Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I join the other political parties in commemorating the actions of those who took part in the D-day landings. As we see the forces of the far right reinvent themselves in the United Kingdom, the US and so many other countries - too often aided and abetted by people in mainstream politics and the media - we must remind ourselves that the fight against the far right is one for which every generation must be ready if we are to properly remember and respect the memory of those who did not return from the fight 75 years ago.
At the end of April, the First Minister declared a climate emergency, as did the Welsh Government. Now, barely a month later, the Welsh Government has announced the welcome decision to scrap plans to build a £1.4 billion motorway relief road. However, the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with spending £6 billion on dualling the A9 and A96. Since she made her announcement, the First Minister has repeatedly said that, when it comes to the policy changes that are needed, everything is under review. Does that include the next phases of those road projects?
The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney): Patrick Harvie has reflected on the issues that we all face in relation to climate change, but the Government must take forward its agenda in a sustainable way. We have already made changes to our policy framework that he is familiar with in relation to air departure tax.
The Government also has a duty to ensure that the country is equipped with the appropriate infrastructure to meet the needs of all our population. Anyone who is familiar with the A9 and the A96 will know that both those roads have serious and alarming safety records, given their current construction and the volume of traffic that uses them. Such issues need to be addressed, and the Government will do so as part of its programme.
However, my comments should be taken in the context of the Government's absolute obligation to meet the climate change targets that we have set out and to which we have committed. Roseanna Cunningham has lodged amendments to the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill to ensure that we fulfil the commitments that we have given to Parliament and to the people of Scotland.
Patrick Harvie: The Deputy First Minister seems to disagree with the First Minister, who said that everything is under review. He cites the problem of the volume of traffic, but the current plans will do nothing to control the volume of traffic that uses the roads.
The Scottish Government has an opportunity to change direction by redirecting expenditure from road building to investment in a modern, affordable and efficient rail network. The single- track Highland main line, which runs parallel to the A9, has been described as an antiquated embarrassment. Dualling and electrifying that line could be done for a far lower cost than the cost of the Government's road-building scheme. It is more than 10 years since the Scottish Government promised significant investment to ensure that "railway travel to the heart of the Highlands ... is competitive with roads."
People in the Highlands have been waiting since 2008 to see improvement in journey times. How much longer will they have to wait?
John Swinney: Improvements are being undertaken on the Highland main line as we speak, and structural change has already been undertaken on the line to ensure that it can deliver shorter journey times. Through the ScotRail franchise, there has been investment in enhancing the rolling stock that is available for the Highland line, which has resulted in an expansion of capacity between Inverness and the central belt.
All those investments are taking place to improve the attractiveness of the rail network, but it is clear that we have wider obligations to ensure that, in every respect, we equip the country with the connectivity that is required. The massive investment that has been put into digital connectivity is hugely beneficial to communities in the Highlands and Islands. We are delivering those advantages as part of a balanced package, but I stress that that must be done in the context of fulfilling the climate change targets that the Government will enshrine in law in the weeks that lie ahead.
Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to move freight off roads and on to rail, in light of it declaring a climate emergency. (S5O-03358)
The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson): Our approach to supporting rail freight is outlined in our rail freight strategy, strengthened by new Network Rail targets to grow rail freight and backed by past and current investment, including a new £25 million control period 6 Scottish strategic rail freight fund and our mode shift grant system. In addition, our draft national transport strategy, which will set out the future direction for transport, reflects the declaration of the global climate emergency with climate change action identified as a priority. It also reiterates the role of transport in helping to deliver the 2045 net zero target.
Claudia Beamish: In evidence to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee at stage 2 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, the Freight Transport Association stated:
"At best, we could get about 5 per cent of freight off trucks and on to rail". - [Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 28 May 2019; c 57.]
That is concerning. The Scottish Government funds a great deal more road projects than rail projects, which further marginalises rail freight.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that balanced funding is required for better targeting of small freight facilities grants, longer rail overtaking loops, restoration of double track, diversionary routes, gauge clearance and electrification, to name but a few measures?
Michael Matheson: As I outlined, we undertake a considerable amount of work to encourage rail freight. I do not know whether it is now official Labour Party policy to cut the roads budget and transfer that money to rail instead.
Claudia Beamish: I said "balanced funding".
Michael Matheson: I suspect that, in later questions, members will also ask me to make more investment in roads.
The £25 million that I announced a few weeks ago is a key part of helping to support industry to make the modal shift from road to rail freight, and we will continue to work with the industry to achieve that. We have also set out ambitious targets for Network Rail, to make sure that it is driving that approach forward in a way that sees more going into rail freight. We will continue to do everything that we can to encourage commercial businesses to make use of the rail freight options that are available to them as we work with the rail freight industry to make it an attractive proposition for businesses.
Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con): The cabinet secretary will be aware that Prestwick airport is well connected via rail. A huge amount of cargo goes through the airport and, inevitably, on to the road. What is the Government doing to better utilise that rail capacity - specifically, the Falkland junction? At the moment, it is an underused section of railway that could help to provide the modal shift that we need.
Michael Matheson: Companies' decision to use rail freight is a commercial decision, and we provide funding to support them in making the transition. There are several key areas in which we know that there is a possibility of increasing freight - particularly timber transport - and we have taken forward work with the industry to encourage it to do that. My colleague Fergus Ewing chaired a meeting in London with members of the rail freight and forestry industries and Transport Scotland officials to look at how we can create greater connections in those areas. We try to make rail freight as attractive as possible but, ultimately, choosing to use rail freight rather than road freight is a commercial decision that companies make.