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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 26 June 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Education Reforms, Scottish Parliament (Powers), Decision Time, National Health Service 70th Birthday


Topical Question Time

ScotRail (Punctuality Targets)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that ScotRail missed its punctuality targets for every reporting period in the last year. (S5T-01178)

The set of targets contained in the ScotRail franchise is a challenging but realistic contractual regime to ensure that the punctuality of our rail services is at the forefront of ScotRail’s priorities. It should be noted that nearly 90 out of 100 trains—89.3 per cent—still arrive within the public performance measure, which is better than the figure for Great Britain as a whole, which stands at 87-odd per cent, and that ScotRail continues to be the best large operator in the United Kingdom.

The Donovan review recommendations are all under way. Stop-skipping, which was at 1 per cent earlier in the year, reduced to 0.09 per cent in the most recent period, and further performance improvements will be seen over the coming months as new rolling stock comes into service.

I continue to monitor ScotRail’s performance very closely, and my officials at Transport Scotland are working with ScotRail to bring about a sustained improvement in its performance.

The minister is correct—those targets are set as part of the franchise agreement, and they are being missed. Given that ScotRail has failed to hit those targets once in the past year, does the minister anticipate that it will hit them at any time in the forthcoming year?

Of course we will push ScotRail to meet its targets—that is my job and Transport Scotland’s job—but let me wrap some context round the issue. Today, ScotRail’s performance is at 92 per cent. The UK national average is 81 per cent. I agree with Colin Smyth that it is not acceptable that ScotRail is missing its targets, but it is missing them by 1 or 1.5 percentage points; there has not been a catastrophic decline in ScotRail’s performance by any stretch of the imagination.

I will continue to press and to push ScotRail, but the PPM—or the moving annual average—is just one measure of the passenger experience. The fact that stop-skipping has reduced has been welcomed; I have heard that from passengers. The entry into service of new rolling stock will help with the capacity issues in ScotRail. A holistic view needs to be taken of all those measures.

I notice that the minister did not say that he anticipates that ScotRail will hit those key targets in the forthcoming year. Given that and the fact that it has missed them in the past year, it is little wonder that a recent poll put public support for renationalising our railways at more than two thirds. Our rail workers and the unions that represent them also support public ownership of our railways.

In answering what might or might not be the last question that he receives in his role as transport minister, can Mr Yousaf tell us whether he and the Scottish Government believe that our railways—the track and the trains—should all be brought back under public ownership: yes or no?

Presiding Officer,

“Too often in our history, we’ve talked about the ownership models for rail, without also thinking through clearly enough what we wanted to do with the network itself.”

It was not me who said that; it was the Welsh Labour Government minister Ken Skates, who has just awarded a £5 billion private contract for Welsh railways.

Colin Smyth demands that we nationalise the railway and Jeremy Corbyn demands that we nationalise the railways, but in the one place where Labour is in power, it awards the rail contract to a private company, so I will not take any lectures from Colin Smyth on public ownership. In 13 years in government in the UK, Labour did hee-haw about it. In eight years in government in Scotland, it did hee-haw about it. We have been in power for the past 11 years and we have changed the law to allow for a public sector rail bid, while Labour has done nothing but sit on its hands. Therefore, Colin Smyth will forgive me if I do not take any lectures from him on the state of our railway.

Given that successive Labour and Tory Governments continually denied any public sector operator the right to bid for a rail franchise and that it was the Scottish National Party that secured that option as a result of the work of the Smith commission, does the minister agree that Labour’s position is nothing but hypocrisy, especially as Labour seems to do one thing in opposition and another thing in government?

With Labour, it is a case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.” In answering Fulton MacGregor’s question, I say to Colin Smyth that, even if Labour is going to look one way in Wales and a different way in Scotland, it should at least have the guts to stand with the Scottish Government when it comes to the devolution of Network Rail, instead of siding with the Tories. We believe that Network Rail should be devolved to Scotland. Fifty-nine per cent of rail delays are directly attributable to the infrastructure, which is under the control of Network Rail, which in turn is under the control of the UK Government’s Department for Transport, so it would be good if the Labour Party, instead of siding with the Tories on the railways, joined the Scottish Government in calling for further devolution of Network Rail to Scotland.

What options are available to the minister to ensure that the ScotRail Alliance can and will meet its contractual obligations under the franchise and when does he—or anyone who follows him—expect punctuality simply to get back on time?

I go back to the point that I made to Colin Smyth—the context is not the catastrophic one that Jamie Greene is attempting to portray. ScotRail is behind its target, and Transport Scotland and I will push it to go further. However, on other performance measures, such as the reduction of stop-skipping and addressing overcrowding, which we hear about from our constituents, it is going in the right direction. Three sets of new rolling stock will enter service over the coming months.

Of course, financial penalties and incentives are available. I am sure that Jamie Greene knows about the service quality incentive regime—SQUIRE—fund. We continue to hold ScotRail robustly to that when it comes to the cleanliness of the rolling stock and stations, and there are measures within the contract to deal with problems with performance measures. However, those are nowhere near where they would have to be for there to be breach of contract. I make the point again that context is wholly important in this discussion.

ScotRail does many positive things, but the percentage of people who are delayed by trains is too high. It affects their employment, health appointments, schooling and all the rest. We only seem to hear about public sector bids when things are not going too well. I had hoped to hear a lot more about a public sector bid before the end of term. Where is that bid, and when is the minister going to take positive action to address the concerns that are legitimately held by members of the public?

John Finnie makes a good point about the effect that rail delays can have on the average passenger. That is absolutely correct and it is why there is a delay repay scheme. Scotland is doing more to advertise that so that more people can rightly be compensated when their journey is delayed.

On a public sector rail bid, I say to John Finnie that this Government made a change to the law, and we could have gone further if full devolution of railway powers had not been blocked by the Labour Party during the Smith commission. Watch this space closely: we promise to make an announcement on the public sector rail bid shortly. John Finnie has been involved in the cross-party and cross-trade union working on that and he knows that we are actively looking at a range of options. I hope to make an announcement on that shortly.

Heathrow Expansion (Implications for Scotland)

2. Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the result of the United Kingdom Parliament’s vote on Heathrow expansion and its implications for Scotland. (S5T-01174)

The Scottish Government welcomes the fact that the third runway project is now moving to the stage of Heathrow applying for a development consent order, but notes that some members of Parliament across all the political parties were not persuaded to support the UK Government’s national policy statement. It is now incumbent on the UK Government to build more confidence in the process and to set out more clearly the economic benefits that a third runway at Heathrow can deliver throughout the UK.

The Scottish Government’s position remains that Scotland should benefit proportionately from the new runway capacity and that that should be subject to guarantee. We note the Secretary of State for Transport’s commitment to 200 additional weekly flights for Scotland, which was made during last night’s Westminster debate. However, we await the detail of that. The UK Government’s aviation strategy, which is to be published later in 2018, will have a significant role to play in setting out how the UK Government intends to deal with issues such as slot allocation for services to Heathrow from the nations and regions. The Scottish Government will work constructively with the UK Government on the new strategy.

I note the concerns conveyed during last night’s debate on the potential environmental implications of the new capacity. Although we are not responsible for the third runway, as a leader in tackling climate change the Scottish Government is not divorced from the potential environmental consequences.

Presiding Officer,

“Expansion at Heathrow offers significant job creation, major investment opportunities”

and we

“look forward to working with Heathrow to bring the significant benefits of a third runway ... to Scotland.”

Those are not my words, or even the words of the UK Government—they are the words of Keith Brown and the Scottish National Party Government.

Nowhere in Mr Yousaf’s answer did he explain why the SNP has reneged on the memorandum of understanding that it signed with Heathrow on a third runway, and nowhere did he answer why his party did not support the creation of the thousands of jobs that expansion will create or the hundreds of new flights that it will bring to Scotland. Let me ask the minister a simple question: does the Scottish Government whole-heartedly support Heathrow expansion—yes or no?

Yes, we still support the third runway at Heathrow. I made that position clear in my opening answer. I know that Tory MSPs are used to rolling over and doing whatever Theresa May tells them whenever she wants. Our MPs are absolutely right to demand that they get cast-iron guarantees around the 200 additional flights.

We also need confidence on the climate considerations. Why on earth did the UK Government push forward with a vote days before an important report from the independent Committee on Climate Change on aviation emissions was due to be published? Why on earth was the vote not held afterwards?

With the greatest of respect, I will take no lectures from Jamie Greene when he is a member of the party of the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who said that he would lie down in front of the bulldozers. He was not lying down as much as flying away.

The minister says that the Scottish Government somehow supports a third runway at Heathrow, but it begs the question why his MPs at Westminster did not support it. The new runway was backed by the First Minister, the finance secretary, the economy secretary and even the transport minister himself yet, when it came to the crucial vote, the SNP abstained. It ducked out in another grievance-stoking stunt at Westminster. The question is: who gave the order and why? If we are to believe reports, the First Minister herself ordered MPs not to back it. Does that not all go to show that, given the choice between stirring up an argument or boosting jobs and the economy in Scotland, for the SNP, it is always party first and everything else second?

That is quite unbelievable. I have already explained that the MPs do not have the cast-iron guarantees. If the member can stand up and tell me how the 200 slots will be allocated, I will be all ears. He absolutely cannot do that.

When it comes to the environmental consequences of the third runway, our MPs are absolutely right to demand the detail on that. Yes, in principle, we support the third runway, but that is conditional. Unlike the Tory MSPs, who will roll over and do whatever Theresa May and the UK Government tell them to do, we will not. That is why we will stand up for Scotland and demand those guarantees. I will leave the member not just to complain about this from the sidelines but to do whatever the UK Government tells the Tory party to do.

I want to pursue that. Until this morning, it was Keith Brown who was supposed to answer this question. I know that the minister is now in the hot seat and he may not be as prepared, but does he agree that for Keith Brown to have—I quote him—“engaged extensively” with Heathrow, signed another memorandum of understanding, as we have heard, talked up the deal that he had negotiated for almost two years and then had SNP MPs abstain in the vote is an unmitigated embarrassment for him and the Government?

To pursue the other point, I ask the minister whether it was the First Minister who instructed SNP MPs to abstain.

That is unbelievable, again, from Mike Rumbles. I note—there may be a very good reason for this—that not all of the Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs voted in favour of the third runway.

I say to Mike Rumbles that we are taking an evidence-based approach and are not simply believing what Theresa May has to say. I know that, previously, the Lib Dems accepted what the Conservatives said without standing up to them, when they were in coalition in the UK Government, but we do not take that approach. We are demanding assurances on the 200 additional flights and on the environment, which I would expect Liberal Democrats to join us in demanding from the UK Government.

We will continue to take an evidence-based approach. This Government has the MOU with Heathrow, which is of course different from the actions of the UK Government. What we are demanding is action from the UK Government, and I would expect Mr Rumbles, instead of siding with the Tory MSPs on this one, to be more on side with us.

Does the minister agree that the UK Government should have ensured that MPs were able to take a fully informed decision on expanding Heathrow by holding the vote after the publication of the independent UK Committee on Climate Change emissions report?

Yes—absolutely. I cannot for the life of me understand how politically tone deaf this UK Government continues to be.

Although we have no responsibility for the information that was provided to MPs beforehand, given the importance of the decision, we would have expected MPs to receive sufficient information along with the appropriate time to consider it. The fact that the independent UK Committee on Climate Change emissions report was due within days but the vote was held before that is, I am sure, one of the reasons why our MPs abstained, but I have a feeling that it is also the reason why some Tory MPs and some Labour MPs voted against or abstained.

The UK Government has made a mistake, and we look to it for assurances about climate change and the emissions from the third runway.

The UK Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, was widely pilloried for making a statement on Heathrow expansion without once mentioning the issue of climate change. The SNP’s position is equally risible. What on earth does the minister think that he will read in the Committee on Climate Change’s report when it is published that will overcome the objective reality that more flights mean more emissions? In particular, more short-haul flights between Scotland and London are completely unnecessary when we have surface alternatives, including rail alternatives, to use. Is it not clear that the proposal blows a hole in the UK Government’s and the Scottish Government’s climate change policies and leaves them without a shred of credibility?

No. That is a ridiculous assertion. The Scottish Government has, of course, brought forward world-leading climate change targets, which it is meeting, and radical action—for example, in my transport portfolio in relation to low-emission zones and electric vehicles. It is worth mentioning that the Scottish Government has ensured that aviation emissions and other transport emissions are included in the climate change targets.

The independent UK Committee on Climate Change report is hugely important and vital to us, and MPs and the Scottish Government will look for assurances from the UK Government. I am afraid that Patrick Harvie’s saying that we have no shred of credibility on the matter simply does not match with reality.

I am afraid that that concludes topical question time. I apologise to members who wished to ask further questions. There is not quite enough time for them this afternoon.