations?

The member raises a good point. Again, it is worth mentioning that cross-border contracts are specified and awarded by the UK Government and that we have only limited input. However, we have already started conversations on the west coast partnership with the three bidders that have been mentioned. We will continue to have dialogue with MSPs across the chamber on the matter. I issue an open invitation to any MSP to write to me about their expectations for future cross-border franchises, and I will certainly take them forward with the appropriate UK Government minister.

Northern Isles Interisland Ferries

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it will take regarding northern isles interisland ferry services, in light of the debate on 6 December 2017. (S5O-01628)

The 2016 Scottish National Party manifesto contained a commitment to

“take action to reduce fares on ferry services to Orkney and Shetland.”

The Government is delivering on that commitment and that is our priority. The interisland ferry services that the member talks about are the responsibility of the local authorities, and there was never an agreement that the Government would automatically fund the councils’ financial asks. There is no provision for that in the draft budget for 2018-19, but we look to continue to work constructively on the issue. There is a window of opportunity for other political parties to engage constructively on it, too. If the funding is in the budget, will Rhoda Grant vote for it? A simple yes or no would suffice.

Despite promises being made to the northern isles councils, the minister has confirmed again that there is no additional money in this year’s budget—not a penny—for the northern isles interisland ferry services; worse than that, there are huge cuts to council budgets, making those services even more precarious. When will the Government implement its policy of fair funding for ferry services and stop playing politics with lifeline services?

The member is wrong in the premise of her question. There is a cash increase to local government in the draft budget, so it has been treated well. However, there is a window of opportunity here. Instead of reading from her prepared script, the member could have looked to answer my question, which is this: if that funding is included in the finalised budget, will Rhoda Grant vote for the budget?

I will not—

She is saying from a sedentary position that she would not vote for additional funding for internal ferries, so there we have it. Members are playing politics because, instead of standing up for their constituents, they are siding with their political parties.

Three years ago, the transport minister’s predecessor, Derek Mackay, informed me in the chamber that

“the provision of transport services should not place a disproportionate financial burden on any council, particularly with reference to revenue support for ferry services”.—[Official Report, 26 November 2014; c 12.]

Does Mr Yousaf believe that the lifeline internal ferry services in Orkney, which account for 14 per cent of Orkney Islands Council’s total annual budget, represent a disproportionate financial burden? If not, why not?

The member will be aware that Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council receive additional funding through their special islands needs allowance. Again, though, I go back to the point that the promise by the Scottish Government was to engage constructively in dialogue, and we have done that. In fact, after the most recent meeting between me and Derek Mackay, and the council leaders of Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council, the council leaders said that the meeting was constructive and that the engagement was positive. I say to the member that there is a window of opportunity. At the fifth time of asking whether he would vote for the budget if it included funding for internal ferry services, he refused to say that he would.

Just last week, the member for Orkney Islands asked the economy secretary:

“When will the Scottish Government honour the commitment that it made in 2014 to provide fair funding for those lifeline services?”

The economy secretary responded that the commitment was made

“as long ago as when I was transport minister, and directly to the councils involved.” —[Official Report, 13 December 2017; c 17.]

Will the minister now accept that there is a clear commitment from the Scottish Government to deliver fair funding for Orkney and Shetland’s internal ferries, and will he advise us on how the Scottish Government plans to deliver on that clear commitment?

The hypocrisy of a Conservative standing here—while the Conservatives cut the Government’s budget by £500 million over the next two years and demand that we reduce taxes—and demanding that we put in funding for something that is not even the Government’s responsibility is quite unbelievable. Does the member have no shame and no understanding of how budgets tend to work?

Once again I will present the member with an opportunity—an olive branch, if you will. If that money has been put in the budget by the time we get to the finalised budget scrutiny process, will he vote for that budget—yes or no? So far, he has not said that he will.

Minister, the questions are to you, not to the other members in the chamber.

Trains (Action on Overcrowding)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to reduce overcrowding on trains. (S5O-01629)

The Scottish Government is committed to significant investment in new and refurbished rolling stock in order to reduce overcrowding. Since 2007, 160 extra carriages have been introduced to the ScotRail fleet, with an extra 200 carriages to follow in the next 18 months. Over £475 million is being invested in ScotRail’s rolling stock fleet during the franchise term. That investment includes new class 385 trains, which will provide almost 26 per cent more capacity when they operate with seven cars. When they operate with eight cars, that will be an increase of 44 per cent.

When we introduce the 26 fully refurbished high-speed trains between Scotland’s main cities from summer 2018, that will provide an additional 121 coaches, which will mean 40 per cent more seats. In the short term, the recent introduction of seven-car electric class 380 trains operating on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route will see an increase of about 9,500 seats across the day.

What matters to commuters and those who are travelling to and from Edinburgh at the minute at this festive time of year is what is happening now. We have heard stories in recent weeks of customers fainting, bursting into tears and panicking as they are “crammed in like sardines”. What are the minister and the Government doing now to improve rail passengers’ situation and make train services more efficient now.

ScotRail is aware of the fact that the trains are busier during the festive period, and it does what it can to strengthen services where possible. At the moment, it is using an automated passenger counting system, which gives it a more accurate idea of where some of the services have a heavier load. An example of addressing that is strengthening the 7.17 North Berwick to Haymarket weekday service from four to six carriages. Where ScotRail can strengthen services, it absolutely will. I think that passengers and commuters understand that, particularly during the festive period as we get towards Christmas, with that last-minute Christmas shopping and people travelling to winter markets, there will be more passengers on our train service.

As I said in answer to the member’s colleague Jamie Halcro Johnston, I find it a tad hypocritical that the Conservatives stand here demanding more money for our railways while simultaneously cutting the budget for the railways by hundreds of millions of pounds.

Integrated Smart Ticketing (Implementation)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the implementation of integrated smart ticketing on public transport. (S5O-01630)

Smart tickets can now be used to make journeys on rail, bus, subway, tram and air, and work is progressing on their use on ferries. That means that Scotland has one of the most advanced smart, integrated, multimodal public transport networks in the United Kingdom outside London.

Integrated ticketing between the Glasgow subway and ScotRail, as well as the introduction of multioperator bus smart zones in Aberdeenshire, Dundee and more recently Glasgow—with the hope that Edinburgh will follow in early 2018—have proved successful. Transport Scotland is now looking to expand that cross-mode interoperability for the full saltire smartcard estate. In addition, we are working with the industry to support the contactless bank card payment system to bring more convenience to the travelling public.

A constituent of mine from Hamilton has raised concerns about the delays in implementing an integrated smartcard system for our railways. His worry is that the ScotRail smartcard will not be as functional as Oyster or the Strathclyde partnership for transport subway smartcard and will have little advantage over paper tickets. I know that the Government has consulted recently and I wonder when the results will be published. Also, although having one form of ticketing is a worthy aim, is the minister satisfied that that proposal has been an effective use of money, especially when so many people are struggling to pay the increasing fares of transport operators such as ScotRail?

On that final point, it is worth noting that the Government has capped any increase in fares.

The points that Monica Lennon raises on behalf of her constituent are very fair ones. The more integrated and seamless access to transport is, the better for everybody. I should say that the use of smart ticketing on ScotRail has increased by 50 per cent in the past six months, with 2.4 million journeys now being done on ScotRail using smart ticketing. More and more of ScotRail’s ticketing options are coming on to smart. As I said to the member—going by her supplementary question, she probably agrees with this approach—a lot more focus is now going on to an EMV contactless solution, which will make the system even more accessible. I am of course more than happy to take further suggestions from Monica Lennon, her constituent and others. As she has rightly alluded to, the consultation on the issue has just closed, but I will of course keep her updated on the analysis.