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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 23, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 23 September 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day, Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, Decarbonising Scotland’s Transport, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Decarbonising Scotland’s Transport

I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is a statement from Graeme Dey, on decarbonising Scotland’s transport.


The climate and nature emergencies are the starkest issues facing humanity. For Scotland to address them appropriately, it will require all of us, across the Parliament and wider society, to work together to transition to net zero and achieve the ambitious emissions targets that were set by Parliament in 2019. Given that transport is our biggest emitting sector, that is where some of the biggest changes need to be made.

Today, we have published a report on “Decarbonising the Scottish Transport Sector”, which details the findings of research conducted by Element Energy on behalf of the Scottish Government. It is the first sector-specific research that has been undertaken since the document “Update to the Climate Change Plan 2018-2032: Securing a Green Recovery on a Path to Net Zero” was published in 2020.

The report’s findings show how challenging it will be to decarbonise transport, because it is a derived demand—where people live, work, learn and access goods and services are all key to the need to travel. It will take action across Government and society to reduce the need to travel and promote more sustainable modes of transport.

The programme for government set out how we will confront the twin climate and nature emergencies to deliver a fairer, greener Scotland, and the report helps to show what that future could look like. The good news is that there is a way for transport to do its share of the heavy lifting, but it will require radical behavioural change.

Technology offers many solutions and, in some areas, development is forging ahead at pace. The Government is helping to put Scotland at the forefront of innovation, investment and careers in the green revolution. Last year, we established the hydrogen accelerator at the University of St Andrews. It will increase the speed and scale of hydrogen transport deployments in Scotland by providing expert advice on technology assessments, business models and opportunities to connect research with application. However, the report makes it clear that technology alone will not enable us to achieve the transformational change that is required.

As the UK Climate Change Committee has stated clearly, demand for travel also has to be reduced. The research shows how reductions in car journeys are key to achieving our aims. The Government has been clear that the predominance of private car use, in particular single-occupancy journeys, cannot be overlooked. That is why, working with local government partners, we have committed to reduce car kilometres travelled nationally by 20 per cent by 2030. I hope to outline measures to achieve that later this year.

The research shows why our 20 per cent commitment is necessary, and it is now time for us, collectively, to deliver on that commitment. When legislation on the discretionary workplace parking levy passed through Parliament in the previous session, the dogged resistance to it from some members sat uneasily with their simultaneous calls for action to save the planet. The time has come for such contradictions to end. Actions must match ambition, for the benefit of our environment and our wellbeing. This Parliament voted for world-leading emissions reduction targets, and it must now support the tough choices that are needed in order to meet them.

The benefits for communities when they are less dominated by cars are well known. They include improved air quality; better public health through greater exercise, due to more active travel; reduced economic and social impacts of congestion and accidents; and improved areas of civic space for recreation and children’s play. The burden of change cannot be left to the poorest members of our society—it requires action from all of us, for all of us. Indeed, the report is underpinned by the just transition principle that all sectors, and all users, must do their share to pay for the costs of the transition. That may mean expecting more from some in changing their behaviour, in particular those who create the most emissions through their travel choices.

Transforming transport offers the opportunity to create a greener, fairer Scotland, with an inclusive transport system and affordable, accessible public transport enabling better access to local services, leisure opportunities and jobs. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We recognise the challenges associated with rural and remote communities, and with areas in which there is no alternative to the car. That is not to allow anyone off the hook, but to recognise that we will require local and regional, as well as national, solutions. We will continue to work with partners nationally and locally to identify what works best, but the pace of that work needs to pick up.

In setting out what is required to meet our ambitions for transport decarbonisation, the report validates some of our policy decisions, including the 2030 date for phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, supporting the swiftest possible transition to zero emissions buses, removing the need for new petrol and diesel heavy vehicles by 2035, and decarbonising Scotland’s railways by 2035. Those are vital components of the pathway.

However, to return to the key finding of the report, it is clear that technology alone will not be enough to meet the challenge. We need to start making different choices and behaving differently if we are to meet our 2030 emissions target. For everyday journeys, particularly within and between urban areas, walking, wheeling and cycling must become the default choices, alongside a major increase in the use of public and shared transport. Young people are already leading the way on that; we all need to follow their example—they are showing us the future that we all need to get to.

To support that aim, from 31 January 2022 we will provide nationwide free bus travel for Scotland’s young people aged under 22. That will benefit around 930,000 young people and build on our comprehensive package of funding, legislation and support to make travelling by bus a more attractive and default choice. People will change their behaviour only if they are supported and enabled to do so. Buses are particularly important in that.

We are also investing in infrastructure. By 2024-25, we will be spending at least £320 million or 10 per cent of the total transport budget on active travel; we are providing better information on transport options through mobility as a service; and we are supporting the development of 20-minute neighbourhoods where residents can meet their day-to-day needs within a 20-minute walk of their home.

Scotland can and will do its bit, but we will require others to help facilitate the actions that are needed. The report’s findings make it clear that there is a range of reserved and internationally regulated areas in which focused action is required. We are aware that we need to disincentivise car use to encourage people to make more sustainable choices. However, the most direct levers here—fuel duty and vehicle excise duty—are reserved, which means that we need the UK Government to play its part and use its powers to support us in that endeavour. The UK Government must also work with us on such issues in a way that respects the constitutional settlement, and we implore the Government to engage meaningfully. A true four-nations approach that allows for the needs of communities the length and breadth of the UK is a necessity.

The report makes it clear that, on aviation, the scale of the challenge before us means there are no easy solutions. The research suggests that without a reduction in aviation demand, the transport sector will not be able to achieve its emissions envelope for 2030. We will need good, direct air connectivity in the future, not least to support inbound tourism and sustainable economic growth, but demand will have to fall. That is the message of the research.

In Scotland, air connectivity provides a vital link for remote communities to access essential services, and is crucial for our tourism sector, and trade, particularly in the export of key Scottish products. Decarbonising aviation will be challenging, but there are early and encouraging signs of progress. Just last month, the first ever hybrid-electric flight in the UK took off from Wick and landed at Kirkwall airport. That is an example of the work that is under way at the sustainable aviation test environment in Orkney. Led by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, the project has created the UK’s first low-carbon test environment for aviation. There has to be a strong element of international effort in all of that.

Later this year, we will launch a public consultation to develop an aviation strategy for Scotland. That consultation will acknowledge the need to reduce the environmental impact of aviation. We intend that our aviation strategy will have decarbonisation and cutting emissions at its heart. However, at the same time, we cannot put Scotland at a global economic disadvantage—there are still substantive economic and social benefits from aviation.

The Scottish Government could have rejected the findings of the research, simply noted them or set them aside and ignored them. That would have been incredibly foolhardy. We cannot shy away from the difficulties set out in the report if we are to ensure that emissions from transport are cut so that we might meet our statutory climate change targets. We cannot exclude any sector from that work; we must look at all the sectors individually and collectively to determine the best way to decarbonise how we travel.

With the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—just over a month away, the report makes clear the scale of the challenge ahead of us. We are committed to cutting emissions in transport at an unprecedented pace, and transforming how we all get around in the future. I urge members of all parties to work with us constructively to achieve that transformation.

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I will allow 20 minutes for questions. Members who wish to ask a question should press their request-to-speak button or put an R in the chat function if they are joining us online.

I thank the minister for advance sight of his statement. There was very little in it that was new, although the report makes for interesting reading.

The Scottish Government wants half of diesel buses to be replaced by low-emissions buses by 2023. Bus operators tell me that that target has no chance of being achieved. How, therefore, was that date arrived at, if not on the back of a cigarette packet?

There are problems with getting the charging infrastructure in place. One operator that I have spoken to is using diesel generators to charge electric buses. You could not make it up. What is the minister doing about the infrastructure issue?

Rural buses travel longer distances. That makes charging electric vehicles even more challenging. Will there be any additional support to help rural operators with that?

The report mentions the further issue of getting new buses built. It calls on the Scottish Government to work with bus builders across Europe. That does not excuse using taxpayers’ money through the Scottish ultra-low-emissions bus scheme to buy buses that are built not in the UK nor even in Europe but—probably subsidised—in China. What will the minister do to prevent that from happening again?

It is always good to hear Graham Simpson’s glass-half-full approach. I will deal with as much as I can in the time that I have.

At the core of the issue is the work of the bus decarbonisation task force. If Mr Simpson had the privilege of attending that, he would see what a constructive forum that is when it comes to the input from bus operators, bus manufacturers and financial providers who are supporting the work that is going on. Energy providers are also involved.

I recognise that he is right to point to the challenge surrounding the target. It is a challenging target. However, we are ambitious about what we are trying to achieve. The work is creating jobs, because the overwhelming majority of the buses that have been supported by Scottish Government funding are built by Alexander Dennis Limited, which I will have the privilege of visiting next week.

I pick up on his point about rural buses, which is a good point. That is being discussed in the task force and a separate work stream is currently being developed to look at the needs of rural providers and the smaller bus operators that cannot get the economy of scale of double-decker buses. Some work is being done on that point at the moment.

I thank the minister for advance sight of his statement. With COP26 just over a month away, the report is a reminder of the challenge that is before us. Public transport must make a substantial contribution to meeting our net zero ambitions but, frankly, public transport under the Scottish National Party Government is a joke. The total number of annual bus passenger journeys is down 120 million a year since the SNP came to power.

Will the Government therefore finally give councils the resources that they need to reassert public control over local bus services, and help them to provide the routes and fares that people and communities want? Why has it not taken stakes in the private bus companies that it has had to bail out? Does the minister not agree that the Scottish Government has to be bolder on concessionary travel for our young people and extend free bus travel not just to under-22s but to all Scotland’s under-25s?

Finally, how can the Minister for Transport seek to justify how his massive cuts to ScotRail services will encourage more people to leave the car at home and take the train?

There was an equal predictability about some of that as well.

On ScotRail, we could rehearse yesterday’s embarrassment of Labour calling for spend, spend, spend, with no hint of where the money was going to come from, in the middle—

He sounds like a Tory—

I have to say to Mr Bibby that he sounds like a 1970s Labour MP. Some of the stuff that we are hearing from the Labour benches is quite ridiculous. [Interruption.]

Okay, let us listen to the minister’s response.

Where I have common cause with Mr Bibby is on the issue of bus usage. He is right that we need to drive that up. There is a real challenge there. Buses are going to be key to getting the poorer elements of society on to public transport. We need to do a lot more work in that space and to be innovative. That is why the solution involves the bus partnership approach and not just councils. The bus partnership approach offers a great deal of potential on that issue.

On the issue of free bus travel for under-25s, we can of course continue to consider extending free bus travel, but there is a bigger-picture issue about how we get people on to buses, and that will require a great deal of thought.

Regarding ScotRail, we face some immediate short-term challenges where we need to stabilise, because of the financial challenges of the pandemic, but the commitment to public transport in the medium-to-long term remains.

The minister used the phrase “radical behavioural change” in his statement. Of course, there has been radical behavioural change because of the Covid pandemic. Does he think that we can build on that in some way as we go forward?

In the short term, we may get some assistance for what we need to achieve, but we will need to see how work and travel patterns settle down before we fully understand them. Much uncertainty has been generated by Covid in relation to transport. With future trends, behaviours and commercial considerations, it is difficult to forecast what is required. We know that we have a certain number of challenges over the next eight, nine or 10 years that we will have to rise to. We will have to cotton on to the travel patterns that emerge quite quickly, in some cases anticipating them based on what we have seen during the pandemic, in order to stabilise things and to get ourselves in shape so as to develop the capacity to build on that, for both rail and bus.

The UK Climate Change Committee suggests that, to help achieve that behaviour change, we need 30,000 electric vehicle charge points in Scotland by 2030. There are currently 2,558 public charge points. Transport Scotland says that we need more than 4,000 new public charging stations each year over the next decade. I see nothing in the report to answer that challenge. Can the minister help me out here? Is there an EV charge point plan to show that the minister’s actions will match his ambitions?

Indeed, and it is evolving. [Laughter.] I am sure that the public looking in on this realise that this is a very serious issue, yet petty party politicking is dominating this.

On the issue of EV charging points, there is a point in the process at which we cannot continue to use public money to fund everything. Private sector money is already being brought forward. There has been an announcement in relation to a major company involving 50,000 points, I think it is, across the UK.

The role of Government is to ensure that any additional EV charging networks are in the right place and available to everyone, be that in a rural setting or in a tenement setting in Leith. It should not simply be the easy option that is taken by those who are providing the facilities, whatever sector they are in. That work to ensure the stability of supply is on-going. [Interruption.] There very much is a plan.

One of the major challenges to the decarbonisation of transport is how we introduce and scale up the use of hydrogen, particularly in trains, buses and, potentially, shipping. What progress can the minister report in how the Scottish Government is driving that forward?

When we talk about opportunities, hydrogen is very much at the heart of it, and it has a lot of potential. The Scottish Government has already invested more than £15 million in hydrogen transport demonstration projects to develop the tech and the business models. I mentioned the hydrogen accelerator at the University of St Andrews earlier, and I had the pleasure of visiting the hydrogen train that is under development at Bo’ness. I should have said earlier that ferries have a lot of potential in net hydrogen terms.

We will continue to work with transport, energy and other sectors to identify pathways towards the introduction of hydrogen at scale across the network. We have a hydrogen action plan being developed for publication later this year, which will outline in detail what we intend to do over the coming five years to recognise that potential.

Does the minister acknowledge that the Government’s plans for the electrification of our railways exclude many parts of the network, including the stretch from Girvan to Stranraer? There are genuine fears over what that means for the long-term commitment to routes that are already facing significant cuts in services from next year. Surely we need a long-term commitment to a rolling programme of electrification going up to 2035 and beyond, until we get 100 per cent electrification of the network.

I welcome that question from Colin Smyth, who is absolutely right. That is what we are setting out to achieve.

I am a little concerned to hear what the member says about Girvan, so I will look into that and get back to him. As far as I am concerned, there is a plan to deliver across the network. Decarbonisation will not simply be in the form of out and out electrification. In some locations, it will involve hydrogen and, in others, it will involve battery storage. Currently, 75 per cent of passenger journeys are on electrified and decarbonised lines. Of course, the aim is to get to 100 per cent, and to get freight at the heart of the railway. I undertake to get back to Colin Smyth on that point.

To what degree will Scotland achieving its targets be dependent on policies that only the UK Government can deliver and on international agreements?

We are constrained by current devolution. We require urgent action on a number of key areas that remain reserved. The lack of meaningful engagement on, for example, fuel duty has been disappointing, although we will continue to press the UK Government on that.

As Audrey Nicoll pointed out, the issue is also about international agreements. We need an international policy approach. COP26 presents an obvious opportunity to achieve that, but other dialogue that is specific to sectors such as aviation and shipping is going on. We need an approach that globally recognises the challenges that we face on transport, although I reiterate that Scotland is very much ready to play its part.

One final point with regard to the UK Government is that I intend to write to UK Government ministers to draw their attention to the report that has been published today, highlighting to them the urgent attention that needs to be given to reserved areas and requesting meaningful engagement with Scotland on those matters.

After years of missed climate targets and with emissions from transport unmoved since 1990, now is the moment for the Government to rapidly accelerate measures to decarbonise transport, which is the biggest polluter in Scotland. The minister has said twice that demand for aviation must fall if transport is to play its part in meeting Scotland’s climate targets. Why then does the Scottish Government continue to hold a contract with Heathrow in support of a third runway, when that contract is designed to deliver 75,000 more flights to Scotland from London and, with that, 600,000 tonnes of extra emissions? Now that the Scottish Government has said that aviation demand must fall, will it cancel that contract?

There is no doubt that we will have to accelerate measures but, as I said in my statement, there is a balance to be struck with aviation, given the important role that it plays in the country’s economy.

On the issue of Heathrow, the Government is in the process of developing an aviation strategy with all parts of the aviation sector. We will reflect on everything that goes into that in terms of connectivity and the challenges that it poses, and we will produce a strategy that will reflect Scotland’s future needs and our need to respond to the climate emergency.

Clearly, cutting aviation emissions will be challenging while trying to sustain connectivity. What role can technology and decarbonisation play in that?

The member is right that they are challenging objectives, but it is essential that we undertake to meet them. We should be inspired rather than intimidated by the long-term challenge. I want to offer a bit of reassurance in the context of aviation connectivity. As I think I said last week, Transport Scotland’s aviation team is doing a lot of work to restore connectivity. Where it is doing that, it is seeking to ensure that cleaner and greener aircraft are involved as a starting point. For example, we had the recent announcement by WestJet that all our connectivity with Canada in 2022 will be in the latest-generation aircraft, which will significantly reduce emissions compared to 2019.

There is a lot more going on in the aviation sector, not least in your neck of the woods, Presiding Officer, where there are some very heartening developments on electric flight.

You will find that that happens a lot, minister.

The upcoming rapid expansion of electric vehicles, although welcome, has the potential to increase levels of non-exhaust emissions, owing to the increased vehicle weight exacerbating tyre and brake wear. Will research be carried out on how electric vehicle uptake might impact on non-exhaust emissions?

I acknowledge that Maurice Golden has raised that matter with me in written parliamentary questions over recent times. The answer to his question is that nothing should be ruled out now. We clearly have some policies that have been acknowledged as being appropriate, but there will be others that we need to develop, so I am happy to commit to seek further information on that and to engage directly with him on it.

For years, Greens have highlighted how the relentless growth of aviation is wrecking the climate, so I warmly welcome that major shift from the Scottish Government, which is a recognition, based on science, that aviation demand will have to fall if we are to have any chance of meeting climate targets. Does the minister agree with me that domestic mainland flights often undermine demand for intercity rail services and that that must be factored into the forthcoming aviation strategy?

All things should be factored into the aviation strategy, including the opportunity, as it arises, for low-emissions fuels, which are being developed globally. I understand that, across the world, there is a target for 10 per cent of flights to use those fuels by 2030, as well as an ambition to go further.

I hear what Mark Ruskell says about domestic flights, but rail is not available to everyone. A number of members represent islands and, for people who live on an island, ferries or aircraft are the only means of connectivity. The example that is being developed in Orkney—with, initially, hybrid, then electric flight—is an opportunity and shows ambition on the part of the Government to decarbonise our domestic aviation sector.

Thank you. I will get back to you on the low-emissions ferries later.

The minister will be aware that, in the last climate change bill process, Opposition parties were keen for the Government to go further and faster, and there was support across the chamber for the groundbreaking statutory targets that were set in the legislation. What message does the minister think that the sector-specific research provides for the Opposition?

The same message that it sends to the Government—that it was a collective decision to set those targets, and we have a collective responsibility to achieve them. The Parliament set the targets, the Parliament recognised that transport was a very significant emitter and we will need to have some grown-up dialogue about how we tackle it. As I said earlier, sitting here voting for challenging targets and then, in no time at all, supporting measures that completely fly in the face of them, is hypocritical, to say the least.

The report stipulates that, by 2030, all 3,800 buses that were manufactured prior to 2015 must have been scrapped or repowered if we are to meet the 2030 targets. I press the minister further on a clear commitment to link the opportunities with Scotland’s manufacturing industries, so that we reap the benefits. Just two years ago, the Caley railway works in Springburn closed, while the Scottish Government stood by, glaikitly doing nothing. Can the minister now commit to building all those buses in Scotland and restarting train building, in the way that the Welsh Labour Government has done in Wales?

One does not wave a magic wand and, suddenly, manufacturing capacity emerges. That will not happen in the real world. However, we have demonstrated very clearly our commitment to Scottish industry with the work that has gone the way of Alexander Dennis on the bus front. We are also doing a lot of work on the opportunities that exist in retrofitting buses. [Interruption.] I hear Graham Simpson chuntering from a sedentary position, so I repeat for him the fact that the overwhelming number of buses—more than 200—were manufactured in Scotland. Surely even he can find it in his heart to welcome that.

That concludes questions on the ministerial statement. Before we move to the next item of business, I will allow a short time for members on the front benches to change places.